Snow crab up, king crab quota down in Bering Sea

UNALASKA — It’s not much, but there is a red king crab season. And snow crab is up 45 percent, and Tanners are down slightly, but at least that one will go forward due to a revised harvest strategy. Bering Sea commercial crabbing started Oct. 15, with the smallest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab in more than 30 years of 4.3 million pounds, a 35 percent decrease from last year’s 6.6 million pounds. The last time there was such a low number when a fishery was held was in 1985, at 4.1 million pounds, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Ethan Nichols in Unalaska. Nichols expects fewer boats fishing this year, with fishermen combining quotas onto one boat that otherwise would have been fished by two vessels, because of the harvest reduction leading to the efficiency move. At least there is a red king crab season, despite earlier fears of a complete cancelation, according to Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “We wish it was more, but we’re happy there’s a king crab season,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Seattle-based Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for the crab fishing fleet. The season began Oct. 15 with red king crab, with snow and Tanner crab typically fished in the winter. On a brighter note, the snow crab quota of 27.6 million pounds is up 45 percent from last year’s 19 million pounds. And there will be a Tanner crab fishery in the western district, which wouldn’t have happened two years ago. That’s because of a major lobbying effort led by Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the political arm of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, with the support of Fish and Game, adopted in May 2017 by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, following the closure of both districts the prior year. “Both the eastern and western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries would have been closed for 2018-19 using the old harvest strategy due to being below the female threshold,” according to Nichols. The Tanner quota is 2.4 million pounds, a 2 percent decrease from last year’s 2.5 million pounds in the western district, west of 166 degrees west longitude between Unalaska and Akutan islands. The eastern district remains closed. Jacobsen said the trade war between the U.S. and China will have little effect on the crab fishery, since most of the product goes to domestic markets and Japan, although Chinese consumers will pay more because of the tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s new taxes imposed on imports from China. The U.S. import taxes don’t matter, because Alaskan crab is not re-exported back to the United States from China, he said. Various groundfish and salmon from Alaska are re-exported back to the U.S. following processing by low-wage Chinese labor. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Steep drop in state workers’ comp rates to save $35M

Come 2019, Alaska workers’ compensation insurance rates are expected to fall the most in 40 years, according to state managers. Gov. Bill Walker’s office announced Oct. 4 that workers’ compensation insurance premiums should decrease an average of 17.5 percent statewide starting in January and worker’s compensation voluntary loss costs similarly could drop 14.8 percent. The proposed rate decreases for 2019 follow a 5.4 percent average rate decrease this year from 2017 and workers’ compensation premiums are down roughly 25 percent since 2015, according to the governor’s office. Workers’ Compensation Director Marie Marx said the reductions should save employers an estimated $35 million or so statewide. State officials are attributing the favorable trend to fewer claims and medical cost reductions. “These proposed rate reductions are welcome news for Alaska businesses — lower workers’ compensation costs reduce the burden on the small businesses that strengthen our economy,” Walker said in a formal statement. “Thank you to the Alaska state Legislature and the Department of Labor and Workforce Development for their work on payment reform, contributing to significant rate reductions for 2019.” The rates are proposed by the National Council on Compensation Insurance and subsequently reviewed and approved by the state Division of Insurance. Marx said employers of oil and gas pipeline workers would see some of the most significant reductions at more than 26 percent versus current rates, while rates could drop for clerical workers — typically with fewer on-the-job dangers — in the 9 percent range if the proposals are approved. Automobile technicians should see rate reductions of about 13 percent, for example, she added. Following approval by the Legislature in 2014, the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board approved new practices and fee structures for paying medical providers for procedures paid for through workers’ compensation insurance in October 2015. The fee structure changes put provider reimbursement rates more in-line with general group health insurance rates, according to Marx. It replaced a system of paying medical service providers at the 90th percentile of “usual and customary” fees in a given region. Alaska was the 33rd state to adopt the new payment system, Marx said at the time. At the time, Alaska also had the highest workers’ compensation rates in the nation, state officials said. “Alaska has some of the highest medical, if not the highest, medical costs in the country and workers’ compensation was right at the top and we’re bringing it down with the reform over a number of years,” Marx said in an interview. Alaska Chamber CEO Curtis Thayer noted that the reimbursement rate revisions were based on Medicaid guidelines. He said that it’s correct rates are going down — a very good thing — but stressed the credit should go to employers and their workers for not needing to file as many claims as in years past. “It’s just the fact that our employers are providing a safer working environment,” Thayer said. Reforming the state’s workers’ compensation program has been a major policy initiative of the Alaska Chamber for several years. Last session the Legislature also took on other aspects of the workers’ compensation system when it passed the governor’s House Bill 79, which Walker signed in August. Among other things, the legislation clarified who is an independent contractor and who needs to be covered by workers’ compensation insurance and eased the process for obtaining workers’ compensation exemptions, reporting data and making payments. Thayer said HB 79 “brought Alaska into the 21st century” but did nothing to address premiums. He said the Chamber will continue advocating for caps on legal fees for workers’ compensation cases and other changes, such as treatment guidelines. “There’s a lot of work that’s been done but a lot of work that still needs to be done,” Thayer said. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FERC sends 63 more pages of questions for AK LNG Project

With just four months to go before the scheduled release date for the Alaska LNG Project’s draft environmental impact statement, federal regulators on Oct. 2 sent almost 200 additional information requests to the state’s project team. The 63-page list includes questions about waterway crossings and temporary access roads for pipeline construction, avoiding damage to permafrost, protection of Cook Inlet’s beluga whales, and further review of Port MacKenzie as an alternative to Nikiski for the gas liquefaction plant and marine terminal. The follow-up questions arrived as the project team at the Alaska Gasline Development Corp. was nearing the end of responding to the initial round of more than 800 questions and requests for more information from federal regulators. Such additional data requests are not unusual for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is preparing the single federal EIS for the proposed Alaska LNG development, which includes 870 miles of pipeline from Point Thomson to Prudhoe Bay to a gas liquefaction terminal in Nikiski on the eastern shore of Cook Inlet. The state is the sole applicant in the $43 billion venture, trying to put together deals with LNG buyers in Asia, assemble partners to invest and lenders to provide financing — plus all the permits and authorizations. AGDC is expected to introduce itself to potential investors late this year, followed by a more focused effort in early 2019. The state corporation has contracted with Goldman Sachs and the Bank of China to assist with finding investors and financing. AGDC could run out of state money in late 2019 unless the Legislature appropriates additional funding or the corporation can entice investors to start covering development costs. The seven-member AGDC board, appointed by the governor, is scheduled to meet Oct. 11 in Anchorage. FERC is scheduled to release its draft environmental impact statement, or EIS, in February 2019, with a final impact statement in November 2019 and a commission vote on the state’s project application in February 2020 — assuming the state submits all the materials needed for the review. “The enclosure includes several requests for information that have been made multiple times in the past for which an adequate response has not yet been received,” FERC said in its Oct. 2 cover letter to the state. “You should be aware that the information described in the enclosure is necessary for us to continue preparation of the draft environmental impact statement. … The forecasted schedule for both the draft and final EIS is based on AGDC providing complete and timely responses to this and any future data requests.” The letter asks AGDC to provide: • An updated status list for all authorizations required to build the project, “including the actual or anticipated submittal and receipt dates.” • Additional responses to the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s assertion that it has identified a better site for the LNG plant than the location reviewed — and rejected — by AGDC in its filing with FERC this summer. Federal regulators also asked the state corporation to further explain why it believes building at the borough’s Port MacKenzie would require one more construction season than Nikiski, about 65 air miles to the southwest. The borough has long promoted Port MacKenzie for industrial development. • Plans to promote employment of Alaska Natives and other minorities during construction and operation. • More information on interconnection points to the mainline for gas distribution in Alaska. AGDC has identified three of the five connection points long promised as part of the gas export project (Fairbanks, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and Nikiski), but has not settled on the remaining two offtake points. “Provide the locations or an update on the other gas interconnections to be built within Alaska,” FERC asked, “(and) discuss the feasibility of including an interconnection to provide gas to the Denali Borough that could serve the communities in that borough as well as Denali National Park and Preserve.” • Site-specific plans for each of 12 proposed gas line crossings of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline. • Location and acreage for any temporary access roads that would be left in place after construction. AGDC has told FERC that access roads would be removed and the land restored after construction “unless the landowner or land management agency requests that the improvements be left in place.” • A table of the 29 pioneer camps proposed during construction, including the location, current land use, camp size, number of workers at each camp, duration of use for that camp and land-restoration procedures. • Discussion of how the pipeline construction techniques “would be similar and/or different” from the practices used in laying fiber optic lines in trenches along the Dalton Highway that resulted in permafrost thawing and environmental damages. The state is investigating the aftermath of the 2015-2017 telecommunications line construction from Prudhoe Bay to Fairbanks. • Additional description of the impacts on permafrost during project construction and also long-term impacts, “including impacts on thermal equilibrium given the shift in soil makeup and the permafrost profile.” • Further site-specific geotechnical information for proposed trenchless crossings at the Middle Fork Koyukuk, Tanana, Chulitna, Yukon and Deshka rivers. A trenchless crossing means drilling underneath the river and pulling and/or pushing the pipe through to the other side. In a May filing with FERC, the state team reported that further field work would be required to assess the feasibility of trenchless crossings including, in some cases, drilling bores holes to determine soil conditions. “Provide a schedule as to when these additional geotechnical and geophysical studies will be completed and dates for when the revised trenchless feasibility crossing studies will be provided,” FERC asked Oct. 2. • An explanation why the number of pipeline crossings of the Atigun and Dietrich rivers and temporary work areas between 166.2 and 168.6 miles south of Prudhoe Bay “cannot be reduced to minimize in-stream impacts and bank disturbance and destabilization,” FERC said. “As currently proposed, there are seven crossings of the Atigun River and three crossings of the Dietrich River.” • Where and how the project would obtain water to build construction ice roads north of the Brooks Range. • Additional information on the impact of ballast waters that LNG carriers would discharge as they arrive in Cook Inlet to load up at the LNG terminal. The ballast waters would be up to 25 degrees warmer than the ambient waters of Cook Inlet, AGDC reported to FERC in an earlier filing. • An explanation of how AGDC’s proposal for 3.5 inches of concrete coating on the 42-inch-diameter pipe laid across the Cook Inlet seafloor to reach Nikiski would comply with federal regulations which require “that the top of the pipe is below natural bottom, unless the pipe is supported by stanchions, held in place by anchors or heavy concrete coating, or protected by an equivalent means.” • A more detailed crossing plan for Cook Inlet that includes a description of how the strong currents could affect stability of the pipeline during construction and operation. “Explain if tidal and other flow currents would cause movement of debris and boulders across the pipeline,” FERC asked. And provide “a description of how the pipe would be anchored for tidal currents throughout pipe lay operations, especially in the near-shore transition areas … (and) a description of how the concrete-coated pipe would be handled during pipe lay operation to ensure the pipe is not buckled or damaged due to weight and water currents.” What would AGDC do to reduce the risk of freshwater aquatic invasive species from equipment brought into the state for project construction. • A list of measures AGDC would use to minimize impacts on Cook Inlet beluga whales during construction and use of the freight offloading dock in Nikiski. The corporation’s June 11 response to FERC “did not address part of our question on what mitigation measures were planned for construction … and increased activity in the area … used by Cook Inlet beluga whales for feeding, giving birth and raising young.” • Plans for a new public road, parking and a public path to the beach during construction of the LNG plant in Nikiski. AGDC has told FERC it is considering building an alternate public access point south of the marine terminal to make up for its plan to block existing access to the beach. • More information on AGDC’s plan to take 1 million gallons of water per day from the city of Kenai’s public water system to meet the LNG plant’s freshwater requirements, including the effect of the proposed withdrawals on the aquifer. As with past requests from FERC, the state project team will start providing answers and a schedule for when it will complete the work. Larry Persily is a former Alaska journalist, state and federal official who has long tracked oil and gas markets and projects worldwide.

Permitting to start on Ambler copper prospect early next year

More than 60 years after it was initially prospected, Trilogy Metals is almost ready to apply for the major environmental permits it will need for the first project in one of Alaska’s premier areas with mining potential. Trilogy Metals Inc. CEO Rick Van Nieuwenhuyse said Oct. 4 that the company has started pre-permitting work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for its Arctic copper, zinc and precious metals prospect in advance of an environmental impact statement that should be initiated in the first half of 2019. The Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands fill permit from the Corps — large enough to trigger an EIS — is likely the only federal permit the mine will need, Van Nieuwenhuyse said, noting the Environmental Protection Agency has oversight of the water and air quality permits issued by the State of Alaska. The Arctic prospect is roughly in the middle of the extensive Ambler mining district. Stretching for about 75 miles along the southern flank of the Brooks Range, there are more than 30 known metal deposits in the district, but its remoteness has precluded significant development. The Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority is leading development of a 211-mile industrial road to access the mining district. The Bureau of Land Management is writing a separate EIS for the road and the first draft of that document is expected in March 2019, with a final EIS following late next year, based on the current schedule. “This project is in the middle of nowhere and this road has been studied, discussed, many, many, many times,” Van Nieuwenhuyse said. The road project, which is separate from Trilogy’s mine work, has drawn stiff opposition from residents of the area and environmental groups who are worried the project will disrupt caribou migrations, which Van Nieuwenhuyse acknowledges is the most significant subsistence food source in the region. The proposed mines have also drawn scrutiny for potential impacts to salmon and whitefish runs in the Kobuk River drainage. The National Park Service is also preparing an environmental and economic analysis that is also expected to be finished next spring. AIDEA estimates constructing the most basic single-lane gravel road would cost between $305 and $346 million. It would be financed by the authority with bonds that would be paid back through tolls paid by Trilogy Metals and any other companies that would develop one of the other prospects in the Ambler mining district. The plan is very similar to the Red Dog mine-DeLong Mountain Transportation System — also an AIDEA-owned and financed mine access road —in far Northwest Alaska that development proponents have cited as a model for other isolated resource prospects in the road-scarce state. At its core, the Arctic prospect is about as good as undeveloped metal deposits come these days, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse. With just more than 43 million metric tons of probable reserves averaging 2.3 percent copper, 3.2 percent zinc and smaller amounts of lead, gold and silver, it’s “about 10 times the average grade being mined in open pit copper mines today,” he said. “It’s not a huge mine, but it produces metal above its weight class because of the grade — 160 million pounds of copper annually, 200 million pounds of zinc, 33 million pounds of lead, over 3 million ounces of silver and 30,000 ounces of gold.” Those numbers are based on a short, 12-year mine life. According a pre-feasibility study released in February, Arctic would generate costs of $911 million to build and operate over that time but with roughly $450 million in annual free cash flow would have just a 2-year payback. “We don’t need higher metal prices to make this thing work,” Van Nieuwenhuyse said. “We just need a road.” The mill and other facilities at Arctic could also be used for Trilogy’s other, larger but less explored Bornite copper and cobalt prospect about 20 miles to the southwest or other undeveloped prospects in the area, he added. The company currently estimates Bornite contains upwards of 6 billion pounds of copper, a figure that could grow this coming winter when the results from this year’s drilling campaign. The last two years of exploration at Bornite have been funded by $10 million annual payments from the Australian mining company South 32, which, after a third payment, will have the option of investing another $150 million in the project and forming a 50-50 joint venture with Trilogy, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse. Trilogy has spent $122 million exploring its Alaska prospects overall. The company also has a partnership with NANA Regional Corp., the Northwest Alaska Native regional corporation, which owns land at Bornite. NANA can receive up to a 2.5 percent royalty on the ore concentrates produced from Trilogy’s mines under the partnership, according to a company presentation. Another open-pit prospect, Bornite holds about 125 million metric tons of reserves with about 1 percent copper, but there is potential for an underground mine with 58 million tons of 3 percent copper, he noted. Bornite was also discovered in the 1950s by a prospector well known in mining circles named Riney Berg, according to Van Nieuwenhuyse, who offered a brief anecdote about his work. “He was out there looking for uranium; he had worked at the Kennecott mine so he knew what copper minerals looked like, found some on the surface, did some trenching and got the Kennecott guys all excited. They eventually wrote him a check for $6 million,” he said, noting the value of that much money roughly 60 years ago. “Riney, being a good prospector, spent it all on prospecting. There’s probably a dozen different prospects in Northern Alaska that have his name on it.” Trilogy is also finishing up an study to see if ore sorting systems used by recycling companies can be applied in mining Arctic. The process uses sensors similar to magnetic resonance technology that “recognize what rocks have copper, silver, lead and what rocks don’t,” Van Nieuwenhuyse said. “If we could just mine the stuff we want we could get 3 percent copper, not 2 percent,” he said. The sorting process is proven to work, it’s just not proven to be economic yet, he added. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

COMMENTARY: Alaska’s habitat management model works

We, the signatories, are Alaska fisheries managers, scientists, regulators, and former state officials. We have spent our careers working on fisheries management, science, and resource management. For more than 60 years, Alaska has responsibly balanced resource development and the protection of our state’s natural resources — including our fisheries. As topic experts, our interest in supporting that balance makes us question the viability of Ballot Measure 1. Ballot Measure 1 replaces Alaska’s scientific process for identifying, studying and permitting fish habitat with new and untested regulations. Today, when a project is on the horizon, we go out to the area in question and conduct numerous studies, including water turbidity, fish counts, escapement rates, temperature, water levels, and so on. Multiple state and federal agencies collaborate to make this all happen. And when it comes time to evaluate a permit, the data collected is scrutinized and carefully considered before any decisions on how to move forward, or even if to move forward, are made. Alaska’s approach to fisheries management has been codified in law, acts as a blueprint for fisheries management, and is widely praised as best practices around the country and the world. It is a model that has worked in permitting both industry and community projects, like pipelines, major dams and roadways that enable Alaskans to live their everyday lives. Finding balance has been the responsibility of those who have worked in fisheries management for much of their careers. Reasonable improvements could be made to our current laws, but Ballot Measure 1 was written with no public input on how to improve habitat protections already in place and it unreasonably overhauls current law. Ballot Measure 1 proposes a system that is unworkable, unmanageable and unaffordable. Moreover, Ballot Measure 1 was drafted in private without public review or scrutiny. That approach flies directly in the face of our greatest responsibility: to review and scrutinize the data before arriving at a decision. We believe that lack of transparency results in a ballot measure rife with vague and imprecise language that will create confusion and uncertainty in how we permit and protect our anadromous fish in Alaskan waters. The issue here is more than just a debate over process. Salmon runs are down across most of Alaska. Ballot Measure 1 supporters point to this measure as a needed fix. However, Ballot Measure 1 fails to address the actual challenges facing wild salmon today in our waters. Many experts have identified various changing ocean conditions as contributing factors to this problem. One of those is the mass of warm water located in the Gulf of Alaska — the so-called “blob.” There are other factors contributing as well, such as increasing presence of invasive predatory fish, ocean acidification, and food-source competition. In a recent article published on the Alaska Public Radio website, ADFG biologist Nicole Zeise stated that “most of the data suggests that the problem’s in the marine environment … Freshwater systems are healthy, producing plenty of smolt and fry going out. It’s just that something’s going on in the ocean that we can’t control.” The recent Chinook Symposium in Sitka in May helped highlight the current science about the decline in salmon runs. Salmon researcher Ed Jones was quoted in another Alaska Public Radio broadcast discussing the down cycle in salmon. “They’re dying at sea. So yes, fisheries, seals, killer whales, are all added factors, but the biggest driver is Mother Nature right now,” said Jones, further highlighting changing ocean conditions as a cause for declining salmon runs. If we want to protect our salmon for future generations, then we need more analysis and data in order to generate an effective plan. In the meantime, we urge Alaskans to learn more about Ballot Measure 1 and what it could do to our current, effective management. Alaska needs a balanced, effective policy for protecting our resources—and Ballot Measure 1 fails that test. Signed, Randy Bates, Former Division Director of Habitat, Department of Fish &Game Ed Fogels, Former Deputy Commissioner &Former Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, Department of Natural Resources Kerry Howard, Former Division Director of Habitat, ADFG Thomas E. Irwin, Former DNR Commissioner Bill Jeffress, Former Director of the Office of Project Management and Permitting, DNR Doug Vincent Lang, Former Director of Wildlife Conservation; Assistant Director of Sport Fish; and Special Assistant to the Commissioner, ADFG Bob Loeffler, Former Director of Division of Mining, Land and Water, DNR Ginny Litchfield Former Habitat Division Area Manager to the Kenai Peninsula, ADFG Bill Morris, Former Division of Habitat Regional Supervisor-Northern Region, ADFG Slim Morstad, Former Area Management Biologist-Naknek/Kvichak, ADFG Marty K. Rutherford, Former DNR Commissioner

Native rights pioneer, next generation take Elders & Youth stage

The two speakers at the 35th First Alaskans Institute Elders and Youth Conference bring two different geographic perspectives, two different eras and two different cultures, but a similar energy to be active on behalf of their ancestral communities. The First Alaskans Institute, which organizes the annual Elders and Youth Convention that precedes the Alaska Federation of Natives Convention in Anchorage, has chosen Inupiaq elder Ugiqtaq Wesley Aiken as the Elder keynote and Kaltag resident Tristan Yaadoh Jovan Madros as its Youth keynote speaker. Aiken is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 15, and Madros is scheduled to speak at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 16, according to a draft schedule. The conference’s theme is “Our Ancestors, Our Fire,” acknowledging the connection to ancestors and elders among Natives today and exploring the question: “What will we add to this fire to keep it burning brightly?” A leader from Utqiagvik Aiken is a longtime hand in Alaska and Native politics since long before statehood in 1959. Born in the North Slope town of Barrow, now called Utqiagvik, in 1926, Aiken herded reindeer in the area to provide for his family as a teenager before serving in the Alaska Territorial Guard from 1944–59, staying involved with the guard until 1973, according to a press release from the First Alaskans Institute. Aiken took up the banner of Native rights in the 1960s, participating in the civil disobedience movement in Barrow against federal restrictions on spring duck hunting that was later dubbed “the Barrow Duck-in” in 1961, when Inupiaq duck hunters presented signed statements of their duck hunting against federal rules en masse to game wardens. From there, he was heavily involved in the work to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act that was signed by President Richard Nixon in 1973. He worked on the formation of the Alaska Federation of Natives, the North Slope Borough and the Arctic Slope Regional Corp., retiring from the latter in 1992. He was among the Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corp.’s first three employees upon its formation in 1973, holding the role of land chief, according to the corporation’s website. Throughout his life, he’s held onto a strong faith. He’s frequently invited to deliver prayers in Utqiagvik, whether over captured whales or community gatherings, said his daughter Martha Stackhouse. People often approach him to offer the latest news in town, such as which whales are going by or to ask for advice, she said. “Almost all the time he’s asked to pray for different entities, different things that are happening … they often ask for advice on what to do when a certain situation and the first answer is always that you will find the answer in prayer,” she said. Aiken identified his work on ANCSA and on a commercial whaling moratorium as his most important steps in Native politics, Stackhouse said. Both were hinged around subsistence rights — Aiken says that preserving access to traditional hunting and gathering foods is critically important to the isolated communities of the North Slope. Looking to the future, Aiken says erosion is one of the biggest issues facing Arctic communities. The community east of Utqiagvik that he grew up in, Isuk, has lost between two and four miles of coastline to erosion in recent years, Stackhouse said. Utqiagvik itself has lost a large amount of coastline, largely due to melting permafrost and warming temperatures. Looking to the theme of “Our Ancestors, Our Fire,” he said he looked to his ancestors for foresight and instruction in the past. “Those ancestors as he was growing up, as he was very young, those people use to talk about the things that were going to happen,” Stackhouse said. “They are happening. So the ancestors predicted this and they are happening.” Learning from elders Tristan Madros grew up spending time and learning from elders in Kaltag. Madros, who was adopted traditionally by his grandparents in the western Alaska village, is of Koyukon Athabascan descent. He learned the traditional way of life there, making birch sleds, hunting, trapping and fishing. At 20, he has already spent several terms on the board of Denakkanaaga, an organization representing Native elders in the Doyon and Tanana Chiefs Conference areas of the Interior and currently serves on the Kaltag Village Council as the Second Chief, in the Kaltag dance group, the Tanana Chiefs Conference Youth Advisory Emerging Leader’s Council, and Yukon River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission board, according to a press release from the First Alaskans Institute. In 2017, Doyon Ltd. named him as the Shareholder of the Year for the Chief Andrew Isaac Leadership Award. In a release accompanying the award, the corporation noted Madros’ work with elders and efforts to give back to the community. The 35th Elders and Youth Conference is scheduled to begin with the Warming of the Hands pre-conference session on Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage, and the Tyonek peoples will host a welcome potlatch at the Alaska Pacific University sports center. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Crabbers thankful to have a season for Bristol Bay red king crab

Crab catches dominate Alaska’s fish news in early October as boats gear up for mid-month openers in the Bering Sea. As expected, crabbers will see increased catches for snow crab after the annual survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females (only male crabs can be retained for sale). Managers announced last week a catch of 27.5 million pounds of snow crab, up 47 percent from last season. Even better, biologists documented one of the largest numbers of small snow crab poised to enter the fishery they’ve ever seen. Also as expected, the news is bad for bairdi Tanners, the larger cousins of snow crab. A take of just 2.4 million pounds, down 2 percent, will be allowed from the western fishing district of the Bering Sea, with the eastern district closed for the season. Crabbers breathed a sigh of relief to learn there will be a red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay with a catch of 4.3 million pounds, a 36 percent drop. Those stocks have been on a downward spiral for several years and talk on the docks was that there would likely not be a fishery this year. “It helps sustain king crab markets that might be lost if the season were closed,” reacted Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers. There again will be no king crab openers at the Pribilofs and St. Matthew Island due to low stock numbers. Similarly, a king crab fishery was canceled at Southeast Alaska where a small 120,000-pound red king crab fishery occurred last fall for the first time in six years. Looking good for Gulf crab The official word won’t be out until November, but signs are pointing to another Kodiak Tanner crab opener in January 2019. Last winter saw the first season after a four-year closure, with a 400,000-pound harvest. “It looks positive because we had a big group of crab last year that were just sub-legal, and we thought we might get two years of fishing on that group, said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. A big pulse of crab in 2013 was the largest biologists had ever seen since trawl surveys began, Nichols said. “At that time, we estimated 200 million crab in the water. They were one- to two-year-olds, the size of a nickel,” he said. “They don’t survive well because everything likes to eat a small Tanner crab, and about 90 percent drop out of the population before they reach legal size. But even 10 percent still turns into a lot of crab.” Nichols said Tanner numbers also are looking up at Chignik and the South Peninsula, but those regions are likely to remain closed. Biologists talk about “episodic recruitment” of Tanner crab, Nichols said, when massive spikes arrive all at once, roughly on a five- to seven-year time line. The largest one ever may be in the lineup. “This year we saw the next recruitment pulse and it’s possibly 50 percent bigger than 2013,” he said. “But we’re looking way down the road to 2023.” “We try not to get too excited because we’ve seen these drop off between the first year we see them and five years later when they become legal. But it’s good to see we’re still producing big cohorts of crab,” Nichols added. We’re sort of along for the ride, is how we put it.” The abundance of tiny Tanners could be a benefiting from the crash of the cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, he said. “If you’ve got 80 percent fewer mouths to feed, I don’t think it can hurt.” Tanners, too, at PWS Crabbers at Prince William Sound could also get to drop pots for Tanners again in March. “We’re getting all our information together so we can see where we’re at,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at ADFG in Homer. A one-month fishery in March 2018 was the first Tanner crab opener in PWS since 1988. It was allowed under a Commissioner’s Permit that is issued in special circumstances and was limited to two regions. It was a sort of fact finding mission, Rumble said, that was prompted by increasing numbers of crab coming up in subsistence pots and a lack of survey data. Fifteen permit holders participated in the fishery and pulled up 82,000 pounds of crab. Rumble said based on last year’s harvest, managers are “pretty confident” there will be another special permit fishery next March. “Hopefully, processors will come into Cordova and set up for that fishery again. We also had buyers in Whittier and Seward and they will appreciate the opportunity to buy Tanner crab again,” Rumble said. Expo Updates Pacific Marine Expo is one of the industry’s oldest (52 years) and most popular trade shows and organizers were scrambling a few months ago when its traditional November dates were spiked by a football game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field where the event is held. That pushed Expo into Thanksgiving week amid worries that it would cut into the show’s draw. The Nov. 18-20 date change hasn’t worked for some exhibitors, said Expo director Denielle Christensen, but for others, it’s provided more motivation to come to the show. “Some folks are already traveling at Thanksgiving time, so this is actually a good schedule for them. No down time — you can go right from Expo to family and your turkey dinner,” Christensen said, adding that early registrations are ahead of last year. Dominating the Expo floor again is an even bigger Alaska Hall, which will house 52 Alaska companies and the show’s main stage. Christensen said over one-third of the visitors at Expo in 2018 said they were “specifically looking for products from Alaska.” A new focus this year is a Young Fishermen’s Track for those just starting out. “We realized that was a group that was being overlooked. We know they need help and we hope we can be a bigger part of that for them,” Christensen said. Also in the Expo line up: a public hearing on the Pebble Mine. “Pebble Mine comes up every year and it is such an important topic to have in our educational program,” she said. Visit for more information. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Oil Search planning two new wells into southern Pikka Unit

A company new to Alaska developing one of the state’s largest oil prospects is planning to further delineate the field by drilling two more wells this coming winter into what has become the hottest play on the North Slope. Australian-based Oil Search applied with the state Division of Oil and Gas Sept. 28 to drill two well and sidetrack combinations into the shallow, conventional Nanushuk formation from the southern portion of the Pikka Unit on the central North Slope in February, according to the company’s plan of exploration for the unit. The wells will be the first drilled into the southern half of Pikka and “are critical to the delineation of this area and have the potential to have significant impact on the subsurface basis of design” for future field infrastructure according to the document signed by Oil Search Alaska President Keiran Wulff. Oil Search took over as operator of Pikka and the associated Nanushuk project in March. The wells were originally scheduled to be drilled by Armstrong Energy last winter, but the change in control of the field brought logistical challenges that delayed the work. A final environmental impact statement is expected later this year for the Nanushuk project at Pikka, which is expected to produce up to 120,000 barrels per day at peak production. Oil Search agreed to buy a 25.5 percent stake and the operating role in the Pikka Unit from Armstrong Energy and Denver-based GMT Exploration Co., a silent partner in the unit, in October 2017 for $400 million. The deal also included a 37.5 percent share of Armstrong’s prospective “Horseshoe” leases to the south. Oil Search can fully buy Armstrong and GMT out of Pikka for another $450 million by July 2019, an option Wulff has said the company is “highly likely” to exercise. The Pikka B and C wells Oil Search intends to drill will reach depths of 6,513 feet and 4,923 feet, respectively. The company plans to drill the wells concurrently with two drilling rigs and will build ice roads and mobilize from the equipment from the Mustang development pad in the nearby Southern Miluveach Unit. Oil Search is currently in the preliminary front-end engineering and design, or pre-FEED, stage of developing the Nanushuk project and the results from the B and C wells will inform the company’s work during the FEED phase of the project, according to the plan of exploration. First oil is expected in the early 2020s and full development of the field will entail 146 wells and cost up to $5 billion to bring online. Armstrong Energy drilled a well-sidetrack combination roughly 20 miles south of Pikka into the Nanushuk formation in early 2017. CEO Bill Armstrong said at the time that he believed the positive results from that work indicated a long, continuous play that could hold twice as much oil as originally estimated. While official estimates are more conservative, Armstrong has consistently said he believes more than 1 billion barrels can be produced from the Pikka Unit. ConocoPhillips also drilled two successful exploration wells into the Nanushuk south of Pikka last winter. A separate Nanushuk play is also the basis for the company’s large Willow prospect to the west in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. Further, a consortium of small exploration companies led by Australian-based 88 Energy is planning to drill a Nanushuk exploration well this winter just to the east of ConocoPhillips wells south of Pikka. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Kenaitze Wellness Court graduates pair in model for recovery

KENAI — Eighteen months ago, Eli Darien walked out of Wildwood Correctional Complex in Kenai for the last time. He’d been in and out of the prison every few months for years, largely on drug offenses, beginning with marijuana and eventually progressing to heroin. Each time he got out, he’d violate probation or reoffend, winding up back in front of the judges and back in a jail cell. There were times, too, in the depth of addiction to drugs, he’d offend on purpose, he said. “For two years I was going to jail twice a month,” he said. “They finally gave up on me.” That changed when he entered the Henu’ Wellness Court. On Oct. 6 he marked 18 months of complete sobriety. The program, a joint-jurisdiction wellness court between the Kenaitze Indian Tribe and the state, offers an intensive course of justice and wellness to participants. Most of those involved have a substance abuse problem, regardless of whether the particular crime was for driving under the influence or theft. Darien was one of the court’s first participants. It officially began in 2016, and now Darien and Dale Vaughn will graduate by the second week of October, the program’s first graduates. “I was standing before (Kenai Superior Court Judge Anna Moran) when I was 50, and she said, ‘What do you want to do, Eli?’” Darien said. “I said, ‘Well, when I’m 55, I’m going to be an elder in my Tribe, and I don’t want to be like this.” Moran, who has since retired from the court, was the one who recommended him to the Henu’ program. Kenaitze Indian Tribe Chief Judge Susan Wells said watching the transformations in participants like Darien has been a remarkable part of the program. She was part of the original team of people who drafted the idea for the wellness court in Kenai. The idea came from the example of a joint-jurisdiction court in Minnesota, led by Cass/Itasca County Judge John P. Smith and Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe Tribe Court Judge Korey Wahwassuck. Frustrated by recidivism rates in his court, Smith approached Wahwassuck and the two worked out a joint-jurisdiction wellness court intended to produce better outcomes for participants, particularly children and families in the child welfare system. The state has a number of wellness courts, but the Henu’ Wellness Court is the first Tribal-state joint-jurisdiction court in Alaska. It’s thought of as a state court with a Tribal track, but the Tribe wants it to be recognized as a Tribal court with a state track, Wells said. “(At first) we didn’t really know what to do with it,” Wells said. “There’s lots of learning on things we could or should do better … I think we’ve been very successful.” Participants like Darien are referred to the court based on the type of conviction and history they have, including substance abuse or domestic violence. There are certain types of cases Henu’ won’t take, depending on the offense, Wells said. Court takes place in a square room on the Kenaitze Indian Tribe’s campus in Old Town Kenai, where participants sit less than two feet across a long table from the judges and talk about their cases and their progress. It’s very different than state court, where the judges sit far from and above defendants on a podium, Darien said. The attorneys still participate with each hearing; the state District Attorney in Kenai attends hearings as well. “I think it’s profound to have that interaction (directly) with a judge,” Wells said. Based on a series of Kenaitze Indian Tribe values, the participants move through four phases on their way to graduation. They submit to urine analysis every day, meet with probation officers, attend court once a week and go to substance abuse and recovery groups. It’s an intensive program that lasts a minimum of 18 months, Wells said. The Tribal court building is about 100 feet from the Tribe’s massive health care complex, the Dena’ina Wellness Center, which makes it easier for the participants to walk over and get care in connection with the court, Wells said. It hasn’t always been easy for participants like Darien, but the effect of being sober is noticeable. He says he wouldn’t go back now. “I thought it would be (hard to stay clean) but it wasn’t,” he said. “With the support I had here at the court … everyone wants to see me succeed.” Vaughn, who was the first participant in the court, agreed. People notice when you’re sober, he said. He and Darien agreed that anyone going through addiction has to be ready to quit; the program helps, but they have to be ready. “Everybody cares,” Vaughn said. “When you’re using and drinking, nobody cares.” The word “henu’” translates from the Dena’ina language as “hard work,” Wells said. The court administrators pair it with the word “un’ina,” which means “those who come to us.” Much of the work of recovery is incumbent on the participants themselves as they progress through the court. People can drop out if they fail to meet the benchmarks, but so far, watching the transformation in people like Darien has been heartening, Wells said. Beth Freeman recently entered the program. She said coming to Henu’ Wellness Court after going through the state court offers a sense of turning a corner. “I don’t think I can really control (the emotions),” she said. “I’m just overwhelmed with gratitude every time I come in here.” Wells said the tribe is working a grant for a peer support program so graduates like Darien and Vaughn can continue to provide support as more than volunteers for the people still working their way through the program. That kind of support is key to the nature of the program, she said. “It’s really like we’re wrapping our arms around someone,” she said. During a Kenaitze Indian Tribe general meeting Oct. 6, Darien spoke with the Tribal council and members attending about the court. Wells said he’s already been invited to speak at another Tribe about sobriety, and he’s working through his classes to become a substance abuse counselor at the Dena’ina Wellness Center. Having lived all his life in Kenai, he knew virtually every person in the room — “this is a room full of cousins,” he said — and many of them knew what he had been through. As he walked back to his seat, a number of people stood and applauded enthusiastically, offering him high-fives or emotional hugs as congratulations on how far he’d come. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]


Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS