Thursday, November 29, 2012

A serious new player at Bristol Bay

Deckboss was delighted to receive in his inbox yesterday a forwarded email confirming some talk he's been hearing for quite some time.

The email says Silver Bay Seafoods recently purchased eight acres on the Naknek River to construct a high-volume, state-of-the-art freezing and processing facility.

Now wouldn't that be something?

Bristol Bay's processor ranks certainly aren't what they used to be, and the landscape is littered with old, or dead, salmon canneries.

The email says Silver Bay is "optimistic we can provide Bay fishermen the same benefits enjoyed by our member fishermen in Southeast and Prince William Sound."

The company promotes "fishermen ownership" and "a stable rate of return on member investment," the email says.

It appears the email went to potential fishermen investors. It's signed by Rob Zuanich, Silver Bay's managing partner.

Silver Bay is a fairly new, fast-rising processor with plants in Sitka, Craig and Valdez.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big money for the biggest of salmon

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell says his fiscal 2014 budget proposal will include $10 million to kick off a five-year, $30 million research initiative on Chinook salmon, returns of which have been poor in recent years. More details here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

State predicts down year for Bristol Bay sockeye

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a 2013 sockeye salmon catch of 16.6 million fish.

That would be well below this year's so-so catch of 20.6 million.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

EPA fines three fishing companies

Three fishing companies have agreed to pay fines to settle federal pollution violations involving vessels operating off Alaska.

The three companies are Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Ocean Peace and United States Seafoods.

Here's the press release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Pollock pointing up

We could well see an increase in the catch limit for Bering Sea pollock next season.

Pollock is the largest U.S. fishery by volume — the feedstock for making zillions of kid-pleasing fish sticks, not to mention that oh-so-versatile protein paste known as surimi.

For the 2013 season, scientists are recommending an "acceptable biological catch" of 1,375,000 metric tons.

That's a nearly 13 percent increase over the 2012 ABC of 1,220,000 tons.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt a harvest limit at its Dec. 3-11 meeting in Anchorage.

Passing the gavel

State Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, will chair the House Special Committee on Fisheries when the Alaska Legislature convenes on Jan. 15.

Seaton takes over for Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, who chaired the committee the past two years.

It's a post Seaton has held previously in his legislative career.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

More on that beached barge

According to the state's latest situation report, vessels are transiting to the Cold Bay area to offload the refrigerated shipping containers on a barge that ran aground Tuesday.

Offloading is scheduled to begin the middle of next week.

Deckboss has seen the cargo manifest, which confirms that Trident Seafoods was the shipper of nearly 1.5 million pounds of frozen seafood goods inside the containers.

The manifest lists mostly pollock surimi, but also cod, sablefish, halibut and other fish, plus octopus, fish meal and fish oil. Some other byproducts also are listed, such as cod heads and stomachs.

Seattle-based Northland Services was operating the grounded tug and barge.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good salvage plan needed

A tug and barge have run aground on Ukolnoi Island, east of Cold Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the crew. The barge is laden with 90 refrigerated containers, 60 of which are empty with the other 30 holding nearly 1.5 million pounds of frozen seafood product. Deckboss hears unofficially that the product belongs to Trident Seafoods. The tug and barge were transiting from Sand Point to Dutch Harbor when they grounded at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Salvage plans are in the works. USCG photo

Nonresidents to pay a bit more to fish in Alaska

The state is bumping up the surcharge nonresidents must pay for commercial fishing permits.

The new surcharge will be $190, an increase of $50 from the current amount.

The increase will take effect for the 2013 fishing season.

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, the state agency that issues permits, adjusts the nonresident surcharge every three years according to a court-approved formula.

The surcharge applies only to the first permit a nonresident obtains or renews each year. So, if he or she pays the annual base fee for permits in multiple fisheries, the surcharge is paid only once.

The surcharge is meant to help defray the cost of fisheries management.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

State goes fishing for salmon disaster relief

Here's a letter from state Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell to Alaska's congressional delegation making a case for federal disaster aid for the recent poor Chinook salmon returns.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Let more Bristol Bay sockeye swim upriver?

State biologists are recommending somewhat higher sockeye salmon escapement goals for most river systems around Bristol Bay.

Check out the numbers on the second page of this Alaska Department of Fish and Game memo.

The matter will be up for discussion at the state Board of Fisheries meeting next month in Naknek.

Looking back on the election

Here are a couple of observations from last week's general election.

First, it appears state Rep. Bill Thomas, who calls himself the only commercial fisherman in the Alaska Legislature, might have lost his seat.

The Haines Republican currently stands 43 votes behind Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Democrat from Sitka.

State election officials still must tally absentee and question ballots.

Even if Thomas somehow rallies past his young challenger, he won't keep his powerful post as co-chair of the House Finance Committee. That's because the House majority leadership on Thursday installed Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, as committee co-chair, with Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, continuing as the other co-chair.

In other action, Alaska voters handily approved a $453 million bond issue for port and other transportation projects statewide.

The bonding package includes $10 million toward a proposed expansion of the Seward Marine Industrial Center.

This is of great interest to Coastal Villages Region Fund, a fishing company operating under the federal Community Development Quota program.

Coastal has amassed quite a fleet of fishing vessels, from salmon tenders right up to the 341-foot factory trawler Northern Hawk.

Coastal wants to "Alaskanize" its operations, which would involve basing its vessels not in Seattle but in an Alaska port, specifically Seward.

But $10 million doesn't get the job done. Recent studies have shown it would take several times that much to expand Seward's port sufficiently to accommodate Coastal's full fleet.

It would appear Coastal is working to woo as large a public subsidy as possible for its fleet relocation.

And why does Deckboss make such a remark?

Here's a press release from Coastal, issued on election day last week, that includes supportive comments from Alaska's entire congressional delegation, as well as state Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In the pinks!

The state is forecasting an excellent harvest of 54 million pink salmon next year in Southeast Alaska.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cook Inlet's feast and famine

At least the drifters had fun. Deckboss photo

Upper Cook Inlet yielded a lucrative 2012 salmon season, despite dreadful Chinook returns that shut down setnetters.

The commercial catch of nearly 4 million salmon ranked as the ninth largest in 20 years, and the estimated $34.2 million payout to fishermen was the 11th best since 1960.

That's according to this season summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sockeye salmon account for most of the fishery value.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Begich bombs

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, says he has "secured a waiver to allow continued use and sales of non-lethal pest control devices like 'seal bombs' through the 2013 fishing season."

The senator further says he is "working for a permanent solution to allow their continued use."

Deckboss must admit this is the first he's heard of this explosive issue.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Plenty of news on The Brig today, including a costly conviction for Sitka sportfish lodge owner Tom Ohaus and a fresh Dutch Harbor report.

A snapshot of Alaska's seafood workforce

The state Department of Labor focuses on commercial fishing in the latest edition of its monthly publication, Alaska Economic Trends.

Here are a few notes of interest:

• Average monthly employment in Alaska fish harvesting climbed in 2011 for the third consecutive year, to 8,064 permit holders and crewmen.

• Lots of fishermen hold non-fishing jobs in the off-season. Salmon setnet permit holders are the most likely to hold another job, while trawl permit holders are the least likely.

• Construction is far and away the most common off-season job fishermen hold.

• Fewer than 15 percent of resident permit holders and crew are women.

• The median hourly wage for seafood processors was $9.03 per hour in 2011, but those working in Southeast Alaska made a higher median wage by nearly $3 an hour.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Are circle hooks the only way to go for halibut?

Today is the deadline for submitting proposals for regulatory changes to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

The Seattle-based agency has posted the proposals it has received thus far. Check them out here.

Deckboss finds this one pretty interesting. It would make circle hooks the only legal gear in directed halibut fisheries, including commercial and charter fisheries.

The proposal says in part:

Halibut tend to swallow J hooks which can be impossible to remove without damaging the fish and treble hooks are very difficult to remove from a live fish and tend to catch in the gills and cause heavy bleeding. The circle hook is most likely to hook in the harder parts of the mouth just inside the jaw, cause little bleeding and is easily removed. The purpose of this regulation is to increase survivability among fish that are caught and released for whatever reason.