Tuesday, July 31, 2012

State agency tabbed for marine debris response

Gov. Sean Parnell has signed an administrative order to deal with marine debris washing up on Alaska's shores from the Japanese tsunami in March 2011.

"While the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is the lead agency on marine debris, Administrative Order 263 designates the state Department of Environmental Conservation as the lead agency to coordinate state and federal efforts relating to tsunami-generated marine debris," the governor's office said today.

The state has set up a special website with lots of details including how to report marine debris sightings.

Want to run UFA?

Here's an advertisement seeking a new executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's top commercial fishing organization.

The ad says the position pays $72,000 a year.

As we've previously reported, the job is coming open because the current executive director, Mark Vinsel, is planning to voluntarily transition to another position with UFA.

Board to meet again tomorrow on Cook Inlet

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will meet at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday to consider more emergency petitions concerning the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries.

Click here to see the petitions and other meeting information.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Sympathetic, but...

Here's the official summary from yesterday's emergency Board of Fisheries meeting on the Cook Inlet setnetters.

"Board members were sympathetic to the setnetters affected by the closure, but were also concerned about the Chinook salmon escapement," the summary says.

Four rescued after vessel sinks at Dixon Entrance

The bad news is the fishing vessel Mary Kay is now under 600 feet of water near Dixon Entrance in Southeast Alaska.

The good news is all four crewmen were rescued safe and sound, the U.S. Coast Guard says.

The Coast Guard was notified at 10:46 p.m. Thursday that the 78-foot Mary Kay was taking on water off Cape Chacon.

Several vessels and aircraft responded to an urgent marine information broadcast.

An Alaska Wildlife Troopers skiff was among the first to arrive.

The Mary Kay crewmen were in survival suits in a raft.

The skiff took aboard the four survivors and transferred them to a good Samaritan fishing vessel, the North Wind, for delivery to Ketchikan.

Other responders included the fishing vessel Irish Rose, the state patrol vessel Enforcer, the Canadian Coast Guard cutter Bartlett and a Canadian aircraft.

Valdez wins, processor loses

Here's an Alaska Supreme Court opinion that seems to very much favor the city of Valdez in a dispute with Sea Hawk Seafoods.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Climate and fish sticks

Here's an intriguing article from NOAA examining the effects of a warming climate on Alaska's huge Bering Sea pollock fishery.

"Warmer conditions could force fishery managers to lower Alaska pollock quotas over the long term, which means by mid-century, fish sticks — at least as we know them today — might become less economical," the article says.

Cook Inlet setnetters denied in bid to fish

Multiple media outlets are reporting the state Board of Fisheries today decided to take no action on several petitions to allow salmon setnetters to resume commercial fishing on Cook Inlet's east side.

Who knows. Perhaps a court challenge is next?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Board of Fisheries to meet on Cook Inlet salmon

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will hold an emergency teleconference at 8:30 a.m. tomorrow to consider a petition regarding Upper Cook Inlet salmon setnetters.

State fishery managers have shut down eastside setnetters because of poor Chinook salmon runs into the Kenai River.

That's costing the setnetters big time, as their target sockeye crop is swimming by unharvested.

Here's the public notice of tomorrow's board teleconference.

"The petition requests that setnet fishing in the East Forelands statistical area of Cook Inlet be opened to help keep the Kenai River late-run sockeye salmon escapement within the range set by regulation," the notice says.

Here are comments on the petition from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

More from the governor's press conference

Here are a few quotes from Friday's press conference with Gov. Sean Parnell and Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell.

They discussed the poor Chinook salmon runs in parts of Alaska this season, and what the administration plans to do in response.

Parnell remarks:

I've asked the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to assemble a team of Alaska's top fisheries scientists to develop and implement a comprehensive fisheries research plan.

Just in the last year, we have requested funding in millions of dollars for Chinook salmon research, but this is above and beyond those earlier requests.

The fisheries research plan, to be completed this fall, must first evaluate what we know about Chinook salmon stocks; second, increase our understanding of the reasons behind the recent declines; and third, I want them to make recommendations for improvement.

Campbell remarks:

Some of the rivers in Alaska are experiencing their worst Chinook salmon runs in many years. And we don't expect a sudden, dramatic rebound. We're experiencing a long-term trend of low abundance that's a real hardship for Alaskans who rely on and value Chinook salmon.

And although the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has one of the best salmon management programs in the world, we do have gaps in our knowledge about Chinook salmon, and the causes of this period of low abundance cannot be precisely defined at this time.

The research plan that our scientists are developing is designed to identify indicator stocks that will provide fisheries managers with a statewide index of Chinook salmon stocks that represent a wide range, from Southeast Alaska all the way to Arctic waters.

And the scientists will evaluate all the data that we have about those stocks, against the specific knowledge areas that we know to be important for understanding Chinook salmon abundance, run timing, productivity and health. And they'll identify areas where our knowledge is robust, and areas where there are gaps in our knowledge.

And once they have that assessment of those knowledge gaps, they'll be able to recommend to us research projects that will fill those knowledge gaps and answer these key questions that we have about what's going on with Chinook salmon.

And we're going to be cooperating with federal scientists as we develop this plan.

We've also reached out to hatchery scientists with the goal of determining how additional Chinook salmon enhancement might contribute to a broader plan to address abundance declines. In many areas of Alaska, Chinook salmon stocking and enhancement is an important component of sport and commercial fisheries. And we're interested in exploring how that might represent an additional tool for addressing the current production declines.

Friday, July 20, 2012

State to launch big Chinook study

The upshot of the governor's news conference today is that a panel of scientists will take a "comprehensive" look at Alaska Chinook salmon in an effort to learn why runs are low.

More details in a bit.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Governor, commissioner to talk salmon

Gov. Sean Parnell and Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell have scheduled a press conference for 10 a.m. Friday in Anchorage to address "the low salmon runs affecting Alaskans across the state."

Aleutians golden king crab quota rises slightly

The 2012-13 Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery will open Aug. 15 with an overall quota of 6.29 million pounds.

That's up 5 percent from the 2011-12 quota of 5.99 million pounds.

This distant and rugged fishery involves very few players. Typically, only five boats participate, says Heather Fitch, area management biologist with the state Department of Fish and Game.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Bristol Bay price update

The Alaska Independent Fishermen's Marketing Association reports that Trident Seafoods also is paying $1 a pound for Bristol Bay sockeye, matching rival processors Ocean Beauty and Yardarm Knot.

Also, a Bristol Bay gillnetter tells Deckboss another processor, Alaska General Seafoods, likewise is paying $1.

A buck a pound

Salmon tenders at Clarks Point. Jack Molan photo

The Bristol Bay sockeye salmon fishery is rapidly winding down, and it appears the industry might come up a little short of the preseason catch forecast of 21.8 million fish.

Deckboss hears reliably that two processors, Ocean Beauty and Yardarm Knot, have posted a base price of $1 a pound.

That matches the price posted at this time last season.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Gov. Parnell requests federal disaster declaration

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell today sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Commerce requesting a disaster declaration over the poor Chinook salmon runs to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

He suggested Cook Inlet might also qualify for disaster relief.

Here's a press release:

July 14, 2012

Gov. Parnell requests federal declaration of fishery disaster for 2011 and 2012 Chinook salmon fisheries on Yukon, Kuskokwim

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today urged Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank to declare a fishery disaster for the Chinook salmon fisheries on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

He also alerted the acting secretary that the Cook Inlet region is experiencing low Chinook salmon returns and may also qualify for an economic disaster declaration once the season has concluded.

"Ensuring the health and viability of our fisheries is essential for food security, cultural traditions, and quality of life for Alaskans," Parnell said. "Alaskans have depended on fishing for thousands of years. We must identify and address issues affecting this critical source of nutrition and jobs."

The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes various forms of federal assistance through the National Marine Fisheries Service when the secretary of commerce determines there is a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster.

"It is important to emphasize the critical nature of these fisheries to the region's residents," Parnell wrote to Blank. "Residents in the Yukon and Kuskokwim regions experience some of the highest poverty rates in the country. Earnings from even small commercial fisheries are critical to make it through Alaska's winters. Even more important to these residents' survival is the ability to engage in subsistence harvests. The state of fisheries this year may severely impact their subsistence harvests."

The state of Alaska is submitting fisheries data to back up its request. A federal disaster declaration will not bring automatic assistance to the region. A federal appropriation is necessary to provide funding.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

'Maneuvering error'

Remember back in May when a state ferry crashed into the Ocean Beauty Seafoods dock in Petersburg?

Well, a state investigation has determined the captain "made a maneuvering error."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Begich wants Yukon-Kusko disaster declaration

Here's a letter from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, asking Gov. Sean Parnell to declare a "fisheries disaster" for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Chinook returns to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers have been especially poor this season.

A disaster declaration for the Chinook run failures of 2008 and 2009 on the Yukon resulted in $5 million in federal aid.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012


Catch a big haul of enforcement news today on The Brig.

Kotzebue's turn

The 2012 season opens tonight at Kotzebue, Alaska's farthest north commercial salmon fishery.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it expects a good run of chum salmon, forecasting a harvest of 250,000 to 280,000 fish.

To put that in perspective, the projected chum harvest for entire state this season is 19.1 million fish.

Here's the official announcement on Kotzebue's kickoff.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Salmon season update

Bristol Bay gillnet boats line up to deliver their sockeye salmon catches to tender vessels. Jack Molan photo

We're approaching the halfway mark of the 2012 salmon season. Here are a few highlights from the action thus far:

• The statewide catch as of Friday, all species, totaled more than 22.2 million fish. The state predicts 132.1 million for the season.

• The harvest tally typically doesn't really mount up until the pink salmon hordes show up, and that hasn't happened yet. Only 428,000 pinks have been taken thus far.

• The state's main money fish is sockeye, and some areas are seeing good results. Bristol Bay gillnetters last week enjoyed day after day of big catches, and through Saturday the harvest was 14.9 million, or more than two-thirds of the preseason forecast. Copper River fishermen have taken 1.6 million sockeye — outstanding.

• In Upper Cook Inlet, poor king salmon returns to the Kenai River are hurting sockeye fishermen. The state Department of Fish and Game is closing down setnetters today. The idea is to let Kenai kings pass through.

• In Southeast Alaska, the general summer troll season that opened July 1 closes to retention of king salmon at midnight tonight. That's when the target harvest of 98,135 kings is expected to be reached. Fish and Game says it counted 548 troll vessels during aerial surveys.

• Commercial fishing has begun way up in Norton Sound, but it's a weird year. "The large amount of ice in Norton Sound this winter is thus far resulting in the latest runs of salmon observed in decades," Fish and Game reports.

Dan Rather discovers Bristol Bay

Former network news anchor Dan Rather will examine the Pebble mine controversy Tuesday in a special live broadcast from King Salmon.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Ammonia leak stirs Dutch Harbor

The 129-member crew of the processing ship Excellence was forced to evacuate after the vessel experienced an ammonia leak Friday while tied up at the Kloosterboer cold storage dock in Dutch Harbor.

Firefighters sprayed water in an effort to suppress vapors. As a community precaution, the Excellence later was towed (top photo) to an offshore mooring buoy in Wide Bay.

Three people needed medical attention for ammonia exposure, with two of those transferred to Anchorage.

A hazmat team from the UniSea processing plant went aboard the vessel today and determined ammonia was still leaking.

Ammonia is a gas used in freezer systems.

The 367-foot Excellence is a mothership that processes Bering Sea pollock deliveries from catcher boats.

Photos are courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Here they come!

After a slow start, the Bristol Bay sockeye fishery now appears to be blasting off.

Yesterday, the Fourth of July, marked the third day in a row with a catch of more than 1 million fish.

In fact, the Independence Day haul very nearly reached 2 million, reports the Department of Fish and Game.

For the season, the tally now stands at about 9.4 million fish.

That's still a long way from the preseason forecast of 21.8 million sockeye. But if those nets keep smoking, look out!

Troopers confirm identity of man overboard

Here's a press release from the Alaska State Troopers on yesterday's man overboard incident north of Juneau:

Location: Juneau
Type: Search and rescue — presumed drowning
On 7/4/12 at approximately 0735 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard contacted the Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan to report they were actively searching for a male who fell overboard off the F/V Eleanor S. It was reported that the man went in the water near Mab Island, approximately 25 miles north of Juneau, at about 0500 hours. The man has been identified as 63-year-old Richard Boyce of Haines. It was reported that Boyce tripped and fell in the water while attempting to undo a fishing net stuck in the boat's prop. The USCG conducted a search of the area using vessels and a helicopter. Boyce was not wearing a PFD when he fell into the water. Boyce was not recovered and the search effort was suspended for the evening pending new leads.

Search ends for man overboard

The U.S. Coast Guard said late Wednesday it had suspended the search for a fisherman who fell overboard south of Berners Bay in Southeast Alaska.

The Coast Guard didn't identify the victim, but said the fishing vessel involved was the 39-foot Eleanor S.

State records list the boat's owner as Richard B. Boyce, of Haines.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Man overboard reported north of Juneau

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

July 4, 2012

Coast Guard searching for man overboard near Juneau

The Coast Guard is searching for a crewman reported overboard off a fishing vessel near Mab Island about 25 miles north of Juneau.

The Coast Guard received a report at 5:10 a.m. that the crewman fell overboard while trying to remove fishing gear from the propeller.

Coast Guard Station Juneau launched a 25-foot response boat and Air Station Sitka launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter. Both Coast Guard assets are on scene.

"The Coast Guard would like to ask that all mariners in the area south of Berners Bay keep an eye out for the missing person," said Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Harkins.

The crewman reportedly is wearing green rain gear but no flotation device.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Looking for things that go boom

This advertisement was published in Monday's Anchorage Daily News:

Do you have any historical information about ordnance at Kodiak, Dutch Harbor, or Kiska?

The U.S. Navy is investigating the possibility that World War II era ordnance may exist in the marine environment near the former military defense areas at Kodiak Island, Dutch Harbor, and Kiska Island. If you have information about over-water ordnance handling, the locations of anti-aircraft batteries or coastal gun emplacements, in-water target ranges and bombing ranges, or the locations of unexploded ordnance discoveries in the marine environment, can you please contact us? Please contact Tom Abbott by phone at (206) 438-2004, or by email at tom.abbott@urs.com.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Here's money, go fish!

Now this is interesting. Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. this year offered local commercial salmon fishermen advances of up to $5,000 to pay for nets, insurance, fuel and so forth.

Borrowers must repay the loan, plus $25, by July 20. Details here.