Friday, May 29, 2009

Winther to stay on state development board

Gov. Sarah Palin today named a bunch more people to various state boards, and this was part of the press release:

Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority

Governor Palin reappointed John R. Winther to the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority (AIDEA) board of directors.

Winther, of Petersburg, has been a commercial fisherman and businessman in Alaska for more than 40 years. A lifelong Alaskan, he is currently managing partner of Petersburg-based Prowler Fisheries, and owns a Bering Sea crab fishing vessel. He served as director of Icicle Seafoods from 1980-92 and also served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council from 1983-89. Winther is a founder of Winstar Petroleum and Ultrastar Exploration, both Alaskan-owned independent oil companies with leases on the North Slope.

Winther has served on the authority board since 2003.

The five-member board leads the authority, charged with promoting economic growth and diversification by providing financing for industry, manufacturing, power transmission interties, and export and business enterprises in Alaska. Some of its high-profile projects include the port facilities for the Red Dog zinc mine, the Healy Clean Coal Project, the Anchorage Federal Express aircraft maintenance facility and the Ketchikan Shipyard.

Zine scene: Pebble and Palin

The June issue of Outside magazine has a big feature on how some people perceive the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine as a potential threat to salmon-rich Bristol Bay.

"Get ready for the fiercest wilderness rumble since ANWR," a headline declares.

Sorry, I don't have a link to the article for you.

Elsewhere, The New Yorker has an article titled "Fish Out of Water" about a recent Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute event in the Big Apple.

Gov. Sarah Palin was supposed to attend but had to divert, sending husband Todd instead.

Todd, a Bristol Bay setnetter, was "the biggest fish in the room," the article says.

The article quotes, among other Alaskans, ASMI board member Kevin Adams and Kodiak seiner Bruce Schactler.

Barnacles be gone!

Here's new research on how to keep unwelcome hitchhikers off the hull of your vessel.

May 28, 2009

North Carolina State University

Nontoxic hull coating resists barnacles, may save ship owners millions


North Carolina State University engineers have created a non-toxic "wrinkled" coating for use on ship hulls that resisted buildup of troublesome barnacles during 18 months of seawater tests, a finding that could ultimately save boat owners millions of dollars in cleaning and fuel costs.

The research conducted by Dr. Kirill Efimenko, research assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, and Dr. Jan Genzer, professor in the same department, shows for the first time that surface coatings containing nests of different-sized "wrinkles" are effective in preventing barnacles from firmly latching on to the coatings.

"The results are very promising," Efimenko said. "We are dealing with a very complex phenomenon. Living organisms are very adaptable to the environment, so we need to find their weakness. And this hierarchical wrinkled topography seems to do the trick."

Researchers created the coatings by stretching a rubber sheet, applying an ultra-violet ozone treatment to it, and then relieving the tension, causing five generations of "wrinkles" to form concurrently. The coatings were further covered with an ultra-thin layer of semifluorinated material. During ocean tests performed in Wilmington, N.C., the wrinkled materials remained free of barnacles after 18 months of seawater exposure, while flat coatings with the same chemical composition showed barnacle buildup after just one month in seawater.

Engineers and scientists have strived for decades to uncover ways to keep barnacles off ship hulls. Barnacle colonization on a ship bottom increases the ship's "drag" in the water, forcing the engine to burn more fuel to maintain the same speed. After six months in the water, a ship's fuel consumption increases substantially, Efimenko said. That costs ship owners — including the military — plenty of extra cash.

"It's like running your air conditioner with the windows open," Genzer said.

Barnacle buildup also forces owners to remove ships from the water and place them on dry docks for cleaning. This expensive procedure costs ships valuable time at sea when they could be making money.

For many years, ship owners fought barnacles by coating their hulls with toxic substances that resisted barnacle buildup. But those substances killed fish and other marine life in harbors, causing governments around the world to ban ships from using them.

That led to increased interest in endowing the ship coatings with wrinkled topographies. The coatings share traits with surfaces found in nature, where rough surfaces such as shark skin generally stay free of debris buildup. In contrast, other marine species, such as whales, have smooth skin but often carry barnacles as unwanted hitchhikers.

The NC State team collaborated on the research with Drs. John Finlay, Maureen E. Callow and James A. Callow from the University of Birmingham in the U.K. The work was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

The group's findings are published in the May 27 issue of the journal ACS Applied Materials and Interfaces. The work is also highlighted in the May 8 edition of Science.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Guest analysis: Crab processor quota goes Alaskan

A big item on the agenda for the June 1-9 meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage is management of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab fisheries.

One proposal the council is mulling is elimination of processor quota shares (Deckboss, May 18).

Steve Minor, executive director of an association of crab processing companies, is among those arguing to keep processor shares.

He's written this brief analysis of one reason why processor shares are working, and concludes: "Alaska should be extraordinarily happy."

Deckboss disclaimer: I post Steve's analysis not because I agree or disagree with it. Rather, I just find it informative and admire its brevity for such a complicated subject.

Of note

Gov. Sarah Palin yesterday made a slew of appointments to various state boards, and this was part of the press release:

Fishermen’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council

Governor Palin reappointed Larry Bartman to the Fishermen’s Fund Advisory and Appeals Council.

The six-member council consults with the commissioner of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development regarding appeals filed concerning the care of Alaska licensed commercial fishermen who have been injured while fishing in Alaska. The council also oversees the administration of the Fishermen’s Fund, which uses a portion of commercial fishing licenses and permit fees to fund medical care and benefits for injured commercial fishermen.

Bartman, of Manokotak, is a technology liaison with the Southwest Region School District in Dillingham and since 1978 has been a commercial driftnet and setnet fisherman in Bristol Bay. He holds a bachelor’s degree in education and worked as a middle school math and science teacher in New Stuyahok, Mentasta Lake and Point Hope.

He was reappointed to a seat representing District 4, covering the waters west of the Alaska Peninsula to Cape Newenham, including Bristol Bay.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Togiak herring fishery winds down

The big herring sac roe fishery at Togiak is nearly done.

Fishery managers have shut down the seine fleet, and the gillnetters will finish by the end of the month.

It's evident a lot of fish will be left in the water unharvested.

Here's a state press release, fresh out this afternoon:

Alaska Department of Fish and Game

May 27, 2009

Announcement: The Purse Seine Fishery Closes

This is the Alaska Department of Fish & Game in Togiak with an announcement regarding the Togiak herring fishery.

Due to small fish size, decreasing roe percentages, and increased numbers of released sets, continued purse seine fishing is no longer warranted. The 2009 Togiak sac roe purse seine fishery will remain closed for the duration of the season. The final harvest was 12,404 tons approximately 83% of the quota.

The gillnet fishery will remain open until the quota is harvested or until 11:59 p.m. May 31. The gillnet harvest yesterday was 292 tons for a cumulative of 3,803 tons, approximately 60% of the quota.

Department staff will relocate to Dillingham this afternoon and be available for gillnet catch reports by phone at 842-5227 or trac phone at 1102.

Any seiner needing to clean their net is welcome to do so.

Processors, we would like to have final operations reports and fish tickets to our Dillingham office within 10 days of the last gillnet delivery.

Lastly we would like to thank everyone for all the help with samples and updates. Have a safe journey home and a good summer.

This has been the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Togiak.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Halibut war helps lawyers

Conflict over the federal government's plan to impose a one-fish daily bag limit on charter boat anglers in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) is sparking an expensive legal battle.

Both sides, the commercial fleet and the charter fleet, have put out open calls for cash to finance their legal efforts.

Charter boat operators on Friday went to federal court for the second year in a row in an attempt to block the one-fish rule. Last year they successfully persuaded a judge to block the rule based on procedural issues.

The government has refined its rule and is trying again to impose it this summer, saying the reduced bag limit is necessary to curtail the growing charter catch in a region where halibut abundance is declining.

Normally, the bag limit is two fish per day, not one. Charter boat operators say denying their clients a second fish could wreck their businesses.

The one-fish rule takes effect beginning June 5, assuming the charter boat plaintiffs fail to block it again.

In a May 9 fundraising appeal on the Charter Halibut Task Force Web site, Earl Comstock, an attorney for the charter boat operators, said pressing the lawsuit would cost $60,000.

Comstock said success this time is far from guaranteed.

"There is no sure thing in litigation, and everyone needs to understand that the courts give great deference to the government in any court challenge," he wrote.

The lawsuit pits a handful of charter operators against federal regulators trying to impose the one-fish rule. It technically doesn't involve the commercial longliners who favor the rule, viewing the charter fleet as a growing competitor for the limited supply of halibut in Southeast.

Today, however, commercial fishermen, processors and others united as the Halibut Coalition filed as an intervener in the case.

One commercial fishing group, the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association (PVOA), sent out its own fundraising plea on Friday, the day the charter operators filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service in federal court in Washington, D.C.

"Every dollar counts, and even though times are tight right now we need your support to protect your livelihood!" the PVOA wrote, directing contributions to the Halibut Coalition. "Ask your crewmembers for a donation, talk to your neighbors at the dock and tell them to send in their support."

Here's the Halibut Coalition's press release on its effort to gain intervener status.

All in all, this thing seems to be shaping up as a bruising fight for all concerned. Except perhaps the lawyers.

Arctic no-fishing zone nears


Federal regulators today put out an invitation for folks to comment on its pending no-fishing zone in the Arctic Ocean off Alaska.

Here's the press release:

NOAA Fisheries

May 26, 2009

NOAA Opens Public Comment on Potential Arctic Fishing Plan

NOAA's Fisheries Service announced today that it will open public comment on a proposed framework to manage fishing in the Arctic waters of the United States in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.

"Historically, there have been no commercial fisheries in our Arctic seas," said Doug Mecum, acting administrator of the Alaska region of NOAA’s Fisheries Service. "But with Arctic sea ice receding, more human activities may likely begin there, including increased interest in commercial fishing."

"The new management plan sets up a framework for possible development of Arctic fisheries in the next decades,” he added. “It would ensure that we proceed carefully and do not allow commercial fishing to expand northward before we know what level of fishing the Arctic can sustain."

In 2006, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began considering options for fishery management in the Arctic. The council talked extensively with communities on Alaska's North Slope and other stakeholders to consider management options.

Ultimately, the council decided to take a precautionary approach, voting to prohibit commercial fisheries until researchers gather sufficient information on fish and the Arctic marine environment, before considering any commercial fishing.

If the plan is adopted, it will govern commercial fishing for all stocks of finfish and shellfish in federal waters, except Pacific salmon and Pacific halibut, which are managed under other authorities. It would not affect fisheries for salmon, whitefish and shellfish in Alaskan waters near the Arctic shore. The plan identifies Arctic cod, saffron cod, and snow crab as likely initial target species for fishermen.

The proposed plan would not affect Arctic subsistence fishing or hunting.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council voted unanimously to adopt the Arctic Fishery Management Plan on Feb. 5. The plan is now open for public review, and would become final if the Secretary of Commerce approves it after considering public comment.

Comments on the proposed Arctic Fisheries Management Plan, due July 27, can be sent to Sue Salveson, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region, NMFS, attention Ellen Sebastian.

Comments should be identified with 0648-AX71 (NOA), and can be submitted electronically via the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

Comments can also be faxed to 907-586-7557; sent by mail to P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802; or hand delivered to the Federal Building at 709 West 9th Street, Room 420A, Juneau, AK.

The proposed plan can be found here.

Are you superstitious?

Got an intriguing note last week from a writer looking to explore the idea of superstition and fishermen.

I'm sure he'd appreciate hearing any stories you might have. And I hope you'll share them with Deckboss!

Here's the note:

Hi Wesley,

I'm doing research for a book on superstition, and I've been learning that commercial fishermen are very superstitious, perhaps because the job is so unpredictable and dangerous.

I'm looking for people with good stories about encounters with superstition. Do you know how I might track down some fishermen who might have good yarns?

Thanks for any help!

Matt

Matthew Hutson
News Editor
Psychology Today
115 East 23rd Street, 9th Floor
New York, NY 10010
p: 646-763-6367
f: 212-260-7445
matt@psychologytoday.com

Friday, May 22, 2009

Halibut charter operators sue again

Halibut charter boat operators sued the federal government today in an attempt to block a new rule limiting charter anglers to only one keeper per day instead of two in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C).

It's the second year in a row that the charter operators have filed suit. Last year, they succeeded in forcing the government to back off its one-fish rule.

The government has refined the rule and is trying again to impose it this summer. The charter lawsuit was expected.

Government regulators, as well as many commercial fishermen, favor the one-fish rule as a way to curb the growing charter catch in Southeast, where halibut abundance is declining.

Charter operators, however, say such a rule could drive away their clients and ruin the charter business. They note that the commercial fleet catches most of the fish.

Here's the 17-page lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C.

Togiak herring harvest in full swing

Buy some herring roe? Please? ADF&G photo

I've been remiss this week in not mentioning the ongoing Togiak herring fishery.

The state’s biggest sac roe herring harvest occurs each May near the remote Bristol Bay village of Togiak.

This year’s quota is a healthy 21,260 tons.

The fishery opened last Saturday and continues at least through today, the state Department of Fish and Game says.

Last year, purse seiners and gillnetters combined for a harvest of 20,435 tons, worth $2.6 million ex-vessel (off the boat).

That’s small change compared to the value of many other Alaska commercial fisheries.

A depression has gripped the Togiak fishery for several years now due to weak Japanese demand for herring roe.

In better times, in 1995, Togiak herring paid fishermen nearly $17 million.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Crab rationalization on the radio

I talk processor shares this week with news director Jay Barrett of Kodiak radio station KMXT. Click here to listen to "The Alaska Fisheries Report."

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Salmon research tagged as 'egregious earmark'

An Arizona congressman posted this smack on his Web site recently.

So how about it, BSFA? Care to smack back?

Or at least explain why we need $190,000 in salmon research?

Jeff Flake
Congressman
Arizona's Sixth District


Congressman Flake Spotlights Egregious Earmark of the Week

$190,000 to the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association for Salmon Research

MESA, Arizona, May 8 — Republican Congressman Jeff Flake, who represents Arizona’s Sixth District, today highlighted a pork project contained in the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2009.

This week’s egregious earmark: $190,000 to the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association in Anchorage, Alaska, for salmon research.

“Taxpayers are ‘bering’ the brunt of congressional earmarking,” said Flake.

'Travel is required'

Here's an interesting job posting at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute:

INTERNATIONAL MARKETING PROGRAM DIRECTOR - ASMI

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI), Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development (DCCED), State of Alaska is seeking candidates for International Marketing Program Director.

This Position Control Number (PCN) is located in Juneau, Alaska, and reports directly to the Executive Director. It is an administrative supervisory position who oversees a staff of two, plus five overseas contractors (Overseas Marketing Representatives - OMRs) located in Japan, China, France, United Kingdom, and Spain. This position manages an annual budget of approximately $7M and works closely with ASMI technical program, fiscal staff and U.S. domestic marketing and communication program managers. The International Marketing Program Director is part of the core leadership team who work with the Executive Director to coordinate and execute ASMI programs.

Responsibilities include working directly with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to secure Market Access Program (MAP) funding which requires preparing and executing the Unified Export Strategy which forms the basis of the MAP grant application. Oversight of this grant is a significant duty and requires detailed monitoring and reporting to FAS. Direct oversight of the OMRs is required to administer their contracts. In addition, the incumbent works with the ASMI International Marketing Committee which provides guidance and feedback on overseas markets and helps shape the strategic direction of the Institute. Travel is required to attend international trade shows, annual cooperator meetings with FAS, and other MAP grant related meetings and to attend ASMI board of directors and committees meetings.

This person will represent the Alaska Seafood Industry and the State of Alaska in international forums and other public venues and must be a good public speaker.

The ideal candidate will possess expertise in the following areas:

• Good leadership skills and team building skills
• Communication skills and the ability to work with different cultures
• Federal grants, and both federal & state budget, accounting, and administrative processes
• Knowledge of the Alaska Seafood industry
• Personnel management
• Knowledge of overseas markets

Minimum requirements:

A Bachelor’s degree from an accredited college in marketing, international marketing, international relations, government and internal marketing experience or experience in grant administration. Other degree fields will be considered if they are relevant to the position. Work experience will also be evaluated and considered in lieu of a Bachelor’s degree.

State of Alaska Executive Exempt (XE) salary and benefits - D.O.E. Starting salary at (XE) 24-A $78,500 plus State benefits.

Closing date for application to be received by 4 PM AST May 27, 2009

Send application letter, resume and references to: hire@alaskaseafood.org

ASMI is an Equal Opportunity Employer/Affirmative Action employer

Monday, May 18, 2009

'Extinguishing processor shares'

The staff of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has written an interesting discussion paper on the idea of dropping processor shares from the crab rationalization program.

Already lost? Let's review some history.

In August of 2005, the competition for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab ended and we moved to a "rationalized" fishery. That is, fishermen received individual quotas to catch crab, and landings were apportioned by region.

The fisheries also were divided another way: among processors. Essentially, the established processors received buying rights, just as the existing fishermen received fishing rights.

While processors believe it's vital for their plant investments to have a guaranteed stream of crab deliveries, some fishermen and other critics hate processor shares as restraint of trade.

Anyway, there's my quick and no doubt inadequate overview of crab rationalization.

Now let's get back now to that discussion paper, titled "Extinguishing processor shares."

The paper was written at the request of the council, which is looking at the idea of dropping processor shares.

My aim today isn't to summarize the entire 16-page paper for you, but to spotlight one intriguing part: The idea that getting rid of processor shares might be a very involved and difficult thing to do.

Why?

Because crab rationalization without processor shares could be such a fundamental change that it "effectively creates a new limited access privilege program" as defined under the recently reauthorized Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The act requires the council to consider a host of issues before adopting a new LAPP.

"This includes respecification of the goals of the program, reconsideration of allocations (including allocations to small owner-operated vessels, fishing communities, and set asides for entry, captains, and crew), and the consideration of the auction of shares and the collection of royalties in the fisheries," the paper says.

Wow, can you imagine a whole new slugfest over who gets how much?

And auctions and royalties?

Anyway, Deckboss recommends you add this paper to your reading list.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Famous fish and the football coach

Here's the annual press release from Alaska Airlines on whisking the first Copper River salmon of the season to Seattle.

The release includes references to processors Ocean Beauty, Trident and Copper River Seafoods and features a certain college football coach!

Catch up, prices down at Copper River

Here's the box score from Thursday's season opener in the Copper River District.

Total catch was 1,549 Chinook salmon and 20,216 sockeye.

My sources in Cordova tell me the ex-vessel price, the amount processors pay to gillnetters for raw fish, was about $5.25 per pound for Chinook and $3.50 for sockeye.

Last year, the opening day catch was 800 Chinook and 2,400 sockeye, with prices running about $6.50 and $4 respectively.

So, obviously, a substantially larger opening day harvest this year, but lower prices. The price drop was expected, I reckon, considering the recession.

My Cordova friends say weather was fairly miserable yesterday, windy and cold.

But conditions were better than last year when lots of boats stayed in port on opening day due to a storm. This year's catch was bigger at least in part because more boats went fishing.

The state Department of Fish and Game has scheduled another 12-hour opener beginning at 7 a.m. Monday.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Here we go

The Copper River salmon fishery starts at 7 a.m. today with a 12-hour opener.

This fishery, as you might have heard, is a celebrated rite of spring and sort of the unofficial kickoff to a new Alaska commercial salmon season each year.

Some 500 gillnet boats out of Cordova and other ports will chase Chinook and sockeye, prized among gastronomes in Seattle and beyond as the "first salmon" of the season. Never mind that's not exactly so.

Anyway, having savored them myself, I can attest to the quality of the Copper River fish. Mighty tasty.

Here's a couple of thoughts to ponder as we sail into opening day:

• Will the recession crimp those absurdly high prices Copper River fishermen usually enjoy at the docks early in the season? We've seen upwards of $7 a pound for Chinook and $5 for sockeye. I'm guessing a little less irrational exuberance this year.

• Will Copper River salmon returns rebound from last year? State biologists are forecasting a Chinook harvest of 30,000 fish and a sockeye catch of 704,000 fish. Not great, but way better than last season’s sorry results: 11,450 Chinook and 320,815 sockeye.

All right, enough with the pregame warm-up. Be safe out there, guys, and good fishing.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mar-Gun saved!

The Bering Sea pollock trawler Mar-Gun is afloat again after 10 weeks aground. U.S. Coast Guard photo

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

May 13, 2009

Coast Guard, salvors recover Mar-Gun from St. George beach after 10-week effort

ANCHORAGE, Alaska - The Coast Guard assisted salvors in successfully recovering the 112-foot fishing vessel Mar-Gun from Staraya Beach on the north end of St. George Island in the Bering Sea Wednesday at 1:04 a.m.

The vessel is currently moored in Zapadni Harbor, St. George Island, undergoing a thorough damage survey. The Redeemer, based out of Dutch Harbor, will tow the Mar-Gun to Dutch Harbor for repairs. The transit is estimated to take about 30 hours.

The team used ground tackle, including three sea anchors weighing 8,000 to 10,000 pounds each, and a winch system to pull the vessel from the beach which took place over several high tide cycles.

Responders removed 19,000 gallons of diesel and 660 gallons of lube oil from the vessel in March. During the effort they faced winter conditions, high winds, rough seas and ice.

"This was a tremendous effort by all involved," said Cmdr. Steven Pearson, chief of response Coast Guard Sector Anchorage. "The remote area and the sensitive nature of the habitat posed challenges to the effort that our diverse team overcame admirably and resulted in the successful recovery of the vessel."

A subsistence sampling program has been developed and will be implemented now that the vessel has been removed. The unified command recommends no subsistence harvests be conducted in the immediate area until sufficient sampling can be completed.

To date neither the 18th century Russian settlement, Staraya Artil, nor the palentological site of the 2,000 year-old marine mammal bones have been impacted. Safeguards were in place to prevent damage to these locations.

The Seattle-based Mar-Gun grounded March 5 some 200 yards off the north end of St. George Island. All five crewmembers were rescued by a Coast Guard helicopter and delivered to St. Paul. Response efforts to mitigate the pollution potential began immediately.

Trawler rescue grinds forward

Salvage tug Redeemer prepares to haul the stranded trawler Mar-Gun.

Welding the Mar-Gun's scarred hull. U.S. Coast Guard photos taken last Friday

Salvors are making progress on saving the Bering Sea pollock trawler Mar-Gun, hard aground on St. George Island since March 5.

During early morning high tides Sunday and Monday, the tug Redeemer and a ground tackle system managed to pull the 112-foot trawler 45 feet seaward, according to a report from the state Department of Environmental Conservation.

"Upon completion of each day's pulling, the F/V Mar-Gun's hull was reinspected for any damage and repairs were completed as needed," the report says.

To make way for the rescue, salvors used explosives to remove rock pinnacle about 15 feet seaward of the vessel's stern.

What's next?

"Removal operations will continue as tide and weather allow," the DEC report says.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

It's McDowell and LaRussa!

Here's election results for a couple of seats on the board of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

Beware July 2-3 at Bristol Bay

A recurrent problem at Bristol Bay is lack of processing capacity when the sockeye run thick. Plugged plants shut down to clear the glut of fish while angry fishermen sit on the beach with their nets drying in the breeze.

In an effort to predict these capacity crunches, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has come out with a newfangled forecast of what the daily sockeye harvest will be this year, not just the season harvest.

The department also estimates the likelihood of processing capacity being exceeded on any given day.

The analysis is based on run timing data from 1956 through 2008.

It shows a 30 to 50 percent probability of catches exceeding the bay's processing capacity on at least one day this season.

The probability is highest on July 2-3.

Typically, processors impose buying limits or suspensions on fishermen after consecutive days of outsized harvests.

I’m sure you’ll want to see more of this study. Find it here on the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association Web site.

Coast Guard's top Anchorage officer relieved

Troubling news Monday from the U.S. Coast Guard.

It seems Capt. Mark Hamilton, commander of the Coast Guard's Sector Anchorage, has been relieved of duty amid "alleged misconduct," the nature of which wasn't disclosed.

For what it's worth, I've worked a lot with this officer in my news coverage and always found him to be very professional.

Commanding Sector Anchorage, by the way, is no small responsibility.

It's the largest Coast Guard sector in the nation, covering Cook Inlet, Kodiak Island, the Aleutian Islands, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Here's the press release:

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

May 11, 2009

Anchorage Coast Guard commander relieved

JUNEAU, Alaska — Rear Adm. Arthur E. Brooks, commander, 17th Coast Guard District, temporarily relieved Capt. H. Mark Hamilton Monday from his duties as commander, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage, citing alleged misconduct and loss of confidence in the officer's ability to command.

Pending the results of an investigation, Rear Adm. Brooks may recommend that Capt. Hamilton resume command or be permanently relieved. Final determination regarding a permanent removal or resumption of command is made by the commandant of the Coast Guard in Washington, D.C.

Capt. John S. Kenyon, assigned as the 17th District chief of prevention, has assumed temporary command of Sector Anchorage.

Capt. Hamilton has been temporarily reassigned to the 17th Coast Guard District staff.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Another Fuglvog endorsement

Here's more love for Arne Fuglvog, a former Petersburg commercial fisherman looking to hook the top job at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

This endorsement letter comes from the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association.

Sarah, salmon and world hunger

Here's a New York Times blog item about Gov. Sarah Palin's nonappearance Friday at a Big Apple function touting Alaska canned salmon as international food aid.

The writer, Kim Severson, is a former reporter and editor at the Anchorage Daily News.

Friday, May 8, 2009

First salmon!

Now that we're well into May, I can almost hear the salmon tumbling out of the net and into the boat.

Need more proof we're close to fishing time?

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game issued its first press release of the year today on the Copper River Chinook and sockeye season.

The famous fishery will begin with a 12-hour opener at 7 a.m. next Thursday.

The Copper River, however, won't be the first Alaska salmon gillnet fishery to open this year.

Southeast drifters will take that honor when they drop their nets for Taku River at noon Monday.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

More Exxon Valdez damages paid

The Seattle law firm handling distribution of punitive damages collected in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case say they recently made direct bank deposits totaling more than $9 million to 585 claimants.

The claimants include Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Kodiak herring fishermen; land owners and Native corporations; and the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Corp.

Here's the list of the recipients.

I did a quick scan and saw some pretty sizeable figures, including payments of $100,000-plus to several Prince William Sound herring seiners.

The law firm of Keller Rohrback has been distributing money for several months now, working its way through the many different classes of plaintiffs.

The lawyers began with more than $383 million to distribute. The money came from a partial settlement with Exxon Mobil Corp. for the 1989 oil spill.

The firm maintains a news and information Web site here.

Charter anglers again face one-fish bag limit

Here's notice today of the federal government's second attempt in two years to impose a one-fish daily bag limit for halibut charter boat anglers in Southeast Alaska.

Commercial halibut fishermen are no doubt pleased.

But would Deckboss be going out on a limb to suggest we might now see another lawsuit from charter captains aiming to block this rule?

He thinks not.

National Marine Fisheries Service

May 6, 2009

NOAA Reduces Charter Halibut Catch
Long-term solution is catch share program

In a new rule released today, NOAA’s Fisheries Service reduced the number of halibut that charter vessel anglers in southeast Alaska can keep each day from two to one to protect the halibut stock.

"While today’s rule addresses an immediate need to better manage the charter halibut fishery, we believe the long-term solution to sustainably managing the fishery is for the charter halibut fishery to join with the commercial halibut fishery in a catch share program,” said Doug Mecum, acting regional administrator for NOAA’s Fisheries Service in Alaska. “Catch share programs that allocate the total allowable catch to participants in the fishery give a strong incentive to fishermen to conserve fish stocks."

Halibut fishing along the Pacific Coast is managed under overall limits set for each fishing area. Sport charter halibut fishermen in Southeast Alaska have exceeded their assigned harvest levels for several years.

"Sport charter fishing has grown in southeast Alaska while halibut abundance has decreased," said Mecum. "With this rule, we are trying to reduce the charter halibut catch to ensure that we continue to fish sustainably. We want to work with the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on a long-term solution for sustainable fishing by both commercial and recreational fishing sectors."

As part of the new rule, effective June 5, a halibut sport charter vessel angler in southeast Alaska may use only one fishing line, and no more than a total of six lines are allowed on a charter vessel fishing for halibut. Further, charter operators, guides and crew are prohibited from catching and retaining halibut during a charter fishing trip.

Details of the new rule can be found here.

Managers put a similar rule in place last spring, but sport charter halibut operators challenged it on procedural grounds and the agency withdrew the rule.

$3.4 million fine still hanging over Icicle

Icicle Seafoods Inc. could be one step closer to having to write a very big check as a penalty for some illegal king crab processing a few years ago.

But the dollar figure might not be as hefty as government authorities want.

That's the upshot of this recent 32-page determination and order signed by Jane Lubchenco, the Obama administration's newly installed head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Icicle has been fighting a $3.4 million civil penalty NOAA Fisheries imposed against the Seattle-based processor in late 2004.

Investigators charged that Icicle, through another company involved in seafood processing on faraway Adak Island in the Aleutians, exceeded its crab processing limit under the American Fisheries Act of 1998.

The central question is whether Icicle controlled Adak Fisheries Development Co. and used it to process millions of pounds of king crab over Icicle's limit. The company belonged to Kjetil Solberg, a former Icicle business partner.

Government authorities argue that Icicle did, in fact, control Adak Fisheries Development Co., and that it made substantial profits on the unlawful crab processing.

Icicle argues that, no, it didn't control Solberg's company, and it puts up a bunch of other reasons why it shouldn't have to pay any $3.4 million fine.

An administrative law judge upheld the fine in March 2007.

Icicle appealed that decision to a higher authority, which is where Lubchenco comes in.

She rules against Icicle on most points.

But she also kicks part of the case back to the judge for "clarification," and asks him to reconsider the fine amount.

In addition, she writes on page 31 of her ruling that she doesn't agree with the judge that Icicle and its Adak associates "engaged in an improper scheme to evade the law."

No telling, I guess, when this thing will be sorted out, or how big a check Icicle will have to write in the end.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fishermen for Fuglvog

I've been casting around for a look at letters supporting Arne Fuglvog's bid to head up the National Marine Fisheries Service in the Obama administration (Deckboss, April 9).

Here's one from United Fishermen of Alaska.

Friday, May 1, 2009

USGS announces breakthrough mercury study

Here's word of a new study on how mercury, which can contaminate fish, travels across the North Pacific Ocean from Asia. The release contains a Kodiak reference.

Watching out for green crabs

A female European green crab with her egg mass. Photo by Linda Shaw, NOAA Fisheries

Here's interesting news about an effort to detect the insidious European green crab possibly making its way north into Southeast Alaska waters. Pray this thing never arrives!

NOAA Fisheries

May 1, 2009

Network sets traps to find any green crabs in Alaska

With spring weather, experts from natural resource agencies, professors, teachers, students and citizens in Alaska are increasing their vigilance for oceanic aliens: European green crabs.

Ketchikan resident Gary Freitag will board a plane within the next couple weeks to ride to Shelter Cover, on Dall Island on the outer coastline of Southeast Alaska to set small crab traps where green crabs are likely to make their first appearance in Alaska.

Freitag works for Alaska Sea Grant which is funded by NOAA and the University of Alaska. He is also an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Ketchikan. The cooperative nature of his funding echoes what can be seen across the state: Many people from scientists to fishermen to citizens to students, with federal to state to private affiliations have their eyes open for the first sign of green crabs.

“Trained monitors set small crab traps during low tides and check after 24 hours have passed,” explained Linda Shaw, invasive species expert with NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. “Most start in May and trap through into September. But in Ketchikan, Gary Freitag is also trapping in the winter.”

Green crabs top out at about 10 centimeters (4 inches) across. They displace native species with their voracious eating and breeding habits: clams, oyster, mussels, marine worms and other crabs fall prey. Green crabs also devour herring, salmon bones, or canned cat food, which are most commonly used to bait the traps.

The crabs appear to be moving northward on the currents. Scientists have found them in substantial numbers on the outside coastline of Vancouver Island in British Columbia and speculate that they may have already spread northward to the Queen Charlotte Islands. Vigilant monitors have not yet found any green crabs in Alaska, but the estuaries and sheltered coves of Southeast Alaska are the most likely first sighting points.

Green crabs can also hitch a ride in ballast water of ships. So in Dutch Harbor, Homer, Kodiak, Tatitlek, Whittier, Valdez, Cordova and Chenega in western and south-central Alaska as well as Glacier Bay, Sitka, Juneau and Ketchikan in southeast Alaska, dedicated individuals are regularly wading into the shallows to check their traps.

Green crabs invaded Cape Cod nearly two centuries ago. They arrived somewhere between New Jersey and Massachusetts, probably on rock ballast or in the hulls of European ships. They have been spreading in North America since. In San Francisco, California, a breeding population was discovered in 1989. Green crabs were found off Oregon in 1997, off Washington in 1998 and off British Columbia in 1999. Their population has boomed in British Columbia.

The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center started the first dedicated program monitoring for green crabs in Alaska in 2000. The Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council started monitoring in Prince William Sound in 2005. In 2007, NOAA Fisheries sponsored a training workshop in cooperation with the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council and Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

NOAA Fisheries recruited and trained monitors in Ketchikan, Gustavus and Sitka. The Southeast Alaska monitors completed their first season of trapping in 2008. In all, the network of formally trained crab-trappers has expanded to about a dozen people in a dozen locations statewide. But they are not alone: many others also have their eyes open for green crabs.

Anyone who suspects they may have seen or caught a green crab should call the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game at 1-877-INVASIV (1-877-468-2748). For more details on green crabs, click here.