A view of the Alaska Ranger's stern, including rudders, as she sat in a Japanese drydock in 2007. USCG photo
Here is the National Transportation Safety Board's probable cause statement for the Easter 2008 sinking of the Bering Sea trawler Alaska Ranger:
The National Transportation Safety Board determines that the probable cause of the sinking of the Alaska Ranger was uncontrolled, progressive flooding due to a lack of internal watertight integrity and to a breach of the hull’s watertight envelope, likely caused by a physical rudder loss. Contributing to the loss of life was the vessel’s movement astern, which likely accelerated the flooding and caused the liferafts to swing out of reach of many crewmembers.
Click here to read the agency's 20-point conclusion plus safety recommendations.
The National Transportation Safety Board has just wrapped up its meeting in Washington, D.C., and adopted findings that the Alaska Ranger flooded and sank after losing a rudder, a rare event.
The board also adopted a slate of recommendations urging Congress to toughen fishing vessel safety inspections, and encouraging the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to remove potential regulatory barriers to replacing old boats.
The NTSB soon is expected to post a probable cause statement, findings and recommendations here.
The Alaska Ranger in drydock in 2007 in Japan. USCG photo
Sounds like federal investigators today might tell us the cause of the Easter 2008 sinking of the trawler Alaska Ranger, which killed five crewmen.
Here's a media advisory the National Transportation Safety Board sent out last week:
National Transportation Safety Board Washington, D.C.
Sept. 25, 2009
NTSB TO MEET ON ALASKA RANGER SINKING OFF ALASKA COAST
The National Transportation Safety Board will hold a public Board meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2009, at 9:30 a.m., in its Board Room and Conference Center, 429 L'Enfant Plaza, S.W., Washington, D.C. There is one agenda item.
On March 23, 2008, the Alaska Ranger, a fish processing vessel, owned by Fishing Company of Alaska, sank in the Bering Sea, 120 nautical miles west of Dutch Harbor, Alaska. Five of the 47 persons aboard the Alaska Ranger died. The wreckage lies at the bottom of the sea and was not examined.
A live and archived webcast of the proceedings will be available on the Board's website at http://ntsb.gov/events/Boardmeeting.htm. Technical support details are available under "Board Meetings" on the NTSB website. To report any problems, please call 703-993-3100 and ask for Webcast Technical Support.
A summary of the Board's final report, which will include findings, probable cause and safety recommendations, will appear on the website shortly after the conclusion of the meeting. The entire report will appear on the website several weeks later.
When last we visited the subject of the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, its chairman had whipped up a minor scandal after trying to steer a $20,000 writing contract for the panel's final report to the spouse of one of his own legislative staffers.
Now Rep. Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, has released this draft report he says was "prepared by a volunteer — at virtually no cost to the state."
Johnson stresses the report isn't finished yet. Indeed, it literally ends mid-sentence on page 96.
Deckboss might have more thoughts on the report once he's read it.
Below is an e-mail Johnson sent to fellow legislators today introducing the report. Pretty interesting, with a reference to the idea of buying out Cook Inlet commercial fishing permits.
FROM: Rep. Craig Johnson SENT: Tuesday, September 29, 2009 3:53 PM SUBJECT: Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force
Members of the Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force,
Attached for your review is a copy of the draft Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force report. While the draft is not complete and unedited, it contains a great deal of meaningful new information. The current draft is nearly one hundred pages long and contains more than two hundred footnotes citing source materials and testimony presented to the Task Force during its hearings. It was prepared by a volunteer — at virtually no cost to the state.
I recently requested funding to complete work on this important report, but it’s unclear at this point whether any funding will be authorized. Given that, I wanted to release the draft report for your review.
Two critical sections of the report still remain to be written. One would discuss the status and potential causes of apparent Northern District/Susitna salmon stock declines. Another section, already begun in this draft, would analyze the possibility of using the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission’s "buy-back" program or other means to assist the struggling Upper Cook Inlet commercial salmon fishing fleet which has been economically devastated in recent years.
Finally, it was my intention that the completed report would also include: 1) an executive summary; 2) a section discussing key policy considerations and recommendations for future legislative action or oversight on the issue leading up to the critical Board of Fisheries meeting on Cook Inlet in 2010; 3) numerous charts and graphs depicting key data presented in the report; and 4) standard technical sections including a table of contents, bibliography, etc.
Unfortunately, when the Task Force was formed, it was provided no staff or funding to accomplish its mission — or preparation of a final report. Nevertheless, the Task Force held five public meetings in various Cook Inlet communities and took testimony from the public with a wide range of groups involved in, or dependent on, the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries. Given the tight time constraints and sheer volume of information and testimony presented, it is inconceivable that the Task Force could have prepared a final report of this magnitude without the able volunteer assistance we received. Whether work on the draft will continue or not is now up to legislative leadership. In my opinion it would be unfortunate if this report is never finished.
Because while Cook Inlet salmon allocations and sustainability issues defy easy answers, I believe the Task Force did some important work on the subject. This draft — though incomplete — clearly reflects that effort. It’s my sincere hope that release of the draft and the new information it contains will stimulate further discussion on the subject and encourage state leaders to continue to focus on an issue that is of critical importance to all Alaskans.
The draft report and all other documents received by the Task Force can be found on the Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force Web site.
Representative Craig Johnson Chair, Joint Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force
Here's the salmon tender Unimak, which went aground Thursday near Chignik. Three crewmen got off safely in a life raft and were taken to shore on the good Samaritan boat Sylvia Star. Magone Marine out of Dutch Harbor has been hired for the salvage job, the U.S. Coast Guard reported today. The 83-foot, wood-hulled tender had about 800 gallons of diesel on board. USCG photo
Gillnetters took nearly 31 million sockeye. Wesley Loy photo
The Department of Fish and Game has released a six-page summary of this year’s Bristol Bay salmon fishery, and the numbers look pretty impressive.
• The sockeye run of 40.4 million fish and the commercial catch of 30.9 million rank 22nd and 7th respectively since statehood. The catch trounced the preseason forecast of 24 million.
• At an average price of 70 cents a pound, and an average fish weight of 5.9 pounds, the sockeye paid $127.6 million to fishermen. The tally could rise if processors pay bonuses in coming months. Last year’s catch of 27.8 million sockeye paid $111.4 million initially.
• Three early season fishing periods for Chinook salmon were a bust, netting only 875 fish. However, gillnetters took close to 30,000 Chinook in the sockeye fishery for a grand total of 30,402. That’s less than half the average harvest for the last 20 seasons.
Symmes grew up in Idaho and Alaska, and graduated from high school in Whitefish, Mont., the obit says.
"From the time he was in high school, Ben spent most summers working as a deckhand on his father's fishing vessel in Bristol Bay," it says.
The obit expresses gratitude toward his would-be rescuers, and includes some really positive news you can use:
"The family offers its profound thanks to the U.S. Coast Guard, the Alaska State Troopers and especially the fishermen, local volunteers and all those who donated time and resources during the search and rescue efforts.
"The Ben Symmes donation account has been established to support search and rescue efforts for commercial fishermen in Alaska. Contributions in Ben's honor may be made to the account at any Wells Fargo bank."
Here's a highly anticipated letter out today from the National Marine Fisheries Service discussing the status of various crab stocks, most notably Bering Sea snow crab.
As we've discussed recently here on Deckboss, snow crab has been under a 10-year rebuilding plan that's just about run its course.
Government scientists don't believe the stock has made enough of a recovery from its crash in the late 1990s, so the feeling among many industry players was that regulators might cut the catch limit for the upcoming season, which opens Oct. 15.
This letter seems to confirm that fear.
As I read it, the letter suggests a maximum total allowable catch of 50.5 million pounds, which would be a 14 percent drop from last season's limit of 58.6 million pounds.
But NMFS counsels even more conservative harvests as a way to speed up stock recovery under a proposed five-year rebuilding plan extension.
"Allowing the maximum catch this year may result in a potentially greater reduction in the harvest rate in future years to meet the rebuilding goal," the letter says. "Conversely, a more conservative harvest rate this year may allow for a higher harvest rate in the future and still meet this goal."
A lot of people on both the federal and state levels have a say in setting the final catch limit for this season.
We should know by the first of next month where the fishery stands.
Snow crab, for those who don't know, is one of Alaska's most valuable commercial crab fisheries, worth roughly $50 million to $100 million dockside in recent years.
Upwards of 100 boats take part in the fishery, including some featured on the Discovery Channel's hit show, "Deadliest Catch."
Although the fishery opens Oct. 15, most of the main snow crab harvest takes place after the first of the year, when the crab are in prime condition.
Got this yesterday from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Seattle:
Former Mine on Alaska’s Prince of Wales Island Proposed for Federal Cleanup List
SEATTLE, Wash., Sept. 23, 2009 — Today, the Salt Chuck Mine, located on Prince of Wales Island in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, was proposed for addition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s "National Priorities List" of the most contaminated sites in the nation. If listed as proposed, the site will be cleaned up under the Superfund program.
Heavy metals from Salt Chuck Mine tailings are impacting water quality and sediments in Lake Ellen Creek and Kasaan Bay. The contamination affects both salmon and shellfish in areas of Kasaan Bay known as important commercial and subsistence fisheries.
"Salt Chuck Mine is a prime candidate for addition to the National Priorities List," said Dan Opalski, EPA’s acting deputy regional administrator in Seattle. "We believe that protecting both Kasaan tribal community health and the Prince of Wales Island environment will require Superfund's comprehensive cleanup toolbox."
Public comments will be accepted for 60 days. The Federal Register Notice, with instructions on how to comment on the proposed Salt Chuck Mine site, is available here.
Here's an article I wrote for Petroleum News, an Anchorage trade paper, about proposed oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay:
Fishing port favors North Aleutian sales
Wesley Loy For Petroleum News Sept. 20, 2009
The Unalaska City Council on Sept. 8 passed a resolution supporting proposed federal offshore oil and gas leasing in the North Aleutian Basin.
Unalaska Island is home to Dutch Harbor, the nation’s leading commercial fishing port in terms of total poundage of fish and shellfish landings. Fleets from Dutch Harbor work heavily in the waters of Bristol Bay, within the North Aleutian Basin, northeast of the island.
The Unalaska resolution lends support for proposed lease sales in 2011 and 2014, subject to mitigation measures another local government in the region, the Aleutians East Borough, has proposed to the U.S. Minerals Management Service.
Such measures, along with baseline research, are intended to protect the region’s fisheries and the environment, the Unalaska resolution says.
Leasing benefits, schedule
Leasing in the North Aleutian basin “will benefit the local economy, provide good paying jobs, expand local infrastructure and contribute to the national energy supply needs,” the resolution says.
It adds that “natural gas is a clean energy source, and does not present an oil spill concern or catastrophic risk to our commercial fisheries.”
The MMS is taking public comment until Sept. 21 on a proposed national Outer Continental Shelf leasing program for 2010-2015.
The plan proposes Lease Sale 214 for 2011 in the North Aleutian basin, which is believed to be gas-prone. This sale already is included in the current 2007-2012 OCS leasing program, and MMS is preparing an environmental impact statement.
The new five-year program proposes a second sale for the basin, Lease Sale 239 in 2014.
A 1986 lease sale resulted in issuance of 23 leases in 1988, but the government later bought the leases back in the wake of the Exxon Valdez oil spill and rising opposition to drilling in salmon-rich Bristol Bay.
Other supporters, opponents
Another local government in the North Aleutian basin region, the Lake and Peninsula Borough based in King Salmon, in late August sent the MMS a resolution “expressing conditional support” for the two sales. The borough wants fisheries protections, revenue sharing and other considerations.
The Bristol Bay Borough in March passed a similar resolution.
Many environmental groups, however, as well as some commercial fishing interests, are opposing the lease sales.
Oil and gas exploration could disturb fisheries, and important areas for king crab, cod and pollock are “right in the heart of where these oil reserves would be potentially extracted,” Keith Colburn, a crabber featured on the hit cable TV show “Deadliest Catch,” said in a Sept. 9 report from Unalaska broadcaster KUCB.
Unalaska City Council member Dennis Robinson, however, favored the resolution supporting the lease sales, and suggested the island would do well to broaden its fisheries-based economy.
“I don’t view it as a risk to our fisheries,” he said in the KUCB report. “Oil and gas exploration happens in the North Sea, it happens in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Gov. Parnell Selects Alaskans for Salmon Treaty Boards
ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Gov. Sean Parnell today nominated Alaskans for service on the Pacific Salmon Commission and its panels relating to management of salmon fisheries in Southeast Alaska and Canadian waters.
The Pacific Salmon Commission was established by the 1985 Pacific Salmon Treaty between the United States and Canada to coordinate management of Pacific salmon stocks off their coasts. Members of the commission and its panels include representatives of government and fishing interests.
Pacific Salmon Commission
Gov. Parnell nominated David Bedford to continue serving as Alaska’s commissioner in the U.S. Section of the Pacific Salmon Commission, and James Bacon to continue serving as Alaska’s alternate commissioner in that section. The nominations are subject to final approval and appointment by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
With the technical advice and assistance of regional panels, commissioners negotiate and implement revisions to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, resolve disputes and oversee the commission’s activities.
Bedford, of Juneau, is deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. He also represents the department at the Alaska Board of Fisheries and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. He has been a Southeast Alaska commercial fisherman and executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association. Bedford earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Washington, and a law degree from the Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore.
Bacon, of Ketchikan, has been a commercial fisherman since 1975, and works as an able-bodied seaman with the Alaska Marine Highway System. He is a member and past president of United Fishermen of Alaska and the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association, a member of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetter’s Association and a member of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association’s board of directors.
Pacific Salmon Commission, Northern Panel
Gov. Parnell nominated William F. Auger, Mitchell L. Eide, Arnold M. Enge, Dennis E. Longstreth, Howard T. Pendell and Robert M. Thorstensen Jr. to continue their service on the Pacific Salmon Commission’s Northern Panel, as public members with experience in salmon fisheries. These nominations are subject to final approval and appointment by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.
The Northern Panel provides technical and regulatory advice to the Pacific Salmon Commission relating to management of salmon stocks originating in rivers lying between Cape Suckling and Cape Caution.
Auger, of Ketchikan, is co-owner of Bronze Maiden Seafoods LLC. He is president of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetter’s Association, and is involved with the Ketchikan Fish and Game Advisory Committee and the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund. Auger has served on the panel since 1989.
Eide, of Petersburg, is a commercial fisherman and lifelong Petersburg resident. A vessel owner and operator, he fishes for salmon, herring, halibut, black cod and crab. He serves on the boards of directors of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association and the Northern Southeast Alaska Regional Aquaculture Association. Eide has served on the panel since 2006.
Enge, of Petersburg, is a commercial fisherman who has been owner and operator of a drift gillnetting vessel since 1974. He is a member of the board and former president of the United Southeast Alaska Gillnetter’s Association, has served on the Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee since 1985 and was the committee chairman for eight years. Enge has served on the Northern Panel since 1989 and the Transboundary Panel since 2001.
Longstreth, of Sitka, has been involved in the salmon trolling fishery since 1973. He has been a member of the Alaska Trollers Association, and been involved with the Port Alexander and Sitka fish and game advisory committees. He has previously served on the Port Alexander City Council and the Northern Southeast Local Emergency Planning Committee. Longstreth has served on the panel since 2000.
Pendell, of Sitka, has been a commercial salmon troller and longliner since 1974. He is a founding member of the Sumner Straits Fish and Game Advisory Committee and a past member of the Alaska Trollers Association, and was involved the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund. Pendell has served on the panel since 2001.
Thorstensen, of Juneau, is executive director of the Southeast Alaska Seiners Association. He has been active in United Fishermen of Alaska, the Southeast Sustainable Salmon Fund and the Douglas Island Pink and Chum Hatchery board of directors. He has been an adviser to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, a member of the Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition, and a consultant for Armstrong-Keta’s Port Armstrong Hatchery and the Sitka Herring Group. He has served on the panel since 1996.
Pacific Salmon Commission, Transboundary Panel
Gov. Parnell reappointed John H. Clark, Ph.D., to the Pacific Salmon Commission’s Transboundary Panel.
The Transboundary Panel provides technical and regulatory advice to the Pacific Salmon Commission relating to management of salmon stocks originating in the Alsek, Taku and Stikine rivers, for both in-river and terminal area fisheries.
Clark has worked with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game since 1975 in positions including fishery biologist, fisheries scientist, Interior Alaska regional supervisor and Pacific Salmon Treaty specialist. He is author of numerous technical fisheries publications, and has won numerous professional honors, including a Meritorious Service Award from the American Fisheries Society’s Alaska chapter, the Governor's Recognition Award for negotiation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty and a Conservation and Management Service Award from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Clark earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Carroll College in Montana, and master’s and doctoral degrees in fisheries biology from Colorado State University. Clark will continue on the Transboundary Panel as a member with salmon fishery management responsibility and expertise.
Deckboss probed a little deeper today into documents filed thus far in the Adak Fisheries bankruptcy case and came across an interesting e-mail from company lawyer Cabot Christianson.
The Sept. 12 message to lawyers for creditor Independence Bank says in part that Adak Fisheries "does not intend to operate the processing plant at Adak; instead, Debtor intends to negotiate a sale of the equipment at Adak to Trident Seafoods, or some other bidder, and then either convert to a Chapter 7 or file a liquidating plan of reorganization."
The e-mail adds: "Regardless of whether the sale is successful, there are insurance claims to collect and cod liver oil, and other inventory, to sell."
Certainly, it wouldn't be unheard of for Seattle-based seafood giant Trident Seafoods Corp. to go shopping in bankruptcy court. It did so this spring, acquiring Wrangell Seafoods.
Trident is now operating the Wrangell plant, but it might not have any interest in actually running a plant on faraway Adak Island, some 350 miles west of Dutch Harbor. Note that Christianson's e-mail says only that Adak Fisheries might sell equipment to Trident, not the whole operation.
Independence Bank, which says it has $6.7 million in outstanding loans to Adak Fisheries and a priority claim to the company's assets, casts doubt on "a purported offer to purchase" from Trident.
"No such offer has ever been provided to either the Court, or creditors or other interested parties," say papers Independence filed Friday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage.
The bank is asking the judge to approve a sale to a company identified as Adak Seafood LLC.
I was unable to discover just who is behind Adak Seafood. The state's corporation database lists no active company by that name, and I haven't seen any court documents revealing its owners or officers.
Pollock not overfished, scientists say. NOAA photo
We've seen a downward trend the last few years in the eastern Bering Sea pollock fishery, the nation's largest commercial catch by weight.
This year's total allowable catch (TAC) of 815,000 metric ton is barely more than half the 2006 level.
Now government scientists are evaluating this summer's at-sea stock surveys, which will be used to determine the TAC for the 2010 season. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will recommend a TAC at its early December meeting in Anchorage.
So, will the TAC be up or down?
It seems likely based on this press release that we won't see an increase, as researchers continue to find fewer fish of commercial size in the population.
It also seems pretty safe to assume, however, that we're not going to run out of fish sticks or imitation crab anytime soon, as the Bering Sea pollock catch will still be substantial even if regulators trim the TAC again.
Coast Guard medevacs man from Seattle-based vessel southwest of Sitka
KODIAK, Alaska — A Sitka-based Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and crew medevaced a 46-year-old male who was reportedly suffering from severe abdominal pain aboard the 254-foot Seattle-based catcher processor Arctic Fjord 135 miles southwest of Sitka at 6:18 a.m. Thursday.
Martin Reyes, a U.S. citizen, was reported to be suffering from possible appendicitis when Health Force Partners requested a medevac on his behalf from the Coast Guard Wednesday afternoon.
The ship was in Canadian waters 460 miles southwest of Sitka when the medevac was requested. The vessel's crew altered course back toward Sitka to come into range of the rescue helicopter. A Kodiak-based HC-130 Hercules aircraft and crew provided communications and assisted the helicopter.
The helicopter crew launched from Sitka at 4:30 a.m. and arrived on scene to pick up Reyes at 6:18 a.m.
Weather on scene was reportedly southeast winds at 23 mph with eight-foot seas and rain. The crew transported Reyes safely to Sitka where awaiting emergency medical services transported him to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital at 7:15 a.m.
The Arctic Fjord crew resumed their voyage from Dutch Harbor to Seattle. This is the fourth medevac the Coast Guard has conducted in Alaska in less than one week.
The end could be near for Adak Fisheries LLC, a little seafood processor with a hugely tumultuous history.
The company, which runs a plant for processing cod and other fish on distant Adak Island in the Aleutians, on Sept. 11 filed for Chapter 11 protection from creditors in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage.
You'll recall we touched on the troubles of Adak Fisheries only recently with a post about the company's battle with the local electric power utility.
According to its bankruptcy petition, Adak Fisheries has assets of $10 million to $50 million, with liabilities estimated in the same range.
Some top creditors include Drevik International AS of Norway, $3.8 million; Aleut Enterprise LLC of Anchorage, $1.3 million; Muir Milach Management LLC of Mercer Island, Wash., $402,000; TDX Adak Generating LLC of Anchorage, $268,000; Trident Seafoods Corp. of Seattle, $255,000; and the IRS, $231,000.
At least one creditor is in no mood to allow Adak Fisheries to reorganize its business.
Independence Bank, which says it loaned Adak Fisheries and founder Kjetil Solberg $4.35 million in 2007, yesterday filed to convert the case from Chapter 11 to a Chapter 7 liquidation.
Independence says it "has a first position security interest in essentially all of Adak's assets."
I don't have time at the moment to recount the colorful history — the failed partnerships and political exploits — of Adak Fisheries and Mr. Solberg.
But I'll say this: Wonder what becomes of the fledgling town of Adak? The lone fish plant was a pillar of the economy out there and a major part of plans to turn the former military outpost into a viable civilian fishing town.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game wants to get rid of a regulation that could shut down the upcoming Bering Sea snow crab fishery.
The underlying problem is that the catch limit could be drastically lower this season because the depressed snow crab stock hasn't made enough progress under a 10-year rebuilding plan.
Under existing state regulations, the stock must be capable of safely supporting a commercial catch of at least 15 million pounds (not including community development quota). Otherwise, the fishery can't open.
But the rule is archaic, the department argues, imposed to control a fleet that once was much larger with each boat racing to catch as much crab as possible. The worry then was that a big and powerful fleet could overshoot the quota before managers could whistle the harvest to a halt.
Beginning in 2005, the universe changed and each boat received its own quota. The racing stopped and the fleet consolidated. So the need for a sizeable catch limit no longer is necessary, as boats can rationally fish a quota of less than 15 million pounds without worry of overharvest.
The department is asking the state Board of Fisheries for expedited consideration of a proposal to drop the rule.
We'll know soon how big, or small, the snow crab total allowable catch (TAC) will be for this season.
Fishery scientists on what's known as the Crab Plan Team are meeting in Seattle this week to go over the latest stock assessment.
The National Marine Fisheries Service has indicated it'll announce a maximum harvest rate by Sept. 21, keeping both the stock assessment and rebuilding plan requirements in mind.
Last year's TAC was 52.7 million pounds of snow crab (plus CDQ of 5.9 million pounds).
Crabbers are unlikely to enjoy a limit that large when the new season opens Oct. 15.
Here's a curious New York Times story that aspires to solve the "eternal mystery" of what goes into a McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich but ultimately leaves readers seriously uniformed.
The gist of the story is about the purported overfishing of hoki off New Zealand.
Hoki is a whitefish used in the Filet-O-Fish sandwich.
Because the catch limit has dropped from 275,000 tons in 2000 to 100,000 tons last year, well, we might run short of fish sandwiches, the Times story implies.
What struck me most about the article was the lack of any mention of probably the main fish used in the Filet-O-Fish sandwich — Alaska pollock.
As with hoki, the pollock catch limit has trended down sharply in recent years. But the eastern Bering Sea continues to yield immense catches of pollock, about eight times the hoki volume cited in the Times story.
You'd think the Times wouldn't have let that fish, uh, fact get away.
Earlier this summer we touched on the subject of how this winter's Bering Sea snow crab fishery could be headed for a deep cut in the catch limit due to lack of progress under a federal stock rebuilding plan.
The possibility is partly a function of legal requirements, coupled with the results of this summer's at-sea survey of the crab population.
The state manages the snow crab fishery, one of the state's most valuable crab harvests. But it appears ultimate authority for setting the upcoming season's catch limit rests in federal hands.
So when will we know something?
According to this letter, the feds plan to specify the maximum harvest rate by Sept. 21.
Last month we told you about a huge payout of money coming in the Exxon Valdez case. This is the interest on the U.S. Supreme Court's punitive damages award.
Since that post, Exxon Mobil Corp. filed an objection that jeopardized the payout happening quickly.
It's complicated, but in a nutshell, Exxon contends that lawyers holding money for the plaintiffs failed to mark down the company for $4.4 million it believes it's owed back under "assignment agreements" with some fish processors.
To get around the problem, lawyers for the plaintiffs have submitted a new plan to the judge for approval. The plan would reserve the disputed sum for Exxon but otherwise go ahead with the massive distribution of interest money.
It means, however, that the figures needed to be slightly rejiggered in terms of what commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs can expect.
Overall, the lawyers now aim to distribute $294.5 million — down from the $299 million originally proposed — covering 17,297 claims in 47 categories.
Here is the new, two-part list reflecting the new proposed payment amounts before deduction of lawyer fees:
This system includes 225 MPA sites designated around the country following a round of nominations in the fall of 2008.
The list includes four sites in Alaska corresponding to major federal preserves: the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, and the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.
The government has opened a second round of MPA nominations with a deadline of Nov. 6.
So what is an MPA?
"MPAs are areas where natural or cultural resources are given greater protection than in the surrounding waters," the government says. Most allow activities such as fishing, boating and diving. Others, however, are "no take" zones where extraction of fish or other resources is prohibited.
Needless to say, MPAs are a hugely controversial subject in the commercial fishing world. While proponents argue they offer refuge for fish, spinning off greater abundance for fishermen, people trying to make a living from the sea have a hard time abiding a bunch of "Do not enter" signs up and down the coast.
Many people won't know that Alaska already has way more MPAs than those few on the national list. Regulators have restricted many areas around the state to fishing or other activities. For example, all of Southeast Alaska is closed to trawling. And in Western Alaska and out the Aleutians, fishermen can't work for miles around the rookeries of endangered Steller sea lions.
Anyway, it seems wise to keep a close eye on this MPA Federal Advisory Committee, which will meet all day tomorrow through Friday at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage. The meeting is open to the public.
On Wednesday, a panel of experts — including Oceana and Pew environmental campaigners — will talk about MPAs, climate change and "ecosystem resilience."
On Thursday, several federal state and federal officials, plus representatives of a trawl group and oil company Shell, will talk about MPAs in Alaska.
A fan of the hit cable show 'Deadliest Catch' awaits an autograph from Phil Harris, captain of the Bering Sea crab boat Cornelia Marie. A long line of 'Deadliest' devotees waited to greet Harris on Friday at the Alaska State Fair, which ends today. Jim Paulin photo
I attended Thursday's hearing on the request for $20,000 to hire someone to write the final report of the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, a legislative panel looking at weak runs and chronic allocation fights in the region.
Bottom line: Legislators never voted on the request.
State Rep. John Harris, a Valdez Republican and chairman of the joint committee considering the request, instead directed fellow Republican Rep. Craig Johnson of Anchorage to first consult with the Legislature's "presiding officers" on the matter. The presiding officers are Senate President Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, and House Speaker Mike Chenault, R-Nikiski.
Johnson headed the salmon task force and was the one seeking the money to write the report, which he said might run 100 pages and cover some intensely technical material the task force gathered during the course of its work.
But his choice of writers, Mark Higgins of Anchorage, seemed to raise eyebrows.
Turns out Higgins is married to a member of Johnson's staff, Debra Higgins.
Johnson said the writing job will take someone with real ability plus plenty of time. Harris asked him if perhaps someone already in the state's employ could do the work.
"I haven't found that person," Johnson replied.
Johnson told Deckboss after the hearing that the contract wasn't advertised. Rather, he just happened to know of a good candidate for the work in Mark Higgins.
According to his resume, Higgins has done a lot of political and public relations consulting, including "emergency 'spin' control." He also was an aide to former state Rep. Mike Szymanski during the 1980s.
Higgins, who has a law degree from the University of Utah, has done consulting work for the commercial fishing industry on such issues as Bering Sea pollock and crab allocation.
At Thursday's hearing, state Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, said to Harris: "Mr. Chairman, I've got a whole lot of concerns about what's going on here."
For one thing, Stedman said it was his understanding that the presiding officers were to be strongly involved with the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force, which the Legislature created in the spring of 2008.
Stedman questioned the "appearance" of Johnson acting as project director for a $20,000 contract awarded to the spouse of one of Johnson's own staff aides.
Johnson said he'd be fine with someone else supervising the writing contract, as he has great confidence that Higgins can write a fair report that might be a "catalyst" for policy debate in the Legislature.
The hearing concluded without a vote on Johnson's funding request.
Rather, committee chairman Harris made "an executive decision," directing Johnson to run the request past the Senate president and House speaker, each of whom has the power to approve the contract.
Speaker Chenault, for one, indicated during the hearing that he was comfortable with Higgins.
That was the 10-member panel of legislators formed in the spring of 2008 to look at ways to boost poor salmon returns to northern Inlet, and to settle the perpetual feuding among commercial, sport, subsistence and dipnet fishermen in Alaska's busiest fishing hole.
The task force held a bunch of public meetings and was due to submit a report to the full Legislature long ago, but never did.
Now the project might be coming alive again.
The task force is on the agenda for a Legislative Council hearing to begin at 11 a.m. tomorrow at the Legislative Information Office in downtown Anchorage.
The council is a group of senators and representatives that takes care of legislative business during the months when lawmakers aren't in session.
Anyway, the man who chairs the salmon task force, Anchorage Republican Rep. Craig Johnson, still wants to produce a report for his colleagues, and he has a proposal in front of the Legislative Council to deliver it by the start of the 2010 legislative session.
"Your approval is requested to authorize the expenditure of $20,000 to hire Mark Higgins to prepare a report for submission to the Alaska State Legislature," says a letter Johnson sent yesterday to Rep. John Harris, chairman of the Legislative Council.
Higgins would pull together the "huge amount of technical data" the task force compiled and draft "this highly complex and important report," the letter says.
Higgins has a University of Utah law degree and "professional experience working with Alaska fisheries issues," the letter adds.
Deckboss on Sunday told you about an Alaska Department of Transportation crackdown on fishermen for violations of commercial hauling regulations.
Now state Rep. John Harris, R-Valdez, is proposing legislation to exempt fishermen.
Here's the press release:
Rep. John Harris
Aug. 31, 2009
Harris Prefiling Commercial Fishing Vessel Transport Exemption Legislation
ANCHORAGE — Legislative Council Chair John Harris, R-Valdez, announced today that his office is preparing legislation for next session to exempt commercial fishing vessel owners from Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities regulations covering transportation and hauling requirements.
Harris has ordered the prefiling of the bill after learning DOT Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Officers are ready to start citing commercial fishermen.
Fishermen in Cordova and Petersburg recently became aware of DOT's intention to enforce these regulations. Over the weekend, fishermen contacted Rep. Harris and other coastal legislators seeking attention to the administration of the new enforcement policy.
"This administration of these regulations is unacceptable," Harris said. "We're working with commercial fishermen to help DOT do better things with their time than disrupting hard-working men and women from making their living."
"The regulations cover size and weight restrictions and require paperwork and permits that are more traditionally used by standard commercial trucking firms and other businesses," said Harris, a Teamster for 32 years.
Current rules provide exemptions for farm vehicles operating near their own local communities, and these provisions can be applied to similar circumstances for fishermen hauling gear around coastal towns across Alaska.
The regulations being enforced by DOT can be viewed here at the department's measurement standards and commercial vehicle enforcement Web site.