Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Grinch sighted — and missiles, too!

Catch the latest Dutch Harbor report now on The Brig.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gazing into my Aleutian crystal ball

We could see two interesting developments soon with respect to the seafood industry in the Aleutian Islands.

First, some commercial fishing companies are likely to seek intervenor status in support of the state's lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service on the Steller sea lion issue. The state and industry players hope to block restrictions, set to take effect Jan. 1, to curtail harvests of Aleutian fish the endangered Stellers rely upon for food.

Second, the troubled processing plant on Adak Island soon might have a new tenant. The leading candidate looks to be Icicle Seafoods Inc., which flew a team out to Adak in recent days to look things over. Icicle, you might recall, once was a partner in the plant. The big question is whether the plant can be readied in time for the upcoming Pacific cod season.

And what did Santa bring you?

Although he surely didn't deserve them, Deckboss received numerous fine Christmas gifts this year, not the least of which is the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Acting' dropped from Cora Campbell's title

No surprise here: Gov. Sean Parnell has chosen Cora Campbell from a very short list to be his fish and game commissioner.

Here's the press release:

Dec. 22, 2010

Gov. Parnell names Cora Campbell fish and game commissioner

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today appointed Cora Campbell as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Campbell's name was one of two submitted for the position by the Joint Board of Fisheries and Game. Campbell has been serving as acting commissioner since Dec. 1.

"I commend the joint board for sending me two well-qualified candidates, both whom I know and respect," Gov. Parnell said. "Cora Campbell's fisheries experience and broad understanding of wildlife management make her a great fit for the agency."

As acting commissioner, Campbell represented the State of Alaska on numerous bodies, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees commercial and sport fisheries in federal waters off Alaska. Prior to this appointment, she served as a policy advisor for wildlife, environmental conservation, natural resources, Arctic issues, climate change and fisheries in her role as special assistant to Gov. Parnell.

"I'm honored to serve in this capacity, and look forward to working with agency staff and the public to sustain Alaska's world-class fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities," Campbell said.

Campbell has served two governors, and was first appointed in May 2007 as Gov. Palin's fisheries policy advisor. Her responsibilities included oversight of state fisheries policies, chairing the fisheries and oceans subcabinets, serving on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors, and coordinating activities of the agencies involved in regulation and development of the state's subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial fisheries. Campbell's responsibilities later expanded to include wildlife and other natural resource and environmental issues.

Prior to her service in the governor's office, Campbell worked in state and federal fishery and regulatory forums, served as executive director of a regional fishing association with an emphasis on economic development and cooperative research, supervised a public outreach program focusing on the federal subsistence process, and served on numerous boards and committees, including the advisory panels to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Research Board. She has also fished commercially for salmon, herring and crab, and managed shore operations for a diversified fishing business.

A lifelong Alaskan originally from Petersburg, Campbell graduated from Pacific Lutheran University. She will be based in Juneau.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Update on commissioner nominations

The Joint Board of Fisheries and Game voted unanimously this afternoon to send two names to Gov. Sean Parnell to consider for fish and game commissioner: Cora Campbell and Ron Somerville.

They were the only applicants for the job.

Parnell already has strongly signaled his likely choice, and that's Campbell, who currently is serving as acting commissioner.

Boards to consider commissioner nominees

Alaska's fisheries and game boards will meet in joint session at 1 p.m. today to consider nominations for state commissioner of fish and game.

Click here for the agenda plus details on how to listen to the meeting via teleconference.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bering Sea pollock fishery recertified sustainable

Here's the press release from the Marine Stewardship Council.

Even more Sitka Sound herring expected in 2011

Look for another enormous herring haul in Sitka Sound next spring.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today announced a guideline harvest level of 19,490 tons for the 2011 sac roe herring fishery.

That compares to a quota of 18,293 tons for the 2010 fishery.

This truly is a time of extraordinary abundance for Sitka herring.

State biologists say it's "apparent that the Sitka Sound herring stock is at the highest levels seen since the department began monitoring the stock in 1964."

Read the full announcement here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

State sues NMFS over planned sea lion closures

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has made a habit of suing the federal government. Now he's suing again.

Here's the press release:

Dec. 14, 2010

State sues to overturn NMFS decision on western Steller sea lions

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska today filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Alaska against the National Marine Fisheries Service over the agency's decision to significantly curtail fishing in the western Aleutian Islands out of concern for Steller sea lions.

The state argues that NMFS failed to make "a rational connection" between the facts it found and the conclusions it reached, given that western Steller sea lions had an average annual population growth between 1 and 1.5 percent between 2000 and 2008, and now number more than 70,000.

"The agency's conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available scientific information," Gov. Parnell said. "The drastic measures proposed by NMFS are simply not necessary given the overall health of the Steller sea lion population. This decision will have immediate and significant impacts on local communities and fishermen in the area."

As many as 900 people are employed by fishing fleets in the area facing restrictions. NMFS acknowledges that implementation of its decision would cost fishery losses of up to $66 million annually.

State officials also believe the federal agency committed numerous procedural violations, which had the effect of limiting the opportunity for public and expert comments.

"The state submitted extensive comments on both the process and the foundational science used to reach this decision," said acting Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. "We are extremely disappointed that NMFS did not adequately consider these concerns and did not more fully incorporate the recommendations of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in its action. We are also very disturbed about the lack of meaningful public process."

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let's clap for this cleanup!

A Juneau-based organization, the MCA Foundation, says it removed more than 400,000 pounds of debris from Alaska beaches this year — junk like lost fishing nets and water bottles.

The foundation also hauled off the wreck of the Ocean Clipper.

Read about it here.

Most Alaska groundfish catches to surge in 2011

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council this morning set the 2011 total allowable catch for pollock and other groundfish.

The limits are subject to final approval by the U.S. commerce secretary.

Here's a rundown of the major species, the catch limits and the percentage change from the 2010 limits.

Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands

Pollock — 1.25 million metric tons, up 54 percent
Pacific cod — 227,950 tons, up 35 percent
Yellowfin sole — 196,000 tons, down 10.5 percent
Atka mackerel — 53,080 tons, down 28 percent
Pacific Ocean perch — 24,700 tons, up 31 percent

Gulf of Alaska

Pollock — 96,215 tons, up 13.5 percent
Pacific cod — 65,100 tons, up 9 percent
Arrowtooth flounder — 43,000 tons, no change
Pacific Ocean perch — 16,997 tons, down 3 percent
Sablefish — 11,290 tons, up 9 percent

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not exactly a stampede for commissioner's job

Only two people submitted applications by yesterday's deadline for the job of state fish and game commissioner: Cora Campbell and Ron Somerville.

Campbell, of course, is currently serving as acting commissioner.

Somerville is a former chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.

Under state law, it's now up to the fisheries and game boards, acting jointly, to send the governor a list of qualified persons to pick from.

For updates on that process, check here.

Gov. Sean Parnell already has said he wants Campbell as his commissioner.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NMFS stands firm on fishery closures in Aleutians

The National Marine Fisheries Service is sticking to its guns on a range of fishery restrictions beginning next year in the Aleutians to conserve prey for endangered Steller sea lions.

Here's a press release with a helpful map at the bottom.

The news had industry players grumbling today at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage. The speculation is that fishing companies, and perhaps the state of Alaska, will sue the feds over what some consider questionable closures of productive cod and Atka mackerel fishing grounds.

Others, however, applauded NMFS.

"By providing more food for sea lions in the western Aleutians, these measures should help stem the continued decline there," Oceana said in this press release.

Safe and sound

The bulk carrier Golden Seas arrived safely at Dutch Harbor on Tuesday after a 500-mile tow from the Bering Sea. The ship needed the assist after developing engine trouble near Adak Island. The yellow vessel is the tug Tor Viking II. USCG photo

Monday, December 6, 2010

UFA: We support Cora Campbell

United Fishermen of Alaska is backing Gov. Sean Parnell's somewhat controversial pick of Cora Campbell to head the Department of Fish and Game.

Here's the UFA press release:

Dec. 6, 2010

UFA endorses Cora Campbell for commissioner

United Fishermen of Alaska, representing 38 Alaska commercial fishing organizations, announced its support of Cora Campbell for Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. UFA highlighted Campbell's wide-ranging experience in the state and federal fisheries management processes. UFA members have worked with Campbell during her career as Fisheries Policy Analyst for Governors Parnell and Palin, and the members are keenly aware of the skills she has acquired in the Fish and Game policy and planning process during this period of time.

"Cora has impressed the UFA board with her presentations and public comments. She routinely displays a depth of knowledge of state and federal management processes, the importance of science-based management and the far-reaching effects of fish and game management on Alaska citizens. In addition, although she is well-grounded in commercial fisheries, she has extensive experience and knowledge in the federal subsistence management process," said UFA President Arni Thomson.

"We feel she is uniquely qualified with this broad perspective, and we support Governor Parnell in providing her the opportunity to lead the State's world-class, science-based management of our fish and game resources," Thomson said.

Steller rules, Gulf bycatch, harvest limits and more

We've got the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting all week here in Anchorage, and the agenda is packed.

Here's a rundown of the major items:

• The council likely will learn the federal government's final stance on fishery restrictions in the western Aleutians to conserve prey for endangered Steller sea lions.

• The council will hear a report on crab rationalization, five years after implementation.

• The council will discuss the recent high Chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvest. Halibut bycatch is on the agenda, too.

• Finally, the council will take care of one of its main yearly chores: setting catch limits for pollock, cod and other groundfish in the Bering Sea and the Gulf.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

To the rescue

Here's some nifty U.S. Coast Guard video of the disabled bulk carrier Golden Seas and the stud tugboat that's dragging the ship to Dutch Harbor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good news on the Golden Seas!

The U.S. Coast Guard and state officials just posted this update:

As of 8:20 PM, the Golden Seas is under tow at 5.5 knots and gaining speed and headed to Dutch Harbor.

Responders prepare to tow hobbled cargo ship

This just in from the U.S. Coast Guard:

Dec. 4, 2010

Golden Seas, Tor Viking II expected to rendezvous today

ANCHORAGE — The Tor Viking II is about 50 miles from the motor vessel Golden Seas and is expected to rendezvous about 40 miles north of Atka Island around 6 p.m. and establish a tow.

The Golden Seas crew reported Friday severe weather had diminished allowing the vessel to utilize limited engine capability to maneuver northeast away from land.

Crews on the Tor Viking II, an oceangoing tug, will be using the emergency towing system (ETS), specifically designed to deploy to a disabled ship from the stern of a tugboat or airdropped to the ship's deck via helicopter. The Tor Viking II is scheduled to tow the vessel to Dutch Harbor.

Weather on scene has diminished to about 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas and is predicted to continue to weaken during the next 24 to 48 hours.

Coast Guard rescue helicopter crews remain in Dutch Harbor in case assistance is needed. An extra ETS is also available in Adak that can be delivered by helicopter. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley is still en route.

The 738-foot Golden Seas is carrying rapeseed used to make canola oil, 450,000 gallons of crude oil, 11,700 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Another Golden Seas update

The bulk carrier Golden Seas in the Bering. USCG photo

The following U.S. Coast Guard update arrived at 7:25 p.m.

Dec. 3, 2010

Golden Seas gains limited power, assets still responding

ANCHORAGE — The crew of the 738-foot vessel Golden Seas reported on-scene weather has diminished temporarily, allowing the crew to utilize limited engine capability to maneuver northeast away from land.

The waves on scene have reportedly reduced from 29 feet to 20 feet. However, the vessel Tor Viking II remains en route to the Golden Seas and is expected on scene around noon tomorrow. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley is also en route and is expected to arrive sometime Sunday afternoon.

Two Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and crews arrived today in Dutch Harbor and will continue to Adak to provide rescue capabilities if needed.

The crew of the Golden Seas reported an engine turbocharge failure to the Coast Guard at 4 a.m. today. This limited power and steerage. The ship's position was about 70 miles north of Adak, drifting southeast toward Atka Island.

The Golden Seas is carrying Canola seed from Vancouver, Canada, to the United Arab Emirates.

The Tor Viking II is a 251-foot towing vessel outfitted with four engines totaling 18,300 horsepower.

Golden Seas update

I just spoke with Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley, who tells me the seas have laid down enough to allow the cargo ship to make slow forward progress.

That’s a relief, but the Golden Seas is not out of the woods yet.

The turbocharger on the ship's engine remains inoperable, so the vessel is underpowered, Mosley says.

Lots of help continues steaming toward the Golden Seas, which will be escorted to Dutch Harbor.

Cargo ship adrift, threatens Aleutian Islands

A cargo ship laden with rapeseed for making canola oil is adrift without power in the Bering Sea some 44 miles northwest of Atka Island.

The problem sounds fairly dire. The crew of the 738-foot Golden Seas, seen in the photograph, reports the ship's engine can't be repaired at sea, says this Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation situation report issued at 4 p.m.

"The engine is able to turn the ship's propeller, but not with sufficient power for the vessel to hold its position or make headway," the report says. "The vessel is adrift and currently being driven by prevailing wind and seas toward the northwest shore of Atka Island at a speed of approximately 2.5 knots. Current projections have the ship making landfall there in approximately 14 hours."

The good news is two Shell Oil offshore work boats at Dutch Harbor, the Tor Viking II and the Nanuq, have been contracted to go get the cargo ship. But they're many miles away.

Of course, U.S. Coast Guard assets are responding, too.

More from Leader Creek

Here's a note Leader Creek Fisheries founder John Lowrance e-mailed yesterday to the company's Bristol Bay fishermen:

Dear Fishers,

Thank you for your support. As always, we would not be here without you. In recent years, large fish runs and increasing commodity prices for our products have given us all a pretty fine ride. Last year, you received $1.10 for well-handled reds, and this year you will receive a very nice increase over that. All these good things are the result of your continuous efforts to deliver better quality fish year after year, in combination with our commitment to keep pushing forward with quality initiatives, value-added products, and a first class production facility.

Leader Creek made a commitment to an all-refrigerated fleet, sockeye fillets, and a profit sharing relationship during the dark days following the $.40/pound 2001 season. It was a plan borne out of desperation. Prices for H&G in Japan had fallen to a level that would not support the processing/fishing industry as a whole. Fishers joined Leader Creek hoping that through hard work, a commitment to quality, the production of fillets, and the development of new markets in the United Sates, we could lift ourselves back into economic plenty. What you are doing on the water in terms of floating, bleeding, and sliding fish was unthinkable ten years ago. A plant producing 70% fillets was considered impossible. The idea of profit sharing with the fleet more often than not garnered the reaction: "are you crazy Lowrance" or my favorite, "he's ruining Bristol Bay". As you are all aware, the plan borne of desperation has worked out rather well for all of us, and in the process, we have changed Bristol Bay.

There is a price for all things, and you don't get to play the role I have without some cost. Our success has brought with it a huge financial and emotional commitment to running Leader Creek. More and more, I find it overwhelming.

I have decided to sell our stake in LCF in order to unload that financial commitment and risk. From amongst many potential buyers, we are lucky to have attracted the interest of the Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco) and the Jim Pattison Group (you can read more about them in the attached press release).

Canfisco has no desire to merge or blend or combine Leader Creek with any other entity. They want us as we are: an independent, well-run, profitable enterprise. There are no plans to change anything beyond our normal organic growth. The profit sharing relationship and deal will remain the same. I will be running the company through 2011, and if I like it, I will stay into the future.

My commitment to you is that the company you have dealt with in the past is the company you will see when you arrive in Bristol Bay in 2011. The deals will remain the same, and just like every other year, you will get pushed to produce even better quality fish.

Thank you again for all your cooperation and help over the years. This friendly, dynamic, symbiotic relationship we have is really the best part of it all. I am grateful to every one of you.

Sincerely, from a lucky guy (and gal)

John and Adele

P.S. The unsung heroes in all this are the 430 LCF employees, some of whom have been with us since the beginning. Without their continuous efforts, we would not have carried the ball this far. I am grateful to them as well.

Canfisco buys Bristol Bay processor Leader Creek

Here's the press release:

Dec. 1, 2010

Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco) Buys Leader Creek Fisheries

Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco), a privately owned seafood company of Vancouver, Canada is purchasing Seattle-based Leader Creek Fisheries, Alaska's leading producer of wild sockeye salmon fillets.

Canfisco has agreed to purchase Leader Creek Fisheries for an undisclosed price. The deal is subject to the successful completion of due diligence before closing in December.

Leader Creek Fisheries' founder, John Lowrance, started the company in 1999 and pioneered the production of fillets using Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. The Leader Creek Fisheries fleet employs special onboard techniques to produce premium quality salmon to ensure the company's reputation as Bristol Bay's top producer of sockeye salmon fillets. Lowrance will continue to lead the company and ensure a successful transition of ownership.

Dan Nomura, President of Canadian Fishing Company, said "We are excited to become the proud owner of Leader Creek Fisheries. Leader Creek is a successful company and we intend to continue operating the business in the same manner that has resulted in the company's accomplishments. We will build on the company's history of continued growth and success."

Canadian Fishing Company also owns Seattle-based Alaska General Seafoods, a salmon and herring processor with plants in Naknek and Ketchikan.

Canadian Fishing Company, the largest Canadian producer of Pacific salmon and herring, is a vertically integrated seafood company headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia and is owned by the Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver, Canada, a privately held and diversified corporation with investments in a number of businesses.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Adak outlook changes completely

When last we visited the situation with the Adak Island processing plant, landlord Aleut Enterprise and tenant Adak Seafood reported they were trying to work out a settlement of their lease dispute.

Now it appears this has fallen apart. What's more, the Norwegian principal behind Adak Seafood apparently won't be operating the plant during the upcoming cod season.

How does Deckboss know this?

The details are in two very interesting documents filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, where the landlord-tenant fight is playing out.

The first document is this status report to the court. Interestingly, Aleut Enterprise filed this jointly with Independence Bank, which has millions of dollars in outstanding loans at stake and had been an Adak Seafood supporter.

The second document is an e-mail from Asbjorn Drevik of Norway informing Aleut Enterprise that he has been unable to raise the money to operate at Adak.

Well now.

The big questions at this point would seem to be: Who will run the Adak fish plant? And can it be readied in time for the fishing season?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For your convenience

Here's the full slate of recommended 2011 catch limits, by regulatory area, from the scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Limits are expressed in millions of pounds.

Regulatory area2010 catch limits2011 staff limits% change