Tuesday, December 27, 2011

'Hook, Line & Sisters'

Yet another reality TV show about Alaska commercial fishing is set to make its premiere.

Hook, Line & Sisters will focus on fisherman Dean Anderson and family.

Deckboss understands the one-hour opening episode will feature this year's Sitka herring fishery, with six more episodes taking in salmon seining at Chignik.

The series website describes Anderson as "a grizzled sea dog known for his aggressive fishing."

The series begins Thursday night and runs through Feb. 2 on TLC. Check your local listings for times.

Monday, December 26, 2011

A fine salmon season for Norton Sound

Among Alaska's salmon producing regions, Norton Sound is small potatoes. But local fishermen scored big this season.

The salmon harvest was worth nearly $1.27 million off the boat. That's not only a new record for the second season in a row, it's more than 200 percent above the recent 10-year average of $420,720.

A strong chum run highlighted the action in Norton Sound.

Lots more details here.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Counsel, I have a few questions...

On Wednesday afternoon, a bunch of attorneys met in a federal courtroom in Anchorage to argue the lawsuit over fishing restrictions imposed in the Aleutians to protect endangered Steller sea lions.

Deckboss, somewhat thankfully, was unable to attend the hearing.

While the case involves mountains of scientific data and legal briefs, the essential conflict really is very simple. The state and the industry don't feel the costly fishing restrictions are justified. The National Marine Fisheries Service, which is being sued, feels otherwise.

Shortly before Wednesday's proceedings began, something unusual happened. Judge Timothy Burgess filed a list of questions for lawyers to address during the hearing.

Here are some examples, and I paraphrase somewhat:

• Doesn't the plain language of the Endangered Species Act suggest that, if anything, NMFS has to err on the side of assuming a causal relationship exists between the fisheries and the sea lion population?

• Although it took five years for NMFS to determine the fisheries jeopardized sea lions in the Aleutians, the agency skirted the normal public notice and comment process and hurriedly imposed the fishing restrictions. What was the emergency? Why couldn't NMFS have taken another few months to collect comments given that it had already taken five years?

• Why didn't NMFS issue a full environmental impact statement, as it had done on past occasions? Was it just rushing to complete the process in order to protect itself against litigation from Oceana and Greenpeace?

Of course, one must be careful not to read too much into the judge's questions. But they are fascinating, no?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

One Bristol Bay processor swallows another

At long last, we have official confirmation of a rumor that's been knocking around for months.

North Pacific Seafoods, a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Marubeni, is buying Yardarm Knot's Red Salmon cannery at Bristol Bay.

Here's the press release.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Icicle energizes its 'calculated risk' at Adak

Regular visitors know Deckboss likes to keep track of happenings out on Adak, the remote Aleutian island with a rather tumultuous history as a commercial fishing port.

As previously reported, a subsidiary of Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods Inc. took over the Adak processing plant in the spring.

Now here's a little news: The Regulatory Commission of Alaska recently approved a special contract between Icicle and the local power company, TDX Adak Generating.

Under the contract, TDX will supply "interruptible" power to Icicle, with existing residential and commercial customers having priority.

Power supply had been a problem for previous operators of the Adak plant.

While commissioners said they initially were concerned about the potential for "rate subsidization" of Icicle, the RCA ultimately held that the special contract will be good for all local power customers.

Here is the agency's eight-page order. It has a few details about Icicle's work to refurbish the plant, which concentrates on Pacific cod.

Also, here is an Icicle letter from late August that discusses the company's "calculated risk" at Adak.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Council provides 'policy guidance' on halibut

At its recent meeting in Anchorage, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council reaffirmed its support for the proposed catch sharing plan to allocate halibut between the rival commercial and charter boat fleets.

Here's the motion the council passed.

As you will see, it calls for quite a bit of additional work on the controversial plan, including assessment of the economic impacts of "the full range of allocations."

It took a while, but Chignik has a new harbor

Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula, is moving up in the world. Here's a press release from the Lake and Peninsula Borough:

Dec. 16, 1011

Chignik boat harbor fully operational

KING SALMON — The Lake and Peninsula Borough is pleased to announce that the Chignik boat harbor is complete and open for business.

The $3.4 million project included installation of 40 slips, a harbormaster building, and full water and electrical support. The construction finished ahead of budget and schedule, allowing the Chignik fleet to begin using the harbor to prepare for the winter longlining and crab season.

"Everyone involved in this project is thrilled that our fishermen have a fully functional harbor," said borough Mayor Glen R. Alsworth Sr. "The idea of a boat harbor in Chignik dates all the way back to 1955 when Chignik's residents wrote to Delegate Bob Bartlett to ask for assistance. To be part of the group that has made it a reality is gratifying."

The city of Chignik, the Lake and Peninsula Borough and the Army Corps of Engineers have played roles in the project throughout its 55-year history.

"The boat harbor will be a tremendous boost to the Chignik fishery," said Chignik Mayor Richard Sharpe. "Now the fleet will be able to quickly and safely wait out storms and have a viable, year-round storage location for their boats."

Previously, fishermen had to store their boats in Kodiak or Sand Point, he noted.

The boat harbor completion follows the best salmon season in 40 years and the prospect of expanded winter fishery allocations for Chignik fishermen.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where does fish stand in governor's budget?

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell yesterday rolled out his proposed budget for fiscal year 2013.

Naturally, Deckboss was eager to see how the Department of Fish and Game fared in the spending plan, which has some cutbacks compared to the current budget, the governor says.

Here are a few highlights:

• The proposed Fish and Game operating budget, including all state and federal funds, is $209.3 million, a 5.1 percent increase.

• The proposed operating budget for commercial fisheries, the department's most expensive unit, is $70.5 million, a 4.4 percent increase.

• The proposed operating budget for sport fisheries is $49.7 million, a 2.7 percent increase.

• The department is slated to trim 13 full-time positions, a 1.4 percent reduction, and 46 part-time positions, a 6.1 percent cut.

• Along with his budget, the governor also proposed a bond package that includes $10 million for the city of Seward's homeport project for the Community Development Quota fleet.

You can find much more information on the Fish and Game budget here, including complete details on a number of proposed capital projects.

The Alaska Legislature opens its 2012 session on Jan. 17.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

State announces dazzling Sitka herring forecast

The state today announced the preliminary quota for the 2012 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery: 29,008 tons.

How big is that? In a word, biblical.


Plenty of fisheries enforcement news today on our companion blog, The Brig.

An update on the Carlson case

Deckboss doesn't have time right now to get into the particulars, but he can advise you of a little news with regard to the long-running Carlson case.

The Alaska Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral argument in the matter starting at 10 a.m. today.

For background on the case and the stakes involved, here's a piece by yours truly from the June 2010 issue of Pacific Fishing magazine:

Carlson case grinds on

The Alaska Legislature in April appropriated nearly $75 million to repay nonresident commercial fishermen for overcharges on permit fees. Thousands of fishermen could receive a piece of the money. But don't start looking for a check just yet.

The potential refunds stem from the Carlson class-action lawsuit — litigation so lengthy and contorted it evokes the Dickens novel "Bleak House."

Outside fishermen sued the state in 1984, upset Alaska charged them triple what residents paid for fishing privileges.

The epic case has made four trips to the Alaska Supreme Court. The suit has succeeded in equalizing the annual "base fee" all fishermen pay to obtain or renew a permit — though nonresidents continue to pay a "surcharge" of $140.

Anyway, government lawyers have battled with considerable success through the years to whittle down the state's liability under Carlson. Out of a class that once numbered 95,000 members, only 4,705 now stand to receive any money. These are limited entry permit holders; crew license holders no longer qualify for refunds.

Under the latest ruling from state Superior Court Judge Peter Michalski, the state owes about $12.4 million in refunds plus $62.4 million in interest.

While the Legislature has appropriated these sums, that doesn't mean the state is yet prepared to pay out the money. No, this 26-year court fight is not over.

On March 24, the state attorney general appealed the Carlson case again to the Alaska Supreme Court, asking the justices to either toss the $62.4 million in interest or apply a lower interest rate.

What does it all mean?

"We're not about to cut checks," said Bill McAllister, spokesman for the attorney general.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Council bumps up Gulf of Alaska pollock quota

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has set the 2012 total allowable catch (TAC) for Gulf of Alaska groundfish.

Here are the TACs for key species and the percent change from 2011.

Pollock, 116,444 tons, up 21 percent
Pacific cod, 65,700 tons, up 0.9 percent
Pacific Ocean perch, 16,918 tons, down 0.5 percent
Sablefish, 12,960 tons, up 14.8 percent

The TACs are subject to U.S. commerce secretary approval.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Council trims Bering Sea pollock quota

Great for salads and sandwiches. NMFS photo

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has set the 2012 total allowable catch (TAC) for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish.

Here are the TACs for key species and the percent change from 2011.

Eastern Bering Sea pollock, 1,200,000 tons, down 4.2 percent
Pacific cod, 261,000 tons, up 14.5 percent
Yellowfin sole, 202,000 tons, up 3.1 percent
Atka mackerel, 50,763 tons, down 4.4 percent
Pacific Ocean perch, 24,700 tons, no change
Sablefish, 4,280 tons, down 9.9 percent

The TACs are subject to U.S. commerce secretary approval.

Stikine River king salmon bounce back

Looks like Southeast Alaska commercial fishermen next spring will get a crack at those gorgeous Stikine River king salmon.

For the first time since 2008, the state is forecasting a run large enough to support a fishery.

The U.S. allowable catch under the forecast is 5,890 large Stikine kings.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Want to save on fuel costs?

Check out this new publication from Alaska Sea Grant.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The season for lucrative council business

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council begins a seven-day meeting tomorrow at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage.

The Christmas meeting is always a big one for the council, the time when catch limits are set for the coming year.

Looking over the packed agenda, three items stand out:

Halibut — The council will receive a report from the National Marine Fisheries Service that explains how the embattled halibut catch sharing plan might be saved — or simply killed.

Crab — The council has blocked out a full day to talk about lingering issues with "crab rationalization," including the theory — will Deckboss get in trouble for using that word? — that crewmen have taken a pay cut under the new management regime.

Groundfish — As already mentioned, the council will set the "total allowable catch" for important species in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. I'd be surprised to see much excitement here. Government scientists seem to have blessed a Bering Sea pollock TAC well in excess of 1 million metric tons, similar to what the industry enjoyed this past season. Another important Bering Sea target, cod, could see a decent increase.

Council actions are subject to U.S. commerce secretary approval.

Monday, December 5, 2011

More on halibut

Here is the official press release from last week's International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Seattle, where the scientific staff recommended catch limits for the 2012 season.

Evidently, at least one prominent Alaskan, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, was none too pleased with the proceedings and issued this statement:

"It is disappointing to hear further reductions are likely, and that the IPHC is suggesting potentially drastic model changes may be needed that would cause steeper reductions. Whether the changes are incorporated this year or in future years, the discussion creates more uncertainty for the commercial fishing industry, sport charter businesses, and Alaska's fishing communities that have already taken a serious economic hit from reduced harvest levels and changing management measures.

"I'm also concerned at the manner the commission staff presented its findings and data. Conflicting information, lack of clear recommendations, topped off by an abrupt end to the public portion of the meeting combined to leave important questions unanswered about the crucial steps needed to ensure the health of our halibut resource and fisheries."