Thursday, May 31, 2012

Southeast Chinook runs not so kingly

Chinook salmon runs to the Stikine and Taku rivers are coming in well below forecast, the Department of Fish and Game reports. More details here.

Trouble down on the farm

Icicle Seafoods, one of Alaska's major salmon processors, also is involved in farming Atlantic salmon in Washington state.

Recently, media outlets reported that Icicle was killing scores of farmed fish to prevent an outbreak of infectious hematopoietic necrosis, the IHN virus, from spreading.

Icicle yesterday issued this press release addressing the situation, emphasizing that the virus is found naturally in the region's wild salmon and herring.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Hatching 'new tools' for media control in Cordova

Recently published research examining possible negative effects of hatchery salmon production on wild stocks generated quite a bit of publicity such as this.

Folks at Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., Alaska's largest hatchery operator, apparently didn't appreciate all the media attention.

And something will be done about it, according to this summary of PWSAC's May 23 executive committee meeting.

Here's the relevant part:

Chairman's Report (George Covel)
• Google Alerts — PWSAC uses this as a monitoring tool. Recently, over 30 news media stories have been posted on the internet about research conducted regarding the interactions of hatchery and wild salmon. Several of these are publications from ADF&G staff. Covel reported that ADF&G will put into place new tools to prevent this from happening again in the future. It is important for Department to clear this up. PWSAC is monitoring this along with Tracy Foster, Foster Communication Strategies.

Deckboss can hardly wait to ask the Alaska Department of Fish and Game exactly what sort of "tools" we're talking about.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Blotter

Plenty of news on our sister blog, The Brig, including a new Dutch Harbor report!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Togiak herring catch is coming up short

The Togiak sac roe herring season closes for seiners at 10 o'clock tonight. Gillnetters, however, can keep fishing.

The seine fleet has caught 13,084 tons of herring, representing 86.4 percent of its allocation, the Department of Fish and Game reports.

Gillnetters are running way behind, having caught 2,870 tons or 44.2 percent of their allocation.

With a grand total of 15,954 tons taken, it would appear the harvest won't reach the preseason quota of 21,622 tons.

But maybe that will prove to be a good thing in terms of price.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

The red-hot Copper River

We've seen three 12-hour openers so far at the Copper River, and gillnetters sure have made the most of their time.

The sockeye catch has been killer, totaling an estimated 627,000 fish.

In fact, we're off to an even hotter start than last year, when the first three openers produced a combined 451,937 sockeye. The 2011 season went on to an excellent finish of more than 2 million fish.

The situation with Chinook salmon isn't so exciting. The tally thus far is an estimated 3,300 fish, compared to 5,528 taken during the first three openers last season.

The Copper River District will open at 7 a.m. Monday for a 36-hour period.

'One hundred letters should be our goal'

It's not uncommon to see some pretty stiff competition for seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

But this year, the campaigning seems particularly intense.

You might recall our post back in March about how a large industry bloc was thinking of mounting a challenge to Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire's top choice for a council seat, Lori Swanson. The industry group preferred the second name on Gregoire's list of nominees, Craig Cross.

Well, the challenge is on and Cross is getting a major push.

It's up to the U.S. commerce secretary to decide who ultimately gets the seat, and the decision is expected by the end of June.

Deckboss hears reliably that a ranking Commerce Department official, Eric Schwaab, met with the At-sea Processors Association during its recent gathering in Hawaii. The Seattle-based association represents the Bering Sea pollock factory trawl fleet, and its Washington, D.C., lobbyist, Jim Gilmore, has been leading the charge for Cross.

Here's a Gilmore email from a couple of days ago talking about congressional support for Cross, and laying out details for a "letter writing campaign" to the Commerce Department's National Marine Fisheries Service:

From: Jim Gilmore
Sent: Friday, May 25, 2012 8:56 AM
To: 'Kenny Down'; 'robert alverson'; 'Arni Thomson'; 'Mark Gleason'; 'Margaret Hall'; 'Sara Chapman'; 'Brent Paine'; jstonecrab@gmail.com; 'Inge Andreassen'; 'Jan Jacobs'; 'Mike Hyde'; 'Dave Benson'; 'Joe Plesha'; 'Doug Christensen'; 'Donna Parker'; 'Mike Breivik'; 'Jim Johnson'; 'John Bundy'; 'Bill Stokes'; 'Neil Rodriguez'
Cc: 'Paxton, Matthew'; 'Theodore Kronmiller'; 'stephanie madsen'; Craig Cross; 'Jeff Bjornstad'; 'Paul MacGregor'
Subject: Craig Cross appt. — letter writing campaign to NMFS
Importance: High

Hello all —

I am advised that to help push Craig Cross' candidacy forward that a letter writing campaign to NOAA/NMFS would be helpful. Letters need to go out today or Tuesday.

For the organizations on this distribution list, can you please get as many of your members as possible to reiterate their support for Craig? One hundred letters should be our goal.

As you know, Craig has secured the support of Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as Congressmen Rick Larsen and Jim McDermott. We hope to get one or two more Congressional endorsements, as well, but we need grassroots support, too. And a grassroots campaign could make it easier to land more Congressional endorsements.

The A80 fleet has responded to the Congressional endorsements with an aggressive letter writing campaign. We have provided NOAA/NMFS with the two dozen attached letters of support for Craig, many letters written by you to Governor Gregoire. You can use them as a model for letters to NOAA/NMFS. I also suggest that you note the broad range of support for Craig within the industry as I believe most of the letters for Lori are from the A80 fleet.

1. Address letters to Sam Rauch, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, NOAA Fisheries, 1315 East West Hwy., Silver Spring, MD 20910.

2. Email the letter to Bill Chappell at William.Chappell@noaa.gov. He is handling the nominations within NMFS HQ.

3. Please copy the following staff in the WA delegation: Shawn_Bills@murray.senate.gov; Nicole_Teutschel@cantwell.senate.gov; Paul.Hoover@mail.house.gov; Alan.Lee@mail.house.gov; Matt.Bormet@mail.house.gov. (Those are the staffers for Murray, Cantwell, Adam Smith, McDermott, and Larsen, respectively.)

4. If you can have folks blind copy me at jgilmore@atsea.org, that will help us keep a library of these support letters.

Thanks to all for your continued support for Craig.

Jim

Jim Gilmore
Director of Public Affairs
At-sea Processors Association
Washington, DC

Cross is director of government affairs and business development for Aleutian Spray Fisheries. One of Aleutian Spray's vessels, the factory trawler Starbound, is a member of the At-sea Processors Association. Aleutian Spray also has other boats including freezer longliners, which broadens industry support for Cross.

The "A80 fleet" mentioned in the email refers to flatfish trawlers, known as the Amendment 80 fleet, that Swanson represents. This is a relatively narrow segment of the Alaska industry.

Evidently, the Swanson camp likewise is campaigning very hard to reel in the council seat.

A similar competition is developing over an Alaska seat now held by Dan Hull, an Anchorage resident who fishes commercially for halibut and salmon out of Cordova.

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell in March nominated Hull for a new term on the council.

But Hull supporters are concerned that the Commerce Department might reject Hull and instead choose another, lower name on Parnell's list. That would be Tim Evers of Ninilchik, a longtime boat charter operator.

That's disconcerting to commercial interests who don't want to see more sportfish representation on the council.

Deckboss acquired this recent action alert exhorting Hull supporters to put in a good word for him:

SITUATION. Gov Parnell has nominated Dan Hull (Longliner and gillnetter) and Ed Dersham (Sport) for reappointment to the NPFMC. The Secretary of Commence will make a decision soon and will announce appointments by the end of June.

We understand that there is an effort underway to get the Secretary to appoint a retired charter operator to replace Dan Hull on the council. This would give the charter sector two of eleven voting seats on the Council, which is out of proportion to the single charter issue before the council — halibut charter allocation.

ACTION. If you see Senator Begich, Senator Murkowski, or Congressman Young in Alaska over the Memorial Day recess, please make these points. Senator Begich will be in Petersburg Sunday (May 27).

By June 2, please send a short message via email to the Secretary of Commerce and copy the NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco and the Congressional Delegation (email below). Personalizing the message will make it stronger.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Crew rescued, but tender is in tough spot

The fish tender St. Joseph, beached between Cape Suckling and Cape Yakataga. A Coast Guard helicopter safely hoisted the five-member crew Friday night after the vessel lost steering in 20-foot seas 52 miles southeast of Cordova. The abandoned boat then went aground. "We are working diligently with the owner of the vessel to develop salvage and response plans to recover the St. Joesph from the beach," said Lt. Doreen McCarthy, command duty officer of Marine Safety Unit Valdez. "At this time there is no reported pollution." State records list the owner as Jeff Schock of Everett, Wash. Copper River Seafoods photo via USCG

Friday, May 25, 2012

Big job available

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is looking for a new executive director to replace Ray Riutta, who is retiring after nearly 10 years in the position.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Early reds stay hot at Copper River

Gillnetters caught another 219,000 red, or sockeye, salmon at the Copper River on Monday.

That brings the cumulative harvest for the season's first two openers to an estimated 374,000 reds, nearly triple the anticipated catch.

More details here from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Coast Guard medevacs longliner crewman

A Coast Guard helicopter today safely hoisted an ailing crewman off the longliner Polaris.

The 76-foot vessel was located 23 miles northwest of Chirikof Island in the Gulf of Alaska.

The crewman, 57, reportedly was suffering from abdominal pain, the Coast Guard said.

Lawsuit filed over clam digger deaths

A federal lawsuit has been filed against Frank Dulcich, president of West Coast processing giant Pacific Seafood Group, in connection with the deaths of five contract clam diggers in Alaska.

The five died after their 22-foot aluminum skiff went down in Cook Inlet on May 17, 2011.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

A third of Togiak herring quota taken

The Togiak sac roe herring fishery appears to be coming along swimmingly.

Purse seiners have taken 6,380 tons thus far and gillnetters have taken 735 tons, for a grand total of 7,115 tons.

That's about 33 percent of the preseason quota of 21,622 tons.

More details here from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Reds carry opening day at the Copper River

Thursday's season opener at the Copper River produced an estimated catch of 155,000 sockeye salmon and 1,100 Chinook, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports.

"This compares to an anticipated harvest of 32,000 sockeye and 2,100 Chinook salmon for this period," the department says.

Deckboss hasn't heard a thing about prices. Anybody?

The Copper River District will open at 7 a.m. Monday for another 12-hour period.

Friday, May 18, 2012

We're dumping the MSC — really!

Deckboss just received this open letter from Alaska salmon processors "reaffirming" their intent to withdraw from the Marine Stewardship Council certification program.

The 27 processors signing onto the statement say they represent 80 percent of the salmon caught in Alaska.

Death reported aboard Icicle processor

Here's a press release from the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Togiak
Type: Death investigation
On 5/17/12 at approximately 0500 hours, AST received a report of a death on the F/V Gordon Jensen, a fish processor anchored about 10 miles south of Togiak. AST investigation determined Stanley E. Allison Jr., 43, of Washington, was working as a deckhand on the vessel when he collapsed at about 0330 hours. Efforts to resuscitate Allison at the scene were unsuccessful. Allison was flown to the Kanakanak Hospital in Dillingham. A state trooper based in Dillingham was flown to the fishing vessel for additional investigation. Foul play is not suspected, however, an autopsy was requested to determine cause of death. Next of kin have been notified.

The 310-foot Gordon Jensen belongs to Seattle-based Icicle Seafoods Inc. The vessel presumably was in Togiak for the herring fishery that opened Monday.

EPA says big mining could hurt Bristol Bay salmon

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today issued a draft assessment of the Bristol Bay watershed, and whether large-scale mining could harm its famed salmon runs.

The assessment was done in response to the clamor over the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine, although the EPA says it didn't focus in-depth on any specific project.

Bottom line is, the EPA report "concludes that there is potential for certain activities associated with large-scale mining to have adverse impacts on the productivity and sustainability of the salmon fishery in the watershed."

The EPA stops far short, however, of declaring that major mining projects in the Bristol Bay watershed should be forbidden right here and now.

Find the full assessment report here. And here's an EPA press release.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Salmon time!

Go get 'em day for gillnetters. Deckboss photo

The Copper River fishery opens at 7 a.m. today for a 12-hour period, signifying what many will regard as the official start of a new Alaska salmon season.

Of course, gillnetters and trollers started stalking Chinook salmon at the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast on May 7.

But for Copper River connoisseurs, that doesn't count, right?

Anyway, Deckboss wishes the Copper River fleet a safe day and good fishing.

More hatchery news

The Department of Fish and Game is considering whether to issue a permit for a new Southeast Alaska hatchery to produce Chinook and coho salmon.

Deckboss confesses this is the first he's heard of the proposed Baranof Warm Springs Hatchery on Baranof Island.

A lot of background information appears to be available here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Flying fish redux

The Salmon-Thirty-Salmon II. Alaska Airlines image

Remember a few years back when Alaska Airlines painted a jet as a giant Alaska Chinook salmon?

Well, the Seattle-based carrier and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute have teamed up to do it again.

Personnel file

Looks like we've got a significant vacancy down in Petersburg.

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association has released this job posting:

Petersburg Vessel Owners Association is seeking an Executive Director for a multi-gear multi-species commercial fishing advocacy group. Duties include: representing PVOA at various fisheries management forums, boards, and committees; informing the board and the membership of current issues; maintaining and building membership; and administrative work. Knowledge of the fishing industry is preferred. Position is considered part-time with significant travel expected and salary averages $35,000 per year based on experience.

The outgoing executive director, Julianne Curry, tells Deckboss: "I haven't decided what I'm doing next!"

Healthy, and safe under the ice

As we've reported recently, fishermen are having a hard time catching this season's Bering Sea snow crab quota. But that's because of interference from sea ice, not a lack of crabs.

Yesterday, the National Marine Fisheries Service declared the snow crab stock officially "rebuilt" from its crash in 1999. That's according to the agency's annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report to Congress.

Here's what NMFS had to say about snow crab:

The important role stock assessments and sustainably managed fisheries play in the U.S. economy is demonstrated by the recent rebuilding of the Bering Sea snow crab fishery. In 1999, scientists found that snow crab stock was overfished. In response, managers cut harvests for the following fishing seasons to a level that would allow the stock to recover. Under conservative harvest levels, Alaska snow crab has rebounded and is now above its target population level. This is good news for the resource and for fishermen, too. An abundant resource can sustainably support higher harvests, and managers boosted the harvest limit for 2011/2012 by 64 percent. This increase in harvest of Bering Sea snow crab is anticipated to have a multi-million dollar benefit to the U.S. economy, fishermen, and the seafood industries that depend on this resource.

Monday, May 14, 2012

It's on at Togiak!

A fine specimen of a Togiak herring. ADF&G photo

The state's biggest sac roe herring fishery is now under way near the Bristol Bay village of Togiak.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game gave the green light to seiners and gillnetters effective at 6 p.m.

The forecast is for a potential harvest of 21,622 tons. The industry took 22,699 tons last year.

Ice forces another extension of snow crab season

The state is again extending the snow crab season due to persistent sea ice limiting the fleet's access to fishing grounds.

The season now will be open through June 15, says this press release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

The industry had a quota of 88.9 million pounds, and 23 percent of this remains unharvested, the department says.

Are hatchery salmon hurting our wild runs?

Deckboss regulars know we've occasionally touched on the topic of Alaska's prolific salmon hatcheries, and whether manufactured fish are having any detrimental effects on our purely wild runs.

This has long been a concern of some state biologists. Now it appears the state is taking steps to investigate the matter further.

The Department of Fish and Game has issued a request for proposals from "entities interested in conducting a research program to address interactions of wild and hatchery pink and chum salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska."

It's a pretty serious contract, worth up to $4.5 million.

Jump to page 27 of the 73-page RFP to read the very interesting "scope of work" to be performed.

On a related note, the Wild Salmon Center of Portland, Ore., today announced new research suggesting hatchery-raised salmon "can harm wild salmon through competition for food and habitat."

Friday, May 11, 2012

Congratulations, Norton Sound crabbers!

The Norton Sound winter king crab fishery is scheduled to close on Tuesday, and it will end on a happy note.

"Congratulations to Norton Sound fishermen on one of the best winter crab seasons in history," says this announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. "The commercial catch so far this season of over 8,500 crabs is second only to the first winter commercial season in 1977-78 when 9,625 crabs were caught."

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Alaska Juris update

A Coast Guard helicopter has safely hoisted three crewmembers exposed to an ammonia leak aboard the factory trawler Alaska Juris.

The crewmembers were in good condition, the Coast Guard said.

The vessel is headed to Dutch Harbor for repairs.

Trawler crew reported exposed to ammonia leak

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

May 10, 2012

Coast Guard responds to ammonia leak reported on fishing vessel

JUNEAU — Coast Guard personnel are responding to reports of an ammonia leak and crewmembers suffering from ammonia exposure on the fishing vessel Alaska Juris 80 miles north of Cold Bay.

An Air Station Kodiak HC-130 Hercules airplane, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and an MH-65 Dolphin helicopter deployed on the Kodiak-based Coast Guard cutter Munro are responding to the distressed vessel.

“We are sending multiple air assets to ensure the most efficient response possible,” said Lt. Lane Munroe, a watchstander at the 17th Coast Guard District command center. “Getting on scene quickly and assisting the crew of the vessel is our number one priority.”

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage watchstanders received the report of the ammonia leak at 12:38 p.m. and air assets were expected to arrive on scene at 5 p.m.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

For the record

Here is the official notice on the results of the Southeast Alaska salmon seine permit buyback referendum.

The notice names the holders of the 64 permits to be purchased and retired using a $13.1 million federal loan.

St. Paul concerns resolved, EPA files revised settlement packing $2.5 million fine for Trident

Back in September, we told you about a major enforcement action the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was taking against Alaska's biggest fish processor, Seattle-based Trident Seafoods Corp.

The EPA said Trident had agreed to pay a $2.5 million civil penalty and invest millions of dollars at its various plants to control fish wastes.

After that announcement, interests out of St. Paul, the island community at the center of the Bering Sea, raised certain concerns about the deal.

Now the government says those concerns have been resolved, and an amended settlement has been filed that still includes the $2.5 million fine for Trident and the waste control requirements.

One of those requirements calls for Trident to build a fishmeal plant at Naknek, primary hub of the huge Bristol Bay salmon fishery, by June 1, 2015.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Worker killed in Seward dock accident

The Anchorage Daily News is reporting a worker died this morning in Seward when an Icicle Seafoods boom truck he was operating tipped over while loading a seine net onto a vessel.

Record sea ice forces snow crab extension

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is extending the Bering Sea snow crab season due to ice cover that's prevented the fleet from accessing the fishing grounds.

Here's the press release.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A little mishap

Word out of Petersburg is the state ferry Matanuska whammed the dock at Ocean Beauty Seafoods today, causing considerable damage.

Here's the best coverage I've seen, including photos.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Labor crisis abates for processing industry

Foreign students can continue to work in U.S. seafood processing plants this summer under the State Department's J-1 visa program, Alaska's senators announced Friday.

Here's a press release from Sen. Mark Begich, and a statement from Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Murkowski agrees with Obama on NOAA home

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, believes President Obama's proposal to move the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from the Commerce Department to the Interior Department is a good idea.

Read her thoughts on the matter here.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, of course, is part of NOAA.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Countdown to a new salmon season

The famed Copper River salmon fishery will open May 17 for a 12-hour period, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today.

Prepare for fabulous, fresh Chinook and sockeye!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Coast Guard medevacs crewman near Cold Bay

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter out of Kodiak today hoisted an ailing crewman off the 124-foot fishing vessel Bering Leader some 57 miles northwest of Cold Bay.

The Coast Guard said it received a call at 8:02 a.m. from HealthForce Partners in Seattle requesting a medevac for the 39-year-old crewman reportedly suffering from stroke-like symptoms.

More details on permit buyback vote

Here are the results from the Southeast Alaska salmon seine permit buyback referendum.

The bottom line is 215 permit holders voted in favor of the buyback, well in excess of the 190-vote majority needed.

Salmon seiners reportedly OK permit buyback

The Southeast Alaska Seiners Association is reporting that voters have approved the permit buyback "by a relatively wide margin."

More details as soon as we can gather them.

Legislature lavishes aquaculture industry with cash

Alaska is a state flush with billions of dollars in surplus oil revenue.

So it’s not unusual to see our legislators spend a good chunk of that money every year on capital projects — everything from road improvements to research equipment to artificial turf for high school football fields.

Deckboss reviewed the new capital budget the Legislature passed April 15 and couldn’t help but notice the sizeable sums awarded to the state’s hatchery operators, as well as shellfish growers.

Hatcheries are a huge factor in Alaska’s “wild” salmon harvests. The hatcheries pump millions of baby fish into the ocean, many to return as adult salmon that sustain commercial fleets and processors.

Legislators tend to notice industries employing thousands of people, so it’s no surprise to see some serious hatchery love in the capital budget.

It also helps to have a persuasive lobbyist in Juneau.

The Cordova-based Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., one of the state’s biggest hatchery operators, employed two lobbyists this year for a combined $75,000, state records show.

Another hatchery operator, Juneau-based Armstrong-Keta Inc., employed a lobbyist for $30,000, and the Ketchikan-based Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association paid its lobbyist $15,000.

Anyway, here is a list of aquaculture items compiled from the capital budget bill, which is headed to the governor for his signature — and for possible line item vetoes.

Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association — hatchery equipment and deferred maintenance, $455,000

Crystal Lake Hatchery — deferred maintenance, $650,000

Metlakatla Indian Community — design and construction of chum hatchery, $500,000

Metlakatla Indian Community — net pens and hatchery improvements, $150,000

• Prince Of Wales Hatchery Association — hatchery equipment replacements and upgrades, $475,000

Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association — Hidden Falls Salmon Hatchery, $1,237,000

Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association — Medvejie Hatchery maintenance and facility improvements, $900,000

Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association — Haines/Skagway spawning channels, $620,000

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. — Cannery Creek Hatchery, $5,263,000

Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. — Main Bay Hatchery, $864,000

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association — Trail Lakes Hatchery, $1,025,000

Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association — Tutka Bay Hatchery, $699,000

Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, $460,000

Kachemak Shellfish Mariculture Association — oyster remote setting facility, $60,000

Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association — Kitoi Bay Hatchery, $1,550,000

Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association — Pillar Creek Hatchery, $909,000

Alaskan Shellfish Growers Association — shellfish industry technical assistance grants, $30,000

For a map of hatchery locations around the state, click here.