Friday, September 30, 2011

Coast Guard seizes suspected high-seas drifter

The U.S. Coast Guard says it has seized a "stateless" fishing vessel and crew suspected of engaging in illegal high-seas driftnetting in the North Pacific.

A boarding team from the Coast Guard cutter Munro found more than 10 miles of driftnet, 30 tons of squid and approximately 30 shark carcasses aboard — and rats.

A press release and photos are here.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Injured fisherman airlifted to Kodiak

The U.S. Coast Guard this evening reported a crewman suffered head injuries from a crab pot while working aboard the fishing vessel Van Elliott in Kupreanof Strait, 46 miles west of Kodiak.

A rescue helicopter hoisted Jimmy Cook, 48, off the 70-foot vessel and took him to Kodiak for medical care.

It wasn't clear from a Coast Guard press release exactly when the injury occurred.

CDQ organizations talk back

On Sept. 14, Deckboss posted a 15-page appeal for reform of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The appeal's authors contend Alaska, which holds six of the 11 voting seats on the council, has used its majority to the detriment of Oregon and Washington. And they focus on Alaska's growing Community Development Quota program to make their argument.

Well, now the CDQ players are talking back.

Here's a statement received today from their umbrella organization, the Western Alaska Community Development Association.

NMFS, Begich address halibut catch sharing plan

Here's a press release from the National Marine Fisheries Service regarding its current stance on the halibut catch sharing plan.

And here's a statement from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, questioning the plan's fairness.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Is the halibut catch sharing plan unraveling?

The National Marine Fisheries Service came out with this update at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Dutch Harbor.

Trident to pay $2.5 million, build fishmeal plant at Bristol Bay to settle pollution violations with EPA

From the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Sept. 28, 2011

Trident Seafoods Corp. to pay $2.5 million to resolve Clean Water Act violations and spend more than $30 million to upgrade processing plants

Settlement to reduce discharges of seafood processing waste by more than 100 million pounds annually

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice today announced that Trident Seafoods Corp., one of the world's largest seafood processors, has agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and invest millions in seafood processing waste controls to settle alleged violations of the Clean Water Act.

Unauthorized discharges of seafood processing waste lead to large seafood waste piles on the seafloor, creating anoxic, or oxygen-depleted, conditions that result in unsuitable habitats for fish and other living organisms.

"Today's settlement signals an important change in how seafood processing is managed in Alaska," said Cynthia Giles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "Trident's investment in fishmeal facilities and commitment to improving its waste management practices will help protect our nation's waters and set the standard for Alaska's seafood processing industry."

"This agreement will benefit the quality of Alaskan waters, which host a critical habitat for the seafood industry," said Ignacia S. Moreno, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "The upgrades will enable Trident to achieve and maintain compliance with the Clean Water Act, and will protect Alaskan waters, eliminate waste and create efficiencies that will serve as a model of best business practices for the seafood processing industry."

The agreement requires Trident to invest an estimated $30-40 million, and potentially more, in source control and waste pile remediation measures. The source control measures include building a fishmeal plant in Naknek that will have the capacity to handle at least 30 million pounds of seafood processing waste annually, taking in both its own fish waste and potentially that of other local processors.

Trident has also agreed to reduce the amount of seafood processing waste discharged from the Akutan, Cordova, St. Paul and Ketchikan facilities and monitor the amount of seafood processing waste discharged into Starrigavan Bay in Sitka. The actions taken will reduce Trident's fish processing discharges by a total of more than 105 million pounds annually.

The company has also agreed to remediation measures including studying seafloor waste piles at Trident's facilities in Akutan, Ketchikan and Cordova. Based on the results of these studies, Trident will remove or partially remediate the piles. One seafood processing waste pile in Akutan Harbor is currently estimated to be more than 50 acres in size.

The EPA complaint, also filed as part of this legal action, alleges that Trident had more than 480 Clean Water Act violations at 14 of its onshore and offshore Alaskan seafood processing facilities. The alleged violations include discharging without a necessary permit, exceeding discharge limits, failing to comply with permit restrictions on discharge locations (including discharges into at least two national wildlife refuges), and creating oxygen-depleting "zones of deposit" or underwater piles of fish processing waste occupying more than the allowed one acre of seafloor. The company also allegedly failed to conduct required monitoring and implement required best management practices.

Over the past decade, Trident has been a party to multiple administrative enforcement agreements and judicial consent decrees resolving similar violations at many of the same facilities.

The settlement was lodged in federal court in Seattle, Wash., and is subject to a 30-day public comment period.

For more information on the settlement and a copy of the consent decree, click here.

Metal Shark makes Kodiak

The U.S. Coast Guard in Kodiak has a sleek new asset with a clunky name: a "special purpose craft — training boat." The 38-foot aluminum vessel is said to be the only one of its kind in the Coast Guard. Seen here running around Womens Bay, the boat will be used for aids to navigation, training and search and rescue missions. It can hold 20 people and operate in 34 mph winds and 6-foot seas. The Coast Guard didn't specify top speed. Louisiana boat builder Metal Shark made the SPC-TB. A second one is scheduled to be stationed at Sitka later this year. USCG photo

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Well worth a listen

Speaking of Arne Fuglvog, APRN's Libby Casey had a heck of a story yesterday on how former crewmen pushed authorities to investigate the ex-aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Moreland to replace Fuglvog on Murkowski staff

Stefanie Moreland will become Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski's new fisheries aide starting Nov. 7, a reliable source tells Deckboss.

Moreland will replace Arne Fuglvog, who left the position due to his criminal prosecution for an admitted commercial fishing violation in 2005.

Moreland currently is federal fisheries coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The state's stand on the halibut war

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is recommending federal regulators move ahead with a controversial halibut catch sharing plan in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), but not in Southcentral (Area 3A).

"We are not suggesting permanently postponing implementation of the CSP in Area 3A, but do think a more comprehensive review that is informed by current conditions and the proposed CSP management structure is appropriate at this time," Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner David Bedford writes in this eight-page letter to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The catch sharing plan would allocate halibut between the competing commercial and charter boat fleets.

In Area 3A, which takes in the flagship halibut port of Homer, the catch sharing plan has sparked controversy for its potential to cut the bag limit for charter anglers from two fish per day to one.

NMFS took public comments on the catch sharing plan through Sept. 21, and received hundreds of comments by the deadline. The Fish and Game letter was among the comments received.

To read comments online, click here.

56 hours in Dutch Harbor

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting this week way out in Dutch Harbor.

As usual, the agenda is packed, with a total of 56 hours of meeting time scheduled.

Deckboss is hard-pressed to find much excitement in this meeting, as the council isn't expected to take final action on any major issues.

One item likely to stir some interesting conversation, however, concerns the council's intent to reduce the allowable bycatch of halibut in the Gulf of Alaska.

The council in April put some options on the table for cutting the halibut bycatch limit by 5 to 15 percent for Gulf trawl and fixed-gear fleets.

Council members are expected to chew on the numbers further in Dutch Harbor, then select a "final preferred alternative" at their December meeting in Anchorage.

When all is said and done, regulators could implement tighter halibut bycatch limits early next year.

Bycatch, of course, is a hot topic these days due to recent declines in Gulf halibut biomass and rising tensions between two competing fleets — charter boats and commercial longliners — dependent on the fish.

Here's the council's draft analysis on the halibut bycatch issue. The first page has a nice summary. Thorough types are welcome to continue through the remaining 464 pages.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Steady on for pollock

This summer's Bering Sea bottom trawl survey showed a "slight decrease" in the pollock biomass compared to 2010, the National Marine Fisheries Service reports. Details here.

Coast Guard medevacs crewman with head injury

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

Sept. 22, 2011

Coast Guard medevacs fisherman from Dutch Harbor

A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules aircrew medevaced a 26-year-old male today from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage.

The crew of the 116-foot Constellation contacted the Coast Guard about 5 p.m. Wednesday reporting a crewmember had suffered head injuries from a fall while the vessel was transiting through 10-foot seas about 45 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.

The Coast Guard diverted the Hercules from a training flight to meet the Constellation in Dutch Harbor.

The Constellation arrived in Dutch Harbor at about 10:30 p.m.

The Hercules arrived in Anchorage at 2:15 a.m., and the patient was taken to Alaska Regional Hospital.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


This year's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend is $1,174, Gov. Sean Parnell announced this morning.

The payments from the state's oil wealth investment account will go out beginning Oct. 6 to 647,549 eligible Alaskans.

Last year's dividend was $1,281.

Last call for coho

Low coho abundance precludes an extension of the Southeast Alaska summer salmon troll fishery, which will close at midnight.

That's the official word from the Department of Fish and Game.

The state's latest tally shows a Southeast summer troll catch of just over 1.1 million coho.

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Plenty of news today on our sister blog, The Brig.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Something big is happening

As this day has worn on, it has become clear to Deckboss that a major move is afoot to overhaul the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

And it's not just Oregon's idea.

Some in Washington state also believe the council is stacked too heavily in favor of Alaska. So much so that traditional North Pacific fishing industry strongholds in Washington and Oregon are now in jeopardy.

It's all laid out in this fascinating 15-page appeal to Washington and Oregon political leaders.

As you'll see at the end, the authors include some very familiar names.

The word is that people are making the rounds in Washington, D.C., right now, urging lawmakers to add more Oregon and Washington seats on the council to counter the powerful Alaska majority.

Hmmm. Are we about to see an interstate war break out?

Roy Hyder's view

Roy Hyder is Oregon's lone voting member on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

His view, judging from this e-mail exchange with Newport, Ore., crab boat owner Gary Painter, is that the council is out of kilter.

"There seems to be an attitude that fish and fishing activity in the North Pacific Region EEZ belong to Alaskans," Hyder wrote.

Deckboss obtained this correspondence from the city of Newport. It was among materials the Newport City Council considered in passing a resolution supporting greater Oregon representation on the council.

Oregon vs. Alaska?

Evidently some commercial fishermen in Oregon, specifically crabbers who fish the Bering Sea, are feeling threatened.

Here's a resolution signed yesterday by the mayor of Newport, Ore., supporting the addition of two more Oregon seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which regulates federal fisheries off Alaska.

As it stands, Oregon has only one seat on the 11-member council, while Alaska has six seats and Washington three.

The Newport resolution raises fears that Oregon crabbers might soon lose some of their annual crab income due to the "unfair partisan conduct" of the council's Alaska majority.

Deckboss isn't quite sure what to make of this, but of course he'll endeavor to find out more.

Murkowski is co-chair of new Oceans Caucus

Here's more on the new Senate Oceans Caucus, launched yesterday in Washington, D.C.

Looks like Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, will co-chair the caucus along with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Senators on both sides of aisle to focus on oceans

Here's a press release from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich's office.

Sept. 12, 2011

Bipartisan group of senators to form Oceans Caucus

WASHINGTON, D.C. — With our oceans and coastal ecosystems, and the economies and jobs they support, facing constant and increasingly grave threats from a variety of sources, a bipartisan group of U.S. senators will meet tomorrow to form a new Senate Oceans Caucus.

The caucus will work to increase awareness and find common ground in responding to issues facing the oceans, which support millions of jobs in America and contribute more to the country's GDP than the entire farm sector, grossing more than $230 billion in 2004.

Founding members will meet Tuesday for the caucus' first meeting, during which chairmen will be selected and a founding charter will be approved.

Following the meeting, the senators will hold a press conference to announce the formation of the caucus and discuss their vision and priorities.

They'll be joined at the press conference by representatives from ocean and coastal organizations supporting their efforts, including the Consortium for Ocean Leadership, the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the Ocean Conservancy, the National Ocean Industries Association, the American Association of Port Authorities, and Ocean Champions.

The caucus will start with a total of 18 members:

Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I.; Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii; Mark Begich, D-Alaska; Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.; Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.; Scott Brown, R-Mass.; Maria Cantwell, D-Wash.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Tom Carper, D-Del.; Chris Coons, D-Del.; Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.; Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii; John Kerry, D-Mass.; Mary Landrieu, D-La.; Patty Murray, D-Wash.; Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Olympia Snowe, R-Maine; and Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Search ends for man overboard in North Pacific

The U.S. Coast Guard, at 8 p.m. Sunday, suspended its long-range air search for a crewman reported missing from a Korean-flagged container ship.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Man reported overboard far south of Kodiak

The U.S. Coast Guard on Saturday searched for a crewman reported missing off a container ship some 900 miles southeast of Kodiak Island.

The Coast Guard was notified about 4:30 p.m. that a 49-year-old South Korean crewman on the Mol Explorer was discovered missing about 2:30 p.m. The man was last seen about 22 hours earlier at dinner.

A Coast Guard C-130 aircraft was launched out of Kodiak to search for the crewman.

The Mol Explorer was bound for Tokyo from Oakland, Calif.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Some personnel news

The National Marine Fisheries Service has a new chief scientist.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A concise assessment

This letter to the editor in Sunday's Anchorage Daily News captures perfectly, it seems to me, the situation the commercial halibut industry faces in its perennial struggle with the competing charter halibut fleet.

First, allocate by half and half

When the halibut are allocated on a 50-50 basis between the sport fishery and the commercial fishery, then there should be talk about reducing the sport catch.

— Greg Svendsen, Anchorage

Monday, September 5, 2011

Keeping an eye on the oil industry

Something happened Friday that bears watching.

Texas-based Escopeta Oil Co. started drilling an offshore well in Upper Cook Inlet, north of Nikiski.

Drilling in Cook Inlet is nothing new. The oil industry has been active in those waters for decades.

What makes the Escopeta well unusual is that the drilling is being done with a so-called jack-up rig, which sits on legs pinned to the seafloor. Tugs towed the rig into Cook Inlet in August, capping a long voyage up from the Gulf of Mexico.

The Escopeta exploratory well is the first to be drilled from a jack-up rig in Cook Inlet in nearly two decades.

Oil industry regulators I've spoken with are clearly wary of Escopeta, a small company that went through years of struggle to pull together the money, equipment and state leases for the drilling project.

In recent days, the regulators have questioned Escopeta's adherence to certain regulations. Escopeta's people have rebutted these concerns, and swear they have experienced pros operating the rig.

But the regulators remain less than confident, and on Friday handed Escopeta this letter limiting the depth to which the company can drill.

"A well control incident in Cook Inlet could have devastating consequences for the state and the state's most vital industry," wrote Bill Barron, state oil and gas director.

The industry to which he refers, of course, is the oil industry. But one might easily include the fishing industry.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Respect the rockfish

Send me back down, yo! ADF&G photo

Deckboss has always taken a special interest in rockfish. Maybe it's the vivid red color of some species. Or just the fact that Alaska still has healthy stocks of rockfish, unlike some other states.

So I was glad to see the following press release from the Department of Fish and Game. Bet you will be, too.

Aug. 29, 2011

Department aims to help anglers conserve rockfish

New materials published by the Division of Sport Fish aim to help saltwater anglers and charter operators conserve Alaska's rich rockfish stocks by increasing the survival of fish caught incidentally and released.

The department has dedicated a new Web page to proper deepwater rockfish release and has prepared an updated version of the popular informational pamphlet "Angler's Guide to the Rockfishes of Alaska," available from Alaska Sea Grant in the near future.

About 45 percent of rockfish caught by anglers statewide are released, according to department estimates. Many of these fish are caught in relatively shallow water and can re-submerge, but those taken from deep water often cannot survive release.

Rockfish caught in deep water often sustain injuries caused by rapid decompression and expansion of gases in the swim bladder. Fish that are released with inflated swim bladders cannot re-submerge and will die. The current effort follows completion of research by the department that suggests survival rates of up to 98 percent can be achieved when fish are released at the depth of capture.

The new Web page, entitled "Rockfish Conservation and Deepwater Release," offers anglers quick and easy techniques and provides details on how to make and employ simple deepwater release tools.

"The best way to prevent mortality in rockfish is to avoid unwanted catches altogether," says Anchorage-based fishery biologist Sam Hochhalter.

The new Web page also offers anglers tips and techniques on how to avoid catching rockfish while seeking other species, such as halibut and lingcod.

More than 30 rockfish species are found in the Gulf of Alaska, though fewer than 10 of these are commonly caught by recreational anglers, writes Homer-based fishery biologist and author Scott Meyer in the "Angler's Guide to the Rockfishes of Alaska." Some rockfish species can live well over 100 years, notes Meyer. However, these slow-growing, late-to-mature fish can be easily fished out.

Both biologists point to rockfish fisheries in California and Oregon that were depleted by overfishing. Alaska has an expanding recreational rockfish fishery, making proper fishing and deepwater release techniques important for sustaining the resource.

Trouble for red king crab

Results from this summer's eastern Bering Sea trawl survey is fueling fears of a painful cut in the catch limit for the state's most valuable crab.

The estimated biomass of legal-sized male Bristol Bay red king crabs is 15,412 metric tons, down 27.8 percent from the 2010 estimate. It's the fourth consecutive year the biomass has fallen.

The numbers are contained in a National Marine Fisheries Service draft technical memorandum now making the rounds. Deckboss reviewed the 117-page document.

The survey results suggest that a significant cut in the total allowable catch (TAC) could be forthcoming. A panel of crab managers and scientists will review the survey at a meeting set for Sept. 19-22 in Seattle.

Bristol Bay red king crab in most years is Alaska's richest crab harvest. Over the most recent 10-year period for which data is available, 2000-2009, the fishery averaged a dockside value of $68 million.

The red king crab TAC for last season was 14.8 million pounds.

Fishery managers are likely to announce around Oct. 1 what the TAC will be for the 2011 season, which opens Oct. 15.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A salmon update

The statewide commercial catch of salmon, all species, now stands at 171.4 million fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported today.

The tally grew by close to 11 million fish in the past week.

We're in September now, however, so we probably can't expect many more big catches as the season draws to a close.

As Deckboss observed last week, the preseason harvest forecast of 203 million fish is out of reach. Just not enough pink salmon showed up to achieve such a lofty total.

Still, the industry already has surpassed last year's total of 171.2 million salmon.

With strong prices around the state for sockeye and pinks, I'm guessing the 2010 harvest value of $534 million dockside also will be topped.

Bundrant, Wallace to continue on ASMI board

Here's some news from the office of Gov. Sean Parnell:

Sept. 2, 2011

Gov. Sean Parnell has reappointed Joe Bundrant and Bruce Wallace to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors. The institute promotes Alaska seafood and develops market-oriented quality specifications.

Bundrant, of Seattle, has served as the vice president of sales and marketing for Trident Seafoods Corp. since 1997. Prior to that, he served as the president of the Rogge Commission Co. from 1994 to 1997. He is a former district manager for Sysco in Seattle and worked as a regional sales manager for Trident from 1985 to 1989. Bundrant also worked as a commercial fisherman in Western Alaska, where he fished in Bristol Bay, Togiak, Norton Sound and the Shumigan Islands. Bundrant is reappointed to a seat reserved for the representative of a large seafood processor.

Wallace, of Juneau, is a longtime commercial fisherman who currently participates in the Southeast salmon seine fishery, and he also tenders for other fisheries. He is vice president of United Fishermen of Alaska and a member of the Tongass Futures Roundtable. Wallace also served in the National Guard in Alaska as well as Washington. He is reappointed to a seat reserved for a seafood harvester.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

15 more days to critique halibut sharing plan

Here's a press release from the National Marine Fisheries Service:

Sept. 1, 2011

Public comment period extended on halibut catch sharing plan

JUNEAU — The National Marine Fisheries Service is extending the comment period for the proposed halibut catch sharing plan by 15 days, to Sept. 21.

NMFS published the proposed rule in the Federal Register on July 22 with a 45-day comment period, which expires Sept. 6.

The decision to extend the comment period comes following a visit to Alaska last month by NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who attended a luncheon in Homer with U.S. Senator Mark Begich to hear concerns and comments about the draft plan firsthand from both charter and commercial halibut fishermen.

"Alaska fisheries have been among the healthiest and most sustainable in the world, and we are working to keep them that way for both recreational opportunities and the long-term economic benefit of Alaska fishermen and fishing communities," Lubchenco said. "During my recent trip to Alaska, I was honored to visit communities where the local economy is tied to the halibut fishery. I listened to the community's concerns and I want to make sure that everyone has a chance to provide input in this public process of shaping the final halibut catch sharing plan."

"While we need a plan to keep all segments of the halibut fishery within catch limits to sustain and rebuild the stocks, charter fishermen raised several legitimate issues at the Homer meeting warranting further consideration," Begich said. "While many fishermen have already submitted comments, this extension will allow additional time for fishermen still out on the water to make sure they are heard. I am pleased Dr. Lubchenco is taking action and responding to the comments we heard when we spoke to the Homer Chamber of Commerce."

The halibut stock in Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf of Alaska has seen a steep decline in the past several years. The proposed catch sharing plan is designed to foster a sustainable fishery by preventing overharvest of halibut and would introduce provisions that provide flexibility for charter and commercial fishermen. Currently, the commercial and charter halibut fisheries are managed under different programs.

The proposed catch sharing plan was shaped through an open and public process through the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which recommended the rule to establish a clear allocation between the commercial and charter sectors that fish in Southeast and the Central Gulf.

NOAA is extending the comment period to respond to numerous requests from the public. Comments must be received by Sept. 21.

For options on submitting comments, click here.