FISH FACTOR: Copper River season set as restaurant demand returns

Alaska’s 2021 salmon officially starts on May 17 with a 12-hour opener for reds and kings at the Copper River. All eyes will be on early Cordova dock prices for Alaska’s famous “first fresh salmon of the season” as an indicator of wild salmon markets. COVID-19 closures of high end restaurants and seafood outlets in 2020 tanked starting prices to $3 per pound for sockeyes and $6.50 for king salmon, down from $10 and $14, respectively the previous year. But early signs are looking good. Heading into Mother’s Day on May 9, demand for seafood was “fanatic” said Mitch Miller, Vice President of national upscale seafood restaurants Ocean Prime in Nation’s Restaurant News. National Retail Federation President Matthew Shay said there is a lot more consumer optimism this year as more people are getting vaccinated and stimulus checks are being distributed, and friends and family are moving about more freely. Alaska’s 2021 salmon harvest is projected to top 190 million fish, a 61 percent increase versus 2020. The breakdown includes 46.6 million sockeye salmon, 3.8 million cohos, 15.3 million chum salmon, 296,000 chinook and 124.2 million pinks. Elsewhere on the fishing grounds, Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak kicked off on May 3 with two buyers and about a dozen boats on the grounds. They have a roughly 85 million-pound quota, the largest since 1993. Herring fishing continued around Kodiak for a nearly 16 million pound catch, the largest ever. Sitka’s roe herring fishery this spring produced less than half of its 67 million pound quota, taken by 18 of 47 permit holders. Southeast Alaska’s summer pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a 40,000-pound catch limit. Southeast divers are still going down for a half-million pound Geoduck clam quota. A lingcod fishery opens on May 16. A 10-day pot shrimp reopens at Prince William Sound on May 10 with nearly 60 boats vying for a 70,000-pound catch. Kodiak’s Dungeness fishery opened on May 1 and so far, a fleet of about 15 boats is dropping pots around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. Last year’s Dungie catch of nearly 3 million pounds was the region’s best in three decades. Bering Sea crabbers are pulling up the last of their 40.5 million-pound snow crab quota. Crabbers also are wrapping up the season’s Tanner crab and golden king crab fisheries. Alaska’s halibut catch is nearing 3 million pounds with Seward, Juneau and Homer the leading ports for landings. Alaska halibut fishermen have a nearly 20 million-pound catch limit this year. Black cod (sablefish) catches have topped 7 million pounds with most going to Sitka, Seward and Kodiak. That fishing limit this year is 40.5 million pounds. And as always, fishing continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for a huge mix of Alaska pollock, cod, flounders and more. COVID-19 comfish impacts A drop in dock prices stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic was the biggest hit to Alaska fishermen over the past year, followed by planning and logistics disruptions. Those are just a few takeaways from a presentation compiled by McKinley Research Group economist Dan Lesh for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute at its May Board of Directors meeting. Other lowlights: Dockside values were down across the board due to a mix of biological factors and COVID-19 disruptions. That decreased the value of Alaska’s 2020 seafood catch by roughly 20 percent to 25 percent to an estimated $1.5 billion, and down 16 percent in export value and volume from 2019. Disaster declarations were posted for eight Alaska salmon fisheries in 2020, one of the worst years since 1970s. Alaska’s seafood industry reflected a 21 percent decline for crew licenses from 2019, and a 31 percent decline in peak employment for processing workers. For Alaska processors, costs above and beyond those normally incurred added up to $70 million, and they expect to pay more than $100 million this year due mostly to travel and quarantine expenses. Processors also saw a 50 percent decrease in workforce changes along with “reduced employee morale.” Of roughly 100 fishermen surveyed, nearly half said they received COVID-19 relief payments, not including the Paycheck Protection Program; half said they did not. Of those, 21 percent said it was due to a lack of awareness about relief payments. COVID-19 impacts are expected to be even more challenging this year, due to trade disputes, climate change impacts and increased competition, including from plant-based foods. The Alaska Department of Revenue spring forecast estimates that fisheries business and landing taxes for fiscal year 2021 will total $47.8 million, a 19 percent decrease from last year’s $58.8 million. Meanwhile, increased seafood demand and a 36 percent growth in direct-to-consumer sales to $90 billion is called “exciting” and the Alaska brand remains strong and “increasingly relevant.” Seafood surge A who’s-who of over 60 U.S. fishing companies, organizations, medical professionals and more sent a letter to Congress last week asking for support for a country-wide seafood marketing and public education campaign. The goal is to highlight the immense health benefits of eating fish and shellfish, a message backed by Americans who have sent seafood sales soaring during the COVID-19 pandemic. The group plans to resurrect a National Seafood Council, a move recommended by NOAA’s Marine Fisheries Advisory Council last July. A Seafood Council was created in 1987 as part of a Fish and Seafood Promotion Act but fizzled after five years. The mission is simple: get Americans to eat more seafood. The push gets some extra clout from new U.S. dietary guidelines that advise Americans to eat two seafood servings per week, starting with kids at six months. “Maybe we should have a contest to find a nice tag line that would identify seafood in the same way as ‘Got Milk?’ or ‘Beef, It’s what for dinner’, or the ‘Incredible Edible egg,’” said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, pointing to other major U.S. food producers who back their industries to promote their products. This week’s industry letter to Congress requests $25 million in seed money to revive a more modernized Council that would eventually become industry funded. A task force led by the Seafood Nutrition Partnership has formed to lay a foundation for the Council. It will be “the most all-encompassing, consumer-facing seafood marketing campaign in our nation’s history,” SNP said in a press release. Brenna is encouraged by the seafood push. “Apparently, we have not done the kind of job that we should have in educating consumers in what they ought to be demanding for themselves and their kids,” he said in a phone interview. “We have a major effect here with seafood that we should be heralding from the rooftops.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact msfish[email protected] for information.

Movers and Shakers for May 9

The Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska announced the hire of Courtney Lewis as the child welfare attorney for the Tribe’s new Seattle-based office. As the child welfare attorney, Lewis will provide legal representation to children crime victims with the local courts of jurisdiction within the Washington area, track appellate level Indian Children Welfare Act cases within Washington state and nationwide, and provide effective consultation and legal advice to the Tribe relating to ICWA and child welfare matters. She will also be responsible for preparing and presenting legal arguments in court, and monitoring decisions that may affect tribal families. Tlingit &Haida’s new Seattle-based office had a soft open in late March and is the first office to open outside of Southeast Alaska. The office will be located in the Seattle field office of Casey Family Programs, a foundation focused on influencing long-lasting improvements to the safety and well-being of children, families and communities and a long-standing partner to Tlingit &Haida. Lewis has practiced child welfare law since 2008. She was the first person to be certified in Alaska as a child welfare law specialist by the National Association of Counsel for Children. She also served as the Alaska State Coordinator for NACC from 2019-21. The Mat-Su Health Foundation hired two new employees: Chelsea Hedrick as Connect Mat-Su community resource specialist and Jeff Winell as R.O.C.K. Mat-Su community engagement coordinator. MSHF has also promoted Jessie Burbank to Connect Mat-Su community resource specialist II. Before accepting her current position, Hedrick held a temporary role coordinating a COVID-19 call line for Connect Mat-Su. She previously worked as a project coordinator with Bozeman Green Build and the Madison River Foundation, as well as an Alaskan Conservation Corp member with the Alaska Department of Natural Resources. She holds an associate of applied sciences in fisheries technology and a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Alaska. Before joining MSHF, Winell worked as a contact center representative at Matanuska Valley Federal Credit Union and program director with Take2 Ministries Alaska. Winell holds a bachelor’s degree in business management and ministry leadership from Cornerstone University in Michigan. Burbank will work closely with the Connect Mat-Su team to develop and maintain a database of health and social services resources within Mat-Su and will engage in outreach to develop and strengthen relationships with social service organizations, providers and programs. Before joining MSHF in 2020, Burbank worked at The Children’s Place where she assisted children and families impacted by child abuse. She graduated from the University of Alaska Anchorage with a Bachelor of Arts in psychology and a minor in women’s studies. GCI Vice President of Engineering Victor Esposito has been elected to the Society of Cable Telecommunications Engineers board of directors. SCTE, a subsidiary of CableLabs, has been a cable telecommunications leader for more than 50 years and is critical for the advancement of technology, standards and workforce education within the industry. McKinley Management, LLC announced the promotion of two of the firm’s senior team members. Kenneth P. Lenhart has been named McKinley Management’s chief operating officer. In this role, Lenhart manages the people, process and facilities for all three business units: McKinley Capital Management LLC; McKinley Alaska Private Investment LLC; and McKinley Research Group LLC (formerly McDowell Group). Lenhart joined McKinley Capital in 2011 as a portfolio associate in the firm’s Chicago office. Soon after, he became a member of McKinley Capital’s global quantitative research team, and in 2019 was promoted to director of data science. As director, Lenhart managed the data science team and was responsible for development and management of the firm’s data governance program. In 2020, Lenhart took on heading the firm’s information technology and cybersecurity department. Prior to joining McKinley Capital, Lenhart was a director of equities and quantitative research for Midwest Asset Management Inc., and worked at Deloitte Consulting as a systems analyst providing financial data model and securities expertise. He has 21 years of experience, with 18 in the finance industry. Lenhart received his MBA with concentrations in analytic finance, econometrics, and statistics from the University of Chicago, and his bachelor’s degree in economics from Northwestern University. Joseph Jacobson has been promoted to vice president, private equity of McKinley Alaska Private Investment LLC. Jacobson joined the McKinley team in 2019. In 2021, he was named head of the firm’s private equity team. In this role, Jacobson oversees the Na’-Nuk Investment Fund, L.P. and its investments, and is heavily involved in the firm’s Alaska Cargo and Cold Storage direct infrastructure investment. Jacobson brings nearly 20 years of Alaska business experience, with more than 10 in leadership roles in Alaska’s leading industries. Prior to joining McKinley, Jacobson was a senior consultant with McDowell Group, now McKinley Research Group LLC, a leading Alaska-based general services consulting group specializing in economic impact and feasibility studies for communities and projects around the state. Jacobson received his master’s degree in international relations from City University of New York City College, and his bachelor’s degree in outdoor studies from Alaska Pacific University. Jacobson works from the firm’s Anchorage headquarters. Coastal Villages Region Fund announced the promotion of Nathaniel Betz to director of Community Programs as well as the hiring of Oscar Evon as director of Regional Affairs. Betz will be responsible for managing operations and budget for economic development programming in 20 Western Alaska villages. This includes leading efforts in project management, employee coaching, data analysis and facility management. Betz has supported multiple programs that help to provide opportunities and enrich the lives of CVRF’s residents including Youth to Work and the Heating Oil program. Born and raised in Kwigillingok, Evon has a deep understanding of the unique challenges in rural Alaska, which will help him meet the needs of CVRF’s residents. Evon served as a board member from 2000-09, eventually becoming board president. He also acted as CVRF’s director of programs. Evon’s previous roles include Tribal Administrator and COVID-19 coordinator for the Native Village of Kwigillingok, office manager for Alaska Moravian Bible Seminary and community outreach coordinator for E3 Alaska. Doyon Foundation and Doyon Limited announced Tiffany Simmons as the nonprofit organization’s new executive director. Simmons will assume the role, based at the Foundation’s office in Fairbanks, effective May 17. A Doyon, Limited shareholder, Simmons is Central Koyukon Athabascan and was raised in the Yukon River communities of Koyukuk and Galena. Simmons graduated from the Galena City High School and earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has extensive experience working with tribal members and tribal governments in various management and senior leadership positions.

FISH FACTOR: Director ‘encouraged’ by proposed ComFish division budget

The budget for Alaska’s Commercial Fisheries Division is facing no cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, assuming the current numbers make it through the Legislature. “The governor’s proposed budget is at about $72.8 million, which is a slight increase from the FY21 approved budget. And most of that increase is due to our personnel services, cost of living increases and things like that that are funded by the administration generally. And also from some additional federal funds for training and things like that. So we’re looking pretty good compared to past years,” said Sam Rabung, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division, the largest within the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which employs just more than 640 full, part-time and seasonal workers. “We’re really relieved because we’ve been cut pretty close to the bone and any additional significant cuts would impact fisheries directly. We wouldn’t be able to do some of the assessment projects required for management and we would have to either close or severely restrict fisheries. And I think everybody understands that,” he said, adding that another bonus will be the reopening of the ADFG office at Wrangell. Rabung credited the Dunleavy Administration for taking the time to dig into the details that clearly show Alaska’s fisheries “pay their own way.” “We’re absolutely encouraged by that,” he said. “There’s been a lot of administrations that come in without knowing that the commercial fishing industry pays more into the general fund than we get out as a division to manage it. And because we don’t advertise that, it doesn’t get talked about much. “But commercial fisheries as an industry pays more into the general fund and includes other things like licenses, fees, taxes, assessments, all those things add up to significantly more than we are allocated out of the general fund.” Rabung added that most Alaskans don’t know that the Commercial Fisheries Division also manages subsistence and personal use fisheries, along with several fisheries in federal waters, such as crab. And because fish are migratory and cross jurisdictional boundaries, staff also are involved in research and policy making activities of the Pacific Salmon Commission, the Joint Canadian-U.S. Yukon River Panel and several other interstate and international fisheries bodies. Southwest AK COVID-19 survey How helpful have COVID-19 relief programs been so far to people in Alaska’s vast Southwest region? A short survey aims to find out. “We really wanted to focus on individual’s experiences, we’re not sending out to local governments, tribal governments, large organizations, things like that. We want to hear what the impacts or results of the Coronavirus was to you personally and to your family,” said Shirley Marquardt, executive director of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference that since 1988 has represented more than 45 communities from Kodiak to the Bristol Bay region, the Alaska Peninsula out to Adak, the Pribilof Islands and everywhere in between. “We want to learn how helpful or accessible were federal, state, local, Tribal grants or loan programs, because each community in our region has a different experience, and it’s really vitally important that we get a handle on what those were,” she said. One goal is to create a sort of roadmap to better understand the unique characteristics of an economic disaster in each community and region. “The second would be how SWAMC can better understand the grants or loan programs, or utility payments for municipalities that were most helpful,” Marquardt explained. “A lot of money went out that wasn’t accessible to a lot of folks in our region because we have such limited broadband. And you could only apply online. We want to get a better handle and understanding of how that impacted folks and how to better understand the eligibility requirements and the application process.” Marquardt said spotty or no broadband service throughout the region kept many people from accessing any benefits. “We had people who were out fishing and they couldn’t apply and they were clearly eligible and truly needed the money. And they were so frustrated because they had to wait. And some of the folks waited and then they were told it was too late,” she said. The survey, done in partnership with McKinley Research Group, will examine lessons learned and identify strategies to help Southwest communities better withstand and recover from future economic shocks. “Anyone who lives and works in those communities, has kids in school, has health care concerns, etc., we need to hear from you,” Marquardt said. Find the survey at www.swamc.org. Respondents can enter to win a $50 Visa gift card. Alaska pollock push Got an idea for making or marketing new pollock products? The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers aims to create more awareness and demand among consumers in North America and Europe through its Partnership Program by funding new items or helping to get the fish introduced to food influencers and decision-makers at places where it hasn’t previously had visibility. “It’s our fifth round in North America and our second round in Europe,” said CEO Craig Morris. The group has so far obligated more than $5 million to “brand partners” who have created three dozen new pollock products, with $1.5 million available in the current round. “This year we want to think even bigger, bringing new partners into the program and working to identify new opportunities for more unique products, including those made with surimi and roe,” he said, adding that pollock oil and fishmeal also are in the mix. “Pollock oils for health supplements or pet food items, we want to hear all the good ideas,” he added. Morris said that “snacks” best defines the success of the new pollock products that have been funded so far, including such items as Highliner Alaska Wild Wings (a takeoff on Buffalo wings), surimi pastas and Neptune jerky (available at Amazon). And last year, 7-Eleven worked with GAPP to introduce a crispy fish sandwich during Lent in its 8,000 U.S. outlets that proved to be one of its most popular hot foods. Building on that success, 7-Eleven followed this year with grab and go fish bites: five bite-sized pieces that are panko-crusted and served on a skewer with a side of tartar sauce. GAPP is featuring a webinar on May 25 for any prospective applicants to help them through the process. Proposals are due by July 20; funding announcements will be made in early September. Find more information and application forms for its Partnership Program at www.alaskapollock.org. Price watch Contrary to usual trends, halibut and sablefish (black cod) prices have increased since the March 6 start of the fisheries. Industry watchers will be interested in knowing that dock prices are regularly posted by Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Halibut prices often are broken out according to weights of 10 to 20 pounds, 20 to 40 pounds and 40-up. Here’s a sampler: March 10 at Whittier, $5.50 to $5.75; March 16 at Petersburg, $5.75 straight; April 6 at Yakutat, $5.75 to $6; Seward, $5.75 to $6.15; April 17 at Homer, $6.30/$6.55/$6.85; April 22 at Sitka, $5.65 to $5.85. Black cod prices are broken into five weight categories by poundage. Prices on April 17 at Kodiak were less than 2 pounds, $1.05; 2 to 3, $2.15; 3 to 4, $2.60; 4 to 5, $3; 5 to 6, $3.65; 7-ups. $5.50. By April 19 at Homer they were less than 2 pounds, 40 cents; 2 to 3, $1.50; 3 to 4, $2; 4 to 5, $2.50; 5 to 6, $4; 7-ups, $5. On April 22 at Sitka: less than 2 pounds, $1; 2 to 3, $2.10; 3 to 4, $2.40; 4 to 5, $2.85; 5 to 7, $3.65; 7-ups, $5.50. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

CDC may allow cruises by mid-summer; Canada issue remains

The members of Alaska’s congressional delegation insist their efforts to clear the way for large cruise ships to return to Alaska waters this year are gaining momentum despite little movement of legislation likely need to finish the work. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan took to the Senate floor April 29 to pitch the rest of the body on the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act, their legislation to temporarily exempt cruises between Washington and Alaska from the 19th Century Passenger Vessel Services Act. Murkowski said an amended version of the bill first submitted in early March addresses broader cruise consumer protection concerns raised by Democrats and passing it posthaste would help salvage what can be from this year’s summer cruise season. “Back home right now people are not talking about the season for 2021 coming up; the motto is ‘get through to ’22.’ That’s an awful way to be approaching our situation,” Murkowski said, adding that she’s not trying to save the global cruise lines, but rather the businesses in Alaska that rely on their arrival. “It’s jobs; it’s livelihoods and it really is what allows our small communities to keep their doors open,” she said of the tourism industry. The CDC took another step towards loosening its restrictions on domestic cruises April 28 with a letter to industry leaders from U.S. Public Health Service Maritime Unit Capt. Aimee Treffiletti, who is leading the agency’s maritime COVID-19 response, which states that CDC officials acknowledge “cruising will never be a zero-risk activity” and provides further guidance for cruise companies submitting operating plans for review to federal health officials. “We remain committed to the resumption of passenger operations in the United States following the requirements in the (Conditional Sail Order) by mid-summer, which aligns with the goals announced by many major cruise lines,” Treffiletti wrote, adding agency officials are looking forward to reviewing the initial operating plans and moving to the next phase of the Conditional Sail Order soon. The million-plus cruise passengers that arrived to Alaska via the Inside Passage accounted for more than half of the total visitors to the state in most pre-pandemic years and provided the foundation for one of the state’s handful of growing industries in recent years. Pre-2020, the leisure and hospitality industry had become one of the state’s largest employment sectors, but lost nearly 15,000 jobs last year, according to state Labor Department figures. The lack of visitors has also hit many local governments hard. According to City and Borough of Juneau officials, the lack of cruise ship and passenger fees and taxes totaled roughly $26 million in forgone revenue last year. The PVSA requires foreign built, crewed or flagged passenger vessels sailing between U.S. ports to make at least one stop in a foreign port and cruise lines typically used a Canadian port — most often Vancouver — as a stop en route our a starting point for Alaska-bound voyages to comply. However, the Feb. 4 announcement by Canadian transportation officials that they would not be allowing large cruise ships to dock in the country’s ports again this summer disrupted plans for a return to more normal sailings. Alaska’s senators were initially critical of the Canadians’ handling of the situation and Murkowski said they have since tried to find alternatives to the outright ban but also noted that Canada “is in a different spot in terms of their vaccines,” an indication the country’s requisite officials might not be ready to ease their maritime travel restrictions. According to the Canadian government’s COVID-19 Vaccination Tracker online dashboard, approximately 34 percent of Canadians had received at least one dose of a vaccine as of May 4, compared to 44 percent of Americans and 51 percent of Alaskans, according to Centers for Disease Control and state Department of Health and Social Services data. Sullivan spokesman Nate Adams wrote in response to questions about the hurdles facing the Alaska cruise industry that flexibility from Canadian officials on their docking restrictions isn’t likely given the country’s own challenges in managing COVID-19, but it’s also imperative that the Department of Homeland Security provide clarity over what voyage options would meet the exact requirements of the Passenger Vessel Services Act while making sure operations match any potential scrutiny in Canada’s exemption process. Washington Democrat Sen. Maria Cantwell, who Murkowski had a largely positive relationship with during their years together on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, now chairs the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, which has the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act but has not yet officially heard it. Murkowski spokeswoman Karina Borger wrote via email May 4 that while a request to move the bill through unanimous consent was rejected, there is general consensus among the key players that an agreement needs to be reached. According to Borger, allowing cruise ships back to Alaska is the top priority in the senator’s office right now and Murkowski is working multiple angles, including a continued dialogue with Canadian officials to see if they can “meet us halfway,” she wrote. Sullivan implored Alaskans dependent upon cruise passengers for their businesses to keep hope alive in his floor remarks. “Right now, here on the Senate floor, there’s actually been momentum and movement, and I’m confident we can get there,” Sullivan said of the Alaska Tourism Recovery Act. “Even with the CDC, we are starting to see progress with them. We are going to continue to fight and continue to try to move this. Do not give up, Alaska, on our summer tourism season. We haven’t. To the contrary, we’ve made progress. We’re not there yet.” Alaska’s state and federal lawmakers have also been critical of the CDC’s seemingly slow movement towards allowing cruise voyages in U.S. waters and Gov. Mike Dunleavy directed Department of Law officials to join a lawsuit filed by the State of Florida against the CDC last month. Murkowski praised CDC leaders for the updated guidance in a May 1 statement and said agency officials have been more responsive to the Alaska delegation and industry of late. “The CDC has committed to working with us to address any guidelines that may be too restrictive for Alaskans,” Murkowski said. “We aren’t out of the woods yet, but understanding what has to happen for cruise ships to sail is a step in the right direction.” Whether it can all come together quickly enough for the companies to be ready to sail when the time comes is still unclear. The first cruise ships of the year typically arrive in Ketchikan in the last days of April and industry representatives have consistently said they would need at least 8 to 10 weeks to re-crew and prepare the ships for sailing from the time they have clearance to sail. The last ships arrive in Southeast in September most years. On the House side, Rep. Don Young’s spokesman Zack Brown wrote that the most likely avenue to holding a semblance of a summer cruise season this year is for the CDC to lift its sailing restrictions. According to Brown, if the CDC lifts its sailing restrictions, Canada would very likely be pressured into allowing “technical calls” on its ports to satisfy the PVSA. “Congressman Young is running parallel efforts on this front, not only trying to get the CDC to lift their ban, but to convince Canadian officials to update their restrictions as well. Southeast families’ livelihoods hang in the balance,” Brown wrote. “The Congressman calls on the CDC and the Canadian government to trust the science behind vaccines and mitigation strategies and to allow the cruise season to commence in some form.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

ConocoPhillips rebounds to profitability after $2.7B loss in ‘20

ConocoPhillips rebounded with a profit of nearly $1 billion in the first quarter, with $159 million of that coming from Alaska. CEO Ryan Lance said during a May 4 conference call with investors that ConocoPhillips executives are viewing 2021 as “a catalyst moment” to improve all aspects of the company’s business, similar to 2016 when oil prices reached lows of less than $30 per barrel early that year. Following the depths of that price cycle, leaders of the Houston-based producer set a companywide breakeven target of $40 per barrel of oil production. This time, ConocoPhillips leaders are focused on debt reduction to improve investor returns and driving down sustaining capital costs through supply chain and well-cost efficiencies, according to Lance. “Our entire organization is focused on improving every aspect of our underlying business to make us the most competitive in the industry: capturing additional synergies, lowering our sustaining price, increasing capital efficiency, generating free cash flow, strengthening our balance sheet, consistently delivering peer-leading return of capital to our owners and lowering emissions,” Lance said. “These are the essential keys to long-term success in the business.” The first quarter profit of $982 million is contrasted against a fourth quarter loss of $772 million and a first quarter 2020 loss of more than $1.7 billion when the combination of a Saudi-Russia price war and the global onset of the pandemic took oil prices to the lowest levels in decades. In total ConocoPhillips lost $2.7 billion last year. The $982 million translates to earnings of 75 cents per share and was on the back of more than $10.5 billion of quarterly revenue. ConocoPhillips generated no more than $6.1 billion of gross revenue in any quarter last year. The company’s stock price mostly held steady May 4 following the morning earnings release, closing at $52.57 per share. As to Alaska, where ConocoPhillips has become the predominant producer and explorer on the North Slope, the $159 million net for ConocoPhillips Alaska was the first positive quarter for the state in a year, when the company made $81 million here but lost big overall. ConocoPhillips incurred a tax and royalty bill of $227 million to the State of Alaska during the quarter, according to a company statement. The segment and companywide profits are largely the result of sustained price improvements in global oil markets. ConocoPhillips secured an average realized price of $59.56 per barrel in the first quarter for its Alaska oil, the highest price since the end of 2019. ConocoPhillips’ North Slope liquids production remained ostensibly flat at 208,000 barrels per day in the first quarter when compared to the fourth, but was down from a year ago when the company produced 217,000 barrels of oil and natural gas liquids per day. Senior Vice President of Global Operations Nick Olds said the company will restart four rigs on the Slope this year after suspending all drilling last spring and is still on track to start production late this year from its Greater Mooses Tooth-2 project in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. “Our base Alaska business is performing very well and we’ve built strong momentum coming out of 2020,” he said. Facility and production costs are about 10 percent less than budget in the third and final construction season for the $1.4 billion GMT-2 drill site, according to Olds, who said production would likely start at about 10,000 barrels of oil per day and should eventually peak near 35,000 barrels per day. The company plans to eventually drill up to 48 wells on the 14-acre pad. Engineering work continues on the company’s nearby $6 billion Willow oil project — stalled by a court injunction in a lawsuit over the Bureau of Land Management’s environmental review for the development — and it remains competitive in the company’s portfolio, but a final investment decision won’t be made until the litigation is resolved, Olds said. ConocoPhillips spent $235 million on North Slope capital investments in the first quarter; the most in a year and part of a $1.2 billion capital spend companywide. Executives plan to spend roughly $5.5 billion total on capital projects this year. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

BROWN'S CLOSE: A Love Letter to Airplanes

Long standing readers of this column will recall there was a time when I was a frequent flyer and bona fide road warrior. Since February 2020, however, I largely stopped travelling due to the obvious complexities presented by a global pandemic. I spent a year without voluntarily giving up my civil liberties at Ted Stevens International Airport. I went 365 days sans random cavity searches by TSA. Twelve months lapsed since I last elbowed my fellow passengers while staking claim to overhead bin space. When it became obvious to everyone that we’d all been grounded for the foreseeable future, I thought, well, there is much to be gained here. My skin will clear up because it will not be exposed to that weird airplane air that always makes me breakout. I will not have to eye my seat prior to lighting for large, half chewed bits of cookie left lovingly behind by the previous passenger. No concern about the stale nose tissue that may, or may not, be lodged way, way, far down at the bottom of the seatback pouch in front of me. I will not have to look at the bathroom floor with trepidation, wondering if the puddles on the ground were caused by people who cannot neatly dry their hands, or by some other, more sinister, fluid. I was as shocked as anyone to discover after a while … that I missed it. Ironically, despite the ever-present and all-powerful weight of the Federal government, air travel struck me as, well, freedom. I looked back fondly on the stale smelling circulated air, the fiesta mix pretzels in tiny packets, and the unique taste of a Bloody Mary at 30,000 feet cruising altitude. I am pleased to report, however, that air travel is returning. Pandemic weary Americans are back to jamming themselves into these tiny cylindrical tubes and jettisoning themselves as far away from home as possible. Iceland is now open to vaccinated Americans, and the European Union is expected to follow suit shortly. Spring break travelers to Hawaii were treated to $1,000 per day car rentals, as demand surged despite companies having previously sold off inventory to stay afloat in 2020. Personally, I have completed my first pleasure trip post COVID and will begin travelling again for work in May. Expectedly, things have changed since I last flew. TSA now checks your driver’s license, and not your ticket. Masked passengers remove face coverings long enough for the security agents to verify passenger faces match passenger IDs. After a year in quarantine, I can’t imagine all faces look the same, and the agents studied a few of my fellow travelers for a while, trying to determine whether they were imposters, or had just been living life rough for the last 13 months. I am somewhat dourly resigned to looking like a demented bank robber forever, my baby blue disposable mask covering up the bottom half of my face, and my glasses the top half. One of the more disappointing changes to airline travel is the meal service. Previously a joyful activity on flights, meal service could be counted on to dependably absorb 20 minutes of flight time, followed by another seven minutes in the bathroom line, three minutes maneuvering in the bathroom itself, and a minute forty-seven seconds spent eyeing all the bathroom puddles. Then there was always the possibility of a bathroom surprise, like the time someone dangled a used Lipton tea bag from the inside bathroom door handle. These little diversions would necessitate me staring for another 52 seconds, at least! Altogether, such points of recreation would eat up over half an hour, which would be correspondingly deducted from the amount of time spent in bored silence. While I am nothing but sympathetic to an industry brought to the brink of extinction one year ago, it was a nevertheless disappointing meal service that brought me a cup of water, half a cracker, and a virtual pat on the head. Snack time lasted 38 seconds, and I swiveled around wildly wanting to know how I was going to burn up all this new quiet time. With a few accommodations, I was nevertheless thrilled to skip down the jetway for the first time in 2021. TSA, baggage crew, officious ticket checkers abundant… I love you! Sarah Brown is a Captain of Industry. You may pitch her 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 Browns-Close.com.

OPINION: Dunbar ditches 'science' in last-ditch gambit to beat Bronson

Scotch tape is harder to see through than what the leftist leaders of the Anchorage Assembly pulled off at the April 27 meeting. For a year, members Chris Constant and Forrest Dunbar have turned a deaf ear and struggled to disguise their disdain at the pleas of Anchorage business owners and residents being harmed by restrictions and closures that were further exacerbated by the Assembly’s mismanagement of $156 million in CARES Act economic relief funds. Just two weeks after voting to uphold it, the pair teamed up to repeal nearly everything in the current Emergency Order that was issued by Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson in the faraway time of April 12. Constant introduced the motion and it was seconded by Dunbar, who is coincidentally in the middle of a runoff election for mayor against Dave Bronson. No more capacity restrictions either indoors or out. No more six feet of social distancing between groups that effectively preserved capacity restrictions despite a prior order allowing businesses to operate at 100 percent. Kick off your Sunday shoes, everybody. No more bans on dancing or live performances. The new rules for Anchorage — minus the face-saving preservation of what will increasingly become a meaningless mask mandate — actually border on what President Joe Biden would call “Neanderthal thinking.” In doing so, the Constant-Dunbar led effort abandoned the Acting Mayor’s 70 percent vaccine requirement for lifting restrictions that is also incorporated into Dunbar’s own 10-point campaign plan for reviving the Anchorage economy he helped put on life support. The resolution goes beyond the latest CDC guidelines and was approved over the objections of the municipal Health Department. Not to mention that Anchorage is still considered in “high alert” status with more than 10 new cases per 100,000 people per day. Although he ultimately voted in favor of member Meg Zalatel’s amendment to push the effective date to midnight on May 3, Dunbar initially agreed with Constant’s proposal to lift the EO immediately, or just 11 days after it went into effect. So much for “following the science.” Only a doe-eyed observer could see this for anything but what it is: a transparent ploy to disarm Bronson’s central campaign pledge to lift the Emergency Orders that Dunbar has repeatedly and as recently as two weeks ago supported. The combined votes for the three candidates running to the right of Dunbar earned a majority, or 50.3 percent, in the April 6 election compared to 47.5 percent for the three competing for progressive votes. Business owners — who have employees that vote as well — have shown a tremendous amount of support for Bronson and he is fresh off a weekend rally where he received the endorsement of the popular Sen. Dan Sullivan. Now that Dunbar can point to his vote to finally take the boot off Anchorage businesses, he is free to go scorched earth on Bronson over the next two weeks as a scary right-winger no longer worth taking a chance on as the antidote to the policies correctly associated with the left-wing Assembly and two mayors. The strategy is previewed in Dunbar’s most recent ad as he unsubtly splices together successive videos of Bronson and the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. A prediction here is that the Outside dark money supporting Dunbar will be even less restrained. Dunbar knows he isn’t going to convince Bronson or Mike Robbins supporters to change their minds. The clear play is for a share of those in the soft middle who voted for Bill Evans and think the “Save Anchorage” folks who support Bronson are icky. A last-ditch gambit by Dunbar to co-opt the Save Anchorage demands by using his influence on the Assembly is rather insulting to the intelligence of such voters. Soon we will find out if it works. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Dunleavy joins attempt to force cruise season through federal court

Gov. Mike Dunleavy is trying to salvage Alaska’s fast-approaching summer tourism season through a Florida court. The governor’s office announced April 20 that the Dunleavy administration would attempt to intervene in the State of Florida’s lawsuit against the Centers for Disease control to lift the federal agency’s Conditional Sailing Order that currently prohibits large cruise ships from sailing in domestic waters. Dunleavy’s administration estimated the cancellation of the 2020 season cost the Alaska economy roughly $3 billion in a statement from his office. “Alaskan families and small businesses need fast action to protect their ability to work and provide for their families,” the governor said April 21. “We have been told to follow the science and facts. Cruise ships have demonstrated their ability to provide for the safety of passengers and crew and Alaska has led the nation in (COVID-19) vaccinations and low hospitalization rates. We deserve the chance to have tourism and jobs.” Acting Attorney General Treg Taylor insisted the CDC “simply does not have the authority to arbitrarily shut down an entire industry.” Alaska lost approximately 9,600 jobs in the broader leisure and hospitality industry last year, according to state Labor Department economists, who estimated in January the industry would likely add about 3,500 jobs back this year. At that time it was largely presumed some level of cruise activity would occur this year. While several small cruise companies that fall outside the CDC rules for large ships are operating this summer with Alaska-only itineraries, the global cruise operators that traditionally sail the inside passage from Pacific Northwest ports brought roughly 1.3 million visitors to the state each summer prior to the pandemic. The tourism industry had been one of the few large industries to grow in recent years along with the once-surging Lower 48 economy as others struggled with the impacts of low oil prices, uncertainties from the state’s now omnipresent multibillion-dollar structural budget deficits. The State of Florida first sued the CDC in a complaint filed April 8 in the Tampa Division of the U.S. District Court of Middle Florida alleging the public health agency has unreasonably delayed the resumption of the major industry for many coastal states and violated the Administrative Procedures Act on multiple levels in issuing the Conditional Sailing Order last October. That order lays out a detailed, phased plan to resume cruise sailings but it does not put a timeline on how quickly the process can play out. Representatives for cruise companies have said they are doing everything they can to comply with the order but have received little information on when exactly they can start sailing again. Despite the strong push by state governments to fight the federal restrictions, it’s unclear what practical impact the suit can have on the 2021 summer season. Holland America Vice President Ralph Samuels said April 9 that the tour operator could resume sailings by early July if given immediate clearance. Dunleavy said during an April 16 press briefing that he was told the cruise companies would likely need clearance within “the next couple days” to start the complex process of readying the ships and crews for sailings in the coming months. Middle Florida District Court Judge Steven Merryday scheduled a May 12 hearing over Florida’s motion for a preliminary injunction to lift the CDC rules in an April 23 court order. The governor also announced April 14 a rough plan for a $150 million state aid package for tourism-dependent businesses in the state. Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer is currently on a multi-week tour of the state to hear from industry leaders about how most effectively package the funding support. Alaska’s congressional delegation has also been working legislative angles to get the big ships sailing to the state again, but that will also require some sort of waiver to the 19th Century-era Passenger Vessel Services Act, which requires foreign-built large passenger vessels to make a stop at a foreign port when traveling between U.S. ports. Canadian officials announced in February that the country would not allow large cruise ships at its ports again this summer, adding another major hurdle for state and federal officials to clear before the ships can sail again. Sen. Dan Sullivan praised the Dunleavy administration’s attempt to join Florida’s lawsuit in an April 21 statement, arguing the CDC has only given states and the industry “many months of mixed messages, foot-dragging and unresponsiveness.” Sullivan and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio introduced legislation April 13 to revoke the CDC’s Conditional Sailing Order. Federal attorneys had not yet responded to Florida’s complaint as of April 26. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for May 2

Rasmuson Foundation announced four new staff members, including a program officer with deep roots in the nonprofit community. Monica Garcia-Itchoak joined Rasmuson Foundation this month, bringing more than 26 years of nonprofit experience to her role as program officer. She comes from The Foraker Group, where she worked with nonprofits on sustainability. Garcia-Itchoak moved to Alaska in 2010 from New York to direct education and public programs at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Among other museum posts, she managed museum learning experiences at The American Museum of Natural History. She currently serves on the boards of the Pratt Museum, Museums Alaska and thread Alaska. Sydney Copley was hired as executive assistant to the vice president of external affairs. Copley earlier worked for the State of Alaska, where she served three administrations in the Office of the Governor. She also serves on the board of Fairbanks Montessori Preschool. Ted Mala was hired as program fellow for grantmaking. Prior to joining Rasmuson Foundation, he worked at Southcentral Foundation as special assistant to and congressional liaison for the president and CEO. Earlier, he served as senior director of business development at NANA Management Services. Twenty years ago, Mala’s first Alaska job was on the Southcentral Foundation team that helped to launch the Family Wellness Warriors Initiative to combat domestic violence, abuse and neglect. Erin Milan was hired as administrative assistant and receptionist. Milan joined the Foundation from ConocoPhillips Alaska, where she served as an executive assistant. She earned her Associate of Applied Science from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Northrim Bank announced the promotion of officers throughout the bank: Ryan Caldwell, senior vice president-Systems and Network manager; Douglas Frey, senior vice president-Security and Business Continuity manager and Information Security officer; Josh King, senior vice president-Northrim Funding Services Division manager; Nate Olmstead, senior vice president-Data Analytics manager; Erick Stoeckle, senior vice president-Enterprise Architecture manager; Craig Tiihonen, senior vice president-Treasury Services director; Susan Stenstrom, vice president-Corporate Secretary. Caldwell was hired at Northrim in 2016. He has more than 19 years of experience managing enterprise services, databases, security infrastructure, and networks along with over 16 years of IT project management and leadership experience. Caldwell holds a master’s degree in computer information systems/information assurance and has earned several relevant professional certifications. Frey joined Northrim in 2017. He has more than 35 years of law-enforcement, risk management, anti-terrorism, force-protection, and information security experience. Frey holds a bachelor’s degree in homeland security and an associate’s degree in criminal justice, and has numerous specialized training certifications in his fields of expertise. King has been with Northrim Bank since 2009. He has been the assistant division manager of Northrim Funding Services since 2014. King holds a juris doctorate of Law from Widener University and recently graduated from Pacific Coast Banking School. Olmstead came to Northrim in 2015 and was promoted to Data Analytics manager in 2016. He has more than 19 years of enterprise technical experience, to include database engineering, data warehousing, business intelligence and data management. Olmstead attended the Eastern Michigan University and earned several certifications in his fields of expertise. He received the 2018 Northrim President’s Award. Stoeckle started at Northrim in 2012. He has more than 20 years of experience supporting large enterprise networks, systems, applications, storage and security infrastructure. Stoeckle attended Brigham Young University and hold a Cisco Certified Internetwork Expert certification in addition to multiple certifications in his areas of expertise. He received the 2013 Northrim Bank President’s Award. Tiihonen joins Northrim Bank with 12 years of banking and treasury management experience. He has an associate’s degree in business management and various industry certifications. Stenstrom started at Northrim in 2008 as assistant corporate secretary and has more than 45 years of experience in the financial industry. She has held positions in regulatory compliance and examinations, insurance and related licensing, loan administration and corporate documentation at the executive level. Stenstrom received the 2013 Northrim Bank President’s Award.

Reinsurance program keeps rates down despite pandemic

Despite the economic upheaval of the last year, Alaskans on individual health insurance plan premiums got a little break this year. The state’s two remaining individual health insurance plan providers on the marketplace, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield and Moda Health, declined to significantly raise rates for 2021. While Moda’s stayed close to flat, Premera filed for a slight decrease: about 4.5 percent less on average. For a consumer on the average Bronze plan through the health insurance marketplace, that’s about $435 a month compared to $448 last year, and down about $100 a month since 2018, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. It’s hard to say what effect the COVID-19 pandemic has had exactly on insurance rates, and it’s not entirely clear what will happen in 2022 yet. Nationally, 2021 individual plans rates varied widely, though in Alaska, the premium rates were trending down even before the pandemic. That’s in part because of the state’s ongoing innovation waiver 1332 reinsurance program, which began in 2017. That reinsurance program played a major role in Moda Health’s decision to reenter the state market in 2020, said Vice President of Strategic Marketing Jason Gootee. The Oregon-based company withdrew from the state in 2016, citing difficult a financial situation in the Alaska market, but filed again to reenter the market in 2020. “I would say (the reinsurance program) was one of the driving reasons that it made sense for us to reenter,” he said. “When we left the market, we had a considerable amount of business footprint in Alaska … it was a hard decision to make to leave the individual when we did, but it was necessary due to the financial situations of that market. We were seeing double digit rate increases for consumers every year.” The reinsurance program lifts some of the burden from insurers by taking their most expensive individuals — highly expensive or catastrophic health cases — and directing their premiums to a nonprofit called the Alaska Comprehensive Insurance Association. That nonprofit then uses the broader individual market to spread out the costs for those individuals, lessening the cost to individual insurance providers. Since the program took effect, Premera Blue Cross Blue Shield, which remained the sole insurer in the marketplace from 2017-20, has lowered its premiums on the individual market for several years. The state is set to receive about $78.5 million from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to support the program, according to a March 1 announcement from the Alaska Division of Insurance. The announcement notes that about 84 percent of Alaskans on the individual market qualify for subsidies through the insurance marketplace. The reinsurance program is, however, a waiver program, riding on the federal government’s approval to continue. Gootee said it’s speculative whether Moda would remain in the marketplace should the reinsurance program be discontinued, but the company has been in the Alaska market since 2004 and would like to remain there. Since reentering, it only offers plans in the Southcentral communities of the Mat-Su, Anchorage, and Kenai Peninsula, Fairbanks, and the Ketchikan and Prince of Wales Island areas. That covers a significant part of the population, and Gootee said the company hopes to phase in other areas of Southeast in coming years, largely depending on the development of network partnerships. The COVID-19 pandemic threw a curveball into the health care industry in multiple ways, particularly in how non-emergency services were used. That was one sector of the industry that dropped, particularly after Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s emergency mandates blocking elective procedures in spring 2020 to maintain hospital capacity in the early days of the pandemic. While insurers had to tackle a variety of new procedures and considerations in light of the pandemic, costs for items like those elective procedures went down. Premera issued some ratepayer relief programs, such as waiving copays for all COVID-19-related treatments. Premera spokesman Jim Havens said the company could not comment on how the pandemic would affect its rate filings for 2022. Gootee said it was too early to say what Moda’s rates would look like, but that the company’s 2021 rates did take effects of the pandemic into account and that the 2022 rates were “looking good.” He said one thing that changed everywhere during the pandemic, including Alaska, was a significant increase in the use of telehealth, which has been identified as a less expensive alternative to providing care. “I think every carrier is taking their own different approaches to it, in terms of how you account for the pandemic,” he said. “It certainly has changed the health care world quite a bit. In some cases you saw utilization go way down and then spike right back up. In both (Alaska and Oregon), telehealth utilization just skyrocketed. It’s stayed relatively high.” Nationally, health insurance premium rates for 2021 are all over the board. Gootee noted that that may be in part because the effects of the pandemic have not been universal; some areas were hit harder than others, and insurers and state governments handled the pandemic differently. The Kaiser Family Foundation notes that insurers across the country have largely been leaving rates close to their 2020 levels, citing low medical loss ratios and profits in the last year. Insurers on the individual market in Alaska will be due to file their rates for 2022 this summer. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Effort launched to study stormwater runoff

Are toxins from road runoff a threat to salmon in Anchorage’s most popular fishing streams? A Go Fund Me campaign has been launched so Alaskans can chip in to find out. The push stems from an organic compound in tires called quinone that was newly identified by researchers at the University of Washington, said Birgit Hagedorn, a geochemist and longtime board member of the Anchorage Waterways Council. “The little flakes that rub off of tires, especially larger truck tires, can be transported into the streams via stormwater. And they leach out the compound that they discovered was highly toxic to salmon. They were specifically looking at coho salmon,” she explained. Hagedorn hopes to raise $5,500 to test the urban waters that run off the Seward and Glenn highways into Ship Creek and Campbell Creek. The Ship Creek salmon sport fishery is the region’s most popular and successful where anglers target stocked chinook and coho salmon. Other stocked coho salmon fisheries have been established in Campbell and Bird creeks, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Hagedorn already has samples of snow melt in her freezer to send to testing labs and more will be taken this summer. “During the first really big rain event, we want to go out and sample again. We provide the sampling and the labor and we don’t take some money for that,” she said. “The fundraiser is to pay for the analysis, because it’s relatively complicated. It takes up to $500 for just one sample.” Little is known about the compound that is used by tire manufacturers to make the rubber more durable. “How long does it actually last in water? What is the degradation rate? Can it be absorbed? Those are really variable research studies that could be put in place to understand this compound better,” she said. The hope is to eventually partner with the Anchorage municipality and the state university to advance further studies and encourage tire makers to stop using the toxic compound. That’s been the case in Washington state where a Better Brakes law passed in 2010 phases out copper from brakes completely by 2025 to protect salmon. California has followed suit and the program is advancing nationwide. Studies have shown that copper levels as low as two parts per billion from vehicle brake pads and exhaust impair the sense of smell in juvenile salmon, which helps them avoid predators. “If there are larger predators around and the fish are not able to respond to these danger signals in the water, they would be the next snack,” said Jason Sandahl at Oregon State University, who is one of the first to show how contaminants can disrupt the chemical balance of sea creatures. Meanwhile, studies like Hagedorn’s highlight just how little is known about impacts of compounds in a watery mix of automotive byproducts that runoff from roads into adjacent waters. “Urban runoff mortality syndrome occurs annually among adult coho salmon returning to spawn in freshwaters where concurrent stormwater exposure causes rapid mortality. It is unlikely that coho salmon are uniquely sensitive, and the toxicology of 6PPD quinone transformation products in other aquatic species should be assessed,” wrote the UW scientists in the January 2021 abstract in Science Magazine. “To know what’s out there, I think that’s an important first step.” Hagedorn said. Gulf crabbers go big Crabbers throughout the Gulf of Alaska are enjoying some great hauls, especially for Tanners and Dungeness. An 11-day winter fishery throughout Southeast Alaska produced 1.26 million pounds of Tanner crab, the fourth-largest catch in the past 15 seasons for nearly 70 permit holders. At an average price of $3.72 per pound, the fishery was valued at $4.2 million at the docks, the best since 1999. For golden king crab, four out of seven Southeast fishing districts remain open with a combined harvest limit of 76,500 pounds. Crabbers were fetching $11.33 per pound and many were selling the crab off the docks. Southeast crabbers also had their second best fishery for Dungeness. Catches for the combined 2020 summer and fall crab fisheries totaled nearly 6.7 million pounds, more than double the 10 year average, and just shy of the record 7.3 million pounds taken in 2002. The price to fishermen was disappointing, averaging $1.72 per pound, down by more than a dollar making the dockside value more than $11.5 million. Kodiak is gearing up for a Dungeness crab fishery that begins on May 1 and will last into the fall. Last season produced the biggest catch in 30 years at just less than 3 million pounds for a fleet of 29 boats. Prices for the two-pounders dropped to $1.85, down from more than $3 in previous seasons. The higher catches were due in part to “more horsepower on the grounds” as opposed to a higher abundance of crab, said Nat Nichols, area manager for the ADFG at Kodiak. The stocks are very cyclical and could be the tail end of a peak. “We’ve got 50 to 60 years of history to look at and in the past these peaks have lasted three years of so and then we kind of go down until we get another big group of crab coming through. So this could be that we’re coming to the end of this peak. This summer will tell the tale,” he said. After sitting out a Tanner fishery this year, crabbers at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula have fingers crossed for an opener in 2022. Surveys over several years showed the largest cohort of Tanner crabs ever seen is poised to grow into the fishery throughout the westward region. “There’s been a good recruitment signal all the way out. And they seem to be growing well,” Nichols said, adding that Tanners at the South Peninsula near Sand Point and King Cove usually lag about one year behind. He agreed that fewer cod fish throughout the Gulf could account for the steady uptick in Tanners. “There’s just a lot fewer mouths out there trying to eat Tanner crab right now,” he said. Seaweed stops gas For several years, studies in Australia and Canada have proven that small amounts of red seaweed added to livestock feed greatly reduces methane from the gas they pass in burps and farts. Cow burps alone account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA, and the U.S. is only the world’s fourth-largest producer of cattle, behind China, Brazil, and India. Now researchers at University of California Davis have revealed that cattle eating just three ounces of red seaweed daily over five months gained as much weight as their herd mates while burping out 82 percent less methane into the atmosphere. The seaweed additive also did not hurt the cattle’s growth or change the taste of beef. The UC Davis studies followed earlier research on dairy cows where daily seaweed dosages were used from the time they were calves until full grown. Methane emissions dropped by 50 percent and the longer term use did not change the taste of the cows’ milk. All researchers used a red seaweed found in warmer waters throughout the Pacific called Asparagopsis toxiformis. It’s one of the most popular seaweed ingredients in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. But the supply from wild harvests is not enough to go around. To the rescue: startups already are underway to produce it. SeafoodSource reports that Sweden’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology has partnered with Yale University to cultivate the seaweed in land-based tanks with intentions of providing it to livestock farmers around the world. An Australian project called Greener Grazing is the first to develop methods to produce Asparagosis spores for ocean cultivation. And last year a dried product called FutureFeed created at James Cook University in partnership with Meat and Livestock Australia won a Food Planet Prize of $1 million. Doses of just 1 to 2 percent of their dried seaweed reduced methane emissions in cud-chewing livestock by 99 percent. The makers claim that if just 10 percent of global livestock producers added 1 percent of Asparagopsis seaweed meal to the daily feeds of cud-chewing livestock, it would be similar to taking 100 million cars off the road. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

GUEST COMMENTARY: A slap in the face to Alaska Native Vietnam veterans

They have waited long enough — and they are dying. It is no secret that throughout Alaska’s history, the federal government has gone to great lengths to lock up huge swathes of Alaska land. In a deeply troubling move April 16, the Biden administration announced under Public Land Order 7899, that it has delayed a program that gives qualified Alaska Native Vietnam veterans the opportunity to select a plot of federal land in Alaska. After a 50-year wait, these lands were supposed to be released in February of this year, only to be delayed another two years. A brief history Under the Alaska Native Allotment Act of 1906, land transfers between 2.5 and 160 acres of “vacant, unappropriated, and unreserved non-mineral” land was first authorized for individual Alaska Natives who could prove “continuous use and occupancy” of the land for five years. The program existed for 65 years before it was repealed in 1971 with the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. ANCSA granted large land allotments to newly formed Native Corporations who then assumed the responsibility of granting land allocations to their individual members as the organizations saw fit. It would take another ten years to settle all the pending land claims made prior to ANCSA, but the federal application period for individual Alaska Natives to apply ended in December 1971 with ANCSA’s passage. How does this affect Alaska Native Veterans? During the Vietnam War, 2,800 Alaska Natives served in the military, that’s a higher rate per capita than any other group. Because the conflict did not end until 1973, both voluntary and conscripted service members were unable to apply for land before the deadline. After years of advocacy, these Alaska Native Veterans were finally given that opportunity once again under the 1998 Alaska Native Vietnam Veterans Allotment Act, which authorized a new 18-month filing period for qualifying Alaska Native Veterans to apply for up to 160 acres of Alaska land. But 20 more years of delay ensued. Eligible veterans began passing away. In response, the Alaska congressional delegation worked to include within the President Trump-signed John D. Dingell Jr. Act of 2019 provisions to extend eligibility to qualified veterans and their heirs. These provisions also removed a five-year occupancy requirement, freeing applicants to apply for available lands anywhere in the state. These lands all over the state would have been made available for selection on Feb. 19, just a few months shy of 50 years after the passage of ANCSA, which initially closed the application period. But, once again, the service of these men and women is being “rewarded” by the Biden administration with an additional two-year halt to the program. A trail of broken promises Alaska has contributed more than 60 percent of its lands to the federal government for conservation purposes. And yet, after 60 years, the federal government continues to break the promises it made to Alaskans in exchange for that land. The Biden administration reneging the commitment of past administrations to Alaska Native Veterans is just the most recent instance in a long history of broken promises, and at the worst possible time with record unemployment, a state budget crisis, and a global pandemic. As a veteran, I deeply appreciate the sacrifices and dedication required to serve our nation, all the more present in those who served during the Vietnam Era. The continued disrespect that is being shown to those who served honorably makes my heart ache. How is it fair to now tell these Alaskan Native Veterans to pound sand after decades of waiting? Why must they pay for someone else’s campaign promises? As Alaskans and Americans, we owe these veterans far more than a debt of gratitude for the blood, sweat and tears they’ve given to this country. We owe them the land that was promised. And while we may not be able to turn back the clock and make these veterans whole, in the immortal words of Dr. King, “the time is always right to do what’s right.” Do what is right, Mr. President. Josh Revak is a state senator from Anchorage and Click Bishop is a state senator from Fairbanks.

GUEST COMMENTARY: The pro-jobs climate plan America needs

America stands at a strategic crossroads. We could enact the Biden administration’s climate change policies that would shut down whole industries, provide pink slips to millions of American workers during a pandemic with no alternatives in the near term, drastically raise prices on American families, undermine economic growth, decrease energy reliability, diminish our national security and do little or nothing to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions. Or we could pursue a worker-oriented energy and climate strategy that would empower American ingenuity, expand good-paying jobs, including union jobs, in all of the critical energy sectors of the U.S. economy — hydrocarbons, renewables, mining, nuclear — make energy more reliable and affordable for consumers, boost our economic and national security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions at home and abroad. Let me highlight a few areas of this better, worker-oriented energy and climate plan that we will unveil in the next few weeks. First, we need to continue to fully develop our existing lower-emissions resources, like natural gas, at home and export them abroad. Between 2005 and 2019, largely because of the expansion of U.S. natural gas and the dramatic increase in its use in our electric grid, U.S. carbon dioxide emissions from the power sector declined by 33 percent. During this same period, our economy grew by 20 percent, energy consumption fell by 2 percent, and per capita emissions dropped to their lowest levels since 1950. In fact, in 2013, President Barack Obama was touting the benefits of natural gas. “We produce more natural gas than ever before — and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it,” he said. “The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.” He’s right. Unfortunately, John Kerry and President Joe Biden’s other advisers want to restrict natural gas production and fire the tens of thousands of hardworking Americans in the sector at a time when there are no employment substitutes. This makes no strategic sense. Not only should we be increasing the use of natural gas here at home, we should also be exporting it — in the form of liquefied natural gas, or LNG — to countries that lack our reserves of this cleaner burning fuel source. The world is craving gas. The market in the Asia-Pacific is particularly strong and exporting to some of these countries — Japan, Korea, Taiwan, India and even China — would be a win-win-win. It would continue to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs for American workers, deepen our country’s security ties with Japan, Korea and Taiwan and increase our advantages over China. Importantly, it would also dramatically decrease global emissions, as U.S. LNG could displace Chinese and Indian coal and cut emissions in half. Second, to support the renewable energy industry, we need to build out our renewable energy and manufacturing sectors. Together with our allies, we can grow these sectors using environmental and labor standards that are second to none, paying our workers prevailing wages and no longer empowering countries, like China, that actually use forced labor to make renewable energy technology, like solar panels, that the United States imports. For instance, critical minerals are vital to many alternative energy and transportation technologies, like batteries and solar panels. The problem? China controls nearly 80 percent of these resources. As it stands, every battery produced for electric cars and every house that we equip with solar panels invariably strengthens China and massively increases our trade deficit with them. And because China and other countries have some of the world’s worst environmental standards, this mineral production could actually increase global CO2 emissions. We have many of the natural resources necessary to produce our own alternative energy technologies, but we lack the industry to produce and refine these products. Further, manufacturing and production are held back by a protracted and inefficient federal permitting system. Domestic development of our natural resources and infrastructure projects can take 10 years or more, resulting in reduced investment. By incentivizing the production and refining of domestic minerals, and streamlining our permitting process, the U.S. can become a dominant player in the renewable energy market, limit the hold our geopolitical foes have on supply chains, empower the American worker and reduce emissions. We also need to support U.S. innovation for battery storage technology, develop substitutes for certain scarce critical minerals, bolster microgrids for rural electrification, advance small nuclear reactors and support carbon capture technology efforts, among other innovations. Some of those elements are already at hand. I’ve introduced the Rebuild America Now Act to ensure our permitting process does not unnecessarily delay projects and give competitors like China huge strategic advantages. The USE IT Act, passed last Congress, would reduce barriers for the development of projects and support carbon capture and direct air capture research. We can also provide stable private sector incentives, invest more in the Department of Energy and our national lab infrastructure, and offer additional incentives to encourage research and development that will advance our energy technology into the next age. Finally, we cannot enact policies that put thousands of Americans out of work during a recession, as the Biden administration continues to do. Biden’s energy plan promises “a clean energy revolution that creates millions of unionized, middle-class jobs.” While this sounds great, it’s just not true. The average annual pay for workers in the oil and gas industry is significantly higher than those working on alternative energy. If we want the energy transition to build up the middle class and not leave skilled workers behind, we must pursue policies that build on and expand job opportunities in all sectors of the U.S. economy: oil and gas, nuclear, wind and solar, and mining. Our energy resources provide America with an incredible strategic advantage. Through innovation and the strength of our workers, the United States has once again become the world’s No. 1 producer of oil, natural gas and renewables in the world. We can, and we should, use these resources as a bridge to the technologies that will create a cleaner energy future, not unilaterally restrict production of American energy and hand workers in these critical sectors pink slips, as the Biden administration is now doing. We can begin that work now by continuing to lead on energy production and lowering emissions, strengthening our economy and our national security, and ensuring that hardworking Americans are not being forced to sacrifice their livelihoods. Dan Sullivan is the junior Republican senator from Alaska.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Reflecting on 45 years of the Permanent Fund

As we observe the anniversary of the creation of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. this month, it is noteworthy to laud the vision and leadership of the past, and imperative in my opinion to look forward: to bring that same extraordinary vision, leadership, and forethought to the now, the near, and the far. Now, today, Alaska is the only state that earns the majority of its unrestricted general fund revenues from the global economy. No longer a “rainy day account,” the Permanent Fund now provides more than two-thirds of the state’s annual revenue; money that pays for education, public safety, clean water and other essential services. Properly protected and managed, the Alaska Permanent Fund can continue to support the state. First and foremost, as Alaskans, we must recognize our reliance on the Fund’s earnings. In many ways, the Permanent Fund has now been “activated” to provide revenue given state savings accounts are depleted, oil revenues alone are insufficient, and there isn’t a general statewide tax base. The percent of market value draw from the Fund provides a reliable and stable source of state revenue and ensures that no more than a sustainable amount is taken from the Fund so it can offer benefits to the far, the future generations of Alaskans, as envisioned by voters 45 years ago. The challenge lies in the near, maintaining the discipline necessary to not overspend from the Fund while the policy debate about Alaska’s fiscal future is resolved, all the while continuing to support the entity that is tasked with managing these assets in an uncertain time. The Fund cannot grow by itself. The Legislature created APFC in 1980 as a quasi-independent state entity tasked with the important mission of prudently investing and managing the assets of the Fund. It has been my pleasure to be part of this group of 50-plus professionals for the past six years. Under the guidance of the Board of Trustees, these highly-skilled, forward-thinking, service-oriented individuals have contributed to the Fund’s governance, performance, transparency and growth, now valued at more than $76.3 billion. Innovation and courage have been the definitive words over the past year as the APFC staff were able to invest, trade, account for and communicate virtually instantaneously from remote locations at the onset of the pandemic. As one of the largest market collapses in history was occurring and the world hunkered down in isolation, staff had the courage to look forward and recognize that the Fund could prosper, as they identified and capitalized on opportunities around the world. This courage and willingness to think past the now to the far is highlighted in the results; the Fund recovered from a low of $58.7 billion on March 16, 2020, to $76.3 billion on March 31. This past year has taught us that change is powerful and brings new insights, opportunities, and connectivity. Our world has become more dynamic, more resilient, more inventive, as has our work environment. Platforms once judiciously applied are now accessible and acceptable, propelling us all to lean in to the possibilities. Alaskans made extraordinary policy decisions in creating the Fund and establishing an investment corporation to generate wealth. They then let it grow and prosper for 40-plus years into a resource that we depend on today and one future Alaskans can count on tomorrow. It is now time for us to envision what we want for our state, our communities, our children, our grandchildren, and their children, all generations of Alaskans. The legacy that we have in the Alaska Permanent Fund was once just that: a vision. Each of us can ensure that legacy continues for another 45 years and beyond. Angela M. Rodell serves as the CEO of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp.

School of Nursing keeping up amid COVID-19

Last spring, the University of Alaska’s School of Nursing moved quickly to get its 2020 graduates out the door and working on the frontlines as the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated. This year, it took equally quick steps to make sure its continuing students got their chance at clinicals and other hallmarks of nursing school, even in the middle of a pandemic, so the pipeline of new nurses wouldn’t be cut off. That proved extra challenging as the health care industry buckled in for one of its toughest years in recent memory. But the school is still planning to graduate its class of 2021 with full credentials, with no notable drop in enrollment. School of Nursing director Carla Hagen, who took over in October last year, said there was a slight delay in admissions, but no overall effect on the student population in the college. “If anything, and I don’t believe this is a change, we have more applicants than the (space) to educate,” she said. The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in the Lower 48 before it did in Alaska, but the state was on edge preparing for it in February and March. In mid-March, amid the early concern about the spread of COVID-19 and hospital capacity, the nurses working in the clinical settings around Anchorage were withdrawn and transitioned to other learning methods. That group already had about half their clinical hours, and were able to graduate with few concerns. “And we’ve lived in Zoomville since that time,” she said. It presented an issue for the next group of students, who didn’t have access to the normal clinics to do their in-person work. Instead, with classes directed virtually, the students were directed to simulations, which Hagen said have improved a lot over the years. While having students back in person and in clinics would be ideal, guidance related to the safe reopening of colleges and a desire to preserve personal protective equipment for frontline medical workers drove decisions to continue with the virtual options, she said. Nurses work in clinical settings in a variety of specialties, including medical/surgical, obstetrics, and psychiatric. While many of the specialty settings were not available this year, the college was able to reintroduce students to the medical/surgical environment in the fall, and all students were able to go back into acute care environments in the spring, Hagen said. As of the spring, no cohort of students has had to go with entirely virtual experiences. However, the virtual simulations offered some benefits. For one, there’s no assurance that a nurse on duty in the ER may come across an acute case; virtual simulations can assure they’ve had some exposure to those situations, Hagen said. “Even in a hospital setting, there’s no guarantee they’ll be there when the person has the heart attack or the subdural hemorrhage,” she said. The School of Nursing also operates outreach sites across the state, including in sites like Kodiak and Bethel. Those sites also can benefit from the simulations, as they have smaller hospitals and may not have exposure to every kind of case, she said. In the future, UAA will likely continue down the path of incorporating virtual learning into its education. However, the simulated learning can’t replace everything, she said. “Would we like them to be there? Of course,” she said. “There’s something about nursing and communication. It’s an art and a science.” The School of Nursing made other changes to its curriculum this year, too, separate from the pandemic. The course of education, still the same number of credits, is now whittled down to four semesters rather than five, and a number of curriculum changes have gone into place. There continues to be interest in the program, and its reported employment rate after graduation is high. According to its report to the state Board of Nursing in October 2020, more than 80 percent of students in the associates and bachelor of science programs pass the nursing exam on their first attempts, and 79 percent of graduates from the bachelor’s and graduate programs found jobs within three months. Within six months, 94 percent were employed. Hagen said Alaska is facing one of the worst nursing workforce shortages in the country over the next few decades, and training the state’s own is important to mitigating that. However, the size of the college is capped, in part due to a lack of availability of faculty. Attracting qualified nursing education faculty is a challenge, in part because the pay for practicing nurses is better than for nursing educators, she said. The University of Alaska is also facing increasing budget pressure as the state tries to reduce its spending to address a chronic budget shortfalls. Hagen said she didn’t know exactly how the budget cuts being discussed in Juneau would affect the School of Nursing specifically, and while she said she wasn’t concerned about closure, the cuts had affected the college in the past. “I’m anxious to see the resources to support the programs we need,” she said. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Pages

Subscribe to Alaska Journal RSS