FISH FACTOR: Alaska’s top export omitted from federal trade data

Most Alaskans are surprised to learn that seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, the source of the state’s largest manufacturing base and its No. 1 private employer. More surprising is that those simple to find facts are not included in the official trade sheet for Alaska provided by the office of the U.S. Trade Representative, or USTR. The information on the USTR website, for example, incorrectly claims that petroleum and coal were Alaska’s top exports in 2018. But seafood has been state’s top export by far for decades. “Seafood comprises over half of Alaska’s annual export value, averaging $3.3 billion annually over the past decade, averaging $5.6 billion from 20170-2018,” reports the Resource Development Council for Alaska on its fisheries page. The USTR states that “Alaska goods exports in 2016 (latest year available) supported an estimated 37,000 jobs.” Wrong again. Alaska’s seafood industry alone supports nearly 60,000 direct jobs and an additional 10,000 secondary jobs. And as the RDC points out, “seafood processing is the largest manufacturing sector in Alaska, accounting for 70 percent of Alaska’s manufacturing employment.” But the federal trade reps have a different take. Under the USTR category Made in America Manufacturing Exports from Alaska and Jobs, it states: “Other top manufacturing exports are transportation equipment ($68 million), food &kindred products ($23 million), computer &electronic products ($23 million), and machinery, except electrical ($23 million). Who knew?! For the category “Agriculture in Alaska Depends on Exports,” the USTR claims that: “Alaska is the country’s 50th largest agricultural exporting state, shipping $17 million in domestic agricultural exports abroad in 2017.” Alaska’s top agricultural products listed are “other plant products” ($14 million), “other livestock products” ($1 million), followed by “feeds and other grains, processed grain products, and beef and veal” ($326,000). But Alaska is not alone in the seafood snub. A review of other states’ official trade pages shows contributions by the industry are not mentioned for fishing powerhouses like Maine, Massachusetts or Louisiana and more. And Hawaii will be surprised to learn that, according to the federal trade office, its largest exports also are petroleum and coal, although it has no reserves of either! Overall, the USTR state trade data is poorly defined, loaded with incorrect facts and figures, provides no attribution, and each page looks like a sloppy cut and paste job tossed together with no expertise or interest. Hopefully, the issue will draw the attention of Robert DeHaan who on July 17 was appointed to the Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee that covers trade in animal products. DeHaan is the Vice President for Government Affairs at the National Fisheries Institute and has worked at the senior government level in both trade and transportation. The committee advises the government on policy matters including existing trade agreements and the negotiation of new ones. “This is a great opportunity for the seafood community to have a seat at the table where trade decisions are made,” DeHaan said in a NFI press release. “I’m thrilled to be able to bring our industry’s perspective and guidance to the people in charge of trade policy.” China tariffs tank Alaska seafood It’s been two years since President Trump started a trade war with China by imposing taxes on U.S. seafood going to that country, taxes that are paid by Americans and not the Chinese, as he would have you believe. Seafood comprises more than 30 percent of Alaska’s export volume and the ongoing tariffs have added up to huge losses from our biggest trading partner. An analysis by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute shows that exports to China reached the highest level ever in 2017, at nearly $1 billion ($988 million). By 2018, Alaska seafood exports dropped by $204 million, the largest year over year decrease ever. And by 2019, sales to China were at the lowest level since 2010 at $702 million. That’s a drop of more than $250 million in two years. During the same time, China saw a 91 percent increase in seafood imports from other nations, going from $8.1 billion to $15.4 billion. While the exact amount varies by species and product, ASMI said the average tax on Alaska seafood entering China is 38 percent. For comparison, it’s 8 percent for Norway, Russia and Canada; Chile and New Zealand pay zero seafood tax to China. There’s been explosive growth among Chinese seafood eaters since the tariffs were enacted, ASMI said, with sales jumping from $8.1 billion to $15.4 billion since 2018. But that growing appetite is being filled with seafood from elsewhere than Alaska or the U.S. Added to the trade squeeze with China, the U.S. seafood industry also continues to compete with less expensive imports from Russia. Trade data show the US imported nearly $700 million worth of Russian-caught seafood in 2019, although that country has embargoed all seafood U.S. imports since 2014. Combine U.S. trade policies that are clearly at odds with backing the seafood industry, mix in crippling and ongoing market impacts from Covid-19 and it adds up to a triple whammy for Alaska’s fishermen and coastal communities. Don’t dump your dumps Don’t be dumping your doings overboard is a message from the state of Alaska to fishing vessel operators. A letter sent out last week by the Department of Environmental Conservation reminds fishermen that it is illegal to dump sewage within three miles from shore. “It is common practice, obviously, for folks to use a honey bucket on their boat and to just throw it overboard. There is no doubt it is an ongoing practice. So, we are working to educate folks operating in our waters about the Clean Water Act. I would encourage folks to think about the water in general, think about being good stewards, and to bring that to our proper disposal on shore,” DEC Commissioner Jason Brune told KDLG in Dillingham. Dumping sewage violates the Clean Water Act and can net you a fine up to $2,000. Brune’s letter also said the dumpings damage the nearshore environment by contaminating shellfish beds and fish habitat and can spread diseases to other people. All boats with onboard bathrooms must use Coast Guard approved sanitation devices with storage tanks that are emptied at a pump station on shore or beyond three miles. Boats with honey buckets also can use the pump stations or bag style camp toilets that can be sealed and disposed of at approved collection areas. Along with the dangers of contamination, Brune pointed out that dumping sewage in nearby waters simply sends the wrong message. “We have environmental standards that we want to hold folks to,” he said, “to make sure that we’re being protective of our marine resources, of our fish and of the environment that we love here in Alaska.” Fish Board find A public records request to Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s Office of Boards and Commissions produced a redacted resume for his elusive Board of Fisheries nominee, McKenzie Mitchell. It says since 2019 she has been a professor of economics and “recreation business leadership” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a “contract economist for NOAA constructing market demand models for fisheries prevalent in Alaska.” Mitchell’s resume says she has been a boat captain and sport fishing guide at lodges on Kodiak Island for several years, presently at Raspberry Island Remote Lodge. She also is an assistant big game guide at Afognak Wilderness Lodge at Kodiak and Midnight Sun Safaris and Lazy J-Bar-O Outfitters at Healy. A hearing on the fish board nominees is set for Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. at the Legislative Information Office in Anchorage. Public comments can be submitted now to Rep. Louise Stutes at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

GUEST COMMENTARY: ‘Fair Share’ organizers will weather the economic storm. Alaskans may not.

My grandparents and their children moved to Alaska in 1964. Since then, my family has called Alaska home, and owned 12 Alaska-based businesses. My grandparents were drawn to Alaska for the increased opportunity oil finds would bring their young family. The rest of us have stayed because Alaska, with a strong oil industry, remains a land of opportunity. Alaska’s state budget, which relies heavily on oil revenues for funding, has been a point of contention for the last few years. The sudden economic impacts of the COVID-19 virus and a squabble over oil production between Saudi Arabia and Russia have caused the price of oil to plunge to less than $1 per barrel, placing Alaska’s state budget in grave peril. It is going to be a rough time in Alaska until these situations resolve, and it is anyone’s guess when that will happen. Our state’s economy depends on oil and gas production. Unfortunately, Alaska now faces pressure and uncertainty from within our own state; we must decide if we will act as a long-term partner with oil producers and reap the benefit of future decades of growth and development, or stifle future development in our state by voting for the latest oil tax ballot measure. Ballot Measure One would raise taxes on our Alaskan oil producers by 150 percent at these low prices, and by 300 percent at the higher prices we saw earlier this year. Despite this massive increase, proponents claim the measure will not hurt oil investment in Alaska. Such an assertion defies logic and flies in the face of basic economic theory. This would be true at normal oil prices, but is especially true when prices are low. To provide context for what such a tax increase would mean for a family or business, we need look no further than Ballot Measure One chair, drafter, and funder Robin Brena. Robin Brena is an owner in a company that owns about $20 million in Anchorage real estate. In 2019, Brena’s company paid the Municipality of Anchorage more than $300,000 in property taxes. Of course, as an LLC, he paid no state corporate income tax. If the city increased taxes on his company by 300 percent, he would be required to pay the city almost $1 million in additional taxes each year. Without a doubt, such an increase would change how he spends his money, how he does business, and how and where he invests. This shift would have a negative impact on the people he employees and their families, as well as the businesses that lease space in his buildings. Fortunately for Robin Brena, he can probably weather a major economic downturn in Alaska’s economy. Many Alaskans, however, cannot. We need the oil industry to thrive in order for our economy to thrive. There are many promising opportunities for Alaska on the horizon. Through significant prior investments, oil companies have made big discoveries, like the Pikka and Willow oil fields, which can provide decades of opportunity for Alaskans. Soon we may have ANWR lease sales, which will be another potential boost to our state. We cannot jeopardize generations of opportunity for Alaska families and small businesses by enacting an overreaching tax that will drive investment dollars to more competitive areas in the world. Please join me in protecting Alaska families and small businesses by voting no on Ballot Measure One. Jodi Taylor is the co-chair of OneAlaska.

Trump administration completes overhaul of NEPA regs

The Trump administration has shaken the bedrock of the nation’s environmental laws to the delight of development advocates. The White House Council on Environmental Quality on July 15 issued its final regulations to overhaul implementation of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, signed into law 50 years ago by President Richard Nixon. Administration officials contend the regulatory reforms will streamline what has become a clunky and arcane environmental review process for development projects and federal land-use decisions. It officially marks the first major change to NEPA regulations since the council first approved them in 1978. Gov. Mike Dunleavy lauded the changes during a July 16 press conference at the White House, saying the former NEPA rules had “strangled the American dream” for decades. “These long-awaited reforms are a ray of hope for those who have suffered the impacts of federal overreach in my home state,” Dunleavy said. “Lifting the regulatory burden will spur responsible natural resource development in Alaska, creating jobs and economic opportunity while still protecting the environment.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement from her office that easing the regulatory burden for developers will be particularly important as the country attempts to recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic. “The president and his advisers deserve credit for leading the charge to update and modernize federal NEPA regulations to responsibly streamline these processes so that critical infrastructure and other important projects can be built in a timely manner,” Murkowski said. She has also been critical of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ draft review of the Pebble mine project, which mine opponents say has been rushed to appease the company. Conservation advocates insist the administration is narrowing the time and scope of NEPA reviews — particularly the detailed environmental impact statements required for large projects or federal actions — to limit public involvement and understanding of the full impacts a proposed development could have. According to the White House council, the average length of an EIS is more than 600 pages and EIS reviews average 4.5 years to complete. NEPA was so transformative when it was enacted that it is often referred to as the “Magna Carta” of environmental law. In conjunction with the Clean Water and Clean Air acts, it forms the national basis for environmental protection, pollution control and land conservation. As such, the CEQ’s new NEPA regulations could be a lasting accomplishment for the Trump administration. The CEQ is hardening current guidelines for the length of an EIS. Prior NEPA regulations recommend the text of a final EIS be less than 150 pages. An EIS of “unusual scope or complexity” should be limited to 300 pages, according to the regulations; it’s 75 pages for an environmental assessment. The new regulations make those recommendations mandatory in most cases. The new language also defines reasonable alternatives, which are a required part of an EIS, as alternatives that are “technically and economically reasonable” to be in line with longstanding Supreme Court decisions, CEQ officials told the Journal. Many of the high level reforms to the parameters of an EIS were in part derived from Sen. Dan Sullivan’s Red Tape and Rebuild America Now bills, according to the senator. He said in a March interview with the Journal that one of the first conversations he had with President Trump was about the need for NEPA reform. The new regulations also limit the scope of climate impacts that a project could have to those that are direct or nearby. Other changes narrow the focus of an EIS to address the direct impacts of a project as NEPA was intended, reform advocates argue, while also aligning the regulations with settled case law. Skeptics of the new rules note that the analysis of “cumulative effects” is no longer required, which will result in the public getting only a limited view of what a development project will truly mean. “Any action that diminishes NEPA strips us of our voice in these public processes, and in doing so diminishes democracy itself,” Southeast Alaska Conservation Coalition Executive Director Meredith Trainor said in a statement responding to the CEQ announcement. However, CEQ attorneys also stress that while the regulations are intended to expedite reviews of most relatively small or simple developments, they are specifically written to ensure senior agency officials can formally deem a project particularly complex or of public significance to bypass the new page and time limitations. Federal agencies have largely ignored other, similar directives from the White House to limit the length and time of environmental reviews, so it’s unclear how closely the regulations will be adhered to. What is clear is they will be thoroughly vetted in court. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Tax initiative still on as payment limit ruled unconstitutional

A Superior Court Judge agreed that the group sponsoring a voter initiative to raise oil taxes violated a state law limiting payments to signature gatherers, but ultimately ruled that the payment limit is unconstitutional. In his July 16 order, Judge Thomas A. Matthews agreed with Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share that a 1998 law limiting payment to $1 per signature for initiative petition circulators violates an initiative sponsor’s First Amendment right to engage in political speech. The ruling keeps Ballot Measure 1 on the November ballot, for now at least. Alaska’s Fair Share leaders insist the group of resource industry trade associations, led by the Resource Development Council for Alaska, filed the lawsuit to stop the oil tax initiative because voters are going to approve it. “Clearly our opposition decided they can’t win at the polls so they tried to get the courts to strip Alaskans of their right to vote for Alaska’s Fair Share. We’re glad the judge rejected this attempt to disenfranchise the 39,000 Alaskans who petitioned to place Alaska’s Faire Share on the ballot,” Vote Yes campaign chair and Anchorage oil and gas attorney Robin Brena said in a formal statement. The initiative sponsors insist Alaska is one of the most profitable places in the world for oil companies to do business and lawmakers are shirking their constitutional duty to receive the maximum possible benefit for the state’s publicly owned resources because of the current oil production tax, known as Senate Bill 21. They estimate that, among other things, the Alaska’s Fair Share Act will raise approximately $1.1 billion in revenue for the state by increasing both the gross and net profit taxes on the largest North Slope fields. The initiative’s opponents contend it would drastically increase taxes on the major North Slope fields that already generate the lion’s share of state tax revenue, deterring investment by the industry that drives an outsized portion of Alaska’s economy at a time when oil companies are struggling to adjust to the second sustained oil price collapse in the last five years. Attorneys for the RDC-led group argued in front of Matthews July 7 that because Alaska’s Fair Share paid Las Vegas-based Advanced Micro Targeting Inc. $72,500 in part for help gathering signatures, and Advanced Micro Targeting advertised that it would pay petition circulators $3,500 to $4,000 per month for with the expectation that they would gather at least 480 signatures per week, Alaska’s Fair Share violated the $1 per signature limit and the roughly 29,000 signatures gathered by Advanced Micro Targeting employees should be invalidated. Brena claimed the Advanced Micro Targeting campaign workers were paid by salary for signature gathering as well as other work so it is impossible to parse out how much of their income should be allocated to what specific tasks. He also argued that even if the $1 per signature limit is constitutional it can only apply to a per signature payment scheme, which he characterized as “bounty hunting,” and not to salaried employees. Invalidating the signatures would not officially kill the initiative, but it would force Alaska’s Fair Share to gather the signatures again and keep it off the ballot until the next statewide general election in 2022. Matthews wrote in his 30-page order that he couldn’t “construe the (payment) statute to mean that monthly, hourly or salary type payments are permitted when the amount paid exceeds $1 per signature” because a plain reading of the law specifies the limit with no other qualifiers. However, he also noted that transcripts of the legislative hearings when the limit was being debated in 1998 indicate lawmakers were aware of the potential constitutionality issues but passed the law anyway. In ruling the $1 per signature limit unconstitutional, Matthews wrote that U.S. and state Supreme Court precedent requires judges to interpret restrictions on citizen participation in politics — such as a voter-driven initiative — very narrowly and generally err on the side of allowing the voters to decide an issue rather than preventing it from reaching the ballot. He added that it could practically limit the ability of sponsor to get an initiative on the ballot in Alaska because sponsors are required to collect signatures from 30 of the 40 state house districts and traversing the state is expensive. “If a circulator traveled by plane to a village to collect signatures, it is doubtful that payment of $1 per signature would be sufficient compensation — such (a) circulator would truly be a volunteer regardless,” Matthews wrote. “Whether it was made to help garner grassroots support for initiatives for to deter bounty hunting — the payment restriction under (the 1998 law) is not narrowly tailored to accomplish those goals.” Matt Singer, attorney for the industry coalition, wrote via email that the group is pleased Matthews agreed with them that Alaska’s Fair Share violated the $1 per signature limit but will likely appeal what he called an “overly restrictive” decision. “We believe the court’s holding is wrong as a matter of law and arguably strips the Legislature of any meaningful power to regulate the integrity of Alaska’s initiative process,” Singer wrote. “The authority of Alaska’s elected representatives to protect the integrity of Alaska’s initiative process must be recognized.” State attorneys representing the Division of Elections — also sued for allegedly improperly certifying the signatures that the RDC-led group claims should be invalid — stressed in oral arguments that if the Advanced Micro Targeting workers knowingly falsified their circulator affidavits submitted to the division in regards to payment they should be charge criminally under Alaska law. However, the signatures should remain valid, the state argues. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for July 19

The Mat-Su Health Foundation has promoted Heather Merry to executive assistant and board liaison. Merry joined the MSHF in 2013 in the role of administrative assistant. In the years since then she has taken on additional duties at various times, including assisting with scholarship applications and backfilling for the previous executive assistant while that person was acting in an interim position elsewhere in the organization. She came to the MSHF with a proven background in administrative support. She previously worked as a senior clerical specialist for a telecommunications company and as a secretary for an aviation firm. Schwabe, Williamson &Wyatt P.C. announced the expansion of the firm’s Anchorage office by adding six experienced attorneys. With the addition of Robert Misulich, Matt Singer, Christopher Slottee, Howard Trickey, Lee Baxter and Peter Scully, the firm is expanding its Natural Resources industry group, bolstering its presence in Alaska and ability to serve clients across the Pacific Northwest. Attorneys joining Schwabe as shareholders are: Misulich, Singer, Slottee and Trickey are joining as shareholders, and Baxter and Scully as of counsel. Misulich specializes in corporate governance; corporate services; government contracts; labor, employment, and benefits; and Native American law. He regularly represents Alaska Native corporations as outside corporate counsel in a broad range of matters, including corporate governance, shareholder meetings, proxy solicitations, and business transactions and compliance. Singer has extensive trial and appellate practice. He has handled numerous jury and bench trials in state and federal courts and has argued more than 25 appeals to the Alaska Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. His diverse practice emphasizes complex litigation and natural resources law in Alaska and Oregon courts. Slottee has extensive experience in matters related to Alaska Native corporations, settlement trusts, Tribal governments, and government contracting. He previously served as vice president and general counsel for an ANC. Trickey has 40 years of experience as a trial and appellate lawyer representing a diverse group of clients across many industries and practice areas. He has also devoted a substantial part of his practice to employment law and traditional labor relations and represented Alaska Native corporations, Fortune 500 companies, privately-owned companies, nonprofits and school districts. Baxter practices in commercial litigation, real property matters, Indian and Alaska Native law, government relations and contracting. Scully practices commercial litigation, corporate governance, business formation, construction contracting, real estate, and Alaska Native law Northrim Bank announced the hiring of a new Human Resources director and commercial lender, as well as changes in three of its branches in Anchorage and one in Fairbanks. TJ Alinen, was hired as senior vice president-Human Resources director and Amanda Clayton as associate vice president-commercial loan officer. Maia Hernandez was promoted to associate vice president-Branch Manager II, Seventh Avenue Branch; Katreena Little was promoted to Huffman Branch manager; Liza David was promoted to Jewel Lake assistant branch manager; and Donna Fountain was promoted to Fairbanks Financial Center assistant branch manager. Alinen joins Northrim Bank with 20 years of professional human resources experience in Alaska and Arizona. He was recently the vice president of Human Resources at the Calista Corp. Alinen holds a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from Wayland Baptist University. He is certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources and a Senior Certified Professional in Human Resources. Clayton comes to Northrim with 19 years of experience in the financial industry. She is a graduate of Pacific Coast Banking School at the University of Washington. Hernandez joined Northrim Bank in 2015 and has 13 years of experience in the industry, starting as a teller and advancing to a business banker and eventually becoming the branch manager at the Seventh Avenue Branch and Retail Banking Float Pool Manager. Little has been with Northrim for more than 10 years where she has been an assistant branch manager before being promoted to branch manager. Before joining the financial industry, she was a Certified Medical Assistant. David started at Northrim in 2009 and has worked in a couple different branches in Anchorage. She studied at the University of Makati Philippines. Fountain joined Northrim in 2006 and has more than 21 years of banking experience. She has held positions throughout the bank and received Northrim’s Customer First Service Award in 2016.

Emerging mariculture industry takes setback from market losses

For the past few years, mariculture has been the hot topic of innovation in fisheries in Alaska. But when the coronavirus pandemic hit, many of the budding farms took a huge financial hit to their operations. In the past five years, Alaska has seen a boom in the number of applications for mariculture operations, focusing on oysters, geoduck clams and kelp. Their main outlet has been in restaurants and wholesale food service, where they’ve been able to carve a niche for sustainably grown Alaska seafood and supply markets both in the state and the Lower 48. But the coronavirus pandemic closed restaurants across most of the United States in March, and large events or group cafeterias that required catering or food service remain mostly off the table. That left the mariculture farms in Alaska with a much more limited market but still a lot of product to move. For Ketchikan-based Hump Island Oyster Co., it’s going to be a tough year. Owner Trevor Sande said the company has mostly sold its oysters to wholesalers who distribute to food service businesses and retailers, with some going to local sources. They also grow a small amount of kelp, but the majority of the farm produces oysters. With seven years of shellfish growing under their belts, Hump Island has been increasing its business size every year, and this year’s plummet leaves them with a lot of oysters that don’t have anywhere to go. “It’s going to be a tremendous disaster, financially,” he said. “We have six to seven million oysters in the water right now. We’re just going to need to keep borrowing money to keep them alive and keep up with the husbandry.” Sande said this year they were planning to expand their tours, pulling in more cruise ship passengers and visitors to Ketchikan. But with cruise ships docked and the Canadian border closure limiting ferry visitors coming from Prince Rupert, Ketchikan is quiet. Oyster farmers may be getting hit twice, too. Sande said his farm, like many others in the state, uses floating rafts and trays to cultivate oysters because of a lack of suitable tidelands in the Ketchikan area. That means that in order to build capacity, farmers have to first build more rafts with trays. That costs money, and without anywhere for the oysters to go, it’s either throw out more or swallow the cost for more infrastructure. A survey conducted by Alaska SeaGrant in February and March showed that many farms had to lay off staff after the mandates sharply reduced revenue. About 43 percent of respondents said their revenue was down by more than half, and more than a third had laid off employees. The vast majority cited restaurant closures as the reason, though about half said labor shortages or reduced export opportunities were also responsible, according to the survey. The winter months are mostly kelp harvest. Oysters are harvested in the summer, and while some restaurants have reopened, mandates vary across the country and restaurant sales are still down. Some oyster farmers cited concerns about wasted harvest due to labor shortages, according to the survey. That’s not been Sande’s experience so far in Ketchikan, where he said plenty of people are out of work because of the downturn in the tourism industry. “Ketchikan’s been so devastated by the lack of any cruise ships,” he said. “If I could afford it, I ‘d hire 20 of (the displaced tourism industry workers). We do most of our work from May through September.” Getting a mariculture farm off the ground is expensive, both for the working capital for business expenses and the permitting. But in early 2019, so many people had applied that the state was backlogged nearly a year-and-a-half on approving applications. There are still some that haven’t been processed, and once they are, there may be a lull in people being willing to lay out cash to build up farms, said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “Long-term, I don’t think it’s going to see a significant impact, because there’s still good demand for food products,” she said. “They’re still sort of an essential item … They’re being sold in different markets in different ways, but there’s still a demand for food.” One thing that may rise from the difficulty in the supply chain for mariculture businesses is a diversification of products, but even that takes time and money. Rebranding, reinventing, and remarketing can be challenging, Decker said. While demand in restaurants has been down, demand in retail has been up during the course of the pandemic. Mariculture businesses that have heavily relied on restaurants or wholesalers may have to diversify, similarly to how the salmon fisheries had to change to frozen fillets from canned after farmed fish began challenging their market. For some products, shifting to frozen or online has been easier than others—for example, kelp farms have been providing product to Juneau’s Barnacle Seafoods, which has been selling shelf-stable products like salsa and seasoning for some time, Decker said. “A live product like a live oyster (or a ) half-shell oyster has more challenges than some other products to shift quickly. Transportation is hard for online sales unless you can get to a frozen product,” Decker said. “When you put all your eggs in one basket, when there’s a disruption, you’re hit really hard.” Ocean farming has been attractive for Alaskans, particularly for fishermen in regions who have increasingly seen their fisheries restricted due to low abundance and the cost to participate continue to rise. “It’s hard to say how drastically this will impact development in the next couple of years,” she said. “Sometimes crises force people to do things different, or drive them toward change faster than they would have otherwise. It’s hard to tell exactly how it’ll turn out.” Sande said the farm is luckily not his family’s sole income, and they’re working on some other options, like canning smoked oysters, to take care of some product. At the end of next year, though, if the farm’s not making money, he said they’ll make a decision about whether to keep going. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Hearing set for board picks; seafood sales jump

Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s controversial selections to the state Board of Fisheries will get a legislative hearing in early fall and the call is out for public comments. The board oversees management of the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries. Appointments were made on April 1 and would normally go through a vigorous vetting process by the Alaska legislature with public input. But COVID-19 sent lawmakers home early from the last session, leaving the confirmation process in limbo. Now, Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, has set the date for a hearing. “I tried to push it out as far as I thought I safely could because I know there’s a lot of guys out fishing. But I just didn’t dare push it any further than Thursday, Sept. 3 at 10 a.m. at the Anchorage Legislative Information Office,” she said in a phone interview. Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, added: “I think it is appropriate to vet these appointees prior to the board meetings. I find it disturbing and I question how appointees can be a viable, countable vote when they have not been confirmed by the Legislature, and that’s the situation now.” Controversy has swirled over Dunleavy’s selection of Abe Williams of Anchorage, director of regional affairs for the Pebble mine, proposed to be built at the headwaters of the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay. Williams, who would replace Fritz Johnson of Dillingham, is originally from King Salmon and is a Bristol Bay fisherman. He was one of six who in 2019 sued the fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association for using part of the 1 percent tax paid by its 1,650 members to oppose the mine. The lawsuit, funded by Pebble, was dismissed by an Anchorage judge. Williams told KTUU in April that, “My job finds me in communities like Iliamna and other communities talking about the project itself and kind of what it means for the region. “Does that preclude me from being appointed or sitting on the Board of Fisheries? I don’t think so. I think it just brings in a level of diversity in my background that really helps me be better positioned to sit in a coveted spot like this, if you will.” Current board member Märit Carlson-Van Dort also was a former Pebble Partnership director as recently as 2018. Dunleavy also appointed self-claimed fishing/hunting guide McKenzie Mitchell of Fairbanks to replace Reed Moriskey, also of Fairbanks. Mitchell is listed as adjunct faculty in “sport and recreation business” at the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Management. Mitchell “has fished with several remote lodges over the years and was looking to upgrade her captains license so joined our team,” according to the website of Kodiak’s Wilderness Beach Lodge. It adds that “She goes to school in Fairbanks in the fall/winter where her and her boyfriend reside and enjoy flying their small planes into remote hunting/camping sites.” A Personal Records Request was submitted to the Governor’s Office of Boards and Commissions for information about Mitchell.        “As far as these two appointments go, the Dunleavy administration is once again either out of touch with commercial fishermen at best, or out to get us at worst,” said Lindsey Bloom, a fisherman and a campaign strategist for SalmonState. “I fished around Abe in Bristol Bay and certainly respect his skills and knowledge as a commercial fisherman. That said, his employment with Pebble makes it impossible for him to properly represent the overwhelming majority of Bristol Bay fishermen who oppose the Pebble project because of its detriment to the Bristol Bay brand and fishery. “Abe’s appointment is a colossal conflict of interest. As far as McKenzie Mitchell goes, I can’t find her resume, background or opinions anywhere online and have no idea if she can bring the listening and discernment skills that a seat on Alaska’s Board of Fisheries requires, where decisions are made that impact the livelihoods and wellbeing of Alaskans for years to come.” If the governor has his way, all fish board members but one will reside inland. “There are seven Board of Fish members and John Jensen of Petersburg will be the only coastal representation,” said Stutes. “I understand that Interior fisheries are important, but so are coastal fisheries. There should be a fair distribution of the resource representation and there isn’t. It’s just wrong.” If the legislature gets called back to Juneau to deal with budget and Covid-19 relief issues and it interferes with the Sept. 3, date Stutes said she will call a hearing there. “Bottom line is there will be a hearing prior to the first Board of Fish meeting in October. I believe it’s critical to give people an opportunity to weigh in,” she said. After the hearing, the appointee names will be forwarded to the House Resources Committee and then to the full legislature for confirmation (or not). An emergency measure due to the pandemic was implemented (HB 309) which temporarily extended the time for the legislature to meet jointly to take up the governor’s appointments prior to the next legislative session in January. If that does not occur, Stutes said the nominees will simply “go away.” Meanwhile, they will be seated as voting members during the meetings starting in October that focus on Prince William Sound, Upper Copper and Susitna Rivers and Southeast and Yakutat regions. “They are just like a regular board member and that to me is problematic. I believe they should be confirmed by the legislature. It’s a goofed up system,” Stutes said. Public comments on the Board of Fisheries appointees can be emailed to Stutes’ legislative office at [email protected] “They can start today,” Stutes said. A salmon wind Alaska salmon managers have decades of data to help them forecast and track the arrival of fish each year. Alaska Natives add to that knowledge with their centuries of salmon observations. One indicator of the size and timing of the runs is the spring bird migration, said James Nicori of the Kuskokwim River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. “Looking at the birds and observing them, they were late. So those salmon will come in, but the high numbers will be at a later date,” he told KYUK in Bethel. Another sign, he said, is the size of mosquitos when they arrive in the spring. “This year, when the mosquitoes first came in they were bigger than last year, and the first kings that I caught were bigger than last year,” he said. The biggest indicator, Nicori added, is wind. “When there is a certain wind direction, it pushes fish in the mouth of the river,” he said. Yukon elders taught the importance of wind to Phil Mundy, longtime Director of NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau, now retired. Cook Inlet elders said the same thing about sockeyes. “They said ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that,’” Mundy said. “We couldn’t figure out how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something there because the elders seemed to be right.” Mundy had studied Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until 2006 when he learned that wind helps trip a calcium ion switch that mixes the water and lets salmon adjust from salt to fresh water and vice versa. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen at Bristol Bay and at Cook Inlet where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume, and then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge between the fresh and the salt water,” Mundy explained. “And I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up there if there is no wind to mix that water to make it brackish. They will pile up until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” At the Yukon River, Mundy said the wind-whipped water even tops early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today satellite data from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make predictions easier and more reliable. (See Seafood sales surge The pandemic stalled seafood sales at restaurants where up to 75 percent of Americans opt for fish or shellfish meals. But at supermarkets and outlets that offer online sales and pickup or delivery services, seafood has become the fastest growing category. Chicago-based Information Resources Incorporated said that year to date sales of both canned and frozen seafood were nearly 37 percent higher over the four weeks ending in mid-April and the upswing has continued. Nielsen, which has documented eating trends for over 90 years, said seafood was the fastest growing category at the end of May when purchase volumes jumped 26 percent over the prior 13 weeks. At the end of June, IRI added that seafood posted the most significant growth for 10 weeks straight, up 64 percent from a year ago. Sales of fresh seafood spiked nearly 60 percent to nearly $163 million for the week ending June 27, according to Nielsen data provided to SeafoodSource. Sales of fresh lobster increased almost 292 percent, followed by crab, (up 150.5 percent), clams (up 80.1 percent), and snapper (up 79.4 percent). Frozen seafood sales jumped more than 50 percent in May and increased by 21 percent to $1.2 billion in late June. Frozen crab had the biggest sales gain of nearly 170 percent followed by frozen scallops (up 106.6 percent), crawfish (up 100.8 percent), and mussels (89.4 percent). Canned and pouched seafood saw more modest gains of 12.2 percent but sales reached nearly $5 billion at the end of June. Thirty-two percent of households said they were “extremely or very likely” to use grocery online shopping and delivery or pick up services even if the virus subsides, especially those over 60. The upward trend at retail is likely to continue. Restaurants that had reopened are now facing restrictions again as the Coronavirus spikes in many U.S. states. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaskans: Now is the time to explore your state

On July 2, my fella Paul and I flew down from Fairbanks to Palmer in his Cessna 170 so I could attend a brief meeting, then we continued on to Kenai. We stayed in the guest cabins at Harry Gaines Fish Camp off Big Eddy in Soldotna. We had our own space, and a large deck, where we could grill our fish and talk in the sunshine with our hosts from much more than six feet away. We told stories and exchanged smiles. The fish counts were low, but so was the fishing pressure! I have never fished the Kenai River without another boat in view up or downstream, 1991 to 2020, this was a first! We drifted all day, for two days, in peace. Mount Redoubt greeted us at sunrise. So did one jack salmon and a legal Dolly Varden. They provided a perfect lunch on the grill deck back at fish camp. We Alaskans live here because we love our state. We tell ourselves each January that this is the year that we’re getting out there. We make a list of all the places we told ourselves, and some of our friends and family, we would explore right here at home. We let our relatives know that they will need to take multiple trips because they can’t possibly see the whole state in one trip. We know our economy is partly dependent upon the tourism industry, but we feel entitled to avoid the crowds. We want our own exploration to feel individual. We want more of a wilderness experience. We want to connect with the land. We want to touch it, feel it, taste it. We want to be weary from it. We also want to support small local businesses. Well, 2020 is our year! For all the inconvenience the global pandemic has wrought, it has brought us some unique opportunities. Gas prices are low. Our schedules have largely been cleared of the unnecessary overcommitments we tell ourselves we have to do. We are re-evaluating our schedules. We’re taking time to listen and be still. Some of us have had Lower 48 vacations, conferences, or house guest obligations canceled. We’re reconnecting with ourselves and our families, why not our state? We have the time and the space to explore locally. We can also do this safely and respectfully, and our small business owners are more than grateful right now. This year’s 4th of July experience on the Kenai River still has me in awe. So much so that I couldn’t help but write this article to encourage others to take advantage of what our state has to offer. Our house has already made commitments to do more of it before that wormhole closes. Opportunities are everywhere this year, take advantage of them while you can! Check ahead of time to see what is open, and how to comply with their protocols. Do you want to hike that trail, see the Sea Life Center, Large Animal Research Station, Botanical Gardens, or the Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage without others blocking your view? We may have to experience some inconveniences, such as wearing masks, paying electronically, or making reservations; but we’ll probably find a parking space, get a much more personal experience, and cherish these memories. On the river, our guide, Rick, practiced safe distancing. We were the only two people in his boat, and we had plenty of room. He was happy to guide locals. We didn’t need much instruction. He changed our tackle from farther than the end of our rods. We paid with a phone transfer. Some people say hiring a guide is expensive, that real locals don’t do it. It sure is cheaper than a boat payment, or the medical bills associated with misinterpreting the channel on the river. There were reports that boats were headed down the highway, but they sure weren’t on the water. We still caught fish. Not a record king, but we didn’t get skunked, and that’s more than I can say for 29 years on that river when it’s been crowded and raining. It was an easy day all around. The weather was perfect. We traded stories and made plans for future connections. We will never forget this trip, and we’ll probably never have another like it. Unfortunately, Alaska’s loss of tourism, and therefore fishing license sales, especially in Southeast this year, means an enormous hit to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Sport Fish. Without hunter and angler recruitment, our management professionals will be facing budget shortfalls for years to come, and that usually translates to less data, and lowered opportunity to harvest. But that’s an article for a later date. For now, take some timely advice from our late Uncle Ted: Get Out And PLAY, Alaska! Jennifer Yuhas is committed to outdoor education and conservation of Alaska’s resources. She has been involved in hunting and fishing governance and regulation at all levels since 1995 and is a supporter of Explore Fairbanks. She hopes one day to write about her outdoor adventures as well as her inspiration, Ken Marsh.

Copper River Seafoods’ new building keeps product in Alaska

Copper River Seafoods is adding new seafood industry infrastructure to Anchorage and bringing a key part of its supply chain back to Alaska. The Anchorage-based seafood processor and retailer on July 9 announced the opening of its new south Anchorage cold storage facility, which the company has dubbed “Copper River Seafoods Cold.” The formerly vacant property at 6700 Arctic Spur Rd. has capacity for approximately 2 million pounds of seafood and is the only facility of its kind in the city, according to Copper River Marketing Director Kim Kostka. He said the company has had to warehouse its products that are processed in Anchorage in Seattle for at least 15 years and had been in discussions with other, slower-moving developers in the city for some time before deciding to open their own facility. The chilled warehouse brings all of Copper River’s primary business operations back to Alaska. “Bringing this function of our business to Alaska creates efficiencies and synergies to our two existing value-added plants in Anchorage as well as meeting a strategic goal that is in line with our mission values of providing economic opportunities to the residents and communities we serve,” Copper River CEO Scott Blake said in a formal statement. Company leaders have said Copper River could add up to 40 jobs when a portion of the building is eventually converted into a small cutting facility at a time when other sectors of Anchorage’s economy are shedding jobs as a result of the pandemic. “We’re trying to keep everything right here, the jobs included,” Kostka said. Storing its seafood in Seattle often meant seafood caught and processed in Alaska was sent south only to be brought back to Anchorage for packaging and eventual distribution nationwide. Founded in Cordova in 1996, Copper River Seafoods operates in most of Alaska’s major fisheries. Copper River Seafoods originally planned to hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the facility July 14 with Alaska business and political leaders, but the event was canceled as a precaution against coronavirus.

State teams with UAA to surge contact tracing workforce

State Health Department officials are partnering with the University of Alaska Anchorage’s Center for Rural Health and Workforce to quickly train 500 contact tracers needed to help limit coronavirus outbreaks. Rural Health and Workforce Director Gloria Burnett said Division of Public Health officials were searching for help to expand the state’s coronavirus case contact tracing capacity this spring and the UAA center had the resources to assist. “We got this call in mid-May and just hit the ground running from there,” Burnett said. “The metaphor I’ve been using is it’s like we’ve been building a ship while we’re recruiting our crew while we’re charting our course and kind of hitting storms along the way.” The Center for Rural Health and Workforce had access to a $95,000 supplemental federal CARES Act grant, which the state matched to help fund development of the contact tracing curriculum. Center staff — not being trained public health experts — were able to call on others in the UAA College of Health when drafting the 12- to 16-hour online training course. About $2.1 million has been allocated to hire contact tracers, which is what the center is focused on now. The training program is largely stabilized, according to Burnett. State officials initially hoped to train 500 contact tracers by June 30, she said, and 177 individuals had completed the training through July 10; another 480 were registered and 990 people had expressed interest in becoming a contact tracer. “We have a lot of completers and now our priority is to get them hired where as before we were just trying to get people in and registered and to complete the training. Now we’ve really shifted our priorities to getting the people that have completed so far into the system, hired and ready to go working and on-boarding with Public Health nursing,” Burnett said. The center has a budget to hire 150 of the 500 contact tracers the state wants to train for what has been dubbed the “surge workforce,” she added, but those numbers could change if Alaska’s coronavirus case counts continue to rise. “We know that everything we’re projecting is hypothetical and we really don’t know what’s going to happen and what the needs are going to be,” she said. The state also has contracts with numerous school districts for school nurses to be contact tracers as well as the Alaska National Guard in addition to the Municipality of Anchorage’s contact tracing program. The need for contact tracers has exceeded Anchorage’s capacity in recent weeks, leading Mayor Ethan Berkowitz’s administration to start naming businesses, largely bars and restaurants, where people with positive test results had visited and contact tracers were unable to reach everyone who may have been there at the same time. The move has been met with criticism by those who say the businesses and the industry in general have been unfairly targeted and likely will now suffer economically from being named. Berkowitz said in a July 13 statement that Anchorage is in the middle of a “significant COVID-19 case spike” and the city’s contact tracing capacity has been overwhelmed. “Contact tracing is critical because it allows us to know where the virus is and who has it so we can better contain It. Hospital capacity allows us to safely treat those who have become infected. We know that this public health crisis poses a threat to our jobs and businesses, and we know what works to keep safe. Mask up. Stay six feet apart. Wash hands. Keep our social bubbles small. Flattening the curve is how we stop the increase in cases. And, as we have seen in so many other states, it’s what we need to do so we don’t have to start shutting things down again,” Berkowitz said. Anchorage Health Department officials were not able to provide details on the specific needs of the city’s contact tracing program in time for this story. The Division of Public Health is using the “train the trainer” model to grow its contact tracer workforce and therefore is prioritizing the hire of individuals with some form of clinical or public health experience. Burnett said the process is intended to relieve public health nurses that have been doing the work since the pandemic began from the burden of having to onboard new tracers by hiring individuals that can quickly step into a supervisory role in the system. “It’s not going to help our public health nurses and the burnout they’re facing right now if we give them (inexperienced) tier one people to supervise. They don’t need extra work. What they need is extra support to play the same role they’re playing,” Burnett said. Division of Public Health officials overseeing contact tracing could not be reached in time for this story. When Alaska began seeing its first cases of coronavirus in March, most individuals had only been in contact with a handful of other people given broad business and travel restrictions were in place statewide, which meant the potential contacts could be traced fairly quickly, Burnett said. Now, however, some individuals who have tested positive for coronavirus have been in contact with 50 to 100 people, which makes the tracing immensely more time consuming and challenging, she said. “It’s just grown so much in magnitude and volume that we need to make sure we have more supervisors so that we can expand that pool of who their supervising and provide those lower level people with more support,” Burnett said. Individuals hired to be tracers are issued an encrypted Google Chromebook, which is dedicated to contact tracing so they can do the work remotely. The center’s program is part-time, 10 to 29 hours per week. Burnett said most tracers work four-hour evening shifts and full days on weekends. Experienced medical professionals can earn up to $27.52 per hour and inexperienced tracers are paid $17.10 per hour, a pay scale that was vetted against Lower 48 wages with an Alaska adjustment, according to Burnett. She added that despite the work being done remotely, tracers are needed statewide to take advantage of knowledge of local resources. “Local people know more about their local communities and they’re better able to communicate about the resources — they’re better able to refer if there’s support needed. For example, maybe somebody is in need of childcare in order to quarantine,” Burnett said. “The need is massive. If you’re interested, we need you.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

NOVAGold files lawsuit against authors of short sale report

A co-owner of the massive Donlin gold project is back on the offensive, this time with a lawsuit against a New York firm that issued a report claiming the mine is not viable and encouraging investors to dump shares in the company. NOVAGold Resources filed the complaint against J Capital Research in New York Federal District Court June 29, which alleges J Capital’s 22-page May 28 short-sale report lied to investors on multiple fronts and led to NOVAGold losing a significant share of its market capitalization in the weeks that followed. Shares in Vancouver-based NOVAGold lost 22 percent of their value in the two weeks following the release of the J Capital report. NOVAGold stock traded at $8.42 per share on the New York Stock Exchange at the close of trading July 14, down from a pre-report price of $10.65 per share at closing May 27. The company had a market capitalization of nearly $2.8 billion as of July 14. J Capital Research founder Tim Murray authored the report and acknowledged in it that the company held a short position in NOVAGold, meaning J Capital stood to profit if NOVAGold lost value. NOVAGold claims in the complaint that J Capital’s first mistake was to step outside its lane. J Capital has previously focused its research on Chinese technology companies, according to the complaint, an assertion supported by information on the financial firm’s website, which also advertised the firm as “Making short work of over-valued companies.” “Neither its inexperience nor the ready availability of actual facts deterred JCAP. It did not care. Truth was not the goal,” the complaint states. According to the complaint, the report falsely insisted that NOVAGold management has mislead the company’s investors by claiming the $6.7 billion-plus project is economically feasible; Murray and J Capital flatly contend it isn’t. The complaint also accuses J Capital of mischaracterizing Donlin as a project “that is not feasible to put into production at any gold price” largely because of its technically challenging size and remote Western Alaska location. NOVAGold is a 50 percent owner of Donlin Gold LLC, the joint venture project company, along with mining industry giant Barrick Gold Corp. As proposed, the open-pit Donlin mine in the upper Kuskokwim River drainage would be one of the world’s largest, producing more than 33 million ounces of gold over an initial 27-year life. A 315-mile natural gas pipeline from the west side of Cook Inlet would fuel a power plant at the mine and fuel storage tanks would be built at Dutch Harbor, in addition to the very large-scale operation at the mine site. Attorneys for NOVAGold pointed to Barrick’s status as a 50 percent partner in Donlin Gold and its generally well-regarded status in the industry as evidence to the viability of the project. J Capital stressed in its report that NOVAGold continues to rely on a $6.7 billion cost estimate for the project from the last feasibility study done in early 2012. The short sellers contend the cost should be $8 billion or more, but NOVAGold notes the $8 billion figure cited in the 2012 study included the project’s all-in operating costs to comply with U.S. general accepted accounting principles, commonly known as GAAP. “These statements are false, misleading, defamatory, and they are designed to create panic,” the complaint states about J Capital’s referenced to Donlin’s cost. “NOVAGold has clearly and consistently communicated to investors that the estimated initial capital required for the project is $6.7 billion.” NOVAGold executives said shortly before the short-sale report that they are working to update the feasibility study. Attorneys for NOVAGold also highlighted several inaccurate characterizations of the planned power plant at the mine site as being illustrative of the overall nature of the J Capital report. The report asserts that the planned Donlin power plant would be the largest in Alaska, would increase power generation in the state by 40 percent and would produce enough electricity to power a city of 500,000 residents. However, the Beluga power plant owned by Chugach Electric Association is 332 megawatts and average generation in Alaska is about 800 megawatts, meaning the 227-megawatt plant run full bore would instead increase statewide power generation by about 28 percent. “In moving rapidly from one falsehood to the next, JCAP’s strategy is death by a thousand cuts. The report lobs lie after lie — both big and small — attacking the feasibility of the Donlin gold project in an effort to chip away, bit by bit, at investors’ confidence in the Donlin gold project,” the complaint states. “The resulting damage to NOVAGold’s reputation occasioned by JCAP’s false statements was inevitable and is substantial.” J Capital co-founder Anne Stevenson-Yang wrote via email that she learned of the allegations on Twitter and she doesn’t believe the complaint warrants a comment in response. “As to what (NOVAGold Chairman) Thomas Kaplan says about me/us on the company website, even I do not have the patience to read it all, so it’s hard to imagine that normal investors read this stuff,” Stevenson-Yang wrote. Kaplan issued his own 17-page response to J Capital’s report in early June, in addition to NOVAGold’s lengthy official corporate rebuttal, which included a line-by-line analysis of J Capital’s assertions. NOVAGold did not specify in the complaint what it is seeking other than requesting damages that “compensate NOVAGold for the harm incurred.” J Capital has until July 21 to submit a formal answer, according to a court summons issued June 30. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

State seeks ways to speed CARES grant process

The Dunleavy administration’s attempt to expand eligibility for a $290 million small business aid program initially prevailed in court but those overseeing the grants are struggling to pinpoint why dispersing the funds has gone so slowly. “All of us recognize that the applications are not being processed quickly enough,” Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Interim Executive Director Alan Weitzner said of the AK CARES pandemic relief grant program. Through July 13, Credit Union 1 had received 2,226 AK CARES grant applications from small businesses totaling approximately $98.5 million in expenses and 253 grants totaling nearly $10.6 million had been dispersed since June 1, according to Credit Union 1 spokeswoman Jessica Gallagher. AIDEA officials have recently been in constructive discussions with AK CARES program managers at CU1, Commerce Department officials and other, experienced grant providers, in which best practices for administering such a large grant program were exchanged, Weitzner said during a teleconferenced July 14 House Labor and Commerce Committee hearing. AIDEA, the state’s development bank, was tasked with overseeing the small business grant program in spring and Anchorage-based Credit Union 1 was selected to administer it following a competitive bidding process. AIDEA is a public corporation under the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. CU1 CEO James Wileman told legislators that the grant applications, which can be started through the lender’s website, are regularly submitted while missing requisite information. Credit union staff are then reliant on the applicants to be responsive to fix the form, he said, and the missing information varies widely between applicants, making it difficult to get ahead of the problem. CU1 is also awarding the grants with paper checks, which slows the process slightly versus electronic funds transfers. According to Wileman, paper checks are being used at the request of AIDEA to create an appropriate paper trail for potential future audits. CU1’s Gallagher wrote via email that lag time in processing the applications is often a result of verifying documents supporting the eligible expenses for the requested grant amount. “Since go-live (June 1), we have been in many conversations with the state about process improvements, and we are jointly looking for ways to reduce processing time required so we can serve more Alaskans as quickly as possible,” she wrote. Weitzner said AIDEA is working to change the application forms to streamline the process as much as possible for applicants and CU1 grant processors and is trying to coordinate the new applications with new, relaxed eligibility criteria for the grants. The Commerce Department announced June 17 that it was expanding the eligibility for AK CARES grants to small businesses that had also received $5,000 or less from federal pandemic relief programs such as the Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection or Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs. The state grants are also now open to 501(c)6 nonprofits and commercial fishermen who hold a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission permit in-lieu of a traditional business license, Commerce Commissioner Julie Anderson said. “Thousands of (commercial fishery) participants will be able to access those funds and as we all know the fishing industry is facing some extreme hardships this year,” Anderson said, with depressed markets and poor salmon returns across much of the state. The Commerce Department eased the requirements at the behest of lawmakers and state business leaders who said many small business owners statewide were ineligible for AK CARES support because they had received small amounts of funding through a federal program but were still in need of more aid to stay open. The Dunleavy administration first limited AK CARES eligibility to small businesses that had not received federal funding to ensure the aid would be spread as widely as possible. Anderson said if business owners can return any federal aid in excess of $5,000 they would also be eligible for an AK CARES grant under the revised requirements. State Superior Court Judge Philip M. Pallenberg on July 10 denied a preliminary injunction motion filed by former University of Alaska regent and Eric Forrer against the Dunleavy administration, in which Forrer urged the court to halt the AK CARES program over his belief that the administration and lawmakers had not followed the correct process in accepting and appropriating the $290 million of federal funds that are the basis for the program. Pallenberg concluded that stopping the aid over a process dispute would cause undue harm to applicants and Forrer was also unlikely to win on the overall merits of his arguments. Anderson said the state needs to be more effective in communicating the AK CARES guidelines to potential applicants, which should help speed the process for future grants. “Our intent is to be as responsive as we can,” she said. And while it’s well understood that countless businesses and nonprofits are struggling mightily to stay afloat, it’s nearly impossible to quantify the situation in real-time, Anderson noted. She told lawmakers that there simply isn’t a good method for understanding how many businesses are on the verge of closing or have closed without waiting months to see what shows up in business licenses and changes to other records. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: For the Love of Kanye

I love Kanye West. He is my favorite celebrity. That is, I will take time out of my day to read any news story, or watch any television clip, in which he features. Given all the cumulative hours I’ve spent researching Kanye, I know a bit about him. For example: Kanye once spoke uninterrupted on Ellen for nearly eight minutes. Topics included Picasso, bone density machines, shoes, Leonardo DiCaprio, bullying, being likeable, and the universe. He concluded by apologizing “to daytime television for the realness.” Ellen watched on the sidelines.   Kanye once asked Mark Zuckerberg to give him $50 million. Mark Zuckerberg did not respond.   Former President Barack Obama has called Kanye West “a jackass” at least twice.   Kim Kardashian suggested Kanye (her husband) hire a Board of Directors to approve his Tweets. To my knowledge, said Board was never hired.   In a ranking of 1 to 100, Kanye West once rated his own album 100.   Kanye invented leather jogging pants.   Kanye famously protested Taylor Swift’s win for the best video award at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards on stage in the middle of her acceptance speech. Following his public demonstration, he wrote her an apology song and issued a series of apology Tweets. As far as I know, while Taylor Swift did accept his apology, she never performed the apology song. He later took back all of these apologies in 2010.   I confess, I don’t know why he sometimes goes by Yeezy.   Kanye was, at one time, perhaps the world’s unlikeliest Trump supporter. The two, he said, “are both dragon energy.” Kanye has long been featured on many of my dating profiles. In the world of dating apps, conversation starters can be tricky. But Kanye has never failed me with this classic: “Who is more outrageous? Kanye West or Charlie Sheen?” Healthy, sometimes even heated, arguments would break out. Rarely would they result in dates, but they have certainly enabled me to hone my debate skills. I always knew I found a kindred spirit when they would give my question the intellectual consideration it justly deserved. “Did you know that Kanye once spoke uninterrupted on national television for eight minutes?” “That’s… just damned impressive.” “When was the last time you spoke on national television for eight minutes?” “I blacked it out.” “Ever watch the tape?” “No, it’s like when you’re drunk. Best not know what was said.” Of course, this week we all know that Kanye announced he is running for president in a scant four months. Kanye made the announcement via Twitter in a historic virtual mic drop. But, much like a mic drop, he has not quite followed through. For example, he does not appear to understand, or otherwise care, that he must file to run as president with individual states in order to appear on their respective ballots as an independent candidate. The deadline for much of this has already passed. But perhaps I’m wrong to count him out; Elon Musk has already endorsed him, along with a minister from Wyoming. Should Kanye run and presumably vote for himself, it will be his first time voting. Expected to file as a candidate for the “Birthday Party,” he recently announced that he decided to run for president while taking a shower. He went on the record as planning to use “the Wakanda management model” to run the White House. I cannot weigh in on the practicality of the Wakanda model as a leadership theory because I slept through Black Panther. I can confirm I have a storied history of falling asleep through a number of similarly loud movies, including Thor: Ragnarok, Doctor Strange, and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. And, yes, these were all on dates. I don’t know Kanye West. I don’t know whether he is a good person. I don’t know whether he is faithful to Kim Kardashian, or a decent father to his four children, North West, Saint West, Chicago West, and Psalm West. But I can unequivocally say I am glad someone like him exists, and he lives life unabashedly as himself. Sarah Brown is a narcoleptic Fan Girl. She can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @brownsclose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit

FISH FACTOR: Lasting impacts loom for seafood price, demand

The global seafood industry will experience lasting impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, including reduced demand and pricing. That is the conclusion of the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report produced every two years by the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, of the United Nations, the only report that tracks global fisheries and food trends. This year it included a special focus on the pandemic that has toppled seafood markets and supply chains around the world. The report forecasts that global seafood production will be down 1.7 percent (6.6 billion pounds) and the trade value of seafood will decrease by nearly $6 billion. Of that, wild capture fisheries are projected to decrease by 2 percent (nearly 4.2 billion pounds), while aquaculture production is expected to decrease by 1.4 percent (2.6 million pounds). The virus impacts also have pushed down prices. The global Fish Price Index showed an 8.3 percent drop in fish prices between January and May of this year compared to the same time in 2019. The closure of restaurants has drastically curtailed seafood demand, the report said, leading to the “evaporation of food service demand in many important markets.” “Effects on retail sales have been more mixed, however, with demand for packaged and frozen products boosted as households look to stock up on non-perishable foods,” it added. “Whatever the timeframe, prolonged market downturn can be expected even after current restrictions are lifted or relaxed,” the report said. “Luxury products and species that are primarily marketed fresh and through food service will be the most heavily affected. Most seafood trade events will continue to be postponed or cancelled for some time to come.” Salmon has been the most valuable traded seafood commodity since 2013 and accounted for 19 percent of the total value of internationally traded fish products in 2018. Production growth is expected to increase, but at a much slower pace. A worldwide drop in demand for salmon of at least 15 percent is projected and retail sales are not expected to recover for some time, the FAO said, adding that retail sales of fresh salmon will be especially hit hard. More upbeat highlights: Seafood is one of the world’s most widely traded food commodities and global fish consumption has increased by 3.1 percent on average from 1961 to 2017, higher than all other animal proteins. Estimates peg global per capita fish consumption at over 45 pounds in 2018. World fisheries produced a record 212 billion tons in 2018, 5.4 percent more on average from the previous three years. The increase was due mainly to anchoveta catches of 15.4 billion pounds from Peru and Chile. Alaska pollock ranked second at 7.5 billion pounds, followed by skipjack tuna at 7 billion pounds. Global aquaculture production also reached another all-time record of nearly 252 billion pounds live weight in worth nearly $264 billion in 2018. The U.S. ranks 6th overall for marine fish captures following China, Indonesia, Peru, India, and Russia. The Northwest Pacific had the highest production at 25 percent of global landings. It’s estimated 59.5 million people were engaged in fishing and aquaculture in 2018; women accounted for just 14 percent. The total number of fishing vessels, from small non-motorized boats to large at-sea processors, was 4.56 million, down 2.8 percent from 2016. Asia still had the largest fleet, estimated at 3.1 million, 66 percent of the total. Nearly 80 percent of current landings come from biologically sustainable stocks. The Mediterranean and Black Sea had the highest percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels (62.5 percent), followed by the Southeast Pacific (54.5 percent) and Southwest Atlantic (53.3 percent). In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Northeast Pacific and Western Central Pacific had the lowest levels (13 to 22 percent). Too much seafood is either lost or wasted around the world, 35 percent, the UN report says. Seafood is recognized as not only some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but also as some of the least impactful on the natural environment. Fish watch Alaska’s salmon catch was nearing 8.5 million fish as of July 3; more than half were sockeyes, mostly from Bristol Bay where catches continued to build. Anecdotal reports said the average sizes of sockeye are down at Bristol Bay and the same for pinks at the Alaska Peninsula. Chinook salmon in Southeast also are smaller, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The kings were weighing in at 11.7 pounds on average, down 2 pounds compared to the past five years. Trollers can catch more than 85,000 chinook salmon this summer, a 51 percent increase from last year. The summer fishery opened July 1 and was expected to last about one week. Fishermen in Quinhagak have formed a group of 70 harvesters to revitalize commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay. The Independent Fishermen of Quinhagak Cooperative also includes members from Goodnews Bay, Platinum, and Eek who will sell to E&E Foods. It’s the first fishery since 2016 when the Coastal Villages Region Fund pulled the plug on buying local fish. Divers in Southeast continue to pull up giant geoduck clams and crabbers are into a two-month summer fishery for Dungeness based on a strong start to the season. Only 117 crabbers are on the grounds, down from 170 last summer; the price has dropped to $1.72 per pound compared to $2.97 last season. Kodiak crabbers also are dropping pots for Dungies. A red king crab fishery is open at Norton Sound, but because of concerns for the stock, most fishermen were opting to fish for cod. A golden king crab fishery opens on Aug. 1 in the Bering Sea with a 6.6 million pound quota. A ling cod fishery opened in Prince William Sound on July 1, and a herring food and bait herring fishery opened June 29 at Dutch Harbor. Scallop fishing opened in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea on July 1 with a reduced quota of 277,500 pounds of shucked meats. Almost half of that goes to the Yakutat region. Halibut landings were nearing 6 million pounds, or 36 percent of the 16 million pound catch limit. Homer leads for landings, followed by Sitka and Kodiak. For sablefish, 10.5 million pounds of the nearly 32 million-pound quota have been taken. Sitka has seen the most deliveries, followed by Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other species is ongoing in the Gulf and Bering Sea. Catch this! Alaska Fishtopia brings previously scattered sportfishing information all together for the first time direct to mobile phones. “Literally everything you need to know about fishing in Alaska, whether you’re on the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak or wherever you’re at, you have all of the resources,” said Britt Lueck, Fishtopia marketing director. “You can also download the regulation books to your phone and you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to view them. And you can select a region and see every kind of species that you can fish for,” she explained. “And a really big piece of the app is the maps feature which has multiple layers and you can check out tides, currents, marine weather or what is the best time to fish for halibut or whatever.” Alaska Fishtopia also has a vigorous, interactive social component. “You can post pictures of the fish that you’re catching. And you can stay connected with local guides who have opportunities for you to jump on a boat if they have an open seat. We’re also promoting events and entertainment,” Lueck said. “So when I’m done fishing for the day and I want to go grab a bite to eat and maybe listen to some local music, where can I go? It brings the entire fishing community together in an app.” Alaska Fishtopia was created by Jim Voss of Alaska Boat Rental and Guide Service in Kenai. Members who pay $1.99 per year are eligible to win big prizes from local businesses all summer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Curbed by coronavirus, recall campaign behind pace for fall ballot

A year ago this month, opponents of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy launched a campaign to remove him from office. Furious over budget cuts and led by a multipartisan coalition that included the last living signer of the Alaska Constitution, 49,006 Republicans, Democrats and independents signed a petition within five weeks. That was enough to start the recall process and a lengthy court fight that concluded earlier this year. Recall backers are now trying to force a statewide vote with a second petition. But in four months of work, they’ve gathered fewer signatures than they did in five weeks last year. The large gatherings that the recall campaign held in summer 2019 have been banned this year for public health reasons, and supporters say the difficulty in gathering signatures is solely to blame for the slow pace of the recall this year. The governor and his supporters have a different take. “I would like to believe it’s because folks believe we’re doing a decent job,” Dunleavy said. Through May, Alaska had the fewest virus deaths of any state, had one of the highest testing rates, and hospitalizations were comparatively few. This year’s budget process was smoother, Dunleavy’s cabinet has lost its most controversial members, and while the governor continues to support a larger Permanent Fund dividend — an issue that divides Alaskans — he hasn’t called a special session on the issue, as he did last year. With the recall lagging, plans for a summer vote have slipped to November, and even that is beginning to appear optimistic. “We’re past the submission date for the (Aug. 18) primary, and we’re coming up to the submission date for the general election ballot in November,” said Meda DeWitt, head of the political group backing the recall. Asked why the recall is moving so much slower this year, she laughed. “We have to be reasonable and realize we have the unprecedented pandemic,” she said. A recall ‘marathon’ Recall backers need the support of 71,252 registered Alaska voters to force a statewide vote, and signatures from last year’s petition don’t automatically roll over. Following a decision by the Alaska Supreme Court, signature-gathering kicked off in earnest at the end of February. By March 9, the campaign had 21,678 signatures. The state imposed public health restrictions a few days later, and signature-gathering slackened. The recall switched tactics, holding drive-through events and sending petition booklets to signers through the mail, but it hasn’t restored the pace of those first two weeks. By June 26, the recall campaign reported having only 40,200 signatures. DeWitt said Thursday that it now has more than 41,000. “This is a marathon. This is a slow burn,” she said. Other observers say the pandemic has given Dunleavy a chance to demonstrate his work with something other than the budget struggles that sparked the recall. “From my perspective as an outsider, I think Gov. Dunleavy’s handling of the COVID virus has allowed Alaskans to see his true leadership skills and his adaptability in a crisis, and I think they like what they see,” said Ann Brown, vice chair of the Alaska Republican Party. Alaskans agree with state’s coronavirus response Nationally, most Americans have liked how their governor is handling the pandemic, according to a series of national polls published in April, and feelings about the pandemic aren’t the same as opinions on Dunleavy in general. But campaign consultant Matt Larkin — a Dunleavy ally who has worked with the campaign against the recall — said polls also indicate Alaskans are feeling better about the governor. Last year, his polls indicated that in a recall election, Dunleavy would lose. Now, they say the opposite, Larkin said. “Our polling shows a majority of Alaskans do not support recalling the governor, and I believe that if a recall election were to happen, the governor would win handily,” Larkin said. Other polls show matters differently, and there is a lack of reliable third-party surveying in Alaska. “The question is, even though I think his favorability has moved up, would the same people still vote to recall him, even though they give a tip of the hat for the pandemic?” asked Jim Lottsfeldt, a political strategist who typically works with Democratic and independent candidates. ‘Is it worth the headache?’ Aaron Griffin is the kind of swing voter that Lottsfeldt referred to. A socially conservative Republican who lives in Kodiak and formerly served on the island borough’s assembly, he signed the recall petition last year but hasn’t signed the new edition this year. Griffin is still furious with the governor’s cuts to the state ferry system, but after the pandemic began, “I did think that his early handling of the COVID emergency was competent,” he said. He said he’s concerned that changing governors in the middle of the pandemic emergency would harm the state. In addition, this year is the second of Dunleavy’s term. If a recall election takes place next year, “he’s only going to have a year left, and really, honestly, is it worth the headache and the horsepower to make all of that stuff happen?” Alternately, there are people like Jerry Adams, who didn’t sign the first petition but last week was gathering signatures for the second. A longtime Juneau resident and founder of a local meat and seafood processing company, he said the governor’s budget cuts “really put a curve in us.” His work at a drive-through signing station marked the first time he was returning to volunteer since the COVID pandemic began. Communication is key, Dunleavy says Though the recall hasn’t yet forced a referendum on Dunleavy’s actions, DeWitt said Dunleavy “did dial back on his agenda, and he did change course on some things because of the pressure put on him by the recall.” Asked about the biggest difference between his actions last year and this year, the governor cited his outreach to the public. Speaking about the 2019 budget and his decision to veto more than $400 million in state spending, Dunleavy said, “I assumed that folks understood the math was out of whack, but when I look back on it, I think the people of Alaska needed more of a why, an explanation.” When the pandemic began this year, Dunleavy began a series of nightly news conferences streamed online and at times broadcast statewide by local TV stations. “This pandemic — it was absolutely crucial — we shared, on a daily basis, what we knew,” Dunleavy said. Some have said those appearances — which dwindled as case counts began to spike in June — are part of the reason for changing attitudes. “I should’ve had — maybe not nightly appearances on the budget — but maybe explaining why the reductions are happening,” Dunleavy said, reflecting on 2019. The governor said that even if the recall has slowed, he still expects a statewide vote. If that goes against him, “I can live with the fact that I did what I believe was the best job, and I put every ounce of effort to getting Alaska through this process of the pandemic.”

State businesses received $1.2B in PPP loans

Data released July 6 by the federal Small Business Administration lists more than 1,600 Alaska businesses approved to receive over $150,000 each from the federal Paycheck Protection Program through the end of June. The information, released after a lawsuit by media companies and pressure by members of Congress and the public, puts names to more than $1.2 billion in forgivable loans granted to Alaska businesses and nonprofits struggling with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. On a per-capita basis, Alaska received $1,640 per person, 23rd among the states, District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In Alaska, about two-thirds of the federal aid has gone to 1,653 applicants. The remaining 9,516 recipients, each receiving less than $150,000, collectively account for $351 million and are not identified by name in the federal data. Those who are listed represent all aspects of Alaska life: groceries, car dealerships, restaurants, churches, Alaska Native corporations and tribes, gyms, bookstores, bicycle shops, hospitals, doctor’s offices, electrical utilities, telephone companies, hotels, the Girl Scouts, companies that drill wells, companies that sell land, dentists, airlines, landscapers, lumber mills and airlines. “It’s been really essential for us,” said Joshua Love, co-owner of Anchorage Yoga and Cycle, which received between $150,000 and $300,000 from the Paycheck Protection Program, which provides low-interest loans to businesses suffering from the pandemic. When the pandemic hit, his business had 62 employees, and though it switched to online classes during Anchorage’s hunker-down order, it still lost 70 percent of its income. “The only way we could really pay our employees was through the plan,” he said. Some workers went on unemployment while others got eight weeks of pay through the federal program. Alaskan Brewing Co. is the state’s largest brewery, but when bars closed and tourism dried up, the Juneau-based business took a major hit, said Andy Kline, its communications manager. According to the federal list, it received between $1 million and $2 million in PPP help. “That money went toward us being able to cover a lot of the expenses (from the pandemic),” he said. The brewery shifted staff around and remodeled its Juneau tasting room to accommodate social distancing. Breweries in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Skagway also received PPP help, according to the SBA list. Several Alaska Native regional and village corporation subsidiaries are at or near the top of the list. Six Tyonek Native Corp. branches received between $13.05 million and $28 million. Calista Corp. subsidiaries are listed as receiving more than $10 million. Tatitlek Native Corp. subsidiaries received at least $7.35 million. Some Native tribes are also listed as receiving PPP help. The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska is shown as receiving between $2 million and $5 million, plus an additional $1 million to $2 million for its housing authority. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act calls for $8 billion to be shared among Native tribes, but some tribal governments have sued over a legal definition that would allow Native corporations to receive some of that aid, which would come atop PPP assistance. On July 7, a federal judge paused that additional aid, pending a legal appeal. The Anchorage Daily News received between $1 million and $2 million, according to the list. While Alaska’s major oil producers aren’t listed in the PPP data, several oilfield support companies are among the top recipients. Northern Energy Services, ICE Services and Cruz Construction are each listed as receiving between $5 million and $10 million. Jeff Miller, Cruz’s vice president of operations, said the help was “very important to keeping people working.” Alaska Rubber Group, which manufactures fittings and hoses for the oil industry, received $1 million to $2 million, according to federal data. Chief operating officer Mike Mortensen said PPP has “worked well. It’s enabled us to keep our employees employed, even when we had to do things like split shifts.” Mortensen said the pandemic hit his business with a “double dip” when oil producers cut back amid falling prices in April and May. “We did see quite a decline in our oilfield business, which is a major source of revenue for us,” he said. At the same time, with the pandemic keeping Alaskans at home, the company saw more demand for things like hot-rod hoses and other products used in hobbies and around the house. “We’re starting to see a turnaround. We’re starting to see some glimmers of hope,” he said. Miller, at Cruz Construction, sees things differently. “I definitely don’t feel the worst is behind us, not even close,” he said. Big construction projects take years of planning and funding. With those aspects on hold, “it’s going to be really, really bad in 2021 and 2022. It’s what’s in front of us that’s going to be the scary part,” he said.

Exploration resumes at gold prospect within national park

Drilling is back to a remote gold prospect inside Lake Clark National Park after it largely sat dormant for more than two decades. Vancouver-based HighGold Mining commenced its summer drill program at the Johnson Tract prospect on the west side of Cook Inlet June 30, according to a company statement. HighGold CEO Darwin Green said a small amount of drilling done late last summer combined with historical records formed the basis for this year’s work. The company announced in late April that it had formed a preliminary resource estimate of 2.1 million metric tons of ore with an average grade of 10.9 grams of gold equivalent per metric tonne for a resource of approximately 750,000 ounces of gold equivalent. The Johnson Tract prospect sits on Cook Inlet Region Inc., or CIRI, in-holdings within the boundaries of Lake Clark National Park and Preserve. Last year CIRI leased 20,900 acres of the property to Vancouver-based Constantine Metal Resources Ltd. for 10 years. Several Southcentral Alaska Native village corporations also own surface rights to land there, while CIRI holds the subsurface mineral rights to those areas. The multi-metal deposit is about 10 miles from tidewater near Tuxedni Bay, about 125 miles southwest of Anchorage. HighGold is also estimating the primary targets on the Johnson Tract property hold another 134,000 ounces of inferred gold equivalent resources, according to the NI43-101 Canadian regulatory mineral resource estimate report published April 29. HighGold’s work in 2019 generated numerous quality drill targets within an 800-meter radius of the high-grade (Johnson Tract) deposit mineral resource, several of which will be drilled for the first time this year,” Green said. “Focus is on expanding the mineral resource base and discovering new zones of mineralization, with early emphasis given to the northeast offset target where limited drilling by previous operators identified what is believed to be the fault-displaced continuation of the deposit. Crews are on-site, COVID-19 mitigation plans are in place, and drills are in position and ready to commence coring.” While primarily a gold deposit, Johnson Tract also contains significant amounts of silver and zinc along with smaller concentrations of copper and lead, according to the NI43-101 resource estimate. HighGold also announced July 6 that it would issue more than 6.9 million shares for a total offering of approximately $12 million Canadian to help fund its work. Anaconda mining company drilled 88 holes at Johnson totaling more than 26,800 meters between 1982 and 1995. The prior drilling revealed gold resources in excess of 10 grams per metric ton in many areas, as well as high-grade zinc and copper ore, according to HighGold. The first phase of drilling this year will utilize two diamond drill rigs on five targets around the primary Johnson deposit for cumulative drilling of 7,000 to 10,000 meters, according to HighGold. The preliminary results of that work will inform subsequent drilling later in the season. HighGold is a spin-out of Constantine, which is also exploring the Palmer copper prospect in the Chilkat River valley north of Haines. If the decision is made in subsequent years to ultimately build a mine — currently envisioned as an underground operation — CIRI could obtain a 25 percent interest in the project at that time, according to HighGold. The Alaska Native regional corporation would also receive net smelter royalties of 2 percent to 4 percent if a mine is developed. The mine would require an access road to a port, both of which would need to be built. The CIRI leases also come with access easement rights and the site has an airstrip built for the earlier exploration work, according to the company. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

OPINION: The Mayor’s required reading

On the eve of the Fourth of July, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz urged people to read the Declaration of Independence. Unlike a lot of what he tells me to do, like not be out after midnight, I looked forward to it. I always enjoy reading the Declaration of Independence. Unlike the Constitution, which is more of an eat-your-peas documentary, the Declaration is the classic summer popcorn feature arc of three acts that grabs you from the beginning and closes with a flourish. It is the freaking “Die Hard” of calligraphy and cursive on parchment. Many people quote their go-to passages as “all men are created equal” or “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” My favorite is this: “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” In his encouragement to read the nation’s founding declaration, Berkowitz remarked that it is a “pretty radical” document. Indeed it is, which makes one wonder if he has ever actually read it. And you know what you tell anybody who hasn’t seen “Die Hard.” They have to do it. Hours later, after using the president of the state’s hospitality industry as a hapless prop in his press conference where he paid lip service to the principles of our founding, the Berkowitz administration dropped a list of establishments from Palmer to Seward where people who have tested positive for the ‘rona have visited in a naked attempt to kill their business before a traditional weekend of celebration. His administration declared the municipality’s health capacity was at a “red light” — not for lack of nearly 1,000 hospital beds nor just one person in the state on a ventilator — but for lack of contact tracing. Berkowitz claimed that his contact tracers were so taxed and so vexed that the only way to alert the public after being unable to ID every individual who may have talked to a positive case was to burn 17 businesses and cast a cloud on every other similar operation. The move worked and owners reported their weekend traffic was off dramatically. Which brings us back to the the mayor’s reading assignment: “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.” Good luck getting people to cooperate with contact tracers now. Anyway, Berkowitz has this authority to do whatever he wants because the absentee Assembly that Anchorage voted for with stamps won’t even rubber stamp his decisions and is too gutless to go on the record either supporting or opposing whatever the heck this lame duck does. That’s what Anchorage voted for, so we get what we deserve. Gov. Standing Tall isn’t coming to pick a fight over Mayor Dad’s overreach or the Assembly’s lack of oversight. That recalls another part of the Declaration about the executive conspiring with a complacent and complicit legislative body: “He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation.” Emergency powers and pulling agenda items without voting gives the mayor more leeway than a rubber duck in the Chena River. Berkowitz has backed off a little bit, with his administration pulling all but three businesses off the list as of July 7 — for now — and stating he doesn’t want to close down the bars and restaurants he just kicked in their sensitive areas. Whether somebody reminded him he wants to collect taxes from Long Island ice teas come Jan. 1 or that he may need some votes from his traditional supporters in Anchorage when he wants to run for governor, the fact he’s giving these businesses a reprieve isn’t exactly worthy of applause. Now to the Act 3 flourish: “In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.” Overcapitalization aside, Jefferson had a point, but I don’t expect Mayor Dad to give me any for the irony when I turn in this homework. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Salary for signatures argued in oil tax initiative lawsuit

Attorneys for resource industry groups argued in Superior Court July 7 that salaries paid to signature gatherers for a ballot measure to raise oil taxes violate state law in a lawsuit that could have big implications for future voter-driven initiatives in Alaska. The monthly payments made to employees of Las Vegas-based Advanced Micro Targeting Inc., which was hired in January by Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share, were in excess of what should be a strict $1 per signature cap spelled out in state law, insisted Matt Singer, an attorney representing a half-dozen industry groups led by the Resource Development Council for Alaska. The business advocacy and trade associations are all members of One Alaska, a campaign coalition organized to fight the Alaska’s Fair Share initiative, which aims to significantly raise production taxes on North Slope oil producers as a means to help close the state’s billion-dollar-plus annual budget deficits. Signature gathering firms are commonly used by initiative sponsors to collect the large number of signatures needed to validate a statewide petition. Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share was required to submit 28,501 signatures, which equals 10 percent of voters in the last general election. At the heart of the suit is a seemingly simple clause in Alaska law that states a petition circulator, or signature gatherer, “may not receive payment or agree to receive payment that is greater than $1 a signature, and a person or an organization may not pay or agree to pay an amount that is greater than $1 a signature, for the collection of signatures on a petition.” “We ask that the court enforce the law as it is written,” Singer said to Superior Court Judge Thomas Matthews during teleconferenced oral arguments. RDC, the Alaska Chamber and others sued Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer, the Division of Elections, which Meyer oversees, and Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share in April on the grounds that Advanced Micro Targeting paid its employees too much to gather signatures in Alaska and therefore the signatures gathered by the company should have been thrown out by Elections officials. Such a ruling would invalidate 25,865 of the nearly 39,174 signatures submitted by the initiative sponsors and certified by the Division of Elections. In an odd happenstance of legal friends and foes, Alaska’s Fair Share sued Meyer and the Division of Elections last November for what it claimed was an inaccurate and politically slanted ballot summary of the initiative. A Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of Alaska’s Fair Share June 10, ordering the division to correct a sentence in the summary. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration has staunchly opposed changes to oil taxes. RDC, the Alaska Chamber, the Alaska Trucking Association, the Alaska Miners Association, the Alaska Support Industry Alliance and the Associated General Contractors of Alaska who filed the suit contend the initiative would drastically increase taxes on North Slope producers, deterring investment by the industry that drives an outsized portion of Alaska’s economy at a time when oil companies are struggling to adjust to the second sustained oil price collapse in the last five years. In advertisements, Advanced Micro Targeting offered to pay signature gatherers $3,500 to $4,000 per month with an expectation they would collect at least 80 per day, six days per week, according to the group’s complaint, which attorneys for the state and Alaska’s Fair Share did not dispute. Invalidating the signatures would not officially kill the initiative, but it would force Alaska’s Fair Share to gather the signatures again and keep it off the ballot until the next statewide general election in 2022. Longtime oil industry attorney Robin Brena argued for Alaska’s Fair Share that the Legislature wrote the law as it did to limit what he called “bounty hunting” for signatures. “It does not address any other form of payment to circulator,” Brena said of the law. “To state the obvious there is no bounty when petition circulators are paid by salary.” Brena chairs Vote Yes for Alaska’s Fair Share and has been a leader in the push to raise the production tax since the More Alaska Production Act, best known as Senate Bill 21, passed in 2013. The initiative sponsors allege, among other things, that lawmakers are shirking their constitutional duty to receive the maximum possible benefit for the state’s publicly owned resources under SB 21. They estimate the Alaska’s Fair Share Act, which will be on the November ballot as Ballot Measure 1, will raise approximately $1.5 billion in revenue at a time when the state desperately needs it. Advanced Micro Targeting employees were also paid for other work on the campaign, so parsing out how much of their compensation was for what work is impractical, Brena said, while also stressing that the Division of Elections has certified each of the signatures that would be thrown out. He said the lawsuit is a concerted effort by companies that do not want to pay more taxes to disenfranchise initiative signers through potential administrative errors by the Division of Elections. The large North Slope producers are major donors to the trade and business advocacy groups in the state. A motion to dismiss filed by Alaska’s Fair Share highlights that the groups did not raise the issue when Advanced Micro Targeting signature gatherers worked on prior, unrelated initiatives. Assistant Attorney General Margaret Paton-Walsh emphasized that the lieutenant governor does not have subpoena or investigative powers in elections statutes to verify that the affidavits submitted by signature gatherers are accurate. Rather, state law says Elections officials must verify that the affidavits are complete, which is why falsifying an affidavit is a criminal offense of the individual signature gatherer, according to Paton-Walsh. She also noted that state law only gives Elections officials 60 days to certify the validity of the initiative petition. “60 days is not enough time for any kind of investigation into the truth of the circulator affidavits,” Paton-Walsh said. Singer insisted the Legislature intended to rid initiatives of “big money,” noting that leaders of the Recall Dunleavy campaign did not need paid gatherers to collect the first round of signatures needed to remove the governor from office. “If there’s grassroots support for an initiative, signatures can be gathered without any payment,” he said. Brena countered that invalidating the signatures in this case would set a precedent that would make it impractically difficult for citizens to organize an initiative campaign. “The proper remedy (for a false affidavit) is to pursue the criminal matter and not to disenfranchise 40,000 Alaskan voters,” Brena said. “That would be an absurd result.” Judge Matthews said he would make a ruling quickly as the case is likely headed to the Alaska Supreme Court prior to the November election. ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

GUEST COMMENTARY: Treat all industries fairly when disclosing COVID-19 cases

On July 3, the Anchorage Health Department released a list of establishments where “persons who were infectious with COVID-19 spent extended time.” Alaska CHARR finds it extremely concerning that to date, the only business types listed are those in the hospitality industry, namely bars and restaurants. It appears as if one industry — arguably that which has been most devastated by this pandemic — is being unfairly targeted, at a time when public exposure is occurring in many other types of establishments, settings, and public gatherings. Additionally, at least one business on the list reported that no advance contact or notice was made before the list was distributed to the public. Alaska CHARR has worked with state and local officials throughout the entirety of the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure that the hospitality industry is part of the solution to ending both the economic and public health crises. Last week, we teamed up with Anchorage business leaders and Anchorage Health Department, or AHD, to develop and release a recommended list of voluntary measures for hospitality members to continue practicing and/or consider implementing in order to help prevent transmission of the virus and a second shutdown of the industry. We are proud to report that many of the thousands of hospitality establishments around Alaska have already voluntarily implemented those procedures that are applicable to their businesses. Hospitality is an integral part of the Anchorage and Alaska economies, and it is vital that our respective government and health officials continue to work proactively and collaboratively with us and other business leaders to develop and promulgate consistent, effective solutions that will protect the health of our people, communities, and businesses. At minimum, the following steps should immediately be taken by the AHD and all applicable local and state government entities: 1. Equal treatment. If a government chooses to release the names of establishments where confirmed public exposure took place, then the names of all businesses where exposure occurred should be released, not just those of a single industry. 2. Immediate notification to business owners. The business owner needs to be directly (when possible) and immediately notified — prior to public release — by the health department when confirmed exposure is reported at an establishment. This gives the business an opportunity to act swiftly and assist the health department before it is inundated with calls from concerned public. 3. Consistent procedures. Procedures for how to handle, notify, and report public exposure in an establishment need to be developed and consistently executed to improve efficiency and provide clear expectations of businesses and the public. 4. More information. Businesses and the public need more information to understand what is being reported to them, including what the numbers associated with businesses mean – what constitutes an instance of “public exposure” and what doesn’t? What are the expectations of the business and the public when confirmed public exposure occurs at an establishment? 5. Support for proactive businesses. Consideration needs to be given to any proactive and reactive measures procedures being followed by each individual business, including adherence to the Alaska Hospitality Promise, enforcement of added mitigation procedures above those in current health mandates, and cooperation with public health officials when cases are reported in their establishments. 6. Additional funding for contact tracing and testing. Funding from the federal CARES Act dollars needs to be used toward additional staff and resources for local and state health departments, specifically for the purposes of conducting contact tracing and improving testing. This should be a top priority for governments. Alaska is different than other states like Texas and Florida who have shut sectors of their industries back down due to their lack of resources for contact tracing; with relatively minimal investment of CARES Act funds, Alaska has the ability to handle this on a case-by-case basis and allow businesses to remain open. “The hospitality industry is certainly willing to do our part – in the interests of economic recovery and public health and safety, many of us have been doing far more than is currently required,” said Alaska CHARR President and CEO Sarah Oates. “Through my daily communications with AHD, I have learned that many of our requests are already in the works, and I hope to see results this week. But it is also important for everyone to remember that this is a community effort. Any time you physically interact with others or enter a public place — not just a bar or restaurant — you are taking a risk. The best way the public can support businesses and your communities is to make safe, responsible, and thoughtful decisions as a patron. Please do your part so that we can remain open to serve you for years to come.” The Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association is a nonprofit corporation, dedicated to serving the needs of the hospitality industry in the state of Alaska since 1964.


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