Monday, August 31, 2009

A hatchery operator gone astray?

The state has issued a breathtaking report titled "Alaska Department of Fish and Game Internal Review of Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation."

It details all manner of problems with the Cordova-based operator of some of the world’s largest fish hatcheries.

The problems include chronic conflict with Fish and Game staff, improper harvest and processing of salmon to cover hatchery expenses, and an apparent disregard for "straying" of hatchery fish intermingling with and possibly damaging wild salmon runs.

The report doesn’t reserve its intense criticism solely for PWSAC (locals pronounce the acronym pizz-wack). It also faults Fish and Game officials themselves for futile attempts to appease recalcitrant hatchery managers by looking the other way on criminal offenses.

If even half this stuff is true, Alaskans — perhaps legislators — are going to be alarmed, angry and asking tough questions.

Now, here’s a really important caveat. Some if not all of these problems are somewhat dated. That’s because the "internal review" was conducted back in 2006.

Since that time, PWSAC compliance has improved, says an epilogue on page 26 of the 207-page document.

However, "the relationship remains strained," with the hatchery operator still not communicating well with Fish and Game and still not addressing the issue of straying salmon.

PWSAC is a private, nonprofit corporation founded in 1974 that runs major salmon hatcheries around Prince William Sound. It’s an integral part of the commercial fishing industry, producing millions of pink, chum and sockeye salmon that make big money for seiners and gillnetters.

It’s partly because PWSAC is so vital to the fishing industry that Fish and Game hasn’t been able to crack down harder on its many permit violations and generally stubborn and uncooperative attitude, the internal review says.

Here’s a few select items from the report:

• PWSAC’s general manager "has created an antagonistic relationship with every commercial fisheries biologist in the Cordova office for the past 5 years. That hostile atmosphere has led, in part, to the high turn-over rate of department staff in the Cordova office."

• PWSAC has more than $25 million in state loans, and plenty of fish to cover costs. Yet hatchery managers have a record of "multiple cost recovery failures" and had to turn to the state for an additional $3 million loan in 2004.

• State biologists have a legitimate interest in what goes on in PWSAC hatcheries, and wanted to see PWSAC’s fish culture manuals. But the hatchery operator called them "proprietary" and refused to hand them over. Result: "The department has no knowledge of how PWSAC operates many aspects of their programs."

• The straying of hatchery chums on a large scale into wild salmon streams, instead of homing to sites where they were released as smolts, is "one of the most serious problems" with PWSAC. Such straying is a violation of state regulations, yet PWSAC has refused to participate in projects to assess it.

Deckboss has not contacted Fish and Game or PWSAC to see if these problems persist.

All I can say is that the department has released the internal review with an August 2009 date on the cover and the epilogue saying "the relationship remains strained."

While the review itself was news to me, I was aware of some of the state’s PWSAC concerns in late 2006, when I wrote an Anchorage Daily News article headlined "State slams hatcheries."

Hatchery managers contended then that many of the problems were either overblown or out of date.

"We’re very anxious to sit down with the commissioner and talk through some of these issues," PWSAC’s general manager, Dave Reggiani, told me at the time.

Fine.

My guess right now, however, is that with the public release of this internal review, Fish and Game still has a serious bone to pick with PWSAC.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

DOT crackdown burns commercial fishermen

People are stirred up in at least two Alaska ports over an apparent Alaska Department of Transportation crackdown on commercial transit regulations.

Evidently some Cordova fishermen received citations in July related to the trailering of commercial fishing boats.

More recently, from what I hear, DOT enforcement officers have appeared in Petersburg to educate folks there about the potential for $1,000 fines for not complying with road rules that sound more appropriate for truckers than fishermen.

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association on Friday sent out this detailed information advisory.

And here's another advisory well worth reading from Cordova District Fishermen United.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Body of Trident processor found in BC waters

Here's breaking news about the discovery of a body believed to be that of a woman crew member who fell overboard in British Columbia waters from the Trident Seafoods processing ship Aleutian Falcon.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Blotter

A seiner in trouble, bootleg halibut sales, a lonely heart bound for Dutch Harbor...

Catch it all today on The Brig.

Outside Alaska, aquaculture efforts march on

Alaska evidently has it so good that it need not consider a serious expansion of its aquaculture industry.

Elsewhere, however, folks are thinking big.

Here's an excerpt from a daily investors newsletter I receive sketching out a fantastic plan involving fish, algae and oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.

Would we consider something like this in Alaska? Nope, don't think so.

Something Smells Fishy‏

Wells Fargo Daily Advantage

Aug. 25, 2009

Are we ready for cars that are powered by the oil squeezed out of fish which munch on algae? One company hopes so. LiveFuels is a firm hoping to cash in on the algae-based biofuel craze by developing new ways to process algae into liquid energy to power our cars, buses, and trucks. They also claim their methods will help reduce a problem in the ocean caused by fertilizer runoff.

Each spring, fertilizer runoff from farms across the Midwest flows down the Mississippi river and into the Gulf of Mexico. This creates the second-largest algae bloom in the world — the size of New Jersey. It is called a "dead zone" because the algae feeds on the fertilizer, which in turn feeds a booming bacteria population which sucks up so much oxygen in the ocean water that fish and plants either move away or perish. Scientists, environmentalists, and the seafood industry have been monitoring the negative impact of fertilizer runoff and the dead zones for years.

Instead of harvesting the oil directly from the algae in the harmful dead zones (a costly proposition), LiveFuels plans to enlist an army of traveling fish to gobble it up. (Think of it like a farmer renting out goats to "naturally" cut the grass along highways and airports.) More than 25,000 pounds of fish per acre would be released into the dead zones to feast on the algae. The fish would be contained in caged fish farms and, after plumping up, would be rounded up and the oils squeezed out of them. Lovely imagery, hey? But the process results in no carbon footprint, the phosphates from fish bones are used for (ironically) fertilizer, and protein for animal feed and oil for fuel is generated.

— Brian Bock

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Looks like the end for Harbor Crown Seafoods

I'd been hearing for months how a relatively new Dutch Harbor processing company, Harbor Crown Seafoods Inc., was really struggling financially.

Today, on a visit to the state courthouse in Anchorage, I found hard proof.

Five days ago, Superior Court Judge William Morse signed a final judgment against Harbor Crown awarding $203,252 to the owner of the crab boat Tempo Sea.

Tempo Sea sued on June 23 alleging that Harbor Crown failed to pay for 131,425 pounds of snow crab delivered to the plant on April 3.

Harbor Crown didn't answer the lawsuit in a timely fashion, resulting in the default or final judgment.

According to state and court records, Kenneth Dorris of Hayden, Idaho, is president and owns a third of the company. A unit of Toronto-based Hai Yang International Inc. is listed as the largest shareholder with 45 percent.

The court file contains some correspondence from a Spokane, Wash., lawyer who said he was "assisting Harbor Crown with its current financial difficulties."

In one letter the lawyer, John Munding, mentions the company's creditors and a fear of possible bankruptcy.

And in a July 26 e-mail to Tempo Sea's attorney, Munding wrote:

"Harbor Crown Seafoods, Inc. has been determined to be insolvent as a result of the recent economic recession and will be closing its doors. As such it is unable to hire Alaska counsel to defend the Tempo matter and will allow judgment."

The e-mail concludes: "This is truly an unfortunate situation for all involved."

According to its Web site, Harbor Crown opened in 2003 as "a modern, mid-sized processing plant" with a vision of providing fishermen and consumers an alternative to the "international processing conglomerates."

Harbor Crown touted Pacific cod as its primary product, along with Alaska octopus and crab.

Nice save

U.S. Coast Guard responders in Kodiak this morning helped save the 42-foot seiner Hail Mary, which was aground and taking on water in Womens Bay near the Coast Guard base. Guardsmen and the four-man seiner crew managed to plug a hole and used a dewatering pump to refloat the boat in about an hour. "The fishing vessel crew used their own skiff to tow the Hail Mary to the dock at Alaska Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak City, arriving at 12:48 p.m.," a Coast Guard press release said. USCG Seamen Grant DeVuyst photo

Monday, August 24, 2009

Notes from council's rural committee posted

I haven't read this yet, but here's a report from the inaugural meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council's new Rural Community Outreach Committee.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Huge round of Exxon Valdez payments coming

Since last December, lawyers for plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case have been gradually distributing $383 million collected thus far as punitive damages.

Now they're preparing to hand out an even bigger sum — $470 million.

This is interest Exxon paid July 1 on the punitive damages award the U.S. Supreme Court ordered last year.

Yesterday, lawyers asked federal Judge H. Russel Holland of Anchorage for permission to distribute almost $299 million of the interest money to 17,297 claimants in 47 categories.

Unless I'm mistaken, this will be the biggest single chunk of Exxon Valdez money to be paid out to date.

Here is a very long list, in two parts, showing gross amounts each claimant is to receive:

Payment list, part 1
Payment list, part 2

I scanned the list and saw lots of payments in excess of $100,000, with some topping $200,000 and even $300,000.

Caretakers of the Exxon Valdez money also are proposing to hand out some additional chunks. Read the details here.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Blotter

Check out The Brig for the latest Dutch Harbor report and other fisheries-related law enforcement news.

Feds wrap up stock surveys, OK Arctic fishing ban

Here are two important announcements today from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

First, researchers have completed this year's surveys of eastern Bering Sea fish and crab stocks. The annual surveys are important for setting commercial catch limits.

Second, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke has approved a temporary no-fishing policy for warming Arctic Ocean waters. Approval of the widely hailed fishing ban was considered largely a formality.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Federal study finds mercury in all fish

Here's an AP story summarizing the findings of "the most comprehensive look to date at mercury in the nation's streams."

The bottom line: All tested fish had some mercury contamination, but only about a quarter showed levels above safe limits for average consumers.

The story has a couple of Alaska references.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Adak's power struggle

Deckboss simply doesn't have the energy tonight to recap the long and tumultuous history of Adak Fisheries, the little fish plant on faraway Adak Island in the Aleutians.

He can only report the latest drama surrounding the operation.

It seems a flurry of lawsuits have been filed against Adak Fisheries in recent weeks.

One suit involves the local electric utility, TDX Adak Generating, suing for unpaid power bills. More on this case in a minute.

Another case has Coastal Transportation Inc. suing for $56,520 in unpaid bills for shipping everything from boots and rain gear to pallets of salt. Court records show a default judgment already has been entered against Adak Fisheries for failure to answer the lawsuit.

Toyota Motor Credit Corp. and Daimler Chrysler Financial Services also have sued Adak Fisheries, but I wasn't able to get a look at those case files today.

The major suit seems to be the TDX action against Adak Fisheries and owners Kjetil Solberg, Matthew Tisher and Dave Fraser.

Evidently, the Adak Fisheries folks and TDX have been in a power struggle for some time over the processor's electric bills. The fish plant is among the largest power users on Adak, which until recent years was strictly a military outpost.

My read of the lawsuit is that TDX is aiming to collect potentially more than $1 million in unpaid bills and damages for "intentionally tampering" with an electric meter to show the plant used way less juice than it actually did.

The lawsuit includes an affidavit from Adak Police Chief James Northcott, who says he also has worked as an electrician for the city as well as TDX and Adak Fisheries.

Northcott's statement says Adak Fisheries employees including Fraser met with Adak's mayor and others at city hall toward the end of last year. They expressed concern about the size of the processor's electric bill and the accuracy of a meter Northcott had installed in the fish plant in 2007.

At the time of the city hall meeting, the city owned the local electric utility. TDX took it over in December 2008.

Northcott, in his statement, says city officials agreed to install a replacement meter.

"When the meter arrived in late November 2008, Dave Fraser intercepted the meter shipment at the Alaska Airlines freight office in Adak, took the new meter to the fish plant, and directed Adak Fisheries' electrician, Saldie, to install the new meter," Northcott's affidavit says. "All of this was done without my approval. I told Dave Fraser that he had no authority to make the change, and that I was the only one authorized by the City to change out meters. In fact, I got into an argument with Dave Fraser over the entire matter."

The TDX lawsuit contends the new meter was wired in such a way as to show only a third of actual electrical usage.

The suit also says that after some failed negotiations, TDX disconnected the fish processor's main commercial account on April 8.

Adak Fisheries and the owners haven't yet answered the TDX lawsuit, which was filed July 13 in Superior Court in Anchorage.

Of course, Deckboss would be pleased to report the other side of the story and invites Solberg and Fraser to respond to this post.

A 'Super 8' boat meets its demise

The Icy Mist aground in February. USCG photo

The Icy Mist was a so-called Super 8 boat, one in a rising breed of brawny, high-capacity cod catchers nearly half as wide as their 58-foot length. They look indestructible, like a knot of steel.

But not even a Super 8 boat can survive what the Icy Mist went through.

The vessel wrecked at 4 a.m. Feb. 25 on a remote, boulder-strewn beach on Akutan Island. In hurricane-force winds, a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew was able to hoist all four crewmen to safety.

A July 30 report from pollution regulators with the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation says the Icy Mist "grounded due to operator error in rough seas."

Any thought of salvaging the boat to fish another day have now faded away, the report says.

It's been disemboweled on the rugged beach.

"As the seas continually worked the vessel against the rocks, the hull incurred structural damage and the fish holds became open to the seas, releasing the 135,000 pounds of Pacific cod onboard the vessel to the surrounding waters," the DEC report says.

The report continues: "The bottom of the engine room is now gone, as is the engine and marine gear. In their place are two rocks, the larger being approximately 8 feet by 6 feet, the other substantially smaller."

The DEC says state officials and the boat's owner, Robert Gunderson of Kodiak, are working with Magone Marine Services on a plan to remove the wreck for scuttling at sea.

The demise of the Icy Mist is too bad because it was only in late 2007 that she went into the Hansen Boat Co. yard in Everett, Wash., for sponsoning to her stout dimensions of 58 feet long, 28 feet 6 inches wide (previously the boat's beam was 22 feet). A bulbous bow also was added, according to this National Fisherman article.

The boat was capable of fishing with pots or trawl gear.

But now she's done.

Monday, August 17, 2009

State, federal agencies study Yukon water quality

Here's a press release from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation about an effort to assess water quality and habitat along 550 miles of the Yukon River.

This seems like important stuff considering the weak returns of not only king salmon this season, but reportedly fall chum as well.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Coast Guard: 'Will always be someone listening'

I'm just not sure what the U.S. Coast Guard press release below means from a practical standpoint, but I'd sure welcome feedback from skippers.

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Aug. 14, 2009

Coast Guard moves radio operations from Valdez to better serve the boating community

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — To better serve the boating community, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage is scheduled to move its VHF radio monitoring operations from Valdez to the Sector command center in Anchorage Saturday.

The move is the final step in a process that will centralize all Western Alaska VHF marine radio communications.

The consolidation will streamline communications between the Coast Guard and recreational and commercial mariners. Radio operators will now be located with Coast Guard search and rescue control personnel, allowing better coordination and communication during times of need.

“We want to assure the public there will always be someone listening,” said Senior Chief Petty Officer Jimmy Belcher, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage Command Center supervisor. “The mariners are not losing any communication at all.”

The first stage of consolidation occurred in late July when VHF radio operations were moved from Kodiak to Anchorage.

These transitions are part of a consolidation of personnel and mission responsibilities under the Coast Guard command center located in Anchorage.

Communications Station Kodiak will continue to monitor maritime radio communications on the HF upper sideband frequencies 2182 and 4125 kHz. The maritime operators and fishermen who use these bands will still be heard and should address COMMSTA Kodiak as they have always done.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons will not be affected by the consolidation. All EPIRB signals will continue to be heard by the Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center in Juneau.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Council to reach out to rural Alaska today

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has felt some heat in recent months from residents of western Alaska, chiefly over the issue of the Bering Sea pollock trawl fleet's incidental catches of Yukon River king salmon.

To show some deference to rural Alaskans, the council in June appointed a Rural Community Outreach Committee to help Native and rural communities better connect with council business.

The committee meets from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Anchorage Chamber of Commerce.

Deckboss presumes this is a public meeting. Here's the agenda.

Eric Olson, the North Pacific Council chairman, also chairs the rural outreach committee. Other members are Paula Cullenberg, Duncan Fields, Jennifer Hooper, Tom Okleasik, Ole Olsen and Pete Probasco.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Cash your dang check already!

Now here's some irony for you.

Remember all the weeping and wailing from the thousands who claimed injury and injustice from the Exxon Valdez spill of 1989?

Well, it turns out a bunch of the plaintiffs who have received punitive damages payments from Exxon have not bothered to cash their checks yet!

So says the Seattle law firm that's handling the distribution of Exxon money for the plaintiffs.

"The Administrator notes that a substantial number of checks issued by the EQSF (Exxon Qualified Settlement Fund) from 2008 to present remain un-cashed," the firm said in a posting Friday to its information Web site. "The Administrator urges all recipients of such checks to negotiate them, immediately, to avoid having a bank refuse to honor them as stale."

The firm adds that people with uncashed checks are placing any future interest payments from Exxon in jeopardy.

"For claimants who appear on a future application for punitive damages interest, who have failed to cash their check for punitive damages, the Administrator may be required to VOID their previously issued punitive damages check. To avoid such action, claimants should promptly negotiate these previously issued checks."

Guess somebody better head to the bank, huh.

Not in the pink in Prince William Sound

Every Alaska salmon season is different, yet the same.

Some regions produce bountiful harvests. Some perform way under forecast. Either way, fishermen usually go home grumbling about the prices.

This season we give the blue ribbon to Bristol Bay, which produced a catch of almost 31 million sockeye on a forecast of 24 million. That's 31 million reds. Wow.

As for underperformers, we all know the sad story of the Yukon River Chinook.

But the season's biggest disappointment might be the Prince William Sound pink salmon fishery. So far it's been a royal bust.

Coming into the season, the forecast was for a spectacular run of 54.9 million pinks, with a potential commercial catch of 40 million. The run would be composed of 14.3 million wild stock fish, 17.9 million from the Valdez Fisheries Development Association hatchery, and 22.7 million from Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. hatcheries.

What's happened so far?

The wild pinks simply haven't shown up and the movement of spawning fish into freshwater streams is running way behind.

As for hatchery production, the early return of pinks to the VFDA hatchery was shockingly low and the catch won't even cover the association's expenses.

The industry is now waiting anxiously to see how returns to the PWSAC hatcheries play out.

Through Friday, the total pink salmon catch in Prince William Sound stood at just under 4 million fish. Oh, wow.

Sound seiners are still waiting for what's known as a commercial common property fishery — that is, a fishery for the fishermen, not just to pay for hatchery expenses.

As with the Yukon Chinook, many in the Sound wonder what what the heck happened to their fish.

Jeremy Botz, seine manager for the Department of Fish and Game in Cordova, said one explanation might be the cold water temperatures noted the year hatchery fish were released to sea as smolts. Cold water can suppress plankton blooms that provide vital food for growing fish.

Whatever the cause of the Sound's disappearing pinks, fishermen are feeling a little shell-shocked, Botz said.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Blotter

A Petersburg processor is in hot water with state troopers. Details on The Brig.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Fuglvog pulls out of contention for NMFS job

Arne Fuglvog has dropped out of the hunt for the top job at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

In this letter dated July 31 to Commerce Department Under Secretary Jane Lubchenco, Fuglvog said the process of considering candidates was taking much longer than he expected "and I am no longer able to remain a candidate."

Fuglvog is a former Alaska commercial fisherman now working on the staff of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

The Obama administration recently asked Jim Balsiger to stay on a few more months as NMFS chief while the search for his successor continues.

All hands safe

The fishing vessel Patty J ran aground early today in Square Cove southwest of Juneau, the U.S. Coast Guard reports. All five crewmen managed to get into a skiff and another fishing vessel rescued them. The Coast Guard launched a helicopter and a response boat after receiving a 4:30 a.m. mayday call that the vessel was taking on water. The Patty J had been traveling from Auke Bay to Excursion Inlet when it grounded, the Coast Guard said. USCG photo

Friday, August 7, 2009

Ocean Policy Task Force to meet in Anchorage

Here's a press release with more details about Jane Lubchenco's upcoming visit to Alaska, as reported earlier today on Deckboss:

Executive Office of the President
Council on Environmental Quality
Washington, D.C. 20503


Aug. 7, 2009

Obama Administration Officials to Hold Ocean Policy Task Force Public Meeting in Anchorage Aug. 21, 2009

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Obama Administration officials will hold their first Ocean Policy Task Force Public Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, on Aug. 21, 2009. The Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force, led by White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley, consists of senior-level officials from Administration agencies, departments, and offices.

The Task Force is charged with developing a recommendation for a national policy that ensures protection, maintenance, and restoration of oceans, our coasts and the Great Lakes. It will also recommend a framework for improved stewardship, and effective coastal and marine spatial planning. The public is encouraged to attend and an opportunity for public comment will be provided.

Who: White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Nancy Sutley

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Administrator Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Deputy Secretary of the Department of Interior David Hayes

Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Thad Allen

Deputy Assistant to the President on Energy and Climate Change Heather Zichal

What: Ocean Policy Task Force Public Meeting

When: Friday, Aug. 21, 1:30-4:30 p.m.

Where: Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center, Anchorage

Parnell to feds: Yukon suffered salmon disaster

Gov. Sean Parnell's office released this today:

Office of Alaska Governor Sean Parnell

Aug. 7, 2009

Parnell Urges Declaration of Disaster for Yukon Chinook

JUNEAU, Alaska — Governor Sean Parnell today sought to secure federal disaster relief for Yukon River residents. Parnell urged the U.S. Secretary of Commerce to declare a fishery disaster due to poor returns of Chinook salmon on the Yukon River.

“I trust Secretary Locke will recognize the severity of the situation on the Yukon and declare a fishery disaster,” Governor Parnell said. “I look forward to working with federal agencies and Alaska’s congressional delegation to secure disaster relief assistance for this region.”

The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes various forms of federal assistance through the National Marine Fisheries Service when the Secretary of Commerce determines there is a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster.

State analysis indicates that the decline in the Yukon Chinook fishery meets the standards in federal law as well as National Marine Fisheries Service policy for disaster declarations and criteria.

“Residents of Yukon River communities rely on fishing for income and food,” said Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development Commissioner Emil Notti. “These Alaskans face a high cost of living and have limited employment opportunities. These factors make the loss of the commercial fishery especially difficult.”

Commercial fishing is the only identified industry in the lower Yukon region that brings new money into the economy. On the entire river, more than 800 Alaska permit holders are directly affected, along with crewmen, processing employees, and those who provide support services.

The state is providing run assessment updates and technical information to assist the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska region in its analysis of the situation and is committed to providing any additional information that may be necessary for the federal process.

A federal disaster declaration will not bring automatic assistance to the region. A federal appropriation is necessary to provide funding.

The governor’s letter supports earlier requests by the Association of Village Council Presidents and the Alaska Federation of Natives.

NOAA chief Lubchenco coming to Alaska

Jane Lubchenco, head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is planning a swing through Alaska later this month.

"She’ll be here the week of Aug. 17 through 21, traveling with dignitaries from the Coast Guard and other agencies," a NOAA spokeswoman in Juneau told me today. "The group plans to travel in rural Alaska to see climate effects, ongoing research, and to talk with people in rural Alaska. Their aim is to learn more about the Arctic and to talk about interagency coordination on Arctic topics."

Lubchenco and other senior administration officials involved with the Interagency Ocean Policy Task Force also are planning to hold a public meeting on Aug. 21 in Anchorage.

President Obama ordered the task force on June 12.

Still no word about what's on the meeting agenda, or who will testify.

NOAA, of course, is an agency within the U.S. Department of Commerce. And under NOAA's wing is the National Marine Fisheries Service, which regulates commercial fishing in federal waters.

Lubchenco is a marine ecologist and environmental scientist who was teaching at Oregon State University when the Obama administration chose her as NOAA administrator.

One thing we'll be sure to ask her about when she comes to Anchorage: What's the status of hiring a new boss for NMFS?

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Coast Guard airlifts crewman with head injury

The U.S. Coast Guard is reporting a rescue helicopter crew today medevaced a crewman who suffered a head injury in a fall aboard the Petersburg fishing vessel Pamela Rae.

The helicopter carried carried Camden McKay, 25, from Pelican to Juneau at 11:52 a.m., the Coast Guard said.

Once in Juneau, McKay was taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A salmon cannery salute to Bob Thorstenson Sr.

On July 28 we reported the passing of Bob Thorstenson Sr., a founder of Icicle Seafoods Inc.

The Petersburg Pilot, the local newspaper in the Southeast Alaska town where Icicle began in 1965, had this today on its Web site:

"Tuesday, at four p.m., production at PFI (Icicle's Petersburg Fisheries Inc. plant) was halted and the steam whistle was sounded in honor of Bob Thorstenson, the company’s founder. The whistle is traditionally only blown to mark summer production surpassing 100,000 cases of canned salmon."

Blotter

Interesting case of Yukon River chum waste today on The Brig.

Also, don't miss the latest Dutch Harbor report.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Mark your calendar

This sounds like a big deal.

An International Arctic Fisheries Symposium is planned for October at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

Click here for details.

'A new cooperation of fisheries scientists'

I finally got around to reading this big-splash article published last Friday in the journal Science.

The paper, titled "Rebuilding Global Fisheries," attempts to assess the state of the world's fish stocks and efforts to halt overfishing.

The article is remarkable perhaps more for its curious assemblage of co-authors than for its conclusions.

The lead author is one Boris Worm, a Canadian university marine biologist who authored another Science article in 2006 projecting most if not all fish and seafood species were on track to collapse by precisely 2048.

University of Washington professor Ray Hilborn didn't think much of that paper and is pinpoint prediction, calling it "just mind-boggling stupid," according to this Seattle Times article.

So you might be surprised to learn these very same gentlemen, Worm and Hilborn, top a list of 21 scientists co-authoring this latest Science article, which is considerably more optimistic about our fish future.

The eight-page paper contains a number of "Kumbaya" comments. "We strive here to join previously diverging perspectives," the authors write, and at the end cite prospects for "a new cooperation of fisheries scientists."

OK, so we've made up.

Now, what does the paper actually say?

First, readers will see this is a rather simple academic exercise that offers no new, in-the-water research.

Rather, the authors simply look at fish population assessments and catch rates for 166 stocks in 10 of the world's "large marine ecosystems."

This means the paper's scope is quite limited. "Ecosystems examined in this paper account for less than a quarter of world fisheries area and catch," we learn near the end.

For those who don't care to read the whole paper, here are a couple of its major findings:

• While catch rates have declined recently in some ecosystems, 63 percent of the assessed fish stocks worldwide still require rebuilding, "and even lower exploitation rates are needed to reverse the collapse of vulnerable species."

• Most rebuilding efforts begin only after a crisis has set in. "The inherent uncertainty in fisheries, however, requires that agencies act before it comes to that stage; this is especially true in light of accelerating global change. We found that only Alaska and New Zealand seemed to have acted with such foresight."

Monday, August 3, 2009

Some clarifications on Togiak man overboard case

Deckboss has felt a little frustration over the quality of information coming from the U.S. Coast Guard on the man overboard case out of Togiak.

It's now clear the boat involved, the Miss Colleen, is a 32-foot gillnetter, not a 28-foot seiner. Further, it's likely the boat isn't homeported in either Metlakatla or Anacortes, Wash.

Based on the information below from the Alaska State Troopers, the boat belonged to Nick Mavar, who has a post office box in South Naknek, state records show.

A reader believes Mavar might have a "Deadliest Catch" connection, but I haven't verified this.

Here is today's press release from the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Togiak Bay
Type: Search and rescue
On 8/01/09 at 0230 hours, the Alaska State Troopers in Dillingham were notified by the USCG that they were involved in a SAR in the area of Togiak Bay. Investigation revealed that the evening of 7/31/09, 31-year-old Benjamin Symmes, of Montana, was acting as the sole deck hand aboard the fishing vessel Miss Colleen during the Togiak fishery. Sometime around 2030 hours, Symmes fell overboard from the vessel while it was under way, unbeknown to the boat's skipper, Nick Mavar, age 44, of Washington state. Symmes was not wearing a PFD. Once Mavar realized Symmes had fallen overboard, a massive search began that involved 20 fishing vessels, several USCG aircraft and Togiak residents that continued for 20 hours. The afternoon of 8/01/09, the search for Symmes was suspended. Symmes was not located. The next of kin was contacted and made aware of the situation.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Far East opportunity

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Check out this want ad.

Obama camp moving slowly on top NMFS job

Looks like Jim Balsiger of Juneau will be staying longer than expected in Silver Spring, Md., where he's been serving as head of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Balsiger, who came into the job during the Bush administration, was believed to be on the way out some time ago after two names emerged as top replacement candidates — Arne Fuglvog, a former Petersburg commercial fisherman now serving as an aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Massachusetts oceanography professor Brian Rothschild.

But recently, press reports emerged that the Obama administration was moving slowly on picking Balsiger's successor, and maybe had even reopened the search.

Rumors also have been circulating that Balsiger was asked to stay on as NMFS chief for six more months.

I called spokeswoman Monica Allen at NMFS headquarters on Friday and she kindly relayed my question to Balsiger: Hey, what's the deal?

"He told me the scoop on that," Allen told me. "He is going to serve probably for a few months until the administration makes that important appointment."

Six more months?

"It’s not locked in, no,” she replied. “Jim has been asked to stay on for several more months."

Of course, Deckboss wonders whither Fuglvog's chances at this point. I gave him a call a few days ago, but he didn't get back to me. No worries, Arne. Can't say as I blame you.

Here's a couple of links if you're interested in reading more about this:

Gloucester Daily Times story

Commentary from National Fisherman editor Jerry Fraser

Update on the Togiak man overboard search

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Aug. 1, 2009

Coast Guard suspends search for Montana man in Togiak Bay


KODIAK, Alaska — The Coast Guard suspended the search Saturday at 5:20 p.m. for a 31-year-old fisherman, reported to have fallen overboard from the 28-foot fishing vessel Miss Colleen approximately one half mile off Anchor Point in Togiak Bay.

Benjamin Symmes, a Montana resident, was reportedly last seen aboard the ship between 9:30 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. Friday and was reported to have been wearing orange rain gear.

Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak crews conducted an HC-130 Hercules aircraft search and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter search totaling more than 16 hours of search time and covering more than 300 square miles. The Miss Colleen searched throughout the night and approximately 10 good Samaritan vessels also assisted in the search.

The Coast Guard 17th District Rescue Coordination Center in Juneau was notified of Symmes' disappearance at approximately 9:46 p.m via VHF radio from the Miss Colleen Friday and issued an urgent marine information broadcast to request the assistance of any vessels in the area.

Crews from the Hercules and Jayhawk from Air Station Kodiak searched throughout Friday evening but did not locate Symmes. The Miss Colleen crew ended its search Friday evening.

The helicopter crew began its search Saturday at 7:59 a.m. and searched until about 2:26 p.m. The crew conducted a shoreline search as well as the surrounding waters in hopes of locating Symmes.

Weather conditions in the search area Saturday were mostly cloudy with scattered showers, an air temperature of 55 degrees with southeast winds at about 10 mph and seas of about seven feet. The water temperature is approximately 50 degrees.

The Miss Colleen is a seiner and is homeported in Anacortes, Wash. A seiner primarily fishes for salmon and herring.

Search under way for man overboard at Togiak

The U.S. Coast Guard says it's searching for a man who fell off the fishing vessel Miss Colleen on Friday night in Togiak Bay near Anchor Point.

A Coast Guard press release identifies the man as Benjamin Symmes, 31, hometown unknown.

It adds the Miss Colleen is homeported in Metlakatla.

It's not clear to me whether this was a commercial fishing accident.

If it was, it could turn out to be the second fishing fatality this season at Togiak, which is one of the Bristol Bay salmon districts.