Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Halibut hit hard again

The scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission today recommended catch limits for the 2011 season, and the numbers are seriously ugly.

Coastwide, the staff is recommending a 19 percent cut to 41.02 million pounds.

For Southcentral Alaska (Area 3A), the staff is calling for a 28 percent cut to 14.36 million pounds.

For Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), the staff is recommending a fearsome 47 percent cut to 2.33 million pounds.


The commission meets in January in Victoria, British Columbia, to consider the recommendations.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sarah and sockeye

Tonight on the TLC channel, "Sarah Palin's Alaska" will feature the family's salmon setnet operation on Bristol Bay. Here's a preview.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Crab rationalization, five years in

The staff of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has released a new report titled "Five-Year Review of the Crab Rationalization Management Program for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Crab Fisheries."

Find the document plus a couple of important appendices on the council's website.

One appendix is a "social impact assessment" of crab rationalization, while the other analyzes the "safety performance" of the program.

Altogether, we have nearly 600 pages of reading here. The perfect pastime for a long Thanksgiving weekend!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's Cora Campbell's job for now

Gov. Sean Parnell this morning named some new cabinet members and retained some others.

Most significantly for fishing folk, he named Cora Campbell his acting commissioner of fish and game.

Here's the press statement from the governor's office:

Cora Campbell has been named acting Fish and Game commissioner. She currently serves as fisheries policy advisor and special assistant to Governor Sean Parnell with responsibilities for fisheries, game, environmental conservation, natural resources, and Arctic policy issues. She has served as the governor's representative to various boards and committees, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Board of Directors. Campbell has served as executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and was an advisory panel member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Research Board.

Campbell received a bachelor's degree in education from Pacific Lutheran University. A lifelong Alaskan, Campbell grew up in Petersburg, where she spent her early years working in the seafood industry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Who wants to be commissioner?

Newly re-elected Gov. Sean Parnell, you might have heard, is replacing a number of his cabinet members, including his fish and game commissioner.

The governor can't simply hire a new commissioner directly.

Rather, the laws says he "shall appoint the commissioner of fish and game from a list of qualified persons nominated by the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game meeting in joint session, subject to the right of the governor to request additional nominations."

The commissioner's job is being advertised in large Alaska newspapers, and the deadline to apply is Dec. 8. This website has more details.

I checked late last week with Jim Marcotte in the Boards Support office on whether anybody had applied.

Nope, not yet, he told me.

The joint board meeting will happen in December or early January, Marcotte said.

The speculation probably will get pretty thick in the coming days.

Never one to miss out on the fun, Deckboss can report he's heard three potential candidates: John Garner, an executive with Trident Seafoods Corp.; McKie Campbell, a former fish and game commissioner and now congressional energy staffer under Sen. Lisa Murkowski; and Cora Campbell, fisheries policy adviser to Parnell.

My apologies to all three for dropping their names!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Norton Sound Seafood House to make its debut

Nome cooking on Concourse C.

Now this sounds tasty. A grand opening ceremony for the new Norton Sound Seafood House at the Anchorage airport is set for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., one of Alaska's Community Development Quota fishing companies, is partnering on the themed restaurant with HMSHost, a global shopping and dining concessionaire with a contract at the airport.

The eatery is expected to offer items such as halibut po' boys and king crab cakes. But we'll see for sure once the place opens.

The airport location is a marketing coup for Norton Sound, which harvests a share of Bering Sea fish and crab for the benefit of a group of villages in the Nome area.

"The Norton Sound Seafood House is a showcase of the fisheries, resources and the small-boat fishermen of remote Northwest Alaska," says a press release sent out last week.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Major Exxon Valdez payout to begin this month; check the list to see how much money you'll get

A federal judge has approved the start of what has been described as the final distribution of money from the Exxon Valdez case.

About $100 million will be paid to thousands of commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs in the case, with direct deposits to start by the end of this month and check mailings to begin by mid-December, says the Seattle law firm handling the Exxon Valdez money. The payout is expected to take several weeks.

This is the latest round of payments in what has been a lengthy process to dispense roughly $1 billion in winnings and interest generated through the civil suit brought after the 1989 oil spill.

This final distribution almost completes the process, though for various reasons it will take months or even years longer to dispose of the last dollar.

Here is the 895-page list showing how much each claimant can expect to receive in the coming weeks, before deduction of attorney fees.

Deckboss also recommends reading federal Judge H. Russel Holland's order approving the final distribution.

The judge tells a couple of persistent claimants still fighting to grab millions from the pool to just shut up and go away.

He also explains an unfortunate but apparently unavoidable situation in which some cannery workers won't get as much Exxon Valdez money as they should have, while others were overpaid.

Plenty of herring available at Togiak in 2011

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today forecast a potential harvest of 24,805 tons of herring in next spring's Togiak sac roe fishery.

That would be close to the 25,432 tons that purse seiners and gillnetters took this past spring.

The herring are valued for their eggs, or roe, marketed almost entirely in Japan.

State predicts 28.5 million Bristol Bay sockeye

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today issued its 2011 forecast for Bristol Bay, and state biologists predict a commercial catch of 28.5 million sockeye salmon.

That's close to 1 million fish more than what the University of Washington Fisheries Research Institute predicted this week.

If either outlook holds true, it should be another fine season for fishermen and processors involved in the world's top sockeye fishery.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Big Bristol Bay sockeye catch forecast for 2011

Look for a potential harvest of 27.7 million sockeye salmon next year at Bristol Bay.

That's the forecast fresh out from the University of Washington Fisheries Research Institute.

If the prediction holds true, it would approach this past season's excellent catch of 28.6 million sockeye.

We should see the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's forecast any day now.

Deckboss tips his hat to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association for sharing the FRI forecast.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A 56 percent hike in Bering Sea pollock catch?

Going on sale next year. Deckboss photo

The National Marine Fisheries Service has posted its draft assessment of the eastern Bering Sea pollock stock, and it indicates we could see a big increase in the commercial catch limit for 2011.

Scientists recommend an "acceptable biological catch" of 1.267 million metric tons. They project a 2012 ABC of 1.595 million tons.

Regulators often set the annual commercial harvest limit — what's known as the total allowable catch — at the same level as the ABC.

For this year, the ABC and the TAC were identical at 813,000 tons.

So, a TAC of 1.267 million tons for next year would be a nearly 56 percent increase!

How can this be?

Well, among other factors, the scientists say their at-sea surveys this year yielded better than expected pollock biomass estimates. See page 2 of the draft assessment for a quick summary.

This news is bound to relieve the pollock industry, which has lived with poor catch limits the past three years.

But critics of how the pollock fishery is managed likely will be alarmed at the prospect of a larger commercial catch.

Pollock is the largest U.S. fishery by weight, and one of the most lucrative. The lanky bottom fish are used for a variety of familiar products such as fish sticks, the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich and imitation crab meat.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes next month in Anchorage to consider the data and recommend a 2011 pollock TAC to the commerce secretary, who has final say.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A truce at Adak

The dispute between Adak Seafood LLC and its reluctant landlord, Aleut Enterprise LLC, appears to be sailing toward resolution.

Lawyers on Monday filed this notice in federal court in Anchorage saying the parties "have reached an agreement in principle to settle" the case.

You'll recall that Aleut went to court back in January to evict Adak Seafood over a lease dispute.

Presumably, the settlement will allow Adak Seafood to stay in the Adak Island fish plant and operate during the upcoming cod season.

The parties pledge to file a progress report within three weeks on their negotiations to finalize the deal.

Injured man airlifted off Bering Sea boat

Coast Guard comes to aid of Cape Reliant. USCG photo

A rescue helicopter today airlifted an injured crewman off the fishing vessel Cape Reliant some 55 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor, the U.S. Coast Guard reported this evening.

Tom Webster, 26, was reported to have suffered head injuries aboard the 58-foot boat, the Coast Guard said.

The cutter Alex Haley was in the area and sent over a medical team to tend to Webster pending the helicopter medevac at 4:25 p.m.

Webster later was flown from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage for treatment. A Coast Guard press release offered nothing more on his condition.

The Cape Reliant is a Petersburg-based boat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fallen Fish and Game employees remembered

Here's noteworthy news from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. A bit more about the persons listed below can be found here.

Nov. 8, 2010

Department of Fish and Game dedicates memorial plaque

JUNEAU — Today Gov. Sean Parnell and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd dedicated a memorial plaque in honor of department employees who lost their lives studying, protecting and managing Alaska's fish and game resources.

More than 100 employees, friends and family of those honored gathered at Fish and Game's Anchorage office for the dedication.

"We remain indebted to all those who are here memorialized," Lloyd said. "We owe to each of them our gratitude and I am pleased today to be able to help make good on that debt with this commemorative plaque. Thank you all, and may you never be forgotten."

Matching memorial plaques are located in Fish and Game offices in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau and Douglas. The memorial commemorates the following:

Lee Larson, 1959Peter Winslow, 1969
Ralph Reischl, 1960James A. Erickson, 1970
Doyle E. Cisney, 1961Kim S. Bussell, 1971
Lloyd T. Lewis, 1962John David Solf, 1974
Lester E. Varozza, 1962Jonathan Ward, 1975
Lloyd H. Stebbins, 1963Spencer A. Linderman, 1975
Robert E. Lawler, 1963Jack D. Geil, 1981
LeRoy G. Bohuslov, 1964Hugh T. O’Neill, 1982
Gary G. Wohlfeil, 1964Ruth Southern, 1987
Edwin F. Strong, 1965Kenneth M. Friedrich, 1989
Arthur E. Bratlie, 1968Shelli D. Clay, 1990
John J. Frank, 1968Valerie Chabot, 1994
Rex Thomas, 1969Randall H. Kacyon, 1996

Best salmon tally in 18 years

This year's commercial salmon harvest generated a preliminary dockside value of $533.9 million, the best since 1992, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today.

The happy total comes on the strength of high market demand for Bristol Bay's huge sockeye harvest, plus a record catch of pink salmon in Prince William Sound.

Here's a press release with more details.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some election afterthoughts

Another election in the can. Deckboss photo

While we wait for state officials to tally all those write-in and absentee ballots from Alaska's oddball U.S. Senate race, here are a few election notes you might have missed:

• State Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, bagged 2,227 votes or nearly 67 percent of the total to crush Democratic challenger Terry Haines, who received 1,099 votes or 33 percent. Austerman, you might recall, was state fisheries adviser to former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Haines is a commercial fisherman and former Kodiak City Council member.

• Staying on Kodiak, looks like some major construction is coming thanks to passage of Proposition B, which asked Alaska voters whether the state should issue $397 million in bonds for a bunch of educational projects. The project list includes a new $20 million Department of Fish and Game research facility on Kodiak's Near Island.

• In Washington state, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, narrowly won election to a fourth term, turning back Republican businessman Dino Rossi. Like Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Murray drew hefty campaign contributions from top fishing industry players in Seattle.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Adak electric consumers, prepare for a shock

Goodness knows Deckboss has posted plenty of gnarly news out of Adak Island over the past couple of years.

Now here's more: The local electric utility, TDX Adak Generating, is asking state regulators to approve a 136 percent rate increase for all residential and commercial customers.

Here's the letter to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska spelling out the reasons for the steep rate hike.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Alaska's big three incumbents look like winners

Murkowski, right, sitting pretty election night. Deckboss photo

Alaska's incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell and longtime Congressman Don Young, both Republicans, cruised to apparent victory Tuesday night.

The numbers also looked favorable for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was forced to run as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller.

With nearly 99 percent of precincts reporting, the write-in votes stood at 81,876 or 41 percent of the total, compared to 68,288 or 34.2 percent for Miller and 47,414 or 23.7 percent for Democrat Scott McAdams.

Barring a reversal of fortune, or a successful legal challenge from Miller, Murkowski appears to have pulled off the very rare feat of winning a Senate seat as a write-in.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Southeast to see 'excellent' pink haul next year

The Department of Fish and Game is forecasting an "excellent" catch of 55 million pink salmon in 2011 in Southeast Alaska.

A harvest of that size would be well above the recent 10-year average of 40 million pink salmon, the department says.

Southeast produced a ho-hum catch of 23.4 million pinks this year.

Click here for more details on the forecast.

Hot year for halibut

Alaska's halibut fishery closes at noon Nov. 15, and longliners already have caught 97 percent of the 40.3 million pounds of individual fishing quotas issued when the season opened back on March 6.

So how's it gone this year in terms of prices?

In a word, hot.

The Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners' Association, in the November issue of its newsletter "The Wheel Watch," reports that prices "have reached record highs even with the North American recession."

Association boats landing halibut recently in Seward received $6.40 per pound for the biggest and most valuable fish — those weighing 40 pounds or more. Smaller fish brought between $5.90 and $6.15.

Relatively low inventories plus the prospect of further quota cuts in 2011 likely will buoy the value of fish in cold storage, the newsletter says.

The good news, however, comes with the worry that halibut is pricing itself out of the market.

"There have been several major grocery stores that have taken halibut out of their stores this fall due to the high prices," the newsletter says. Retail prices in Seattle are reported at $18 a pound and up.