Fisheries

Murkowski to place hold on FDA commissioner nominee

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Senate panel on Tuesday approved Dr. Robert Califf to be commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, but President Barack Obama's nominee may face trouble. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she will hold up a vote on the Senate floor until she has reassurances from the agency that genetically modified salmon will be labeled. The Alaska Republican has said the engineered salmon approved by the agency last year could be harmful to her state's wild salmon industry. Califf is now the No. 2 official at the agency, which regulates consumer products from medications to seafood to e-cigarettes. He was a prominent cardiologist and medical researcher at Duke University for more than 30 years. Murkowski is angry that she didn't get more of a warning about the agency's approval of the modified fish, which she has long opposed. The FDA approved the salmon two days after Califf's November confirmation hearing. "If they are trying to get my support, they sure fumbled that ball," she said after the hearing. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., also opposes Califf's nomination. The Democratic presidential contender did not attend the committee meeting, but his office said he would have voted no. Sanders has said the country needs an FDA commissioner who will stand up to the pharmaceutical industry and Califf is "not that person." He said he is also considering a hold on the nomination. Califf's nomination does have the support of the Republican chairman of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, which approved the nomination by voice vote. Tennessee Sen. Lamar Alexander said Califf has been thoroughly vetted, and he is confident that Califf can lead the agency "fairly and impartially." As head of the FDA, Califf would inherit a raft of projects and potential challenges, including unfinished tobacco regulations and food safety and labeling reforms. Former FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg left the job early last year. Currently the FDA's chief scientist, Dr. Stephen Ostroff, is serving as acting head of the agency.  

Supreme Court rules setnet ban unconstitutional

The Alaska Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling on Dec. 31, declaring a ballot initiative to ban setnets in certain areas of the state unconstitutional. Calling the initiative a “give-away program” that was designed to appeal to the self-interests of non-commercial fishermen, the court issued an opinion that put an end to a lengthy legal process that began in late 2013. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott certified the ballot initiative last August after the initiative’s sponsor, the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, submitted 43,000 signatures in support of the measure, 36,000 of which were declared valid by the Division of Elections. The initiative would have almost exclusively impacted the Kenai Peninsula, where 735 setnet permits are registered alongside a large guided angler industry. Alaska residents hold more than 80 percent of the permits. After the initiative was filed in November 2013, then-Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected it in January 2014 as an allocative measure, which is prohibited by the Alaska Constitution. AFCA appealed and won a reversal in Superior Court that allowed it to begin collecting signatures. “I’m still shaking,” said Resources for All Alaskans President Jim Butler. Resources for all Alaskans, or RFAA, is a relatively new group formed to combat the setnet ban. “I very much appreciate the court’s effort to very methodically and step-by-step analyze the constitutional issues as well as the vision of the framers of the Alaska Constitution to get to their decision.” RFAA weighed in on the argument in March 2014 supporting the state’s assertion that the initiative was a prohibited appropriation of state resources. At the time, Butler said the idea of banning setnetting at the ballot box was bad policy. “The proposal to ban setnetters is particularly destructive because it doesn’t address the real reasons for declining king salmon populations and would instantly destroy 500 small Alaska family businesses and hundreds of other jobs,” Butler said at the time. The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance released a statement saying its members were disappointed by the decision and referring to the signatures of more than 43,000 registered voters who signed to have the ban put on the ballot. “We are disappointed with the court’s decision to deny voters an opportunity to weigh in on the method and means for harvesting,” said AFCA president Joe Connors in the written statement. Founding member Bob Penney is also quoted in the statement, he said he is “deeply disappointed because the Kenai Kings are the real loser here and it now seems their species will continue to decline. Maybe it’s time the federal government looked into this issue.” When reached by phone Jan. 2, Bob Penney said he was on vacation and had no comment on the decision. AFCA Executive Director Clark Penney, Bob Penney’s grandson, said the group is looking into the Endangered Species Act as another avenue to protect salmon caught by set nets. Clark Penney said the group’s focus was not just on Kenai River king salmon, but on protecting fish species that are targeted by ineffective means. “We see set nets as the least effective for taking their target fisheries,” Clark Penney said. Under the Endangered Species Act, a species can be listed as “endangered” or “threatened” when, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, “it is determined to be endangered or threatened by destruction, modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; disease or predation; inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; other natural or manmade factors affecting its survival.” Unlike Pacific Northwest salmon stocks that do have ESA protection, the late run of Kenai River king salmon has never failed to meet its minimum escapement goal. The court’s case According to the court, commercial setnetters are a distinct user group who would be unfairly stripped of a public resource allocation — their part of the millions of salmon that return to Alaska each year — to another party’s benefit. Most of the members of AFCA are sportfishermen who would ostensibly see more salmon inriver where the commercial nets to be removed from the water; two board members, Connors and Derek Leichliter, are former set net fishermen. Banning setnets, the court wrote in its Dec. 31 ruling, would essentially devote salmon to a specific user group on the Kenai Peninsula, to the exclusion of another. “We concluded that the initiative in question was a give-away program because it was ‘designed to appeal to the self-interests of sport, personal, and subsistence fishers,’ in that those groups were specifically targeted to receive state assets in the circumstance of harvestable shortages,” the court wrote. The court also concluded that the ballot initiative would have narrowed the Legislature’s and Board of Fisheries’ ability to make allocations. “If (the initiative) were enacted, then neither the Legislature or the Board would be able to allocate any salmon stock to this significant, existing user group.” Much of AFCA’s legal justification for the ballot’s constitutionality rested on prior ballot initiatives that banned hunting or fishing methods and means. The court said the prior initiatives were either not equivalent to the setnet ban, or that their passage alone didn’t make them constitutionally sound. AFCA attorney Matt Singer had argued Alaska has a history of making resource-related ballot initiatives, such as aerial wolf hunting and bear baiting. The Supreme Court said the argument is invalid, as the user groups for salmon are more clearly defined. “Under the Limited Entry Act and its implementing regulations, commercial set netters must obtain gear-specific setnet permits, which are limited in number, hold significant value, and may be bought and sold,” the court wrote. “This makes commercial setnetters a far more cohesive, recognizable, and permanent group than individuals who hunt wolves using same-day aerial techniques and snares, or who hunt bears using baiting or feeding methods.” Singer had also argued that Alaska voters banned fish traps by voter initiative, which he said established both gear type restrictions and the resource as fair game for ballots. Indeed, voters did outlaw fish traps by ballot initiative in 1959. The Alaska constitution, however, had not been accepted at this point. “Ordinance 3 was approved before the Alaska Constitution went into effect and was thus not governed by the constitutional prohibition against appropriating by initiative,” the court wrote. Even subsequent resource initiatives are not equivalent to the setnet ban, the court ruled. Singer had cited several cases as evidence of the ban’s constitutionality. Two of these ballots, however, were held before salmon had been ruled a “public asset,” and therefore forbidden under the Alaska constitution’s ballot measure provision. Aftermath Several of the fishermen who weighed in on the Supreme Court decision said they are weary of Cook Inlet’s “Fish Wars.” But each blamed fishermen from opposing user groups for igniting tension between user groups. “I think there are many people in the sport fishery, the guided industry, the commercial salmon harvester and even the personal use fishery who want to collaborate and find a way to make things work in this complicated fishery,” Butler, a longtime Cook Inlet setnetter, said. “There are others who see that as a risk, because if we can collaborate and get along — their particular opportunity might not develop the way they want it to be. I think this (threat of a ban was) inherently a divisive approach at solving a complex problem.” Butler said Resources for All Alaskans and the commercial fishing community didn’t want a fish war. “We’ve existed in this community for 100 years. The concept of a fish war is new and it’s because of increasing demand and we need to talk about that because there are plenty of fish for everybody. We just need to cooperate and not put people out of business to accomplish that goal because there’s no need to,” he said. Connors, who is the President of the AFCA board as well as a fishing charter and lodge owner on the Kenai River, said he saw inflexibility and an unwillingness to change from many commercial set net fishermen in Cook Inlet. “Sooner or later people just have to kind of come to the realization that they can’t fish the same way they did 50 years ago,” Connors said. “I know when I commercially fished, I used to catch Dolly Vardens — the sea run ones — and keep pounds of them in my freezer on the boat. So there’s just a lot going on out there and it’s not good and it’s not conservation-minded. So unless the attitude of, ‘We should kill, kill, kill as much as we can, as quick as we can, changes ... the fight will keep going.’” Butler said he believed the people who spearheaded the effort to ban set nets in certain areas of the state would continue their fight. “I am under no illusion that the people who have promoted this (ban) are done by any stretch of the imagination. I just don’t see that,” Butler said. “It’s no news to anybody that there’s a few influential people who see this (ban) as a very important part of their life’s mission or their view of the world.” Despite his frustration with the set-net fishery, Connors said he saw promising changes being made by commercial set net fishermen in the Cook Inlet. He referenced large operations — like Gary Hollier’s family sites where more than 20 nets are typically in the water, or Greg Johnson’s family sites where 18 nets are typically fished. Both families cut nets on some or all of their sites to shorter depths in 2013 in an effort to reduce harvest of king salmon. Connors also spoke highly of Brent Johnson, who owns another large family operation in Clam Gulch, and Brent Johnson’s “selective harvest modules,” which are designed as a type of fish wheel that, in theory, allows Johnson to keep fish alive long enough for him to release those he did not intend to target. Connors said he is encouraged by those efforts to change the way set net fishermen target salmon. Many fishermen said they hoped a more fruitful dialogue between user groups could happen now that the threat of a ban had been lifted. Snug Harbor Seafoods Co-owner Paul Dale, president of the Alaska Salmon Alliance — a fisheries trade organization representing seafood processors and commercial fishermen on the Kenai Peninsula — said it had been difficult to have constructive conversations with users who wanted to abolish his way of life. “Who wants to negotiate when someone is holding a gun to your head? It really stymied dialogue between commercial and sportfishing,” Dale said. Connors said negotiations between the two groups had been difficult long before the initiative process began. “Now it’s gone, it’s gone. Now it’s not looming,” he said. “But that was out of frustration. We were totally frustrated in a sense because of what we were seeing. We were seeing incredible killing of king salmon. (Set netters would say), ‘Well, we’re allowed to kill all of those,’ and yes you are, but it’s not your money fish. Why not develop an incredibly efficient sockeye fishery and do everything you can not to kill the other fish? I think there will still be fish wars because what I’m thinking now is that (the decision) will only cause (set netters) to become more aggressive because they just won.” Despite their misgivings, Connors, Dale and Butler all said they hoped more normal dialogue could resume among competing user groups in the Cook Inlet. “We are so fortunate and so blessed to have this tremendous resource, the notion of a war is appalling if you think about it,” Butler said. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected] Rashah McChesney can be reached at [email protected]

ADFG insists studies were used despite going unpublished

Use it, then lose it, was the fate of a long-delayed Kenai River habitat study until the Alaska Department of Fish and Game finally published it last fall. A 14-year publication delay on a Kenai River habitat study has made ripples through ADFG and the Cook Inlet fishing sphere as officials have acknowledged that taking so long to finalize the report was a mistake but insist they still used the report’s recommendations in management plans. Some commercial fishing stakeholders have alleged the report’s delay was politically motivated because it found adverse impacts to habitat caused by shoreside angling, while ADFG maintains it was a simple lapse. “It’s not uncommon for reports to get stacked up,” said ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten. “There’s no knowledge of holding back information or anything other than a tardy report.” Cotten also dismissed speculation that Gov. Bill Walker had learned of the report and ordered its publication. “He would have had to act through me to do that, and that certainly didn’t happen,” said Cotten, who had a briefing from ADFG division directors prior to an interview with the Journal. Walker’s office also denies he had anything to do with the report being published. The study was part of a series that produced five annual reports from 1997-2001. Those between 1997-99 were published within the usual one- to three-year range, but the 2000 and 2001 studies weren’t published until October 2015.  The series was born into a tense political situation around the Kenai River’s user groups — commercial, sport, and personal use. Throughout the 1990s, the Board of Fisheries had been slowly changing Kenai River management plans for the growing sport fishing sector, partly instate and partly tourist driven. At the 1996 Board of Fisheries meeting, the board boosted the sockeye salmon share and slackened bag and possession limits for the in-river sport fishery and personal use fishery at the Kenai River’s mouth. The department and board said they would rethink liberalizations if there were evidence sportfishing contributed to habitat damage. According to the study’s authors, Mary King and Patricia Hansen, the 1997, 1998, and 1999 studies were less precise than the unpublished 2000 and 2001 studies. The cleaner data showed linkages between shore-based angling and riparian habitat degradation. King and Hansen presented the information at the 2002 Board of Fisheries meeting, which Hansen said partially explains the length of the publication delay. Ironically, with the best data having been already presented to the board, publication took a backseat to management. “People felt that that data had been put our there,” Hansen said. “That’s why it took so much longer. We had been improving our methods all along. Our data was less noisy. It was just better data towards the end.” Hansen and other ADFG biologists said the report moved to the bottom of the pile and stayed there. Department staff moved around or retired, so the report didn’t receive continual pressure for publication. Knowledge of the report’s delay surfaced at the Board of Fisheries’ 2014 Upper Cook Inlet finfish meeting. Lisa Gabriel, administrative assistant for commercial fishing industry group Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association, submitted a statement to the board asking why the board had not completed any further habitat studies. Gabriel’s insistence prompted the department to move the report forward for publication. “We did want to get this out of our hair,” said Hansen. “It shouldn’t have taken that long, it was a bad thing on our part.” Forrest Bowers, director of ADFG’s Commercial Fisheries Division, said he’s familiar with the King and Hansen study. Bowers’ feelings on the report’s 14-year publication delay are mixed. ADFG often shelves studies; however, he said that betrays an obligation the department has to the public. “If we undertake a report or a study, it’s our intention and our obligation to the public to publish it for peers,” Bowers said. “But sometimes the timelines do get drawn out. I’ve been involved with reports earlier in my career where it took several years to get those reports out for one reason or another.” While he recognizes the need for timely publication, also knows studies can impact policy without being formally published. “Just because a report hasn’t been published, doesn’t preclude us from acting on any of the findings,” he said. The department maintains that the 2000 and 2001 studies weren’t published because the concerns were already beginning to be addressed. ADFG biologists said the department regularly considers habitat, and that the delayed reports don’t represent the totality of effort put into protections. “Everyone is aware of habitat issues,” said Hansen, who still works as a statistician for ADFG. “That’s just something everybody works with in mind. No habitat, no fish.” ADFG chief fisheries scientist Jim Hasbrouck said he couldn’t remember specifically which programs the department began as a result of the study. Habitat restoration projects were ongoing at the time and hard to tie to one origin in particular. “I don’t know that walkways were in specific response,” said Hasbrouck, referring to structures along riverbanks that were constructed to preserve habitat. “I think some of that was just a recognition that things like bank restoration projects would be good for the environment. There were stream bank closures that were done prior to 2001. I don’t know that there are specifics in Mary’s report, but there is a relationship there. It did provide information to the board.” According to Robert Begich, ADFG’s Kenai River area sportfishing manager, the department had already begun implementing some of the report’s recommendations by the time it was presented to the Board of Fisheries in 2002. “There’s a whole bunch of studies that aren’t published,” said Begich, “but the information is still used. Some of the properties the project was working on were closed. River Mile 25 was in the study, it’s a habitat closure now.” Begich said other habitat-related studies in the area were similarly used without publication. A study on Slikok Creek riparian habitats in the early 2000s wasn’t published, but ADFG nevertheless installed a recommended culvert in 2006. Continual water quality and habitat studies prompted the department to ban two-stroke engines in the Kenai River Special Management Area in 2008 along with assorted horsepower and length restrictions for powerboats. “These reports are all still germane to how the river is managed today,” Begich said. Unpublished scientific papers, called “gray literature,” are a divisive issue within the academic community. Without peer review, some question whether the studies meet the strictest scholastic muster. Former ADFG biologist Ken Tarbox said the delayed publication is evidence of ADFG shaving become less transparent. “They’re missing the purpose of science,” Tarbox said. “Science is supposed to put your information out there reviewed by peer reviewers and other scientists.” Even if ADFG uses the information in gray literature, Tarbox said the department does a disservice by ignoring the rest of the scientific community. “There are errors of omission,” he said. “You’re assuming you know everything that needs to be done, which is very arrogant.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

AJOC EDITORIAL: Time for Penney to drop vendetta against setnetters

Bob Penney is now 0 for 2 at the Alaska Supreme Court in his efforts to reallocate Cook Inlet salmon stocks at the ballot box, but he’s not giving up the fight against commercial fishermen. It’s past time that he did after some three decades of dividing the community with his nonstop efforts to drive his neighbors out of business and turn the Kenai River into his personal playpen. After the court emphatically rejected his ballot initiative that would ban setnetting from Cook Inlet beaches on Dec. 31, Penney released a statement that, “Maybe it’s time the federal government looked into this issue.” Later, Clark Penney, the executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance started by his grandfather to push the initiative back in November 2013, said the group is looking into pursuing an Endangered Species Act listing for Kenai River king salmon. Anyone can petition for such a listing, but AFCA will have no better luck with the ESA than it had at the Alaska Supreme Court. Abundance of the late run of Kenai River kings is no doubt at a low point, but the stock has never failed to meet its escapement goal and in fact returned in strong enough numbers to allow all user groups more liberal harvest opportunity in 2015. The early run of Kenai River kings, on the other hand, has failed repeatedly in recent years to meet minimum escapement goals and was closed to all sportfishing in the past two years. Notice it hasn’t been closed to commercial fishing. That’s because commercial fishermen haven’t been in the water during the early run for decades as the stock abundance cratered under heavy pressure from the guided angler industry. That’s something Penney and his like-minded friends don’t ever talk about because they can’t blame it on commercial fishing. Oh, but they can spin a fish tale, though, and never was Penney’s win-at-all-costs mentality more evident than last legislative session when his advocacy outfit led a misleading smear campaign against a well-respected member of the Kenai Peninsula community who’d been nominated to the Board of Fisheries. The successful effort by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association to defeat Soldotna habitat advocate Robert Ruffner by a single vote based on a made-up criteria about not living in Anchorage and a ridiculous accusation that he was some kind of Manchurian candidate of the commercial fishing industry was the last straw for many in the community who saw his candidacy as an opportunity to break up what had become a polarized board dominated by factions instead of facts. KRSA, which is based in Soldotna, claims to be a conservation organization. The words “Kenai River” are in its name. Yet they waged a public relations war against a neighbor and conservationist despite his widespread endorsements from the local legislative delegation, municipal governments, and chambers of commerce. And they won, as they often have in the Cook Inlet fish wars they keep fueling. A similarly dishonest campaign was waged two years earlier, and succeeded in getting board member Vince Webster booted by an identical 30-29 vote. At both the 2011 and 2014 Upper Cook Inlet meetings, KRSA was able to essentially write the management plan for the Kenai River. In 2011, the group’s proposal severed the historical split between setnetters and drifters, turning what had typically been a 50-50 ratio into a 2-1 gap amounting to millions of dollars in reallocation. In 2014, KRSA was able to go further, getting the board to adopt a plan that removed almost all discretion from the day-to-day fishery managers in favor of the arbitrary hours and so-called “paired restrictions” designed to render setnetting uneconomic. One of the most damaging provisions KRSA was able to push through was a rule that after Aug. 1 the Department of Fish and Game must still restrict commercial fishing if the king salmon escapement is projected to be less than 22,500. That is the mid-point of the escapement goal, or 50 percent above the minimum. Last year, with the king salmon escapement goal ensured of being met, the sockeye run showed up in force at record late dates, and millions of dollars worth of fish went unharvested in August because of a rule in the management plan that has no basis in science but instead reflects the political muscle of KRSA to get what it wants at the Board of Fisheries. Penney couldn’t influence the Supreme Court with campaign donations and a Kenai River Classic perk package, though, and this time he’s going to have to take “no” for an answer. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Annual best and worst of the past year in state fisheries

2016 marks a quarter of a century for this weekly column that targets Alaska’s seafood industry. At the end of every year, I proffer my “no holds barred” look back at the best and worst fish stories, and select the biggest story of the year. The list is in no particular order and I’m sure to be missing a few, but here are the Fishing Picks and Pans for 2015: Most eco-friendly fish feat: The massive airlift/barge project led by the Department of Environmental Conservation that removed more than 800,000 pounds of marine debris from remote Alaska beaches. Best new fish service: “Print at home” fishing licenses (and more) by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon — Frankenfish Best fish financial potential: Mariculture for more shellfish, sea “vegetables” —shrimp? Worst fish kick the can: The Department of Natural Resources’ stall on a salmon vs. coalmine water rights decision at the Chuitna watershed in Upper Cook Inlet. DNR awarded a small reservation to protect salmon while allowing more time for PacRim coal to prove that building Alaska’s largest coal mine won’t hurt salmon and the ecosystem. Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Pacific Seafoods Processing Association among the appellants in a lawsuit against DNR’s decision to grant water reservation rights for the first time to a private entity, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition (See above) Biggest fish hurry up: Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Not much extra bunk space on a 40 footer. Biggest fish phonies: Kenai-based sportfish enthusiasts bankrolling an effort to ban setnet gear in “urban” areas in the name of conservation. Their claims that setnets are an “outdated gear and devastating, indiscriminate killers” ignore 10 years of ADFG data showing that 99.996 percent of setnet harvests is salmon. Best fish quick fix: The JDBeltz, by Anne Morris of Sand Point — a horizontal Vicky knife holder that prevents leg pokings. Best fish sigh of relief: Federal fish managers allowing the use of pots, instead of longlines, to catch black cod. The gear shift prevents whales from stripping the pricey fish from hooks, leaving only the lips. Fishermen call it “getting whaled.” Best fish visionary: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention. Best fish fighters: The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP, for fighting tirelessly to get tasty, “kid approved” fish meals into school lunch programs, and for getting the pollock name corrected on federal food lists to guarantee the fish is top quality. Best fish energy booster: Bob Varness of Juneau for the first in the nation electric powered passenger boat, the E/V Tongass Rain, set to be out on the water doing eco-tours this summer. Next up: all electric fishing boats. Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for low cost courses in vessel hydraulics, electronics, maintenance and repairs, fish technicians and more — most are available on-line; Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents. Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, on its way to donating 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994. Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Best fish boosters: Juneau Economic Development Council for ramping up visibility of the local fishing/processing sector, and envisioning big opportunities in mariculture and fish “co-products.” Fondest fish farewell: Ray RaLonde, who retired from Alaska Sea Grant after decades of creating and nurturing the state’s fledgling mariculture industry. Best fish informer: Julie Speegle, Communications Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries/Juneau Saddest fish story: The sudden and untimely death of Greg Fisk, fisheries advocate and newly elected Juneau mayor. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which generates nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower. Kodiak also turns its fish wastes into oils and meals at a “gurry” plant owned by local processors, and the city plans to turn its sludge water into compost. Best fish gadget: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It’s free. Most encouraging fish pols: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is documented and happening fastest in Arctic waters. Biggest fish brush off: Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which has voted to tank every climate change/clean air/clean water measure that has come before Congress in favor of fossil fuels. No comments on the 200+ nation climate accord in Paris. How will that play in Kivalina? Best fish to kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI. Best global fish story: The U.S. and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported, or IUU, catches by fish pirates—more 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com; Pacific Fishing Magazine’s Fish Wrap Best fish watchers: Trustees for Alaska, Cook Inletkeeper Best new fish writer: DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce Best fish economists: Gunnar Knapp, ISER; Andy Wink, McDowell Group Worst fish travesty: Halibut catches for commercial and sport users slashed every year while fishing fleets take millions of pounds as bycatch. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go. Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries offices in Alaska. Best go to bat for fishermen/fishing towns: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans programs which aim to expand statewide. Most ambitious fish dilemma: The plan to reduce bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include apportioning 25 different types of groundfish among all user groups. Tastiest new family fish products: Trident’s Ultimate Fish Sticks, Pickled Willy’s Smoked Black Cod Tips Best fish partnership: Golden king crabbers and state biologists teaming up to do the first stock surveys that span 800 miles along the Aleutian Islands Best fish show offs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 23 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. Biggest fish story of 2015: 50 cents for reds at Bristol Bay and a nearly 70 percent drop in Alaska salmon prices across the board. The perfect storm of adverse global currencies, big inventories and record U.S. imports of farmed salmon could stoke a similar trend in 2016. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board of Fisheries set to take up Yukon-Kuskokwim issues

Years of declining king salmon stocks will control the Alaska Board of Fisheries’ Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim meeting in Fairbanks set for Jan. 12-16. Since the last AYK meeting in 2013, the board and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game have put a tight leash on Yukon and Kuskokwim fisheries. Villagers along both rivers need ways to keep fed and keep paid, but simultaneously ask for even stricter controls on king salmon, especially on the Kuskokwim where middle and upper rivers users are seeing even less of the already-scarce fish. The major Kuskokwim proposals aim to tweak the king salmon management framework for fairer subsistence harvest. Bethel-area fishermen catch up to 80 percent of the river’s total, already below the amount needed for subsistence. Proposed fixes include installing a first-ever subsistence permit system, creating inriver goals for chinook, and tightening the trigger for commercial openings. Management during low abundance of kings hobbled the 2015 Kuskokwim season. The Kuskokwim River produced some surplus chinook for subsistence, but nowhere near the official amount needed for subsistence, or ANS. The ANS, a number set by the Board of Fisheries, is 67,200 to 109,800, and hasn’t been met in five years. The average subsistence harvest is 84,000. ADFG estimates the Kuskokwim River chinook salmon subsistence harvest in 2015 was between 17,000 and 25,000. The Bethel Test Fishery measures the run of king salmon as it comes in, but is not as accurate as a sonar counter, which the department likely cannot afford with budget cutbacks looming for state agencies. Several proposals want to use the test fishery to base restrictions that will allow upriver harvest. The Orutsaramiut Native Council proposed that no subsistence fishing be allowed in the river at all until 50 percent of the forecasted kings have passed the Bethel Test Fishery, reserving the other 50 percent for upriver users. Two proposals, submitted by the Kuskokwim Native Association and the Stony-Holitna Fish and Game Advisory Committee, ask that an in-river goal be set above the Bethel Test Fishery. An in-river goal, they theorize, will spread more salmon to the middle and upper river. By setting the in-river goal above the Bethel Test Fishery, they believe more salmon will work their way upriver rather than being caught in the comparatively population heavy Bethel area. The Stony-Holitna committee also requests that the board create a first-ever subsistence permit system to make the limited chinook more available to middle and upper river users. ADFG would be able to restrict licenses and dole them out evenly in times of low abundance, the committee believes. Yukon proposals, also impacted by chinook conservation measures, seek to stretch commercial fishing opportunities by allowing new gear types and even creating a fishery for new species. The weak 2015 outlook for Yukon chinook coincided with a below forecast chum salmon run. The 2015 summer chum salmon preseason estimate was 1.8 million to 2.4 million fish, leaving 800,000 to 1,400,000 for commercial harvest. Only 358,000 chum were harvested in 2015, alongside an escapement of 1.3 million. The trick is to catch the chum without killing kings. “The trend lately has been to find alternative gear types that allow for live chinook releases,” said John Linderman, a fish and game coordinator for ADFG’s Commercial Fisheries Division. The department has created several restrictions on the mesh size, depth, length, and allowable time for gillnets, which are the historical favorite for both subsistence and commercial Yukon fishermen. In their place, cleaner but less effective dipnets, beach seines, and fish wheels are used. One proposal would create a purse seine fishery for Yukon commercial fishermen, which would avoid the incidental chinook deaths gillnets tend to cause. Similar purse seine programs are used for hatchery chinook on the Columbia River but have no history on the Yukon or with wild chinook stock. The prospect could prove uneconomical for the delta residents. Conversion to purse seining operations would be expensive, and only allowed in times of low chinook abundance. The limited opportunity might not justify the cost. Kwik’pak Fisheries, owned by the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, submitted a proposal to create a pink salmon fishery for the Yukon. Pink runs are fairly strong in the region — 513,599 pinks passed the Pilot Station sonar counter in 2014 — but also difficult to plan around chinook avoidance measures, as sizable runs come only every other year.

Setnet ban ruled unconstitutional

The Alaska Supreme Court overturned a lower court ruling on Thursday, declaring a ballot initiative to ban setnets in certain areas of the state unconstitutional. Calling the initiative a “give-away program” that was designed to appeal to the self-interests of non-commercial fishermen, the court issued an opinion on Thursday that put an end to a lengthy legal process that began in late 2013. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott certified the ballot initiative after the initiative’s sponsor, the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, submitted 43,000 signatures in support of the measure, 36,000 of which were declared valid by the Division of Elections. The initiative would have almost exclusively impacted the Kenai Peninsula, where 735 setnet permits are registered alongside a large guided angler industry. Alaska residents hold more than 80 percent of the permits. After the initiative was filed, then-Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected it in January 2014 as an allocative measure, which is prohibited by the Alaska Constitution. AFCA appealed and won a reversal in Superior Court that allowed it to begin collecting signatures. "I'm still shaking," said Resources for All Alaskans President Jim Butler. Resources for all Alaskans, or RFAA, is a relatively new group formed to combat the setnet ban. It weighed in on the argument in March 2014 supporting the state's assertion that the initiative was a prohibited appropriation of state resources. At the time, Butler said the idea of banning setnetting at the ballot box was bad policy. "The proposal to ban setnetters is particularly destructive because it doesn't address the real reasons for declining king salmon populations and would instantly destroy 500 small Alaska family businesses and hundreds of other jobs," Butler said at the time. The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance released a statement saying its members were disappointed by the decision and referring to the signatures of more than 43,000 registered voters who signed to have the ban put on the ballot. "We are disappointed with the court's decision to deny voters an opportunity to weigh in on the method and means for harvesting," said AFCA president Joe Connors in the written statement. Founding member Bob Penney is also quoted in the statement, he said he is "deeply disappointed because the Kenai Kings are the real loser here and it now seems their species will continue to decline. Maybe it’s time the federal government looked into this issue." According to the court, commercial setnetters are a distinct user group who would be unfairly stripped of a public resource allocation — their part of the millions of salmon that return to Alaska each year — to another party’s benefit. Most of the members of AFCA are sportfishermen who would ostensibly see more salmon inriver where the commercial nets to be removed from the water; one board member, Joe Connors, is a former setnetter. Banning setnets, the court wrote in a Dec. 31 ruling, that the initiative would essentially devote salmon to a specific user group on the Kenai Peninsula, to the exclusion of another.  “We concluded that the initiative in question was a give-away program because it was ‘designed to appeal to the self-interests of sport, personal, and subsistence fishers, in that those groups were specifically targeted to receive state assets in the circumstance of harvestable shortages,” the court wrote. The court also concluded that the ballot initiative would have narrowed the Legislature’s and Board of Fisheries’ ability to make allocations. “If (the initiative) were enacted, then neither the Legislature or the Board would be able to allocate any salmon stock to this significant, existing user group.” AFCA’s attorney, Matt Singer, had argued that Alaska has a history of making resource-related ballot initiative decisions, such as aerial wolf hunting and bear baiting. The Supreme Court said the argument is invalid, as the user groups for salmon are more clearly defined. “Under the Limited Entry Act and its implementing regulations, commercial set netters must obtain gear-specific setnet permits, which are limited in number, hold significant value, and may be bought and sold,” the court wrote. “This makes commercial setnetters a far more cohesive, recognizable, and permanent group than individuals who hunt wolves using same-day aerial techniques and snares, or who hunt bears using baiting or feeding methods.”   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Groundfish stocks look mostly healthy as season begins

“Tis the season for even bigger Alaska fish catches when groundfish seasons open at the start of the New Year. Catches of pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish account for nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s harvest poundage, and 67 percent of the nation’s total groundfish harvests. Those numbers could increase due to boosts in several catch quotas in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea for the next two years. For pollock, the nation’s largest fishery, the catch is up slightly to 1.3 million metric tons, or just under three billion pounds. The Pacific cod quota is down a bit to 525 million pounds, not because of stock declines, but to accommodate the catches of competing gears and fleets, said Diana Stram, Bering Sea groundfish plan coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore. Flatfish stocks also are very healthy, Stram said, but catches were lowered due to halibut bycatch concerns from trawl and longline vessels. “The fisheries worked voluntarily last year to reduce their halibut bycatch and they did a good job, but it still remains a concern,” she said. No matter how robust the stocks are, Alaska fish managers always opt for sustainable harvest numbers. In the Bering Sea, that means never exceeding a two million-metric ton harvest cap. “The biomass overall in the Bering Sea is extremely healthy for all of the stocks. In terms of the catch quotas, the balancing act is really the constraint of the two million metric ton cap,” Stram explained. “While a lot of the stocks could have higher TACs (total allowable catches), the Council balances between the different stocks and the different fleets in order to meet that limit.” There are 22 different species under the Council’s purview, Stram added, along, with non-targeted species like sharks, sculpin and squids taken incidentally in other fisheries. Fish stocks also are booming in the Gulf of Alaska where catches will be up overall by 6 percent. “It sure looks good. Pollock is up about 30 percent and Pacific cod is down just a smidge but nothing we’re too worried about,” said Jim Armstrong, plan coordinator for Gulf groundfish. Gulf pollock catches will be 572 million pounds in 2016 and 2017, and cod at about 158 million pounds. A total of 25 different species are tracked throughout the Gulf, he added, “and about 130 when various complexes, like rockfish, are broken out.” One red flag, Armstrong said, is sablefish, which is managed both in the Gulf and Bering Sea as a single unit stock. A continued downward trend has decreased those catches by 14 percent. “It’s a concern,” he said “One of the reassurances is that this coming year we’re going to have a sort of second opinion by the Center for Independent Experts who will review the sablefish stock assessment so we’ll better understand what’s behind the downward trend.” Both coordinators credit the Council for its ecosystem approach to fisheries management and always deferring to the best available science. “Our council has always valued the scientific input and the rigorous assessments that go into each fishing cycle, as well as taking into consideration other things that are going on in terms of bycatch of halibut, and also salmon and crab and herring. And just looking at the catch setting process on an annual basis is a really good example of that,” Stram said. Armstrong credits the multi-levels of scrutiny and review the Council scientists and advisory panels contribute each year. He is a newcomer to the NPFMC staff since July, after a 10-year tenure with the mid-Atlantic council. “This is the big leagues,” he said. “It’s 10 times greater in terms of the value and the quantity, the number of fish species that are managed, and I think it scales up the amount of energy that is put into management itself. Everything is bigger here.” Millions more pounds of groundfish also will hail from state managed fisheries within three miles of shore. Got jellies? Jellyfish abundances, or a lack thereof, can tell a lot about what is happening in the oceans on a larger scale. Researchers are now calling on “citizen scientists” to post jellyfish observations on a special website: jellywatch.org. “Citizen science in general is valuable because it is multiplied with such large numbers. To tap into that pool of has huge advantages for a data set,” said Dr. Steven Haddock, a researcher from University of California at Santa Cruz who studies marine bioluminescence, zooplankton and deep sea jellyfish. He hopes to gain more insights on near shore jellyfish varieties to model to add to the wider ocean range. Haddock also wants to test hypotheses that claim a warmer climate has boosted jellyfish blooms. There is a misconception that jellyfish thrive in warmer waters, but any seagoing Alaskan knows that’s not the case. “A common belief is that jellyfish like warmer water for some reason, but in Alaska, the species like the lion’s mane, are really restricted to colder water,” he told KTOO in Juneau. Haddock said it’s great if website postings include a photo, but descriptions alone are helpful, such as one from a Ketchikan diver. “He didn’t have a photo, but he gave a description of this jelly that sounds like a deep-sea species that we discovered here in Monterey. It’s called Tiburonia and we call it ‘the big red’ because it’s the size of a beach ball,” Haddock explained. “So this guy diving said ‘I feel like I’m reporting a big-foot sighting.’ I think it actually could be a sighting of this relatively newly discovered deep-sea species that he saw while scuba diving off Ketchikan.” Observations of no jellyfish sightings also are helpful. Haddock said “clean seas” reports make documented sightings more valid, as seeing none are as valuable as seeing many. Give salmon a brake Washington State is protecting salmon by removing copper from automotive brakes. A Better Brakes law passed in 2010 went into effect this year, and will phase out copper completely by 2025. “You touch your brakes and a little bit of material gets deposited on the road. And from there it washes into a stream or river where salmon may be spawning or trying to go home or getting back to the ocean,” said Ian Wesley, Better Brakes Coordinator at the Washington Department of Ecology. The program was spawned after years of research showed that even trace levels of copper in water will damage a salmon’s ability to smell. “The Northwest Fisheries Science Center has done a lot of work on how copper affects a salmon’s ability to smell, and juvenile salmon are particularly susceptible to these effects,” Wesley explained. “Even trace levels of copper will damage their ability to smelling, which inhibits their ability to avoid predators. They will release a hormone into the water that alerts other fish when there is danger nearby, and it prevents other salmon from being able to smell that. So they won’t know when danger is in the water and they won’t hide from it.” Wesley said the program was driven by a partnership between brake makers, water quality watchers and regulators. Brake manufacturers agreed that if it was shown their products were causing environmental harm, they would work to phase copper out of their brake pads. Now, any brakes sold in the state come with a Better Brake logo. “If you want to sell brakes in Washington State you need to mark your products with a three leaf logo,” Wesley said. “The brake manufacturers have registered it, and it shows the level of copper concentration in a brake pad. If all three leafs are filled in, it means there is no copper in the product, when two are filled in, it means there is less than five percent copper, and when one is filled in, it means there is no asbestos or lead in the product.” The copper-free brakes cost the same as the less fish friendly models, Wesley said. Penalties for noncompliance starting in 2025 will be applied to the brake makers, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation. California has followed suit and the Better Brake program is going nationwide. “The break manufacturers have signed a memorandum of understanding with the EPA to voluntarily agree to comply with Washington’s requirements on a nationwide basis,” Wesley said. “The large retailers and distributors and manufacturers have agreed to only sell certified brakes throughout the country, and to make sure the copper requirements are met for all the brakes made.” Wesley credits U.S. brake makers for willingly making changes to give salmon a break. “The brake manufacturers really deserve a lot of credit, and they have been moving faster than we expected them to,” he said. “They’ve really gone above and beyond.” Washington laws also strongly encourage grassy alternatives to drains and pipes that let road runoff become cleanses by percolating through the ground, as it did before urban areas were paved over. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

User conflicts over halibut, salmon on horizon for 2016

The year about to end saw the beginnings of some fisheries regulations and legal battles that will either resolve, or present further issues, in 2016. Halibut has dominated the federal fisheries agenda for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the Exclusive Economic Zone from three to 200 miles off the coast. Shrinking halibut stocks and dual management have collided to produce a fishery bitterly divided among bycatch users, directed users, and charter anglers struggling to make ends meet with fewer legally harvestable fish. The council will enact or further review several measures to ease the situation and provide a more collaborative and holistic approach to halibut management. A program for Recreational Quota Entities will be released for public review in 2016. Recreational Quota Entities, or RQEs, would purchase halibut quota from commercial halibut fishermen for the charter fleet to use. Currently charter operators may only lease quota. Commercial concerns about raising the price of commercial quota, among others, prompted the council to tweak the RQE proposal. It will likely release it for public review at its February meeting in Portland or April meeting in Anchorage. The council will also review a broader halibut management framework plan to smooth some of the difficulties it has managing the resource in tandem with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, a joint U.S.-Canadian body which sets quota limits for the directed halibut fishermen. Among the most important points of the framework is a potential for biomass-based halibut bycatch limits. Currently, halibut bycatch limits for the flatfish trawlers in the Bering Sea are capped, and do not move with the abundance of legally harvestable halibut. The council will review methods for abundance based halibut limits in 2016. In state fisheries, all eyes will be on the Supreme Court of Alaska to rule on a ballot initiative proposed by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance. The initiative would ban setnet gear in urban areas, almost exclusively impacting Cook Inlet East Side setnetters where 735 setnet permits are registered alongside a large guided angler industry. Alaska residents hold more than 80 percent of the commercial permits. The Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments in August from the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance and the State of Alaska; the state is arguing the measure is unconstitutional as a prohibited allocation of a resource while the AFCA argues it is not allocative and simply bans a gear type. If allowed, the initiative could appear on the 2016 ballot and go into effect as early as 2017. State fisheries managers and legislators will wish to avoid the messy Board of Fisheries confirmation fights of 2015. The board will look to the Legislature to confirm the most recent appointee to the seven-member board, Bob Mumford, during the 2016 Legislative session. Mumford was named by Gov. Bill Walker to fill the seat after his first two nominations didn’t make the cut, one withdrawing from the process and the second defeated by the Legislature. Alaska Department of Fish and Game managers will keep a close eye on both the returns of chinook salmon, which have largely been in decline statewide over the past several years, and sockeye salmon, which showed eye-raising behavior in 2015 with late, large runs and below-average size. To catch them in Bristol Bay, the state’s largest sockeye run, fishermen are asking for guarantees they’ll get paid more than in 2015. Bristol Bay fishermen signed a petition late in 2015 to ensure some kind of contract transparency for their dealings with processors. In 2015, Bristol Bay fishermen were only paid 50 cents per pound, half the average rate, due to a confluence of market factors. Though that price is tied to a web of influences, fishermen often suspect processors’ prices.

FISH FACTOR: Awards for crab shell clothes; boards hear advice for cuts

Alaska crab shells are fueling an eco-revolution that will drive new income streams for fabrics to pharmaceuticals to water filters. And for the first time, it is happening in the U.S. and not overseas. The entrepreneurs at Tidal Vision in October made the leap from their labs in Juneau to a pilot plant outside of Seattle to test an earth-friendly method that extracts chitin, the structural element in the exoskeletons of shellfish and insects. Their first big run a few weeks ago was tested on a 60,000 pound batch of crab shells delivered by Trident Seafoods from St. Paul Island. The end product they are going for is chitosan, a fibrous polysaccharide that, among other things, can be woven into fabrics and textiles, and has no end of commercial and biomedical uses. Chitosan can fetch from $10 to $30,000 a pound depending on quality and usages, and up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades, said Craig Kasberg, former fisherman and now Tidal Vision’s Captain Executive Officer. Chitosan has been produced commercially in China and India since the late 1950s by using chemicals and waste methods that would never pass the muster of U.S. environmental regulators. That’s all changed with Tidal Vision. “We do not use harsh chemicals and we are able to recycle 89 percent of the chemicals we use. The other 11 percent reacts with everything else in the crab shell — the calcium, protein and lipids — and produces a fertilizer that several agriculture companies are doing trials with,” Kasberg said in a phone call from SafeCo Field, where Tidal Vision was claiming two awards. From the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology for Safer Manufacturing and Cleaner Products, he explained. Tidal Vision expects to process 100 million pounds of crab shells during its first year. Shortly after, it projects taking up to 200 million pounds of crab shells from Trident plants, and all shells from the Bering Sea crab fisheries by 2021. “Which is huge considering that with some species they are losing 35 percent in the guts and the shells. So we’re able to cut that in half by processing the shells,” Kasberg said. “I am a strong believer in 100 percent utilization of our resources and working with Tidal Vision has been fantastic,” said Joe Bundrant, Trident Seafoods CEO, in an email. The small company’s long term goal is to build full scale chitin plants next to existing crab processing plants in Alaska, along with mobile plants for areas with smaller catches and shorter seasons. More immediately, Kasberg said Tidal Vision is “vertically integrating into the textile, fiber and commercial filtration markets.” The group’s new clothing line, ChitoSkin, has caught the attention of Grundens, and by next summer, Alaska salmon fishermen may be wearing rain gear that won’t mold or smell. Kasberg said the company also is developing and testing a chitosan filtration system for a coal mining company in British Columbia. “Chitosan reacts very quickly to toxins and bonds really fast. Instead of filling manmade lakes with effluent that is acidic and full of heavy metals, they could instead be pumping out pure drinking water,” Kasberg said. “That’s close to my heart with all the trans-boundary river issues in Southeast, and we really are passionate about accomplishing that.” Board budgets The state Boards of Fisheries and Game got a helpful earful about ways to trim their budget in the face of next year’s fiscal onslaught, and feedback is continuing online. More than a dozen Alaskans shared ideas during a daylong listening session last week in Anchorage focused solely on cutting costs within the Boards’ annual meeting cycles. “Just based on the normal board meeting schedules, we don’t even have enough at status quo in terms of a budget to meet their needs,” said Glenn Haight, Executive Director of Fish and Game Board Support, adding that the combined meeting costs vary each year, but are roughly $500,000. One message was loud and clear at the Anchorage meeting: don’t cut the public out of the rule making process. “We’re not at all interested in helping the department diminish the public’s ability to participate in the regulatory process by supporting any cuts to the board,” said Gary Stevens on behalf of the Alaska Outdoor Council. “We have a hard time understanding why any of the cuts need to come out of the statutorily protected process of regulating fish and game.” Another unpopular idea was extending beyond the current three-year regional meeting cycles, which would save $100,000 for board support tasks. “Don’t move the three-year cycle to five-year cycles,” said Gary Cline of Dillingham. “I do agree that it is too long. Mainly because the decisions made at these meetings have such a huge impact on our Alaskan residents.” Maintaining local board advisory committees also was supported. Haight said that includes travel expenses of $200,000 to $230,000 for members of 60 to 70 active committees. Reducing the number of Fish and Game staff that attends board meetings also was suggested, and there has been much talk about reducing the number of regulatory proposals the boards address — upwards of 400 to 500 each year — or streamlining the process. “I think that individuals should still be able to submit proposals,” Gayla Hoseth of Dillingham told KDLG. “I really believe that one voice is a strong voice. Because one voice could make a difference and I don’t want it to change where we don’t have that voice anymore.” The joint boards plan to meet again in January. Meanwhile, more feedback and ideas are encouraged at an online survey. Cannery call The Alaska Historical Society, or AHS, is seeking sponsors and donors for its Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative. “This all started because people are worried about the state of the old canneries around Alaska, and they are scared that so many are disappearing from the landscape. So we really want to do more to document these places and their stories,” said Anjuli Grantham, a public historian in Kodiak and director for the Initiative. AHS is asking individuals, businesses, and communities to share photos, memories and stories from the canneries, salteries, processors, and herring plants that dotted Alaska’s coasts. “The purpose is to document, preserve, and educate about the history of seafood processing in Alaska,” Grantham said, adding that only two canneries are listed on the national register of historic places in Alaska. The AHS is offering grant money to help with the cause. “It’s a really broad program,” she added. “It could be an oral history project; it could be money to buy lumber if you want to restore a portion of an old cannery building. It could go toward a film or gathering photographs for an archive. If the project has anything to do with the history of the fishing industry in Alaska, you are eligible to apply for funding.” Deadline to apply is Jan. 1. www.alaskahistoricalsociety.org Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Spending bill requires GE salmon labeling rules

A Congressional spending bill would require the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to create a labeling mandate regarding genetically engineered salmon, though the bill’s language might allow some federal wiggle room. The bill, which sets federal spending limits for the upcoming year, is expected to be voted on by both Congressional houses on Dec. 18. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, has found a way to crystallize widespread opposition to the FDA’s approval of genetically engineered salmon. “The bill would forbid the FDA from allowing genetically engineered salmon into the market…until the FDA has published final labeling guidelines,” said Murkowski in a telephone press conference Dec. 17. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved Massachusetts company AquaBounty’s genetically engineered salmon for human consumption on Nov. 19. An AquAdvantage Atlantic salmon splices several different fish genes together to grow market-ready size salmon at twice the rate of wild salmon, which requires between three and five years to grow to marketable size. AquaBounty has been trying to get the product approved for human use since 1996. The FDA found no nutritional difference between AquAdvantage fish and wild Atlantic salmon. Alaska’s officials say they remain unconvinced of the fish’s safety. Currently, the FDA offers retailers the option to label their salmon as GE or non-GE, but there is no requirement. Guidelines could potentially amount to something less than a clear-cut GE or non-GE label. The language of the bill requires labeling guidelines, but does not explicitly mandate any particular labeling for genetically engineered salmon, which is the ultimate goal according to Murkowski. Murkowski said she plans to “hold (the FDA’s) feet to the fire” to make sure the bill’s intent isn’t compromised. “You always worry about whether the regulators are going to be as cooperative and stick to the intent of what we’ve outlined,” said Murkowski. “We want consumers to know that that fish is genetically engineered. Believe you me: we’ll be on the FDA with this.” Murkowski’s bill addition has muscle behind it. In a Nov. 23 press release, Alaska’s senior senator said she would block the Legislative confirmation of Dr. Robert Califf as FDA chief until labeling requirements are met. “I made it very clear I would hold his nomination,” said Murkowski. “I want to know how he views the language.” Alaska’s congressional delegation and local elected officials have all expressed disapproval of the FDA’s decision. Apart from safety concerns, representatives fear market competition for Alaska salmon fishermen. Since the FDA’s approval, the private sector has been making its own decisions regarding AquaBounty products. Over 60 retailers have already refused to sell AquAdvantage salmon, including Kroger, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

YEAR IN REVIEW: Federal agenda dominated by halibut bycatch concerns

Halibut dominated the federal fisheries process in 2015, with each sector fighting over reduced allocations. Directed halibut fishermen in the North Pacific have watched their quotas drop while the trawl industry prosecuting Bering Sea groundfish has had a relatively static bycatch limit for 20 years. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs bycatch while the International Pacific Halibut Commission governs directed removals, and the two have not coordinated on the decline in harvestable halibut biomass. To remedy the situation, the six Alaskan members of the North Pacific council made an emergency request to the Department of Commerce December 2014 asking for an reduction of 33 percent of the trawl fleet’s bycatch limit. The Department of Commerce, in turn, requested that the IPHC make an emergency allocation to Central Bering Sea fishermen that exceeded the staff recommendation. The commission agreed, setting the Central Bering Sea harvest limit at 1.285 million pounds of halibut, well above the recommended limit but at the minimum Bering Sea fishermen said they need to survive. At its June meeting, the North Pacific council took a further step and slashed the Bering Sea and Aleutians Islands trawl fleet’s bycatch limits by 25 percent overall. The council discussed further halibut saving measures the rest of the year. In the Gulf of Alaska, the council is still reviewing a plan to address bycatch in Gulf trawl fisheries. Around the Gulf, charter angler guides have received yet another tightening of rules. Halibut anglers in Southcentral Alaska, also known as Area 3A, will have the same amount of fish to catch as in 2015, but be allowed to keep fewer. Anglers can only catch four per year instead of the five they were allowed in 2015, though the council authorized a two-fish daily bag limit with a size limit on one fish. Weekly daylong closures, which the council first added last year, will be held on Wednesdays for the entire Southcentral area. In Southeast Alaska, anglers in 2016 will be allowed only one fish per trip either shorter than 42 inches or longer than 80 inches. Southeast guided angler quota rose to 847,000 pounds, about 80,000 pounds more than last year. These charter rules mirror those of 2015. 2. Lots of salmon, but underweight and late Unknown factors collaborated to bring the second-largest harvest on record for Alaska salmon, but one that arrived late in many areas and with a trend of underweight fish. Statewide, the commercial salmon harvest of all species was 247 million fish, greater than the 2015 harvest projection of 220 million and the 2005-14 average of 179 million fish. This year’s harvest was the second highest since 1994, following only 2013, when the harvest was 273 million fish. Bristol Bay sockeye led in value with an immense but oddly timed run of sub-average-sized fish, while a bumper pink salmon harvest in the Prince William Sound matched exactly an inexplicable lag of Southeast pink salmon runs. Meanwhile, the international salmon market contended with price forces that included the U.S. dollar’s relative strength, Russian import bans, farmed fish and oversupply from the 2014 harvest. In Bristol Bay and in key Southcentral rivers, the run timing for sockeyes was oddly late. By the season’s July 4 midpoint, Bristol Bay biologists saw no sign the harvest would reach close to 37.6 million forecast, only to see a record rally that put the total harvest near 36.7 million, which is second only to 2014 in the last 20 years. While acknowledging wide margin of sampling error, Alaska Department of Fish and Game biologist Steve Moffitt said the average weight for a Cordova sockeye in 2015 was 5.07 pounds. The historical average, he said, is closer to 6 pounds. Kenai area commercial management biologist Pat Shields said he expects this year’s sockeye size to be smaller than average as well. Geoff Spalinger, the Kodiak area commercial fishery biologist, said the average weight for Kodiak sockeye was a half-pound below the historical average at 4.7 pounds. The average Bristol Bay sockeye weight was 5.12 pounds, smaller than the historical average and the 2014 average of 5.92 pounds. 3. Setnet ban in judges’ hands Alaska Supreme Court judges have still not ruled on a ballot initiative that would remove an entire class of fishermen from one of the state’s largest salmon fisheries. The initiative, proposed by the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance led by Bob Penney, would ban setnet gear in urban areas, almost exclusively impacting Cook Inlet East Side setnetters where 735 setnet permits are registered alongside a large guided angler industry. More than 80 percent of the commercial permits are held by Alaska residents. The Alaska Supreme Court heard arguments in August from the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance and the State of Alaska; the state is arguing the measure is unconstitutional as a prohibited allocation of a resource. The judges have yet to issue decision. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott certified the ballot initiative after the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance submitted 43,000 signatures in support of the measure in August. The issue has been at court since it the initiative was filed in late 2013; then-Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected it in January 2014 as an allocative measure, which is prohibited by the Alaska Constitution. AFCA appealed and won a reversal in Superior Court that allowed it to begin collecting signatures. The State of Alaska is appealing the lower court decision, calling the initiative an unconstitutional reallocation of salmon from one user group of fishermen to another, though not an explicit one. AFCA argues the constitutional definition of allocation should be applied literally according to a particular legal precedent. 4. A good Board of Fisheries member is hard to find The seven-person Alaska Board of Fisheries had a rough time filling one of its seats early in 2015, and the nominee has yet to be confirmed by the Legislature. Bob Mumford, a former Board of Game member, was appointed to the position on May 20 by Gov. Bill Walker after a merry-go-round of forced retirements, criminal charges, and lobbying efforts juggled three prior appointees in and out of the running. Board chair Karl Johnstone was up for reappointment this year, but Walker told Johnstone his name would not be submitted to the Legislature for reappointment in light of an unsavory Department of Fish and Game commissioner vetting process in January. Johnstone resigned in response, and vice chair Tom Kluberton, a Talkeetna lodge owner, took his place. During a joint board commissioner interview, the Board of Fisheries members voted unanimously, without comment, against forwarding Roland Maw’s name to the governor for consideration, while the Board of Game voted unanimously in favor. When Johnstone resigned, Walker then appointed Maw, a longtime Kenai Peninsula resident, commercial fisherman and former executive director of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association, but without properly vetting his past. Maw withdrew his name from consideration Feb. 20 just one month into the confirmation process during the 2015 Legislative session. He was charged with illegally obtaining resident fishing and hunting permits in Montana shortly thereafter. Walker then appointed Robert Ruffner, who was targeted for defeat by an intense lobbying effort by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association seeking to frame him as sympathetic to commercial fishing interests. Ruffner failed to be confirmed by the joint Legislature by a 30-29 vote, leading to Mumford’s appointment, which is still subject to confirmation. According to former Boards and Commissions Director Karen Gillis, Walker was ready to name Roberta “Bobbi” Quintavell to the seat despite her lack of fisheries experience and Gillis resigned her job in protest before Mumford was named. 5. The Blob A patch of warmer than average water in the Gulf of Alaska raised concerns in 2015 as biologists tied it to several upsetting trends in the region’s fisheries. Warmer and drier climates in the western U.S. combined with natural Pacific Ocean currents to cause a patch of water stretching along the West Coast and into the North Pacific with an average surface temperature of 2 degrees centigrade, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer than the historical mean. Researchers and fishermen haven’t positively connected anything sinister to the warm water, but there was no lack of troubling episodes in the Gulf of Alaska. In the summer of 2015, dead whales cropped up near Kodiak, Chignik, Katmai, Seldovia, and False Pass, along with dead sea lions in Dutch Harbor and Amalik Bay. Dead puffins and other seabirds abound along the Gulf, as well as washes of dead bait fish including sand lances and herring. Biologists suggested the small fish and late runs of sockeye salmon around Alaska could be linked to the warmer water. Warm water is conducive to certain types of algae, that crept into the Gulf of Alaska from farther south.

Council tightens Southcentral charter halibut rules for ‘16

The ratchet keeps tightening on Southcentral halibut charter operations, among other groups, and relief measures are still stuck in development. The level of legally harvestable halibut in the North Pacific has dropped for a decade, and though biologists think the biomass has stabilized, downsized fishermen continue to fight for as much valuable quota as possible. Charter guides who’ve seen their portion drop want a way to buy quota from commercial operators. The commercial fleet sees the plan as an unfair grab. They already share fish with charter guides under a catch sharing plan and there is a program for charter operators to lease, but not purchase, commercial quota.  “What happened from the mandate from the council to the charter sector that said ‘live within your allocation?’” asked Caroline Nichols, a Sitka commercial fisherwoman, at the December North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage.  The North Pacific Fishery Management Council sets the operating rules for charter captains in Alaska, and sets the harvest allocation split between charter and commercial fishermen that is derived from the overall quota chosen by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. At its December meeting, the council recommended a merciful amount of halibut, but a further tightening of restrictions. Halibut anglers in Southcentral Alaska, or Area 3A, can still keep two fish per day but can catch fewer per year. The council set a mostly status quo Southcentral guided angler harvest limit at 1.77 million pounds, 10,000 pounds more than last 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. Thursdays were closed in 2015. In Southeast Alaska, where charter captains fish salmon, black cod, and rockfish as well as halibut, restrictions have stabilized. Like last year, anglers in 2016 will be allowed only one fish per trip of either shorter than 42 inches or longer than 80 inches. Southeast guided angler quota rose to 847,000 pounds, over 80,000 pounds more than last year.  In the past, the charter fleet hasn’t been successful at keeping within the limits the commission sets for it. In Southeast alone, the charter sector exceeded its allocation by a combined 3.7 million pounds from 2004 to 2010. In 2014, Southeast exceeded harvest specifications by 110,000 pounds, and Southcentral exceeded by 413,000 pounds. The annual charter rule-setting was adopted as part of the Catch Sharing Plan passed by the council in 2012 that divides the total charter and commercial harvest on a percentage split based on abundance. Recreational quota entities Southeast charter lodge owner Richard Yamada has a plan for keeping the charter fleet within its boundaries, a “market based solution” that matches up willing buyer with willing sellers. Few were satisfied the plan deserved public review, so the council sent the idea back to staff for tweaking. “I strongly support moving this forward as a concept,” said council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak. “I’ve gone from skeptical to being excited about this amendment package.” Under the plan, a recreational quota entity, or RQE, would buy commercial quota to be held in a common pool for charter operators to draw from as needed if they’re in danger of fishing over their harvest limit. Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, originally gave a level of halibut quota to commercial permit holders based on their historical harvest levels and involvement in the fishery, and it is bought and sold among fishermen. Prices for quota typically run about five times or more the current ex-vessel value per pound, making purchases particularly expensive. This would differ from the current Guided Angler Fish, or GAF, program, which only allows charter permits to lease commercial quota rather than buy it. “Nothing forced, nothing taken,” said Tom Ohaus, a Sitka charter captain. “I’ve always found that giving people a choice is the best thing.” Commercial fishermen have a laundry list of complaints about the proposal, fearing it could consolidate quota or stunt the commercial fleet. The biggest concern was that an RQE may inflate the market for halibut quota and make entry harder for young fishermen. Twins Ryan and Karina Nichols, Sitka fishing deckhands 28 years old apiece, both implored the council not to make any hasty decisions. “An RQE will increase IFQ cost,” said Karina Nichols. “I see this constant erosion of affordability and accessibility of IFQs. Consider people like me who are trying to get into this industry.” Without a way to buy their quota back from charter captains, commercial fishermen worried the charter industry could hold onto quota too long and grow too big. “I talk to a lot of fishermen about this, and the one thing they do understand is it’s a one-way street,” said Sitka fisherman and council Advisory Panel member Jeff Farvour. “The commercial industry gets smaller and the charter industry gets bigger. They understand that much.” As concessions, the council agreed to allow two-way quota transfers. To prevent overcapitalization, several amendments consider caps on how much quota charter permit holders could buy, and how much money in aggregate can be spent.

FISH FACTOR: Fish 2.0 touts Alaskan fish; Begich condemns GE salmon

Caught by Alaskans for Alaskans is a business concept that bested 170 others in a global fisheries business competition last month at Stanford University in California. The contest, sponsored by Fish 2.0, awards creative approaches that build demand for sustainable seafood, reduce waste and support fishing towns. The Alaska Community Seafood Hub model, presented by Kelly Harrell of Anchorage, won $5,000 in cash and is in the running for more money to be awarded this month. Fish 2.0 builds the knowledge and connections needed to increase investment in the sustainable seafood sector, according to its website. “We noticed that investors were having a hard time finding fisheries deals, and fishery business owners were frustrated that investors had no interest. We created Fish 2.0 to build connections between the groups,” said Monica Jain, Fish 2.0 Founder. “Our goal is to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain.” Harrell, who is executive director of the non-profit Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, said: “We told the story of the really unique assets we have in Alaska, which include thousands of small boat fishing families. We have a giant seafood economy that provides one of the largest and most sustainable seafood supplies in the world. But the way our seafood supply chain is structured, it is very difficult to get the seafood harvested locally to our communities here in Alaska, because we are set up to export such large volumes.” The Walton Family Foundation, a Fish 2.0 sponsor, wrote: “When Kelly Harrell started crafting the idea of the Alaska Community Seafood Hub, she knew that improving business, people’s lives and the environment go hand in hand. Kelly pitched her business model to a room full of investors, ocean and fishing industry experts and grant makers who shared her vision of a sustainable seafood market. She walked away with $5,000 and countless connections to help build a strong community-based fishery and bring high-quality seafood from Alaskan fishermen to local consumers.” “We often overlook Alaska thinking that people have access to catching their own and a lot do, but in places like Fairbanks and Anchorage, and even in coastal towns, many people don’t. And in the case of species like crab, it’s really not practical to get their own,” Harrell said. The Alaska Seafood Hub concept expanded upon the Catch of the Season program and the Kodiak Jig Seafoods brand for cod and rockfish that AMCC has operated for several years.  “We began by selling Tanner crab and cod to consumers in Alaska and through wholesale buyers in a way that tells the story of the fishermen, the species, the community where it come it comes from,” Harrell said. “It helps build connections between our fishermen and fishing communities and our seafood consumers and buyers, and generates a higher price for the fishermen. It’s a real win/win.” About 20 fishermen are involved in the program so far, and they fetch 60 percent more than the regular dock price. Along with individual buyers, regular customers include the Bear Tooth in Anchorage, Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and Princess Tours Lodges. Harrell said fish offerings are expanding to include Tanner crab from the Bering Sea, king crab from Norton Sound and sockeye salmon.  “This summer we sold salmon from Bristol Bay for the first time in Fairbanks and it was a huge hit,” Harrell said. “People were extremely eager to have seafood caught by Alaskans for Alaskans and we sold thousands of pounds right away to an eager consumer base.” AMCC’s ultimate goal is to spawn umbrella seafood hubs for local brands in other Alaska fishing towns, such as halibut from the Pribilof Islands.  “We want to tell the story of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and how that is potentially putting these small communities out of business in terms of their halibut fishery. People in the state really need to hear it through something they can support and put on their dinner plates,” Harrell said. In the four rigorous rounds of the competition, Harrell said the judges were most surprised that many Alaskans don’t have access to local seafood, and that Alaska politics and the economy are not more connected to the state’s fishing industry. Fishing fees Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices for the fish through September and averaged across the state. Bills went out in late November to 1,983 longliners for a total coverage cost of $5.6 million, said Kristie Balovich, Budget Officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Alaska Region based in Juneau. The dockside value of the halibut fishery went up this year while the value of sablefish went down.  “The 2015 halibut landings had an increase in overall value to $107 million, compared to $100 million in 2014. Sablefish had a slight decrease going from $76.7 million to $76.6 million,” Balovich said, adding that dock prices, or ex-vessel prices, were higher for both. Halibut was at $6.42 per pound this year, and sablefish was at $3.78 per pound. That compares to an average halibut price of $6.36 per pound and $3.59 per pound for sablefish in 2014. The fee system is different for the Bering Sea crab fisheries.  “NOAA doesn’t track dock prices for crab, only the total value of the fisheries,” Balovich explained. That added up to $229 million for the 2014/2015 season, an increase of about $300,000 from the previous fishery. The crab catches yielded $3.4 million in coverage costs, which are collected and paid by Bering Sea processors (19 last season) by the end of July. The coverage fee for the crab fishery increased to 1.48 percent this year and to 3 percent for halibut and sablefish, due to adding more management and enforcement personnel.  “We were able to hire some people so there were some increases in labor for those fisheries,” Balovich said. Balovich added that Alaska longliners are “great about paying their bills” and that 99.9 percent pay by the Jan. 31 deadline. There’s one change for all bill payers this year: credit cards are no longer accepted over the phone due to security reasons. “Everyone has access to their online landings, and if they go into their eFish account, it switches them over to a site called www.pay.gov. “It is very secure and they can pay with a credit card there,” Balovich said. Begich talks fish fights Former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is continuing his fight against genetically modified salmon after its approval last month for U.S. sales by the federal government. “I think it is a very bad decision,” he said in a phone conversation. “When I was in the Senate I was able to stop it from being moved forward and being approved. So I decided I am no different than any other concerned Alaskan, and I decided to write a letter to every store chain that serves food in major quantities to ask them not to sell that product.” While many major stores in Alaska, such as Safeway, have pledged to not carry so called Frankenfish, others have remained noncommittal. In his letter to Walmart president Doug McMillon, Begich wrote: “At a minimum, this product must be labeled so Alaskans can make an informed choice about what they are buying and serving to their families. Consumers have a right to know whether they are eating something from the waters of Bristol Bay, Southeast, Cordova or anywhere else in Alaska…or a test tube…I hope you will join me in continuing that effort without compromising the most sustainable fishing industry in the world that exists right here in Alaska.”  “If the people making this fake fish believe it’s such a good product, then label it,” he fumed on the phone. Begich broadened the discussion of fish threats to North Pacific waters, which are getting warmer and more acidic.  “You can’t have sustainable fisheries without sustainable waters,” he stressed. “If we don’t have sustainable ecosystems, everything that lives or thrives on it or uses it will be at risk.” Alaska’s current delegation has voted against every clean air, clean water and climate change measure that has come before Congress, and Begich said it’s time for them “to accept reality.”  “Climate change is real and those who continue to deny it live in a world that doesn’t exist. And the fact that Sen. (Dan) Sullivan, who ran against me, continues to deny it 100 percent is a mistake,” Begich said. “I support the oil and gas industry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support solid, scientific-based regulations to ensure that our air and waters are protected.” The former senator criticized the “knee jerk reaction to just say no to everything because it makes a good bullet statement in a TV ad or a brochure.” “Always opting for the negative is no way to govern,” he continued. “There is so much we should be focused on in the Alaska resource arena, and just being a no voice is not good enough. It should be a yes voice in trying to figure out how to improve everything from fisheries, oil and gas, all of it for the betterment of Alaskans and this country. What’s happening in Washington is the race to the negative, and not a race to getting things done for the long term benefit of the people we represent.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council tightens Southcentral charter halibut rules for 2016

The ratchet keeps tightening on Southcentral halibut charter operations, among other groups, and relief measures are still stuck in development. The level of legally harvestable halibut in the North Pacific has dropped for a decade, and though biologists think the biomass has stabilized, downsized fishermen continue to fight for as much valuable quota as possible. Charter guides who’ve seen their portion drop want a way to buy quota from commercial operators. The commercial fleet sees the plan as an unfair grab. They already share fish with charter guides under a catch sharing plan and there is a program for charter operators to lease, but not purchase, commercial quota.  “What happened from the mandate from the council to the charter sector that said ‘live within your allocation?’” asked Caroline Nichols, a Sitka commercial fisherwoman, at the December North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage.    2016 charter measures The North Pacific Fishery Management Council sets the operating rules for charter captains in Alaska, and sets the harvest allocation split between charter and commercial fishermen that is derived from the overall quota chosen by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. At its December meeting, the council recommended a merciful amount of halibut, but a further tightening of restrictions. Halibut anglers in Southcentral Alaska, or Area 3A, can still keep two fish per day but can catch fewer per year. The council set a mostly status quo Southcentral guided angler harvest limit at 1.77 million pounds, 10,000 pounds more than last 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 29-inch size restriction on one fish. Weekly day closures, which the council first added last year, will be held on Wednesdays for Southcentral. Thursdays were closed in 2015. In Southeast Alaska, where charter captains fish salmon, black cod, and rockfish as well as halibut, restrictions have stabilized. Like last year, anglers in 2016 will be allowed only one fish per trip of either shorter than 42 inches or longer than 80 inches. Southeast guided angler quota rose to 847,000 pounds, over 80,000 pounds more than last year.  In the past, the charter fleet hasn’t been successful at keeping within the limits the commission sets for it. In Southeast alone, the charter sector exceeded its allocation by a combined 3.7 million pounds from 2004 to 2010. In 2014, Southeast exceeded harvest specifications by 110,000 pounds, and Southcentral exceeded by 413,000 pounds. The annual charter rule-setting was adopted as part of the Catch Sharing Plan passed by the council in 2012 that divides the total charter and commercial harvest on a percentage split based on abundance.   Recreational quota entities Southeast charter lodge owner Richard Yamada has a plan for keeping the charter fleet within its boundaries, a “market based solution” that matches up willing buyer with willing sellers. Few were satisfied the plan deserved public review, so the council sent the idea back to staff for tweaking. “I strongly support moving this forward as a concept,” said council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak. “I’ve gone from skeptical to being excited about this amendment package.” Under the plan, a recreational quota entity, or RQE, would buy commercial quota to be held in a common pool for charter operators to draw from as needed if they’re in danger of fishing over their harvest limit. Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, originally gave a level of halibut quota to commercial permit holders based on their historical harvest levels and involvement in the fishery, and it is bought and sold among fishermen. Prices for quota typically run about five times or more the current ex-vessel value per pound, making purchases particularly expensive. This would differ from the current Guided Angler Fish, or GAF, program, which only allows charter permits to lease commercial quota rather than buy it. “Nothing forced, nothing taken,” said Tom Ohaus, a Sitka charter captain. “I’ve always found that giving people a choice is the best thing.” Commercial fishermen have a laundry list of complaints about the proposal, fearing it could consolidate quota or stunt the commercial fleet. The biggest concern was that an RQE may inflate the market for halibut quota and make entry harder for young fishermen. Twins Ryan and Karina Nichols, Sitka fishing deckhands 28 years old apiece, both implored the council not to make any hasty decisions. “An RQE will increase IFQ cost,” said Karina Nichols. “I see this constant erosion of affordability and accessibility of IFQs. Consider people like me who are trying to get into this industry.” Without a way to buy their quota back from charter captains, commercial fishermen worried the charter industry could hold onto quota too long and grow too big. “I talk to a lot of fishermen about this, and the one thing they do understand is it’s a one-way street,” said Sitka fisherman and council Advisory Panel member Jeff Farvour. “The commercial industry gets smaller and the charter industry gets bigger. They understand that much.” As concessions, the council agreed to allow two-way quota transfers. To prevent overcapitalization, several amendments consider caps on how much quota charter permit holders could buy, and how much money in aggregate can be spent.   DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Pollock gets a 30,000 mt raise, flats take cut with halibut bycatch in mind

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council raised pollock quota for 2016, but only by half the requested amount, locked in by the two million metric ton cap for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery. The 2016 pollock limit for the Eastern Bering Sea is 1.34 million metric tons, a 30,000 metric ton increase from the 2015 limit but less than half the 65,000 metric ton increase the Advisory Panel recommended and the pollock biomass could’ve handled. Groundfish — which includes pollock, Pacific cod, and flatfish — is capped at two million metric tons per year. Any increase in one species’ total allowable catch, or TAC, shaves the same amount from one or several others. Brent Paine, executive director of pollock-heavy United Catcher Boats, said he was disappointed not to get the full 65,000 metric tons increase, but understood the council’s inability to go beyond its boundaries. “It was just the 2 million ton cap,” Paine said. “You just have to balance the user groups. But (30,000 tons) is better than nothing.” Pacific cod, the second most voluminous species in the groundfish fishery, took a only a scant 1,320 metric ton cut, from 240,000 in 2015 to 238,680 in 2016, despite the cod fleet having harvested almost 30,000 metric tons less than allowed in 2015. To round up the extra pollock tonnage, the council cut flatfish quotas. Flatfish, particularly yellowfin sole, arrowtooth flounder, and rock sole, are the main species whose harvests result in halibut bycatch. Arrowtooth flounder took an 8,000 metric ton cut, from 22,000 metric tons in 2015 to 14,000 metric tons in 2016.   Northern rock sole dropped 12,150 metric tons from last year, from 69,250 in 2016 to 57,100 metric tons in 2016. Yellowfin sole took a 5,000 metric ton cut, from 149,000 metric tons in 2015 to 144,000 metric tons in 2016. Flathead sole lost 3,150 metric tons, from 24,250 metric tons to 21,000 metric tons. Flatfish are mainly pursued by the Seattle based Amendment 80 fleet, all vessels of which are represented by industry group Groundfish Forum. “It’s a challenge when you have levels of abundance and a two million metric ton cap,” said Groundfish Forum Executive Director Chris Woodley. “It’s a very big cut to our sector.” The council could have taken some of the needed tonnage from the cod fleet, who only harvested 218,000 metrics tons of a 240,000 metric ton quota in 2015 and may have had room to spare. Flatfish stakeholders said the split could have been fairer. “Flatfish and cod didn’t get fully harvested last year, and this year’s cuts came from flatfish,” said Woodley.  “We’d like to see more equity there.” Woodley said he recognizes the council’s flatfish cuts were halibut-related. The council agenda has revolved around halibut bycatch to some degree since late 2014. Halibut biomass is dropping, causing a disconnect between the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s directed halibut quotas, which vary with biomass, and the North Pacific council’s halibut bycatch limits, which are stationary. Halibut fishermen get less and less of the shrinking halibut pie. The council’s Advisory Panel had recommended that the council add a full 65,000 metric tons to the pollock limit in part because the species could use a pressure valve. Pollock biomass in the Bering Sea ballooned to an estimated 11 million metric tons in 2016. Halibut protection factored into considerations, though not as far as some advocates believed was necessary. The council avoided installing a provision that would tie halibut bycatch directly into the TAC-setting process, an idea pressed by the Advisory Panel through Jeff Kauffman. Kauffman is the vice president of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association and the recent appointee to a commissioner seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The recommendation would have required groundfish TACs to be determined “taking into consideration species bycatch rates” specifically related to halibut and halibut fisheries. Kauffman’s proposal even included economic analysis developed by Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association economist Ray Melovidov, which Kauffman intended to be used as a tool for industry to see how such halibut-centric TAC-setting would look. The council did not adopt the recommendation. “I think we do take into account bycatch but not just of halibut,” said member Craig Cross, who authored and introduced the final harvest allocations. “I would like to keep the TAC-setting with what we’ve always done, which is take into account not only halibut, but crab, and herring. Halibut is the one that’s most critical now, but a year from now it might be crab. Who knows what it will be down the line.” Council member Duncan Fields introduced a similar motion that specified bycatch considerations for all species in the TAC-setting process. Taking bycatch into consideration is already part of the fishery management plans, and Fields’ motion calls for no specific calculations. Rather, Fields believes the motion provides makes the bycatch considerations explicit and public. The motion passed, but only after Cross’ allocations had been unanimously approved. The council agreed with the publicity angle. “I think it’s extremely important we adopt this as a policy so that people know we’re serious about bycatch,” said Jim Balsiger, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration seat on the council. DJ Summers can be reached at daniel.summe[email protected]      

Cook Inlet fish meeting to stay in Anchorage

The 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries will be held in Anchorage, as planned and as usual. The board made the call by a 5-2 vote at the tail end of its Bristol Bay finfish meeting, also in Anchorage. Only two board members, commercial fishermen Sue Jeffrey and Fritz Johnson, voted in favor of a proposal moving the meeting from Anchorage to Kenai Peninsula, where the board hasn’t held an Upper Cook Inlet meeting since the last millennium.  “Maybe next time,” said member John Jensen of Petersburg, drawing an outraged cry from the audience. “Why maybe?” called John McCombs, a Peninsula fisherman and board member of United Cook Inlet Drifters Association. Board director Glenn Haight and others quietly warned McCombs to be quiet while member Sue Jeffrey began making her comments, “hopefully without feeling threatened,” she added. “Threatening” was the exact term Jensen used to characterize the Upper Cook Inlet meeting issue after the matter had closed. “I’m glad to have it behind us,” he said. Member Robert Mumford said he had no compunction against moving the meeting to the Peninsula, but ended up voting against the move, not wanting to “upset the apple cart.” Mumford hinted that he felt pressured.  “I feel like we’re in the middle of a soccer game, and at least I’m the ball,” said Mumford. Walker appointed Mumford to the board in May following the failed appointments of Roland Maw and Robert Ruffner. Mumford has not yet been confirmed by the Legislature. Board members listed fears of influence peddling, political perceptions, security, convenience, and fairness. Jensen said the board goes through pains to make meeting agendas so stakeholders can time their visits to the 14-day meeting. The board’s consensus was that Anchorage, at the center of the Upper Cook Inlet area, is the logical choice. “If we’re going to be fair to the majority of users, it’s having a meeting in Anchorage,” said Jensen. “The user groups don’t have to spend that much time up here. If they have to come for one part of the meeting, they know where it is.” Peninsula residents have long argued that the board process is too complex and nuanced to go for only one day, and that the process is therefore skewed against those who can’t make the trip. Ed Schmitt, the chairman of the Kenai Area Fishermen’s Coalition’s board, said the vote is a blow to the Kenai Peninsula. Two weeks in Anchorage is prohibitively expensive for those without large financial interest in meeting outcomes, so many people who use the fisheries are not heard, he said. “The community is centered around the Kenai River,” Schmitt said. “It’s in our back yard. It’s what we use. It’s a very frustrating process for the people who are most affected by it.” A potential meeting relocation has been in spotlight since November, when two letters supporting a meeting relocation made their way to the board, including one from Gov. Bill Walker. The board had scheduled the meeting for Anchorage last year, and voiced resentment at being made to consider it again. The Bristol Bay meeting, board members said, suffered from the “distraction” of the Upper Cook Inlet relocation issue. “All this went on during another region’s meeting,” said board member Orville Huntington. “I don’t think it’s fair to the people of Bristol Bay.” Walker wrote a letter to the board Oct. 21, 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.” After Walker’s letter, public officials flooded the Board of Fisheries with written comments either supporting or condemning a meeting relocation. Mat-Su Sens. Mike Dunleavy and Bill Stoltze jointly scorned Walker’s “rather forceful letter,” accusing him of “inappropriate” commercial fishing favoritism. “It appears to (our constituents) that you continue to receive bad advice and provide preferential treatment to one user group, commercial fisheries,” the letter states, “to the potential detriment of tens of thousands of Alaskans that participate in recreational and personal use fisheries.” A second letter offered the board financial benefits, which some board members later equated with a corrupting bidding process. In a Nov. 16 letter, Kenai Peninsula Borough and City of Kenai mayors Mike Navarre and Pat Porter, and Soldotna Mayor Pete Sprague offered the board over $60,000 in service savings by volunteering local venues, transportation, and coffee service. “In my opinion, this is a procurement issue,” said member Reed Morisky, a lodge owner. “We’re on a slippery slope here. I don’t recall a public notice saying that offers would be entertained for free venues and free coffee. The board meeting becomes a low bid situation, I think it pollutes the process.” Peninsula residents said they are down, but not out, and already looking to the board cycle beyond 2017. Rick Koch, the city manager for the city of Kenai, said he was disappointed in the decision but not intending to give up. “I’m disappointed, obviously,” he said. “My focus and the focus of others will shift in 2020 to the UCI meeting as well as being able to take advantage of the work session that will be held down here in 2016.” Peninsula Clarion reporter Elizabeth Earl contributed to this report. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected] Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

State working on flatfish tax fix to capture foregone revenue

A state tax rate glitch let groundfish trawlers off the hook for more than $10 million of fishery taxes in the last half decade, and there’s no concrete fix just yet. The fishery resource landing tax taxes groundfish based on ex-vessel price. Processors turn flatfish caught as bycatch into low-value fishmeal, so the only known ex-vessel price for certain flatfish species is artificially low. Nine species have this price uncertainty, but most flatfish volume comes from yellowfin sole and Atka mackerel. By only having an ex-vessel value based on the price paid for bycatch turned into fishmeal, the state has no idea what the ex-vessel value is for the direct flatfish fishery that has annual harvests measured in hundreds of thousands of metric tons. According to state research estimates, the state has lost out on $1.8 million to $2.5 million per year, or more than $10 million over the last five years. Researchers haven’t yet looked back further due to paucity of data, but the fishery resource landing tax has existed since 1994. Lori Swanson, assistant executive director of groundfish trawler group Groundfish Forum, did not say whether the industry knew it had been underpaying since the tax’s birth. “They pay what the state tells them to pay,” she said. The state doesn’t really know The Department of Revenue, however, hasn’t been calculating a realistic view of fleet’s tax rate, and is only starting to rework the system. The state began this tax specifically for factory trawlers and catcher-processors, but overlooked a systemic flaw from the beginning. “It’s actually two things,” said Kurt Iverson, a research analyst with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “First, a very small amount of the total harvest is in the (Commercial Operator’s Annual Report), and on top of that, that harvest is not representative of a true ex-vessel valuation because it’s coming in as bycatch.” Anna Kim, the Department of Revenue chief of revenue operations, said she can’t speculate why the issue went for so long without being noticed. Iverson said the problem isn’t intentional. The Department of Revenue simply attached the tax to shoreside sales, which don’t happen for some species.  “There’s nothing wrong, just an artifact of data,” Iverson said. “How do you get at the price when very little ever crosses the dock as a shoreside sale?” The federally managed Exclusive Economic Zone sits from three to 200 miles off the coast. Groundfish — which includes pollock, Pacific cod and flatfish — makes the bulk of the volume pulled from the federal waters off Alaska’s coast, and is instrumental in making Alaska the most voluminous and valuable fishing region in the nation. All fish landed at an Alaska port owe some kind of tax, even if caught in federal waters. The fishery resource landing tax retroactively tallies federal fishermen’s haul before it was processed and taxes the unprocessed value, using unprocessed volume and the price at which it sold from fisherman to processor, or ex-vessel price. Flatfish are caught in bulk by bottom trawlers, mainly by what’s known as the Amendment 80 fleet based in Seattle (the name derives from the amendment to the Bering Sea Aleutian Islands fishery management plan that rationalized the bottom trawl fleet by assigning harvest quotas). These trawlers are catcher-processors; they process flatfish right on the boat. Catcher-processor flatfish don’t make the handoff from fisherman to shoreside processor, so the only ex-vessel price is when harvest actually crosses the dock. Flatfish only make a shoreside sale as bycatch. Trawlers offload loads of pollock or cod and happen to have some yellowfin sole or Atka mackerel in the net. Pollock or cod processors can’t do anything with it besides grind it up for fishmeal, and so they only pay fishmeal prices of just pennies per pound. Commercial fishermen fill out Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR reports, that detail who sold what, and at which price and volume. According to COAR reports, processors paid an average of two cents per pound for yellowfin sole in 2014, and only a penny per pound in 2013. Atka mackerel must have had more shoreside action to raise its price from fishmeal, but still came in very low at 10 cents per pound in 2014 and two cents per pound in 2013. At this price, even flatfish caught by the hundreds of thousands of metric tons, doesn’t add up to much in the state coffers. The tax Alaska fisheries management aims to safeguard coastal communities, and its taxes do too. “I think (the Commercial Fisheries Division of ADFG) is really concerned about a lot of money leaving the state,” said Kim. The state enacted the tax in 1993 to be effective the next year. Immediately, the American Factory Trawler Association challenged the tax as unconstitutional. It withdrew the challenge in 1997, and the state declared it constitutional anyway for good measure. The list of allowable tax credits is coastal Alaska’s wish list; donations for vocational schools and two or four-year colleges, annual intercollegiate sports tournaments, Alaska Native cultural or heritage programs, and in 2011 a very specific allowance for a “facility in the state that qualifies as a coastal ecosystem learning center under the Coastal American Partnership.” The state splits the income 50-50 with the municipality and borough where the landings occurred. If landed outside a municipality, the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development doles out half the taxes through an allocation program. Iverson reviewed ex-vessel prices for the past five years and made a range of estimates for how short the state had taxed. He arrived at over $10 million, between $1.8 and $2.5 million per year. Iverson hasn’t yet gone back another 15 years, and isn’t sure the records are around to do so. With a $3 billion-dollar deficit, $10 million or even a potential $40 million of forgone revenue might seem like short change, but it makes a large percentage of the narrow-based fishery resource landings tax. After credits cut over a million dollar from the total, 2013 and 2014 collected $13.4 and $12.6 million. The uncollected amount is between 13 percent and 20 percent of the total tax. But it’s trying The Department of Revenue knows it needs a more complete tax rate, but getting one is laborious. Kim and Iverson, and their respective departments, are working together to come up with a better metric for flatfish. The priority, she said, is making sure people know the rate’s origin. “It’s not as simple as just taking whatever the highest (listed ex-vessel) price is,” said Kim. “If we do something outside what we’ve normally done, we need to plainly explain why we chose a certain price.” Groundfish industry simply wants “a seat at the table” when coming up with a new formula. Swanson said the industry is waiting to provide what information the state needs. She said she doesn’t know how ADFG derives COAR ex-vessel prices, and wouldn’t know how to make a shoreside equivalent in the absence of reliable ex-vessel data. “There’s just no good way of making a comparable value to shoreside sales,” Swanson said. “I’m sure economists have a way of addressing this, but I’m not an economist.” The state might normally fill in spotty information with federal research, but in this case the feds are no better off. Federal reports from the National Marine Fisheries Service have had equal trouble nailing down an ex-vessel price for flatfish species, according to Iverson. “The federal government has struggled with the same problem when it tries to estimate the value of those fish,” said Iverson. “For groundfish, they produce an economic (Stock Assessment and Fisheries Evaluation report), and they gather as much economic information as they can. When they boil it down to the ex-vessel value, they’ve struggled.” The department could link the value to something other than ex-vessel price, but would have to make regulatory changes to do so. Swanson said linking the fishery value to wholesale price wouldn’t work, either. Between federal reports and COAR reports, ADFG and the Department of Revenue have to find a more realistic price. In Kim’s eyes, the complexities of fisheries management makes some proposals seem “convoluted,” but Iverson said he’s trying to loop enough extra data into the formula to compensate for COAR ex-vessel prices. “I proposed giving them not only the COAR, but in addition getting them data from fish tickets, and from the COAR production side,” said Iverson. “I’ll give them data from fish tickets as well. You’d be able to put those numbers side by side and see how much the value was.” Iverson also said taxes could be derived from processed value, perhaps, or calculated under any one of hundred different ways. With any luck, Iverson hopes 2016 could see a more complete tax plan for trawlers. “The governor’s budget is coming out soon,” Iverson said. “We’re shooting for that to come up with something.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries rejects permit stacking for Bristol Bay

One permit, one person will still be the norm for Bristol Bay. The Alaska Board of Fisheries voted against a fistful of proposals that would have allowed a single person to hold multiple Bristol Bay permits. Taking care of the coastal communities, the board said, trumps the business sense of reinvestment and increased efficiency. “There’ll be fewer people able to participate,” said board member Fritz Johnson, a Dillingham resident and commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. “It’s a rational business decision, but I think the board needs to take a view of this...based on what’s best for coastal communities and what’s best for the resource.” Half a dozen proposals submitted by the public offered variations of permit stacking options for driftnet and setnet operations, under which fishermen could hold and fish two permits under the same name and/or the same vessel in the case of drift permits. The board voted unanimously against each. Bristol Bay fishermen in attendance were evenly divided on permit stacking, which the board allowed in the area in 2009 but with a sunset clause for 2012. Opponents said permit stacking would consolidate the fishery into fewer hands, echoing concerns over crab fishery rationalization a decade prior. Bristol Bay set and drift net permits cost $38,600 and $150,500 in June 2015, respectively. Those without the capital to buy a second permit will be pushed out of the fishery by bigger bankrolls. Permit values would rise, opponents said. “This is just going to make the rich richer and the poor poorer,” said Robin Samuelson, Dillingham resident and former chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., or BBEDC. According to Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission data, the value of a Bristol Bay driftnet permit dropped from an average $89,800 in 2008 to $78,300 in 2009. Between 2009-2012, the value peaked at $160,600 in August 2011. This price was matched or exceeded in the winter months of 2014 up until May 2015, with a high of $169,900 in March 2015. For a Bristol Bay setnet permit, the price peaked in dual permit allowance years at $42,500 in September 2012. The next highest price afterward was $41,800 in April 2015. Fishing is the Bristol Bay watershed’s primary source of employment, but many Bristol Bay permits are owned by Alaskans from other areas or Outsiders who come into the Bay only to fish in summer. Norm Van Vactor, who replaced Samuelson as BBEDC CEO in 2012, said permit stacking would drain permits away from his organization’s 30 villages, 17 of which filed similarly worded letters of opposition to permit stacking proposals. “One of the single largest issues we have is the continued loss of permits by watershed residents,” said Van Vactor. “Permit stacking was an experiment that exacerbated this issue.” Proponents viewed the practice as a wise investment for savvy fishermen, and a necessary one. Bristol Bay fishermen received half their usual price per pound in 2015, a market situation that will be slow to change due to a complicated array of international and domestic factors. Fishing several permits’ worth of sockeye could cut into the losses. “We’re all looking at an economic crisis,” said Abe Williams, president of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “We have a condition of market that is going to require us to do some innovative thinking. Let’s cut through the rhetoric of the haves and the have-nots, of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. That’s nothing but emotional rhetoric.” In the end, the board agreed with Samuelson and Van Vactor. Members recalled consolidating the crab fishery when it was first put on a quota system, and feared a similar result in Bristol Bay. Permit stacking doesn’t “align with original legislation” that emphasizes equal access to resources for Alaskans. Members said they agree that permit stacking is indeed a wise business practice, but in the board’s eyes its main concern is protecting communities. “I understand the business aspect,” said member Reed Morisky. “It would make some businesses more viable. But it would also make other businesses more marginal.” “I do think permit stacking is not a tool we should use at this time. With this particular proposal, it allows the 977 permits to be in the hands of 488 people,” said member Sue Jeffrey. “ Our job is to allow fair access to all people, not just in the watershed. Reducing the number of permits by half is not good public policy.” Currently, dual permit use is allowed in Upper Cook Inlet. Driftnetters may have two permits fished by their respective users from the same vessel and setnetters are allowed to hold two permits. At the 2014 Upper Cook Inlet Board of Fisheries meeting, Tom Kluberton, now the board’s chair, said the board has no business going back and forth on fishing regulations from year to year. “I think it’s just wrong for this board to tumble these business plans over every three years,” he said. “We walk in, we put a regulation in place, come back three years later and tip it upside down…I just find that I can’t buy into that. I can’t put an individual, a family, any group through that much instability in their business for some benefit that’s perceived by some.”

FISH FACTOR: Halibut stock shows signs of stability after decade of cuts

Despite some encouraging signs that Pacific halibut stocks are stabilizing after being on a downward spiral for nearly two decades, catches could decrease slightly in most regions again next year. That’s IF fishery managers accept the catch recommendations by halibut scientists, which they don’t always do. At the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting Dec. 1-2 in Seattle, the total 2016 catch, meaning for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska, was recommended at 26.56 million pounds, down from 29.22 million pounds this year. For Alaska, which always gets the lion’s share of the annual halibut harvest, the total take would be 20.32 million pounds, a decrease of less than 1 million pounds. Halibut catches for all but two Alaska regions would drop slightly, with Area 3B, the Western Gulf, and area 4CDE in the Bering Sea seeing slight increases. Here are the 2016 recommended catch limits for the six Alaska regions where halibut is harvested, with comparisons to the 2015 catches in parentheses: • Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.63 million pounds (4.65M) • Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 9.37 million pounds (10.1M) • Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.67 million pounds, (2.65M) • Area 4A (Alaska Peninsula): 1.39 million pounds (1.3M) • Area 4B (Aleutian Islands): 910,000 pounds (1.14M) • Area 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.44 million pounds (1.29M) There are several encouraging signs for the Pacific halibut stocks, according to IPHC staff biologist Ian Stewart. “Both the data and the models indicate the stock is relatively stable, and we are seeing some positive trends in some of the catch rate information,” Stewart said in his presentation. “Generally, what we have seen is the yields we have been taking out of the stock over the past five years appear to be pretty consistent with the amount of production available from the stock. We are getting a flat trend, so what we are taking out must not be too far in excess of what is available to be taken out and still maintain roughly the same biomass level.” Other good news showed that female halibut appear to be shifting towards higher weights, after decades of declines. A 16-year-old fish today averages 20 pounds, compared to 50 pounds in 1975, but the weights seem to be slowly moving towards more normal “weight at age” sizes. Also, halibut bycatch by Bering Sea trawlers and freezer longliners dropped this year by more than 1 million pounds, but is still pushing 8 million pounds in the region that abuts the Pribilof Islands. Final decisions on halibut catches, season start/end dates, and regulation changes will be made by the IPCH at its annual meeting set for Jan. 25-29 in Juneau. Five regulation changes are proposed for consideration at the January meeting. The Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association is requesting that the halibut size limit be reduced from 32 inches to 30 inches. Based on reports from the 2013 fishery observer program in the Gulf of Alaska, FVOA stated that, “the directed halibut fleet is releasing 8.7 million pounds of undersized halibut (less than 32 inches). New reports suggest that with a two-inch reduction in size limit, the fleet could reduce handling by 58 percent, and reduce wastage from 1.35 million pounds to 0.58 million pounds.” Another proposal by KC Dochtermann, a Kodiak fisherman, recommends a maximum size limit of 60 inches for all halibut caught by commercial and sport users. “An established maximum size limit would serve the objective of protecting large halibut that are the spawning biomass. Providing protective status for this class of fish would hopefully help the total biomass recover at a faster pace,” Dochtermann wrote, adding that the change should be implemented for a five to ten year test period to monitor its effectiveness. In other halibut news, Jeff Kauffman, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla was chosen for one of six Halibut Commission seats (split between Americans and Canadians). Kauffman, whose selection drew positive responses from the industry, replaces Don Lane of Homer who will remain as an alternate. (Editor’s note: Kauffman is also the CEO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the Community Development Quota group for the island of St. Paul.) Aging of the fleet Alaskans often talk about the ‘”aging of the fleet” in terms of resident fishermen growing older (the average age is 47), but the adage also applies to Alaska’s boats. According to a state Dept. of Commerce report aimed at identifying what services are needed by the fleet that could be done in-state instead of Outside, roughly 9,400 boats over 28 feet in length makeup Alaska’s maritime fleet.  Of those, 69 percent are in the fishing and processing sector, 15 percent are recreational boats; freight carriers, sightseeing and oil and gas vessels make up the rest. Over 90 percent of the Alaska fishing fleet is less than 100 feet long; 74 percent are under 50 feet. The bulk of the boats were built between 1970 and 1989; nearly 1,000 are over 50 years old. The older boats soon will be required to comply with new safety requirements as part of the 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act. “The Alternate Compliance Safety Program is aimed at vessels that are 25 years old by 2020 and greater than 50 feet in length, and operating beyond three nautical miles.  So this is a new program,” said Troy Rentz, Alternate Safety Compliance Coordinator for the USCG 13th District. “The requirements won’t become mandatory until Jan. 1 of 2020 for most vessels. However the Coast Guard needs to proscribe the program by Jan. 1 of 2017,” he added. Coming up faster: By Feb. 16, 2016 a new law will require that survival crafts must keep all parts of the body out of the water, meaning floats and other buoyant apparatus will no longer be legal. The intent is to prevent hypothermia and effects of cold water that lead to drowning, Rentz said, adding that “there may be some exceptions for unique operating environments.” Gunnar goes Gunnar Knapp, one of the most recognized names in Alaska’s salmon industry, is retiring from the University of Alaska at the end of the academic year next June. Along with his work as a fisheries economist, Knapp is director of the University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER. In a letter to colleagues, Knapp said: “I have worked at ISER for 35 years—my entire career. I feel immensely lucky at the opportunities I have had to work with so many talented and dedicated colleagues, to study so many fascinating and important issues, and to spend the final three years of my career as Director. I can’t imagine a more interesting and rewarding career than studying and teaching about Alaska’s resources, economy and society.” His retirement is a long-planned decision, he said, which will give him more time to focus on other projects and interests. He will continue research work at ISER on a part time basis, focusing on Alaska’s fiscal challenges, and his decades-long research on Alaska’s salmon industry and markets. That includes finishing his book titled “The Economics of Fish” and delving into other writing and consulting projects. “Most importantly, I need to spend more time with my family,” Knapp said. “Before I get too much older and slower, I want to do a lot more skiing, biking, hiking and enjoying the beauty of Alaska which so entranced me when I first came here. And I want to play a lot more music.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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