OPINION: Don’t know much about history

Keeping up with all the Historic FirstsTM at the White House is obviously a difficult task for the press corps, so perhaps they should be forgiven for missing a couple during the daily briefings with Circle Back Girl Jen Psaki. Eschewing a question about COVID-19, the Middle East, the Southern border, China, or literally anything else that would be more relevant, one member who should turn in his press pass offered what may be the most historically awful inquiry to Biden’s spokesperson: “We were promised a cat. What happened to that?” We’ve certainly come a long way from CNN’s Jim Acosta wrestling with a press aide over a microphone while trying to get an extra two-minute harangue in at President Trump. The 24-minute news cycle media has occasionally been compared to a cat chasing a laser pointer, but who knew they would eventually ask when they are getting a little brother or sister. This is the press corps that tongue bathes the administration daily, yet President Biden’s staff still doesn’t trust him to stand in front of them for a traditional briefing for what has now been a historic amount of time since his first day in office. Forget about an address to a joint session of Congress. COVID, ya know. Once upon a time, who answers the hypothetical 3 a.m. phone call was an issue the press cared about, but now we are treated to stories that incuriously report on his early bedtime. Biden is the oldest president ever elected — another Historic FirstTM! — but after Presidents Woodrow Wilson and FDR he is certainly not the first Democrat whose health issues have been covered up and covered for by the reporters who are closest to the White House. With each day and with every confused grimace or “gaffe,” Biden looks more likely to be the Historic FirstTM president to be removed from office via the 25th Amendment due to his mental decline that is obvious to anyone outside the White House Pet Beat. But hey, that only paves the way for yet another Historic FirstTM for the Dead Last Democrat Primary Candidate Kamala Harris to ascend to the office. Historic FirstsTM are a big deal to Alaska’s senior U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who decided New Mexico Rep. Deb Haaland’s status as a Native American is more important than Haaland’s opposition to Alaska having an economy. “So, I have really struggled through this one,” Murkowski said while announcing her tie-breaking vote to advance the anti-oil Interior Secretary nominee out of the Senate Energy and Resources Committee. “How to reconcile a historic nomination with my concerns about an individual’s and an administration’s conception of what Alaska’s future should be.” In the end, Murkowski came down on the side of identity politics and not what’s best for the state she represents. To vote for Haaland based on her Historic FirstTM status rather than her history of opposing everything oil and the looming deleterious effects her policies will bring to Alaska is unfortunately no surprise. For as obviously competent as she is, Murkowski’s pattern of being swayed by emotion is baffling whether it is preserving Obamacare, opposing Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh or impeaching Donald Trump. At least she is also consistent on her Mean Tweets policy after helping sink Office of Management and Budget nominee Neera Tanden. Never mind that Tanden should have been rejected on general principles for being a radical leftist. We just can’t have any more Mean Tweeters. Murkowski’s voting standard apparently goes something like this: Mean Tweets > Identity > What’s Best for Alaska. Oh well. The Alaskans put out of work by Haaland’s policies thanks in part to Murkowski’s support will have plenty of free time to watch some new cat videos. Andrew Jensen can be reached at [email protected]

Supreme Court to expedite case over appointments

The Alaska Supreme Court has agreed to hear arguments in the Legislature’s lawsuit against Gov. Mike Dunleavy over his political appointments seemingly in time to rule on the case before lawmakers are required to adjourn this year. The court granted in-part the Dunleavy administration’s request for an expedited appeal schedule in an order dated March 2, which lays out a briefing schedule through March leading up to oral arguments on April 6. State Department of Law attorneys asked in a Feb. 23 motion for the Supreme Court to hold oral arguments “on or about” April 2 and to issue a decision by April 12 to avoid a repeat of last year, noting the Legislature is directed by statute to adjourn April 18 after 90 days. However, the body routinely takes its constitutionally allotted time of 121 days, which is May 19 this year. Lawmakers quickly passed a budget and recessed late last March as the pandemic reached Alaska without holding a joint House-Senate floor session to vote on Dunleavy’s appointees. Attorneys for the Legislature argued in response that the expedited appeal is unnecessary given the governor took the step of reappointing all of his unconfirmed appointees in question earlier this session, meaning lawmakers can vote on them along with the rest of his subsequent appointments made so far this year. If for some reason the Legislature were to again adjourn without a joint session, approximately 181 appointees, including members of Dunleavy’s cabinet, “will be unceremoniously removed from office,” the administration’s motion states. Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said in a March 5 press briefing that he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit but he generally expects the appointment process to be more normal this year with committee hearings to vet appointees prior to a lengthy joint floor session shortly before lawmakers gavel out. “We’re hoping to work together (with the House) to get those people confirmed or not, depending on who they are, and not have a disruption in service,” Micciche said. The one likely caveat to a normal process is COVID-19-related; legislative leaders and staff are working to find a larger venue in Juneau to hold the joint session with 60 lawmakers plus support staff, according to Micciche. “We’re not sure what that looks like yet,” he said, adding, “The Senate’s going to get its work done one way or another.” Among the many appointees left in limbo were acting Revenue Commissioner Lucinda Mahoney and Dunleavy’s nominees to the Board of Fisheries, which are nearly always among the most controversial of a governor’s appointments. Dunleavy spokesman Corey Young wrote via email that while the governor took the step of reappointing the individuals in-question earlier this year he maintains his actions last year were legal. The Legislature’s lawsuit against Dunleavy ultimately stems from a disagreement over whether his appointees the Legislature did not vote on last year could still serve on the dozens of boards and commissions across the state and hold positions within the administration. While lawmakers did not hold a joint confirmation session in 2020, they did pass a laws extending the validity of the appointments either to the start of the current session or 30 days after the first public health emergency declaration expired, which occurred on Nov. 15. In mid-December Dunleavy wrote to House and Senate leaders that he was exercising his authority under the Alaska Constitution to continue the appointments while the Legislature was adjourned. That spurred the joint Legislative Council to approve a lawsuit on the grounds that Dunleavy was overstepping his authority shortly before Christmas. Juneau Superior Court Judge Philip Pallenberg granted the Legislature’s motion for summary judgment in the suit Feb. 18, concluding that the statutes passed early in 2020 meant, “the appointments in question were rejected as of Dec. 15, 2020” and the governor’s attempt to reappoint them the next day was prohibited by statute as well. The lawsuit is the Legislature’s second against Dunleavy. Lawmakers sued the governor in 2019 in a battle over education funding that the administration ultimately lost. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Movers and Shakers for March 14

The Mat-Su Health Foundation hired Evie Shields as assistant controller. With nearly 27 years in her field, she most recently worked at the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium where she spent more than 10 years as both the accounting manager and operations manager. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a specialization in accounting with a minor in mathematics from Wayland Baptist University in Anchorage. Vandana Ingle was promoted to senior program officer. Ingle oversees the foundation’s Healthy Futures focus area, leading workforce development efforts to ensure that Mat-Su residents are served by a trained and qualified healthcare workforce. She also manages the foundation’s academic and vocational scholarship programs. Ingle was hired by the foundation in 2016 as a program associate and promoted to program officer in 2018. Prior to joining the MSHF team, she served as director of development and communication at Frontline Mission. Ingle earned a master’s degree in communications media for children from SNDT College, India, a bachelor’s degree in ministry from Nazarene Bible College in Colorado Springs, and a bachelor’s degree in commerce/banking and finance from the University of Poona, India. Southern Glazer’s Wine &Spirits announced it has appointed Christina Reed to the role of vice president and general manager of Alaska, effective immediately. Reed will be responsible for leading all sales activities for Alaska, including formulating overall strategy, managing and developing people, and establishing policies for the market. During her career with the Odom Corp. and Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits, Reed has held multiple positions of increasing responsibility, beginning as a sales representative in 2005, becoming a district sales manager for the Northwest Division in 2014, and most recently, leading the Northwest Division as the general sales manager. Prior to her time at Southern Glazer’s, Reed worked at Alaska Distributors, where she got her start as a courier and worked her way up to positions in merchandising and sales. Matanuska Telephone Association was recognized with two Excellence Awards from NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association, a national organization representing nearly 850 independent, community-based telecommunications companies that are leading innovation in rural and small-town America. CEO Michael Burke received the Management Innovation Award for his leadership in developing MTA into a modern telecommunications company and his work to support the creation of the FCC’s Alaska Plan. Vice President of Marketing Jonathan Babbitt received the Outstanding Marketing Achievement Award for his proactive work to help customers understand streaming services and retain former television subscribers.

FISH FACTOR: More surveys out seeking COVID-19 impacts

It’s likely that no other fishing regions of the world reach out for stakeholder input as much as Alaska does to gather policy-shaping ground truth by state and federal managers and organizations. That’s demonstrated by two new surveys: one which aims to quantify how much Alaska fishermen and processors paid out over the past year to lessen COVID-19 impacts and how much relief they got from government programs; the other to learn what technology needs are tops with harvesters. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is collecting information not available elsewhere on the pandemic impacts. Processors are being asked about financial losses due to COVID-19 mitigation efforts, plant closures and employment changes, as well as their expectations for costs and employment levels in 2021, explained Jenna Dickinson, a consultant with the McKinley Research Group who is working with ASMI on the project. Processor costs include but are not limited to charter flights and hotel put-ups for worker quarantines, plant modifications, medical and testing supplies and related services. Many fishermen also paid for similar coverages for their crews. “We are similarly asking permit holders about the financial impacts of the pandemic, their hiring levels in 2020 compared to 2019 (pre- COVID-19), their estimates for anticipated costs in 2021, and whether the pandemic has caused them to sell or buy permits, boats or other assets, reduce crew, stop fishing entirely or make other changes to their fishing operations,” she explained. Both processors and fishermen also are being asked whether COVID-19 relief payments covered their 2020 losses, Dickinson added. Data from the surveys, which will be revealed by early May, will be used to provide policy makers and other stakeholders a clear picture of the condition of the industry one year into the pandemic. The surveys are open through March 18. Find both at www.alaskaseafood.org under Announcements. Also, as part of ASMI’s ongoing work with McKinley to understand and report on COVID-19 impacts on Alaska’s seafood industry, a series of briefing papers is available at the ASMI website. The January brief, for example, describes COVID-19 impacts to global freight costs, how a surplus of frozen farmed salmon causes uncertainty for wild salmon markets, and anticipated hits to tax revenues for coastal communities in 2021. Questions? Contact Ashley Heimbigner at [email protected] or Jenna Dickinson at [email protected] Top tech needs Another survey by Seafood Harvesters of America asks U.S. fishermen to help identify technology priorities that can be scaled up to benefit all users. “This survey rose out of the recognition that the fishing industry needs a lot of advancements in the technology department,” said SHA Executive Director Leigh Habegger. “A lot of times we see vessels using technology that’s 10 to 15 years old and they haven’t really caught up with all the advances. Another part of this is that it’s not always clear how technology can be applied to fishing vessels as they are very unique platforms,” “There’s so much automation going on in terms of sensors that are uploading automatically to the cloud, and data centers in general are getting a lot more sophisticated and better able to predict where fish are to reduce bycatch, fish more efficiently and treat our product better. These are all things that are very possible with the current technology that’s out there,” agreed Edward Poulson, SHA vice-president and a spokesman for Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “But being in the fishing industry, we’re pretty conservative. We know what works and we’re not super excited about trying things that we don’t know. That kind of keeps us more firmly footed in the 20th century instead of the 21st century.” “A lot of the technology innovations in terms of deck machinery, sorting tables, launchers, coiling machines, those are all things that were developed in the ‘70s and we’re still using that stuff,” Poulson added. “There’s been very little in terms of change but I think there are a lot more opportunities. Broadly scaling tech advances also is a big challenge to make them cost effective for developers, Poulson said, and something designed for a specific problem or region can mean the user group is too small. “If a tech company is designing something that is only going to be used for something difficult to build like an automated pot hauler, that’s super expensive and really hard to scale. You’re not going to have the market opportunity to amortize that over a lot of boats to build a big profit potential for a technology company,” he explained. “However, if you can show that there’s a lot of other fishing vessels in the U.S. that have some similar sort of a need, then all of a sudden technology companies have a lot larger interest.” “We have fishing groups as members all over the country so we can start to identify patterns,” Habegger added. “Maybe folks who are using fixed gear pots in New England might have some similarities with the Dungeness crab fishery on the West Coast. And there may be a solution to address whale entanglements across both of these fisheries versus trying to do this piecemeal.” The short survey includes tech advancements in four areas: sustainability, such as bycatch reduction and gear selectivity; safety; productivity, such as robotics and hybrid engines; and data usages and platforms. SHA hopes to gather responses by the end of May. A priority list and a report will follow along with plans to bring fishermen, tech developers and fishery managers together this fall to move conversations forward. Find the Fisheries Technology Survey at www.seafoodharvesters.org/our-work/ Fishy appointee Another of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s fishery appointments has raised eyebrows among stakeholders. Melvin Smith, an Anchorage real estate executive formerly with the Aleut Corp., will take a lead seat at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, which regulates fishing permits and vessel licenses across Alaska. The job comes with a six-figure salary. The appointment was not announced nor advertised. Coast Alaska reported that Smith’s name surfaced when it was sent to the state Senate for consideration by lawmakers. Dunleavy “believes he’s the best candidate,” spokesman Jeff Turner told Coast Alaska. Fisherman and former lobbyist Bob Thorstensen added it’s customary for someone close or loyal to the governor to be tapped for commissioner jobs. “Whoever gets that job is usually a pretty good friend of the governor’s people because it’s a choice job,” he said. The CFEC’s next big task is to determine the right number of permits in various limited entry fisheries, which was originally based on historical participation and may not be the optimum number for a fishery or region. Community grants American Seafoods is calling for grant applicants from Kodiak Island, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands and Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, the Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of each grant award will range from $1,000 to $7,500 for projects addressing food security and community social needs. Recipients will be selected by an advisory board on April 28. The deadline to submit applications is April 12. Fill out an application here or contact Kim Lynch [email protected]; 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Copper River forecast still off from historical returns

State research biologists expect the famed Copper River salmon fishery to rebound from what was nearly a lost season in 2020, but runs for the river’s high-value species are still expected to fall well short of historical averages. Just more than 1.3 million sockeye are projected to return to the Copper River this year for a corresponding allowable commercial harvest of 672,000 fish, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2021 Prince William Sound and Copper River Salmon Forecast. The 2021 return of Copper River king salmon — some of the most sought-after salmon on the planet — is pegged at 37,000 fish, which is the midpoint in a run forecast range of 22,000 to 53,000 kings. If accurate, the 37,000-fish estimate would provide for an available harvest of 13,000 kings by all user groups. The 10-year average king return to the Copper is approximately 48,000 fish and the forecasted total allowable harvest of 13,000 kings for 2021 matches the average commercial catch over the past decade, according to ADFG records. The forecast for wild sockeye, which make up the bulk of the Copper River run, is 37 percent less than the recent average of nearly 2.1 million wild fish and just 51,000 sockeye are projected to return to the Gulkana Hatchery; that’s 81 percent less than the 10-year average. Additionally, the allowable commercial harvest of 672,000 sockeye based on those returns is 46 percent less than the recent average harvest of more than 1.2 million Copper River sockeye. Copper River king and sockeye salmon are particularly valued for their high fat content and because the fishery that starts in May is among the first to offer large volumes of fresh salmon each year. The subpar preseason projections follow what was a dismal 2020 Copper River commercial salmon fishery. Poor catches during the initial May openers forced managers to close fishing for much of June when the largest pulses of sockeye typically enter the river. The 2020 Copper River commercial season ended with a harvest of 98,294 sockeye and 5,850 kings. Coho made up the majority of the 269,966-all salmon harvest in the district last year. The extremely poor overall return of roughly 630,000 sockeye — ADFG commercial harvest plus in-river figures — to the Copper River last year is weighing on the expectations for this year. According to the forecast report, the wild sockeye run estimate is largely based on the number of sockeye that returned in prior years but are from the same brood years as the majority of the fish returning this year. Predictions for the youngest sockeye that spend either one year rearing in freshwater and one at sea or those that spend minimal time in freshwater and three years in the salt water are based on the mean returns for those age classes during the last five years. However, a very poor 2018 sockeye run that finished with a commercial harvest of just 44,400 fish and an in-river count of 701,577 did not correlate to a weak return the following year. Nearly 1.3 million sockeye were harvested in the Copper River district in 2019, part of a total run of roughly 2.3 million fish. The 2021 Copper River king forecast is primarily based on spawner-recruitment trends for the Copper River system since 1999, according to the report. While the forecast for the 2021 Copper River salmon season is somewhat dim, it is not expected to translate to the adjacent Prince William Sound fisheries. Coghill Lake in western Prince William Sound is expected to see 282,000 sockeye, which would be 45 percent greater than the 10-year average of 194,000 fish. A return of that size would also allow for an all-user harvest of 252,000 sockeye using an escapement target of 30,000 fish. ADFG biologists also expect it will be a particularly strong year for wild pink salmon runs in the sound. Odd-numbered year pink runs are typically much larger in Prince William Sound for the species with a very strict two-year life cycle and this year nearly 19.2 million wild pink salmon are forecasted to return to river systems across the sound, which would be 27 percent greater than the recent odd-year average of about 15 million wild pinks. Nearly 12 million wild pink salmon have been harvested sound wide on average during the last 10 odd years, according to ADFG data. Despite the strong official forecast figures, the report notes that there is “considerable uncertainty” as to the spawning success of wild Prince William Sound pinks in 2019 due to the extreme drought conditions across much of southern Alaska that year, which would directly impact this year’s return. “Pre-spawn mortality, lack of water in spawning streams, and high water temperatures were observed in 2019. This forecast does not integrate environmental indices or other indicators of spawning success and the 2021 prediction takes no account of the anomalous conditions observed during the parent year,” the report states. Many millions of hatchery-reared pinks also return to Prince William Sound during odd years as well. Lower Cook Inlet On the other side of the Kenai Peninsula, ADFG researchers are predicting a commercial harvest of just more than 2.1 million salmon across all species in lower Cook Inlet waters this year. The 2021 commercial harvest would be below the 2.5 million salmon harvested last year and the roughly 2.4 taken in 2019, but does not account for nearly 1 million combined hatchery sockeye and pink salmon expected to be harvested for cost-recovery purposes. The vast majority of salmon harvested in lower Cook Inlet are pink salmon — pinks comprise 1.8 million of the 2.1 million-fish common commercial harvest projection — in contrast to upper Cook Inlet fisheries that predominantly target sockeye. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Board of Fisheries reverses decision to double up meetings

After the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the normal Board of Fisheries meetings, the members were left with a choice: delay all meetings by a year, or double up in the next cycle and try to catch up? On March 8, the board decided to reverse an earlier decision and postpone its meetings scheduled for the 2021-22 cycle to the following year, and conduct the meetings moved back from 2020 to its 2021-22 meeting slots. That means the normal interval between meetings will be delayed by an extra year, but it avoids the board members, staff, and members of the public from having to jam two cycles into the space of one. Now, the Southeast and Yakutat finfish and shellfish meeting, the Prince William Sound/Upper Copper and Upper Susitna Rivers finfish and shellfish meeting, and statewide shellfish meetings will be held in early 2022. That gives the board and staff enough time to put out a call for proposals and plan to hold meetings in person. Regular Board of Fisheries meetings are busy, often-crowded affairs. Stakeholders come from all over an affected region and participate in committee meetings, talk personally with the board members on breaks, and work in private groups on proposals during the meeting days. In the larger regions, like Cook Inlet and Southeast, the meetings can stretch up to two weeks at a time, with meetings running all day. In the fall, the board members opted not to hold this year’s meetings via teleconference or with limited attendance because of issues with equitable access. But in January, to avoid a yearlong delay, the board members voted to hold two meetings at once. During a meeting March 8, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang emphasized that the department does not have the money to do that. Estimates place the cost to do that at about $500,000, he said. The governor has not proposed extra money in the ADFG budget for that purpose. “It is not my intent to rob Peter to pay Paul to double up on meetings,” he said. “From the chair I’m sitting in, I’ve heard a lot of consternation and potential concern about doubling up on meetings next year.” Many of the public comments raised concerns about the plan. A number of fisheries trade groups, including the United Fishermen of Alaska, Kodiak Seiners Association, Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association and North Pacific Fisheries Association, wrote to ask the board to delay the next meeting cycle by a year rather than double up. Multiple commenters said they thought the doubling up would leave the ADFG staff and citizen Advisory Committees without enough time to evaluate and comment on the proposals within the cycle. Several processors also opposed the move to stack meetings, including OBI, Icicle, Silver Bay Seafoods, and the Pacific Seafoods Processors Association. They cited similar concerns as the fishermen, including a lack of time for public process and the additional funding for ADFG. “With stakeholder input unnecessarily compromised and ADFG limited in its ability to present data, Alaskans would be left without the regulatory system that traditionally based decisions on broad public input and the best available science,” wrote Abby Frederick, Silver Bay Seafoods’ Director of Communications. A handful of commenters did support the stacking, including the Chignik Intertribal Coalition. Chignik has experienced near-complete sockeye run failures in two of the last three years and the community wants the board to address the run failure sooner rather than later, wrote Chignik Intertribal Coalition President George Anderson in a letter. If the board does not double up on meetings, Chignik’s meeting will not come up until the 2022-23 cycle. “In Chignik’s fishing history never has there been such a collapse of both its sockeye salmon runs,” Anderson wrote. “Chignik is in economic and cultural peril. Time is not on our side.” Several of the board members who initially supported doubling up changed their minds, in part because of the cost problem. Board member Gerard Godfrey said during the meeting that he didn’t want to hinge the decision on the Legislature possibly approving funds. “I’m not interested in playing that game myself,” he said. “I’m not interested in waiting a number of months to find out whether or not this is feasible. And the overarching (issue) is that this situation is nobody’s fault, but the most equitable way to deal with it is to not double up.” Several other members commented that they would change their vote for similar reasons and because of the strain on staff to prepare. Several others noted that the board does have an emergency process, where if a fishery has a legitimate emergency come up out of cycle, stakeholders can petition the board to deal with it sooner, as long it as it meets the criteria of being unforeseen and a threat to the fishery. The decision to delay the meetings originally set for 2021-22 passed unanimously, and dates for the upcoming meetings in 2022 are still to be determined. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

More relief on the way for fishing industry

Alaska fishing industry stakeholders can now apply for another $50 million in pandemic relief money, but they only have until the end of April to do it. The newest installment comes from the original CARES Act passed in spring 2020, announced by the Secretary of Commerce last May. The federal government made $300 million available across the states and territories with Pacific Ocean coast, with $50 million set aside for Alaska. Commercial fishermen, charter operators, processors, dealers, subsistence users, and aquaculture operations are all eligible. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, via the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, is helping to coordinate within the state. Rachel Baker, the deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said there were two main reasons it took so long. First, the department didn’t want to issue a relief program that would have an application window in the middle of a busy fishing season and wanted to include the fall fisheries within the window. Second, the department wanted to gather public comments on the plan, which meant two comment periods and revision time. “Those two things together resulted in a longer time to develop the spend plan, and to have a longer eligibility period for applicants to qualify in,” she said. “In hindsight, if we’d known there was going to be a second round of funding, I suppose we might have thought about doing it a little bit differently.” ADFG has been working on its draft distribution plan since last fall, with the first version of its plan out for public comment in October. Fishermen and other fisheries businesses have been eligible for other forms of aid, including the Paycheck Protection Program for small businesses, since last year, but this round of targeted fisheries funding has been long awaited by the industry. But even then, it’s a pretty small amount in the grand scale of things. Frances Leach, executive director of industry group the United Fishermen of Alaska, noted that after depressed demand due to closed restaurants and other retail sources, fishermen across the state saw ex-vessel value declines in the neighborhood of 25 percent last year. “By the time it’s all said and done, (the relief amount is) not a lot,” she said. “When you factor in the amount of commercial fishermen than we had and what we lost, our prices were the worst they’ve been in decades.” The distribution plan is largely based on past revenues compared with pandemic-related losses, with a few exceptions; the subsistence group will receive 5 percent, the aquaculture group 1 percent, and the sport charter group 27 percent. If the amounts had been strictly based on past revenues, the sport charter section would only have received about 5.5 percent, according to the final approved spending plan, which may not account for all the losses the sector experienced in 2020 due to pandemic restrictions. “Between Jan. 1 and Oct. 15 of 2020, the Department of Fish and Game has seen a 54 percent reduction in nonresident sport fishing license sales compared to 2019, nearly $9 million in losses,” the spending plan states. “This dramatic reduction in license sales is only one indication of impacts to the charter sector.” Baker said determining the amount to give to the sportfish charter sector is not entirely based on a formula, in part because the state doesn’t collect the same level of revenue data from charters that it does from commercial operations. The allocation decision was based in part on qualitative information, acknowledging the fact that the charter sector heavily felt the impact of the pandemic from loss of tourism, she said. To qualify for funding, applicants have to show that they lost at least 35 percent in fishery participation revenue between March 1 and Nov. 30, 2020, as a direct or indirect result of the pandemic. Applicants have to have at least been fishing since 2018 and have to be able to provide documentation showing the revenue amounts. One change between the draft plans and the final is that applicants have to either be Alaska residents or nonresidents who did not apply for aid in another state or territory, meet all the requirements, and did not receive a Section 12005 allocation. At-sea catcher-processors have to apply to their homeport state, and nonresident charter operators who don’t have an Alaska business license have to apply in their state of residence. After administrative fees, about $49.4 million is available for distribution. Of that, $17.3 million is set aside for commercial fishermen, $15.8 million for processors, $13.3 million for sport charter operators, $2.5 million for subsistence users, and $493,711 for aquaculture operations. Each application type has a subset of requirements. Applications can be submitted on paper or electronically to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, but there’s a difference in deadline. Those submitting applications electronically have until April 30, but anyone mailing in a paper application has to postmark it on or before April 23. Any late applications won’t be processed. The December 2020 omnibus COVID-19 relief bill includes another boost in fisheries-specific relief funding, but the amount and distribution plans have yet to be finalized. Baker said the state doesn’t know the exact amount or timeline for new relief funds yet from that bill. She encouraged anyone with questions about applying to read through the spending plan, which is available on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission’s website. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Setnet permit buyback bill moves from Senate committee

Legislation aimed at easing tensions and fishing pressure in one of the state’s most popular fisheries is already on the move this session after dying in the COVID-shortened session last year. Without objection, the Senate Resources Committee advanced Sen. Peter Micciche’s Senate Bill 29 to the Finance Committee March 8; the bill authorizes the state to buy back nearly half of the upper Cook Inlet setnet permits on the Kenai Peninsula from any members. Micciche, a Soldotna Republican who was also selected Senate President earlier this year, said during a March 3 Resources hearing that the plan for the state to voluntarily repurchase permits from East Side Cook Inlet setnetters was initially drafted by a group of sport anglers and commercial harvesters “who have struggled to work together for many years and now feel like they have a solution moving forward.” Resources chair Sen. Josh Revak, R-Anchorage, noted that public testimony on SB 29 generated nearly 30 mentions of support, primarily from East Side setnetters, and no opposition, which was a contrast from prior attempts to move similar legislation. “We’re finally at the end of our rope. Fishing families that have been fishing the East Side of Cook Inlet for generations are at the end of their rope,” Micciche said to the committee. “We want some of those fishing families to remain viable and give those that choose to be bought out an opportunity to move to other fisheries or to retrain for another line of work.” He also stressed that while SB 29 authorizes the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, to buy out up to 200 of the existing 440 East Side setnet permits via a lottery permit holders could enter if they so chose, it does not spend any state money to do it. As it’s currently written, SB 29 would allow East Side permit holders to collect $260,000 per permit, meaning $52 million would need to come from somewhere to fund the buyback program only after it is approved through votes from the Legislature and subsequently the setnetters themselves. Micciche and Ken Coleman, president of the Eastside Consolidation Association, said support for the buyback program among setnetters has grown in recent years as people gain a better understanding of its mechanisms and the need for it. According to Micciche, 95 percent of respondents to a survey sent to all East Side permit holders supported the buyback. It’s a means to relieve fishing pressure not only on the Kenai and Kasilof river sockeye stocks that are the main target of the shore-based commercial fishery, but also on the rivers’ king and coho salmon that are mostly of interest to sport anglers but are occasionally intercepted by commercial nets while hopefully leaving viable fishery for the setnetters that remain, he said. Coleman emphasized that a provision to permanently close sites that are bought out “is a prime feature of the bill” because fewer nets in the water would provide more harvest opportunity for those that remain and prevent a repeat of the 1980s when a string of large sockeye runs to the Kenai and Kasilof and high salmon prices drew many permit holders from across upper Cook Inlet to the East Side beaches. That shift decades ago has resulted in the majority of inlet setnet permits being on the east side where the vast majority of personal use and sport fishing pressure occurs as well. The $260,000 per permit buyback amount was generated from average gross revenue for permits over the past 10 years — just more than $20,000 per year — and $60,000 to cover likely tax liabilities, according to Coleman, who said each buyback amounts to permanently closing a small business. It’s generally believed funding for the program could be secured through National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries capacity reduction programs intended to prevent or stop overfishing but the hunt for funding can’t start in earnest until SB 29 is passed. Management changes at the Board of Fisheries in recent years have also curtailed fishing opportunity for East Side setnetters in favor of in-river users and to limit the harvest of Kenai-bound king salmon during times of low abundance, such as now. “I think that people are frustrated and very worried about losing their entire investments,” Coleman said in an interview. Because of that, he’s confident the 200 potential buyback lottery slots will be filled if SB 29 is approved, adding that many East Side permit holders would use the money to gear up for fishing elsewhere in the state “where there are more lucrative fisheries and a more stable Board of Fisheries management.” “The regulatory instability and the biomass reductions over time, the competition for fish between all the user groups has made it very difficult for them to hang in and stay for the long-term so I think there’s a good appetite (for the program),” said Coleman, who is approaching 50 years of participating in the East Side fishery. He estimated the annual gross revenue from his site near the mouth of the Kenai has fallen roughly 75 percent over the last 20 years, but said he’s unsure if he would participate in the buyback. “If I could get 50 percent of the 75 percent back I’d be thrilled; I’d be viable again in terms of the financial picture,” Coleman said. Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokesman Rick Green wrote via email that the department doesn’t have a position on SB 29 specifically, but department officials “see value in buyback programs such as this as another tool in our regulatory toolbox to manage fully allocated fisheries.” The North Pacific Fishery Management Council added another complication to the longstanding Cook Inlet “fish wars” this past December when the council voted to close the federal waters — areas at least three miles offshore — of the upper Inlet to commercial salmon fishing starting in 2022 after state officials said co-management of the salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet is unworkable following a federal court order that concluded the state’s management plan does not meet federal requirements. While the pending closure is unlikely to ultimately be enacted and would most directly impact the drift fleet, it would push the drift gillnet boats into state waters and further increase near shore fishing pressure and related conflicts. Coleman characterized the council’s action as one that probably had some impact on fishermen deciding to either support or participate in the buyback should it materialize. Scott Summers, a Kenai-area permit holder testified March 3 that his son has made more money fishing as a crewmember in Bristol Bay in recent years than he has owning an East Side permit and he would participate in the lottery. “It’s just not viable for us anymore the way it is. Something needs to change,” Summers said. “We’re sick of the politics; I think that’s why some of us support this bill.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

What to know about the J&J vaccine

A third COVID-19 vaccine is coming to town: this time from American pharma giant Johnson &Johnson. The Food and Drug Administration authorized the vaccine on Feb. 27, after it was encouraged to do so by an independent panel of doctors and researchers. Infectious disease expert Dr. Mark Sawyer of Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego was one of them. We reached out to him to understand how this vaccine works and how it compares to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines. Sawyer sat on the FDA advisory panels for those vaccines, too, and is one of 11 experts tapped by California Gov. Gavin Newsom to review the safety and effectiveness of authorized coronavirus vaccines. In the past, he has served on a committee that helps the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issue national vaccination recommendations. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. Q. Is this a vaccine you’d be comfortable with a family member getting? A. Absolutely. I would be comfortable getting it personally or having one of my family members get it. It’s very effective, particularly at preventing serious disease — the kind of disease that puts you in a hospital or in an intensive care unit. It’s also the first vaccine for which we have data right out of the chute about how it’s working against some of these variant strains that have started to circulate in the world. Q. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use messenger RNA to teach the immune system to target the surface of the coronavirus. How does Johnson &Johnson’s vaccine work? A. It’s very similar in that this vaccine encodes the same surface protein that the messenger RNA vaccines encode, and so the end result to your immune system is the same — it’s reacting to the surface protein on SARS-CoV-2. The difference is that this vaccine is carried into cells by a virus that has been inactivated so that it cannot cause any illness, but it still delivers the DNA into the cells so that they make the SARS-CoV-2 surface protein. One of the Ebola vaccines that’s being used in Africa is made the same way. Q. How safe and effective is this vaccine? A. It looks similar to the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in that it causes sore arms and some achiness and fevers. My overall sense is that the side effects may be a little less than what we saw with the messenger RNA vaccines. But the good news is, whenever your body reacts that way, it’s an indication that the immune response is working. And when you talk about efficacy, it all depends on what you’re trying to prevent. What we know about the Johnson &Johnson vaccine so far is that it looks like it’s about 65 percent effective against preventing all disease, but 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease. Q. Can you put those numbers in context? Moderna and Pfizer reported that their vaccines are about 95 percent effective in preventing disease. Is this vaccine less effective? A. Just to remind everybody, the threshold the FDA set before we started all this COVID vaccine development was 50 percent effectiveness. So we’re above that by a significant amount. This is a more effective vaccine than standard influenza vaccines are every year. People also need to keep in mind that it was studied later than the messenger RNA vaccines. So it was studied in an environment in the world where there were more variant strains. It’s really not appropriate to directly compare the results from studies that were done much earlier. This may turn out in the long run to be a better COVID-19 vaccine, depending on what we learn about how these vaccines work against the various strains. One of the places the Johnson &Johnson trial was done was in Brazil, where they have already a significant amount of circulating resistant virus, and South Africa. Q. This will be the first one-shot coronavirus vaccine to be used in the U.S., and it doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer. How important are those features? A. There are a lot of advantages to a single dose. If we have the same amount of vaccine, obviously we could immunize twice as many people in the same period of time. That’s going to let people go back to school, go back to work, get out into the community more, it just makes logistics so much easier. We don’t have to keep track of which vaccine you got so that your second dose is given with the same one. You don’t have to live through any side effects twice. It’s pretty huge. Also, it’s not easy to keep something frozen as you transport it around the community and ship it across the country and all of the things that have to happen to deliver a vaccine to everybody who needs it — particularly in more remote, rural areas. The Johnson &Johnson vaccine is more durable, so its effectiveness is going to hold up even through less-than-ideal shipping and storage conditions. That’s going to make a big impact on outcomes of the pandemic, because some of those same communities have increased risk of disease. Q. What would you say to people who’d prefer to pass on the Johnson &Johnson vaccine for a chance to get the Moderna or Pfizer shot? A. They’re basically rolling the dice, hoping they’re not going to get exposed to COVID while sitting around waiting to get a different vaccine. And if they guessed wrong and end up sick, you made the wrong decision. Also, the more people we get immunized, the faster the pandemic gets under control and the less variant strains circulate. And we’ll develop the herd immunity we’re all striving for, which is when enough of the population is protected that even people who aren’t vaccinated indirectly get protected because the virus goes away in our community. We need to get a handle on this pandemic now if we want to get back to life as normal.

Review: Rare earth independence a decade off

President Joe Biden’s ambition to make the U.S. less dependent on other nations for rare earths and minerals critical to the clean energy transition will take years to accomplish. A review of the U.S. critical minerals and rare earths supply chain that the president ordered this week is likely to show that even with sweeping changes the nation is at least a decade from becoming self sufficient. That will mean turning to countries such as Canada, which has the the largest number of rare earth projects in the world, according to Gareth Hatch, managing director of Strategic Materials Advisors Ltd. “There’s far greater expertise in rare earths and critical minerals in Canada and Australia than there is in the U.S.,” said Hatch, who is also the CEO of Innovation Metals Corp., a subsidiary of Ucore Rare Metals, which has a rare-earth project in the U.S. “But the downstream markets are in the U.S., so it’s in the interest of all three countries to work together with the U.S. being the ultimate end market.” America lacks capacity to produce enough permanent magnets, needed to run the engines of everything from missile guidance systems to the wind turbines and electric cars at the center of the clean energy transition. Miners say it takes so long to get federal and state environmental permits, and that the process is so unpredictable and open-ended, that they struggle to plan new mines. Little capacity The U.S. has only one operational rare earths mine, with a handful of others a decade away from starting production, and the mined ore all gets sent to China for processing. This compares to China’s dozens of mines and hundreds of refining and separation facilities. “The supply-side response is always so slow compared to demand side events, so you absolutely have to start now for putting this capacity in place,” Hatch said. “The red tape associated with development of new minerals or mining projects in the U.S. has been pretty significant.” The Trump administration went some way toward speeding up permitting in July 2020, when it rewrote the way agencies scrutinize projects under the National Environmental Policy Act. But Biden is expected to either undo those changes or wait on the outcome of pending litigation. Biden’s order doesn’t specifically call for more domestic extraction, but lawmakers are gearing up for a fight. House Democrats say they support Biden’s goal of fortifying the nation’s supply chains, but not if it means more mining. Republicans counter that growing demand, especially for electric vehicles and renewable energy projects, can’t be met without more mining. To the argument that the U.S.’s reliance on imports from potentially hostile foreign nations like China creates a national security risk, Aaron Mintzes, senior policy counsel at environmental group Earthworks, counters that other nations will swiftly step up to fill any voids. That happened in 2010, when China put trade restrictions on rare earth minerals, and Australia, Indonesia, Canada, and the U.S. almost immediately opened new mines. “Savvy investors hedge against future supply chain disruption risk,” Mintzes said. “The market has priced this in.

Multiple tax changes in store for 2020 filers

Many people created workspaces — at their own cost — in their homes last year if they were no longer going to an office to work, and some may be wondering if they’ll get a tax break on setting up their home office. “Unfortunately, no,” said Alex Kindler, a partner at H2R CPA in Green Tree, Pa. “If you’re an employee who telecommutes, there are strict rules that govern whether you can deduct home office expense,” he said. In other words, you won’t be deducting the cost of those chairs, computer desks and printers you bought for your workspace last year, unless you were a business owner or a self-employed contractor. As the 2020 tax season gets underway, tax preparers say their clients want to know how their taxes will affected by the COVID-19 crisis. Those fortunate enough to have kept working and getting paid during the pandemic will not see a whole lot of difference in their individual tax returns this year compared to last year. But the pandemic forced millions of people to find different ways of making ends meet, which included taking on temporary jobs, joining the gig economy and even being creative enough to do something like make and sell masks to bring in extra cash. The good news is stimulus money from Uncle Sam isn’t taxable, but all other sources of incomes should be reported to the IRS and they could affect an individual’s tax bill. That’s why taxpayers working as independent contractors should keep records of income and all expenses related to the work, such as the miles they drove. Because of the pandemic, this year the Internal Revenue Service is allowing taxpayers to write off an additional $300 in deductions for charitable gifting over and above the standard deduction. The majority of taxpayers take the standard deduction. The 2020 standard deduction for single tax filers is $12,400. For married couple it’s $24,800. The federal government also has offered a lifeline for low-income workers who suffered financial setbacks due to the coronavirus. People who earned less money in 2020 than than they did in 2019 will be allowed to use their 2019 income — if it’s more advantageous — in order to receive a larger earned income tax credit or child tax credit. The credits mostly benefit low-income workers. The tax credits could range from $538 to $6,660 depending on the taxpayer’s filing status and the number of children in the household. A single head of household earning $50,954 with three or more children could receive the maximum tax credit. “The earned income tax credit is based on earned income. Unemployment income doesn’t count. This rule change helps people who had earned income in 2019, but lost a job last year,” said Howard Davis, president of the Davis, Davis &Associates accounting firm in the Strip District. “They can use the 2019 income and get a tax credit, which likely could result in a refund,” Davis said. “It’s a refundable credit. Even if they owe no tax, they can get money back.” He said the Internal Revenue Service also gave seniors and retirees a tax break last year by allowing them to skip making required annual withdrawals from their taxable retirement accounts, such as 401ks and traditional IRAs. The waiver also applies to anyone who inherited an IRA and those who turned age 70½ in 2019 and would have needed to take their first taxable withdrawal in 2020. “We recommended all of our clients to not take the distribution if they didn’t need it to live on,” Davis said. “Then, they don’t have to pay taxes on what they take out and 100 percent of that distribution is still working for them, and it’s still tax deferred.” Under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or CARES Act, taxpayers could take up to $100,000 in coronavirus-related distributions from retirement plans without being subject to the 10 percent additional tax for early distributions if the account owner is younger than 59½. To qualify, the taxpayer, a spouse or dependent must have been diagnosed with COVID-19 or experienced an adverse financial consequence from reduced income or inability to work due to lack of child care. The CARES Act also lets taxpayers who need a retirement account withdrawal to spread the tax payments over three years or pay the whole tax bill the first year. This helps reduce the tax burden for the current year and shift it to the following years, if necessary.

Facebook’s Australia face-off could backfire

Facebook Inc.’s dramatic move to block Australian news sharing escalated a broader battle against global regulation. That gambit looks likely to backfire. World leaders were already watching Australian legislation expected to pass next week that will force tech titans Facebook and Alphabet Inc.’s Google to pay publishers for news content. But last month’s abrupt news blackout forced the issue onto the agenda of governments whose regulators are already ramping up scrutiny of the growing influence of Facebook and its ilk in spheres from media to artificial intelligence. “There is a lot of world interest in what Australia is doing,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Feb. 19, adding that he discussed Facebook with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Canadian leader Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and the U.K.’s Boris Johnson. “They’re already going down this path.” Facebook drew a line in the sand precisely because it feared even larger markets would follow Australia’s lead. From Europe to the U.S. and China, governments are grappling with the issue of how to regulate the world’s largest internet giants, which have recently grown into trillion-dollar behemoths that help determine what billions of people view, discuss and consume on a daily basis. The related issue of how to fairly compensate news providers is a thorny challenge given an online community accustomed to free content. Still, the push to redress the monopoly-like power of these platforms appears to be gaining momentum. “The dominance of a handful of gatekeepers online has wreaked havoc on competition, suppressed innovation, and weakened entrepreneurship,” U.S. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island said in a statement Feb. 19. He pledged to undertake legislative reforms that “restore competition online.” The antitrust committee he chairs will be hearing testimony from the CEOs of Facebook, Alphabet and Twitter Inc. in the coming week. Any concessions made by Facebook in Australia are likely to feed into those deliberations. The priority of Facebook, whose shares fell 1.5 percent on Feb. 18, is now to try and get the legislation amended, especially as politicians there signal interest in finding common ground. Founder Mark Zuckerberg has met Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg twice and will do so again over the weekend. “We’ll see if there’s a pathway forward,” Frydenberg said in a Nine Network television interview. Facebook may be counting on the lopsidedness of its Australian presence to wrangle concessions from Canberra. It has argued that its business gain from news is “minimal” and that articles account for less than 4 percent of content users see in their news feeds. Still, it’s among the most popular ways Australians get their news online. The mobile Facebook app has been installed close to 27 million times since 2014 and accounted for nearly half of monthly active users among the top five social media apps in the country last year, according to Sensor Tower. That’s a reflection of its global influence, with Facebook the most-used social networking app in all but five of the 84 countries tracked by the research firm. Globally, tech giants like Facebook find themselves increasingly dragged into politicized disputes; the trend has accelerated during the pandemic. A locked-down world has come to rely on a handful of internet giants more than ever, with many racking up gains at the expense of smaller competitors. In the U.S., Google, Twitter and Facebook have drawn fire for trying to steer an apolitical line through polarized political debates. Twitter has clashed with the Indian government over free speech. Facebook, for its part, took a strong line against Myanmar’s military coup, but only after the Biden administration imposed sanctions on army leaders and publicly rebuked the action. Old rules focused on regulating pricing power no longer apply, because several of the biggest tech companies have established trillion-dollar monopolies by charging consumers next to nothing. Tech giants are increasingly assuming powerful positions in banking, finance, advertising, retail, and other markets, forcing smaller businesses to rely on their platforms to reach customers. The tussle in Australia touches on similarly broad themes. Open-web advocates like Jeff Jarvis have panned the brute-force approach of the Australian government, while others such as Microsoft Corp. publicly endorsed the moves. Others have caved, if only partially: Google agreed to a three-year deal with News Corp., and has shown little appetite for following up on a threat to pull its search service from the country. Facebook opted to escalate the fight, knowing its actions in Australia are likely to have global repercussions. To some, however, it may just come down to dollars and cents for news organizations. Mike Masnick, founder of Techdirt, warned against conflating broader concerns about the power and influence of tech giants with the dispute over monetization of news. “The focus on Facebook and Google is misguided,” he said. “News organizations have (mostly, but not entirely) missed the internet boat, and spent years effectively mocking the internet and doing little to prepare for the real shift.

Cruise bookings continue even amid cancelations

Royal Caribbean Group is seeing an increase in bookings as the company nears the one-year mark without any cruises in the U.S., its biggest market. Despite U.S. cruises being banned indefinitely, Royal Caribbean Group executives said the company has seen a 30 percent increase in future bookings since the start of the year compared to November and December. Royal Caribbean Group has canceled all U.S. cruises until at least May. The booking increase is a bright spot in an otherwise bleak business update. The second largest cruise company in the world reported a net loss for the fourth quarter of 2020 of $1.4 billion, or $6.09 per share, compared to a net income of $273.1 million, or $1.30 per share, during the fourth quarter of 2019. It was Royal Caribbean Group’s fourth straight 10-figure quarterly loss To cut costs, the company has divested of five ships — three of them through the recent sale of the Azamara cruise line. Still, Royal Caribbean is operating at about a $250 million to 290 million monthly cash burn rate for its existing lines: Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea. One of its ships, Quantum of the Seas, is operating with passengers in Singapore. So when will U.S. cruises be up and running again? It’s too soon to say, according to executives. “We are really in an interim period where the vaccines are still relatively new,” said Chairman Richard Fain. “They’re coming out amazingly quickly, but it will take months to get huge numbers of people vaccinated. We and the CDC and governments around the world are looking at how that will change (cruising). We don’t have answers yet.” Last year, Royal Caribbean Group hired a panel of health experts, including several former staff of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to come up with protocols to safely cruise during a pandemic. Subsequent guidance from the CDC, part of requirements cruise companies must meet before they can start operating again, outlined stricter testing. Now that the COVID-19 vaccine is in play, those protocols will have to be altered, said CEO of Royal Caribbean International Michael Bayley. “As we continue to see infections decline and vaccinations increase, we’re going to move to some sort of protocol that is a hybrid of vaccine and testing,” he said. The company is still waiting on the next phase of technical instructions from the CDC governing agreements between companies and ports to avoid the chaos that played out last spring when ports turned away cruise ships carrying infected and dead passengers and crew. “Our dialogue is productive,” said Bayley of conversations with the CDC. “They’ve assured us that when these indicators start to move in a positive way, they’ll start working with us to get us back into operation.” Last week Royal Caribbean Group announced it will be requiring all crew members to be vaccinated before cruises restart. Bayley said that the company surveyed 70,000 crew members about this last week, and received 32,000 responses in the first few hours; 98 percent of respondents so far have said they are in favor of the vaccine mandate for crew and 4,000 have already been vaccinated in their home countries.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Cuomo allegations got a whole lot ickier claiming mentor status

A life hack: If you’re 63 and she’s 25 and you’re her boss, the flirtation is always, every time, definitely unwanted. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, facing sexual harassment accusations from two former aides, released a statement Feb. 28 acknowledging that his interactions at the office “may have been insensitive or too personal.” “I acknowledge some of the things I have said have been misinterpreted as an unwanted flirtation,” his statement reads. “To the extent anyone felt that way, I am truly sorry about that.” In a New York Times story published online Feb. 27 and on the newspaper’s front page Sunday, Charlotte Bennett, 25, said the three-term, 63-year-old governor asked her questions about her sex life, whether she was monogamous in her relationships and if she had ever had sex with older men. Bennett was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in Cuomo’s administration until November. “He asked me if I believed if age made a difference in relationships, and he also asked me in the same conversation if I had ever been with an older man,” Bennett told the Times. “At one juncture, Ms. Bennett said, the governor also noted that he felt ‘he’s fine with anyone above the age of 22,’” the Times reports. Cuomo’s statement called for an “outside, independent review” to look at Bennett’s allegations, as well as allegations by former aide Lindsey Boylan, who accused the governor of proposing a game of strip poker on a government airplane and stopping her as she was leaving his office one day to kiss her on the lips. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, New York’s two U.S. senators, and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have also called for an independent investigation. It’s hard to imagine a bright political future for Cuomo at this point, especially with the FBI and U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York investigating his administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. He may be toast. I don’t know. I’ve never been good at, or all that interested in, predicting the future. But I do find one detail in this whole sordid saga particularly troubling, and that’s the fact that Cuomo told The New York Times he believed he was acting as “a mentor” to Bennett. I’m reminded of a 2019 LeanIn.org survey that looked at the impact the #MeToo movement had on workplace interactions. The survey found 60 percent of male managers were uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring — a 32 percent jump from a year prior. Thirty-six percent of surveyed men said they had avoided mentoring or socializing with a woman because they were nervous about how it would look. Senior-level men said they were more hesitant to spend time with junior women than with junior men in a range of capacities: They were 12 times more likely to hesitate to have one-on-one meetings with junior women than junior men, nine times more likely to hesitate to travel for work with junior women than junior men, and six times more likely to hesitate to schedule work dinners with junior women than junior men. Those statistics are obviously lousy news for anyone interested in women advancing in the workplace, which should be everyone, since workplaces, families and communities all benefit tremendously from women’s voices, talents and financial security. Which is why Cuomo imagining himself as Bennett’s mentor, even as he acknowledges interactions that had little to do with Bennett’s professional growth and everything to do with the maintenance of his ego, is just galling. “At work sometimes I think I am being playful and make jokes that I think are funny. I do, on occasion, tease people in what I think is a good-natured way. I do it in public and in private,” his statement reads. “I have teased people about their personal lives, their relationships, about getting married or not getting married. I mean no offense and only attempt to add some levity and banter to what is a very serious business.” Mentors help you understand and navigate the unique culture of a place. They advocate for you in meetings, whether or not you’re there to see it. They coach you on asking for a raise and point you toward opportunities you may not have the confidence to pursue without some nudging. They are invested in your professional success. Your sex life is none of their business. Their sex life is none of yours. This is true whether there’s a one-year age gap or you’re the same age as your mentor’s twin daughters. (Eww.) It seems like this would go without saying, but maybe we’re not there yet. Maybe there’s still a persistent, moldy style of power broker who needs to be reminded that female colleagues and subordinates are humans, just like you, showing up to do their jobs and use their brains and contribute to the cause — which is never, not ever, not even once, your sex life.

Fixes in flux after emergency status lapses

State lawmakers and Dunleavy administration officials are working to untangle the red tape left after a messy end to Alaska’s COVID-19 state of emergency and see how much of it they still need. Senate President Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, said legislative leaders have asked the administration to do a series of analyses to see if there are any gaps in current state policy that could cause departments to forgo any federal COVID-19 funding that could help Alaskans now that the state no longer has an active emergency declaration. Alaska’s COVID-19 state of emergency expired Feb. 14 after the Legislature failed to pass Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s bill to formally extend it; the House was still unorganized and without leadership at the time and the Republican-led Senate majority has members who questioned the need for continuing the emergency declaration. Dunleavy declined to unilaterally extend the declaration despite a nonbinding resolution from the Senate and letters signed by the vast majority of House members asking him to do so. Attorneys for the Legislature said the governor likely cannot extend the emergency declaration on his own, even though he did so in the past while the Legislature wasn’t in session to maintain emergency health orders and regulatory changes. Senate leaders are also working with the administration on legislation that would “essentially provide the same authorization that a declaration would allow” without giving the governor some of the broader powers that come with an official state of emergency, Micciche said. “Once we have this scrubbed here in the next couple days we are going to share it with the House for hopefully a companion bill they can move through the process fairly quickly,” he said in an interview. The House is again challenged to conduct business with a minor outbreak of COVID-19 among representatives and staff. More specifically, the bill addresses primary concerns the administration has regarding its ability to respond to the pandemic: distribute vaccines and financial aid without a declaration, as well as legislators’ desire to increase the state’s current 10 percent education fund balance cap on school district reserves. Micciche said many districts are approaching the statutory limit that prevents them from holding more than 10 percent of their annual budgets in reserves due to federal CARES Act funding and other money going to districts as a result of the pandemic increasing the cap would allow them to hold that money when future revenues are particularly uncertain. He also stressed that the bill would allow the state to capture the $8 million per month in federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, aid commonly known as food stamps. The federal boost to the program is set to expire at the end of March if the state goes without an emergency declaration or a similar measure. “We’re not going to let Alaska’s needy families go without,” Micciche said. “$8 million a month is not something we can replace.” However, the lapse of the emergency declaration also meant the roughly 200 state fees and regulations Dunleavy suspended early in the pandemic immediately went back into effect or became stuck in limbo. Dunleavy spokesman Corey Young wrote in response to questions about the regulatory situation that the departmental review of the suspended regulations is ongoing to determine which may be eligible for permanent repeal. “In the face of a global pandemic, Alaskans have been hit hard and Gov. Dunleavy clearly sees the need to prevent Alaskan businesses from failing, which includes making sure there are no roadblocks with regulations to help Alaska’s economy thrive,” Young wrote. The state Division of Corporations, Business and Professional Licensing gave up approximately $6.8 million in business license and corporate filing revenue over the roughly 11 months the fee suspensions were in effect. Commerce Department spokeswoman Glenn Hoskinson wrote in an email that other revenue covered the division’s expenses, allowing the forgone amount to stay in the hands of the businesses that needed it. Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association CEO Jared Kosin said in an interview that the sudden lack of an emergency declaration has left many health care providers questioning what they can now legally do given the pandemic is ongoing. A statement on the Department of Health and Social Services website lays out the department’s plan to “operate its COVID-19 response under the same guidance and direction that had previously been provided, which includes all prior waived or suspended statutes and regulations” despite not having clear authority to do so. Kosin said he appreciates the attempt to maintain consistency for patients and providers but questioned: “How can you say ‘just operate as-is’?” He described situations the association is aware of where cancer patients have not been able to see an out-of-state provider via a telehealth visit because of providers’ fears of running afoul of Alaska laws and regulations. Among the regulations suspended during the declaration was one requiring Outside doctors performing telehealth visits by videoconference or phone call to have a medical license in Alaska. “Even though everyone’s acting as if everything’s the same, the providers said that’s not something they can put their license on the line for,” Kosin said. “There’s so much confusion over what is set aside, what is not — what authority there is to do things.” He added that ASHNHA is waiting for a clarifying response from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services officials regarding the ability for health care organizations to have off-site facilities, such as COVID-19 testing sites, without a state emergency. A prior federal waiver allowed such activity with an emergency declaration. A DHSS spokesman did not respond to questions about the department’s management of its regulations and governing statutes in time for this story. Micciche said under more normal circumstances he would be particularly concerned about a state agency arbitrarily setting its own operating rules but directly challenging the administration on that front isn’t likely to be productive either given the public health situation. “I think a transition plan is appropriate until we pass this bill,” he said. “I think yanking the rug out from under the administration’s ability to manage COVID right now — it concerns me a great deal. We are doing the best we can under the current conditions to support the governor’s ability to manage a response.” Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected] (Editor's note: A prior version of this story indicated Senate President Peter Micciche said in an interview that legislators had requested generally accepted accounting principles, or GAAP, analyses from state agencies for federal COVID-19 aid. Micciche later clarified that he simply meant analyses had been requested to determine if there were any "gaps" in state laws and regulations that prevented agencies from accepting the federal funds without a formal emergency declaration.)

Movers and Shakers for March 7

Clayton Kruger of Coffman Engineers has obtained his professional process engineering license. A graduate from Montana State University with a degree in chemical engineering and biological engineering, Kruger offers insight on operational system performance through hydrocarbon processing modeling, process controls, safety relief and vessel/piping fitness for service, stress analysis, equipment and material selection, vessel design, industrial process, and piping system design for both brownfield and greenfield designs. Kruger has been with Coffman since 2015. Arin “AJ” Wooster of Coffman passed the mechanical engineering exam and obtained his Alaska Professional Engineering License. Wooster is a 2020 graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a master’s degree in petroleum engineering and holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Wooster joined Coffman in 2019 and is an active member in American Society of Mechanical Engineers and the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Jun Robinson and Joshua Chaney, PE, recently joined R&M Consultants, Inc. Robinson is a structural staff engineer and Chaney a structural project engineer in the firm’s Engineering Department. Robinson and Chaney will provide structural technical design work in support of a variety of building, bridge, transportation, site development, utility and waterfront projects. This includes port and harbor development projects, including piers, wharfs, mooring dolphins and moorage float systems; structural analysis and foundation designs to support other vertical projects; and seismic design. Robinson has more than 15 years of experience in civil, structural and architectural design. He has worked on a variety of infrastructure projects in the petroleum industry, which have included plot arrangements, foundations, structural detail and design, architectural design and material takeoffs for North Slope drill pads, modules and pipelines. Robinson has an associate’s degree in architecture and engineering technology and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering, both from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Prior to joining R&M, Chaney was employed in Alaska’s oil industry for more than 11 years where he was involved in engineering programs for Alyeska, BP and ConocoPhillips as an associate and lead engineer. His experience also includes government defense contracting, where he was the on-site field engineer for the AEGIS Missile Defense System. Since joining R&M, Chaney has been involved in the Port of Alaska Petroleum Cement Terminal project. His work has included hose tower and operations building design, utility support, fabrication drawing reviews, and Request for Information response and support. He has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He is a civil engineer licensed in Alaska. Glen Klinkhart was appointed director of the Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office. Klinkhart has been serving as the interim director since November 2019. Klinkhart has many years of experience in public safety and also has experience in organizational management, business development, client need assessments, and as a business owner.

FISH FACTOR: Rare optimism as halibut fishery kicks off

The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 6 and increased catch limits combined with a cautiously optimistic outlook for the near future have fanned interest in buying shares of the popular fish. In January, the International Pacific Halibut Commission boosted total halibut removals for 2021 by 6.5 percent to 39 million pounds for all users and as bycatch in fisheries of the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. That is higher than the total take for the past three years. For commercial fishermen, the halibut catch limit of 25.7 million pounds is an increase of 2.6 million pounds over 2020. Alaska gets the largest chunk at 19.6 million pounds, and all regions except for the Bering Sea will see increased catches. “People are thrilled to see that, hopefully, the tide has turned after catch limits for most areas have been declining for about the past 15 years. And they are happy to know they’re going to see some more pounds on their permits this year,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “By all accounts the market looks like it is warming up,” agreed Lisa Gulliford at Permit Master in Tacoma, Wash. “Interest and flexibility from both buyers and sellers is always good news and I am hopeful this trend will continue through the year.” The optimism over the apparent better health of the halibut stock is reflected in the demand for purchasing shares of the fish that is pushing up prices, Bowen added. It’s nowhere near the levels in 2017 when quota share prices in the Central Gulf of Alaska, for example, were at $65 or more per pound and now are closer to $45. Quota shares at Southeast that topped $70 are listed in the $45 to high $50 range per pound. The increase in halibut catches is one part of the equation; the other is what the fish will bring at the docks. “We were seeing some decline in values even before the pandemic hit, with increased imports from the east coast of Canada and halibut coming in from Russia and even farmed halibut showing up in Costco from Norway,” Bowen said. “So there’s more competition in the market place. And then the pandemic didn’t help with all the restaurants closed and the cruise ships tied up. Even with all that, we still saw pretty decent prices last year. In Homer, we probably averaged $4.50 a pound for the whole season. Considering the pandemic and the hit to the economy, that was probably a pretty good price. And we’re hoping to see a good price again this year.” Federal data show the annual average ex-vessel (dock) price for halibut has been decreasing since 2016. The price to Alaska fishermen in 2020 averaged $4 per pound and the value of the fishery totaled just less than $62 million. That compared to an average dock price of $5.30 per pound in 2019 and a fishery value of more than $87 million. Meanwhile, another good sign, Bowen added, is that boat sales are “brisk.” “I don’t know whether you could find a stronger vote of confidence in investing into these fisheries by buying a boat or buying quota,” he said. “So yeah, there’s definitely some optimism in the fishery in spite of this pandemic that’s going on in the background. It’s very encouraging.” The Pacific halibut fishery this year also was extended by one month to Dec. 7. The human side of halibut economics Who are the users of Pacific halibut and how do they use it? Answers to that question will come from responses to a stakeholder survey that aims to provide stakeholders with an assessment of the economic impact of the Pacific halibut resource in Canada and the U.S. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is the first regional group in the world to conduct such a study, claiming that understanding the human dimension is part of its mandate for optimum management of the resource. The survey assesses halibut users in commercial, sport charter, subsistence and processor sectors. It measures economic impacts from hook to dinner plate, employment and incomes, household prosperity and contributions to regional and national economies, known more broadly as multiplier effects. “So per dollar of landed fish, how much economic activity is generated and how much of this translates to wages and to the national GDP. (GDP is Gross Domestic Product, a measure of the U.S. economy and its growth.) That encompasses effects on wages, but also effects on profits by the businesses that are supported by the commercial or recreational fisheries,” said Barbara Hutniczak, IPHC lead economist for the study. The survey also includes regional spillovers to other areas. “For example, a vessel that is fishing in Alaska and benefiting from the Alaska-based halibut resource might in the wintertime be serviced in Washington state. So in this case, the economic effects will also be in Washington state because the marina where this vessel is serviced will have additional economic activities,” she explained. The confidential survey includes four main sections on vessel activities, revenue and quota use, labor information and vessel operating expenses. Hutniczak said responses are accepted on a rolling basis and the information will be updated continuously. “I would like to encourage stakeholders to provide the information that will benefit all the sectors and show the potential of each sector in terms of supporting the local communities and economies and various other aspects that can be highlighted through your responses,” she said. Questions? Contact [email protected] or 206-552-7693. Fishing mentors wanted The Young Fishermen’s Fellowship Program is calling for fishing groups or businesses to partner with young Alaska fishermen to help them hone skills in management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and more. It’s the fifth year for the Fellowship, which is an offshoot of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “The program is really energized to help young fisherman bridge the gap between the water and the waterfront and to help diversify their experiences within the fishing industry,” said AMCC Working Waterfront director Jamie O’Connor. “It has included everything from direct marketing to the history of fisheries to policy and whatever creative, meaningful project our host organizations can dream up. It’s a really great way for young fishermen to utilize other skills that they may have onshore.” The program has so far placed 15 fishermen under 40 in a wide range of mentorships, many of which have led to diverse careers. They are paid a stipend that usually adds up to $16 to $26 per hour, depending on experience. “Our fishing fellows have gone on to careers as fishery staffers in Congress, (Advisory Panel) members to the council, one used her time with the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association to segue into work as a fleet manager in Sitka for one of the seafood companies out there,” O’Connor said. She added that along with being a Bristol Bay fisherman, her Fellowship experience with the North Pacific Fisheries Association in Homer led into her current job at AMCC. “I think one of the main benefits I’ve seen to both Fellows and the host organizations is building those relationships within the broader fisheries community and the industries that support them,” O’Connor added. “It expands our fisheries network in a really beautiful way.” Interested mentors can apply through March 31 and a call for fishing fellows will follow. Mentors and Fellows will then be matched up and work out flexible schedules lasting two to five months. “If you have a project that you think could be energized by the efforts of a young fisherman, reach out to me and I can help you put a proposal together,” she said. Organizations and businesses can apply at www.akyoungfisherman.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Enstar inks supply deal with new Inlet entrant

Prices for long-term supplies of natural gas from Cook Inlet remain high relative to much of the country but are inching downward based on the latest in a series of recently signed public contracts. Enstar Natural Gas Co. filed a contract with the Regulatory Commission of Alaska containing a starting price of $7.30 per thousand cubic feet, or mcf, of natural gas with Vision Resources LLC, the new owners of the North Fork Unit on the Kenai Peninsula. The RCA reviews and rules on supply contracts for regulated utilities. While the five-year gas sale and purchase agreement covers nearly 3 percent — about 1 billion cubic feet, or bcf, of gas per year — of the Southcentral gas utility’s annual demand, the starting price is also 3 percent less than the initial rate of $7.55 per mcf Enstar agreed to in a contract for the vast majority of its gas needs last May. The starting price in the Enstar-Hilcorp deal, which amended and extended an existing contract, is also 7 percent less than the utility and producer had originally agreed to in their prior contract. Hilcorp Alaska, the dominant gas producer in Cook Inlet, also inked a contract approved by the Fairbanks area Interior Gas Utility in mid-January with a starting gas price of $7.60 per mcf. Though the price is higher than in the comparable Enstar-Vision Resources deal, also for roughly 1 bcf per year, it is less than the $7.72 IGU had previously been paying Hilcorp and IGU leaders also note the price includes Hilcorp’s willingness to match gas supply to the small utility’s highly seasonal demand swings. After the first year the gas price increases yearly by 7 cents per mcf through the end of the contract for a final price of $7.60 per mcf through March 2026. Gas deliveries are expected to start May 11 and either Enstar or Vision Resources can terminate the deal if the RCA has not approved it by May 1, according to a letter from Enstar officials accompanying the contract filing. “The (Vision contract) also ensures an element of ongoing diversity in Enstar’s gas supply portfolio, allowing Enstar to continue to purchase from a smaller Cook Inlet producers. This is important to ensure the safe and reliable delivery of gas to our customers and could encourage further exploration and development in the Cook Inlet basin,” Enstar Regulatory Supervisor Chelsea Guintu wrote. Enstar also has a small firm supply contract with Furie Operating Alaska through early 2023. The gas utility projects its demand will remain flat at 33.6 bcf per year through early 2026. Vision Resources, a privately held, Louisiana-based firm, recently purchased the onshore North Fork Unit on the Southern Kenai Peninsula near Anchor Point from Anchorage-based Glacier Oil and Gas. Company representatives could not be reached for this story, but late February filings to the state Division of Oil and Gas by Glacier leaders indicate the company is in the process of transferring the North Fork assets to Vision Resources. Glacier Oil and Gas suspended operations at several of its other Inlet and North Slope facilities last summer due to the collapse of oil and gas markets early in the pandemic. The RCA is accepting comments on the proposed contract through March 26.

GUEST COMMENTARY: Spending cap would help restore trust in government

Trust in government is at an all-time low. Every year, the well-respected research firm Edelman Data &Intelligence surveys thousands of people across the world to measure attitudes about trust and credibility. Throughout its 21-year history, the report has revealed fascinating insights into which institutions are deemed credible and trustworthy. This year, business has emerged as the most trusted institution, replacing government. Business is the only institution deemed ethical and competent, and outscores government by 48 points on competency alone. These attitudes reflect the stellar response to COVID-19, with business finding innovative and safe ways to continue delivering their goods and services, and the rapid development of a vaccine. While those of us in the business community appreciate finding ourselves in the top spot, we realize Alaskans must trust their government for important policy decisions. This year, those decisions are especially urgent. In the spirit of being helpful, the Alaska Chamber offers a solution to restore some of the trust Alaskans have lost in state-level leadership. A real, meaningful cap on state government spending would go a long way in showing Alaskans government can be trusted with public funds. The concept of a spending cap is not new or complicated. Individuals and families usually match their spending to their income, and they understand that blowing budgets is bound to catch up with them eventually. Alaskans want government to acknowledge this basic tenet of budgeting. While the concept of spending from emergency savings under extraordinary circumstances may make some sense, watching years of deficit spending created by past years of overspending has contributed to the dramatic erosion of trust in government. The State of Alaska technically has a spending cap in place now, but it lacks teeth. This is why the State was able to ramp us spending so dramatically a decade ago when oil prices were high, and money was rolling in. Because no effective spending limits were in place, the size and scale of the state’s operating budget grew many times faster than the ability to sustain such growth. Now we find ourselves with the unpleasant reality of annual budget cuts just to get the state back to a place where it can pay for basic services. No one enjoys that painful process, and we sympathize with state leaders trying to solve problems with no easy solutions. That is why the Alaska Chamber has such a strong record of supporting governors who take our fiscal crisis seriously. Even when the business community does not like every aspect of the solution, we have always encouraged our politicians to develop a long-term fiscal plan to give all Alaskans confidence in our future. This brings us back to supporting a real spending cap. If state leaders plan to ask Alaskans to contribute more to state revenues, they must guarantee that dramatic overspending will not recur once more money is available. We know aspects of a comprehensive fiscal plan will be difficult. But, if they occur in concert with a robust spending cap, Alaskans will trust that their sacrifices of today will not be wasted tomorrow. Any realistic fiscal plan requires this to be in place at the same time as the sacrifices the citizens will make, so the time to establish a cap is now. In plain terms, we encourage our state leaders to put a cap in place that shows Alaskans government is legally prohibited from long-term unsustainable spending again. Crafting law that guarantees downward pressure on spending also forces legislators and the governor to make tough choices; if only a set amount of dollars can be spent, real choices about what to fund will be mandatory. Several municipalities across the state have lived and thrived under the constraints of tax caps for decades, the Municipality of Anchorage being the most well-known example. While taxpayers in Anchorage grumble at waste in local government, imagine how much worse the situation would be if no cap had been in place! Given the widespread lack of trust in government, state leaders codifying tough spending limits are likely the only way Alaskans buy into the idea of creating new revenue streams. Once trust in government is restored, or at least improved, the state can move forward with making the tough decisions in front of us. That sets up the entire state, including the business community and the Alaskans who work within it, for success. Allen Hippler is the chairman of the Alaska Chamber.

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