Tuesday, May 28, 2013

It's all over at Togiak

After a number of extensions, the Togiak sac roe herring fishery finally closed for the season at noon today.

The total harvest was 28,808 tons.

That's big. Over the preceding two decades, only the 1994 harvest was bigger at 30,315 tons, state records show.

Monday, May 27, 2013

A couple of Memorial Day harvest notes

The Togiak herring fishery most likely closes at noon today. The catch has been enormous, nearly 28,400 tons.

Over at the Copper River, salmon gillnetters get their third opener of the season starting at 7 a.m. today. The sockeye fishing has been hot with a cumulative catch of 266,739 fish, more than double the number expected.

Friday, May 24, 2013

APICDA to acquire Cannon Fish

Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association is buying Cannon Fish Co., a Seattle-based processing and marketing company.

"With Cannon Fish we are, in essence, vertically integrating," says Larry Cotter, APICDA chief executive. "We will now be able to manage all aspects of our seafood operations from the boat to the table."

Read lots more about the deal here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Feds and American Seafoods are talking

Last week brought news of some big enforcement actions against American Seafoods, the top operator of pollock factory trawlers in the Bering Sea.

The company is facing more than $2.7 million in fines for allegedly shorting catch weights, or "essentially stealing fish," in the words of federal authorities.

New cases have been brought involving two of the company's boats, the Ocean Rover and the Northern Eagle. A third case involving the trawler American Dynasty has been pending since early 2012.

Now, just because American Seafoods has been accused doesn't mean it has to simply roll over and pay the weighty fines.

It can try to negotiate them down.

Apparently that's the tack the company is taking.

A NOAA spokeswoman tells Deckboss the matter is now before an administrative law judge.

A hearing was scheduled for March 26 in the American Dynasty case, but the judge vacated the hearing date.

The proceeding was put off "at the request of both parties to give them an opportunity to discuss the potential for a global settlement of all three cases," the spokeswoman said via email.

The judge has ordered NOAA to file periodic status reports, and the parties are trying to reach a settlement by the end of June, the email said.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Four fishy items in the new state budget

Gov. Sean Parnell today signed off on a new state budget, and it contains several capital items of interest to the commercial fishing community.

Here are four that Deckboss found especially interesting. Click on each to read a project snapshot.

Yakutat Regional Aquaculture Association, $100,000

ASMI canned salmon, herring and protein powder project, $300,000

Kaltag Traditional Council fish processing plant, $447,308

CDQ fleet homeport project, $10 million

Adak processing gear to go on sale block

You'll recall how Icicle Seafoods Inc. in April said it was closing its processing operation on far-flung Adak Island.

Now a liquidator is planning to auction processing equipment from the plant.

Here's a notice of the sale, and here are the auction details.

Deckboss first heard about this from seafoodnews.com.

Arctic Storm update

Smoke rises from an engine room fire aboard the 334-foot factory trawler Arctic Storm. USCG photo

Here's an update from the U.S. Coast Guard:

May 21, 2013

Coast Guard continues response to vessel fire off Washington

ASTORIA, Ore. — The Coast Guard continues to respond to an extinguished vessel fire approximately 30 miles west of Grays Harbor, Wash.

Crewmembers on the fishing vessel Arctic Storm successfully put out the fire using the halon chemical firefighting system aboard the ship.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Astoria and two 47-foot motor lifeboat crews from Station Grays Harbor monitored as good Samaritan vessels evacuated 78 of the 120 personnel aboard the fishing vessel.

Forty-two crewmembers will remain aboard the Arctic Storm to man the vessel.

The 78 evacuated crewmembers were moved to the commercial fishing vessels Northern Voyager, Golden Alaska, Sea Dawn and Excellence.

Evacuated crewmembers are scheduled to be transported to Westport, Wash.

A tug is en route to tow the Arctic Storm to Aberdeen, Wash.

The Arctic Storm is reported to contain approximately 188,000 gallons of diesel fuel. No pollution or injuries have been reported.

The Washington Department of Ecology was notified and is standing by to assist, if needed.

The Coast Guard will conduct an investigation into the cause of the fire.

Winding down at Togiak

The Togiak sac roe herring fishery is nearly done.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has shut down the seine fleet for the season. Meantime, gillnetters can keep fishing until further notice.

The harvest is a really big one, totaling more than 25,000 tons as of this morning. The preseason quota was 30,056 tons.

The lion's share of the fish is allocated to purse seiners.

The department said the seine fleet had taken 96.3 percent of its share of the quota, and that it "would not be possible to prosecute an orderly fishery" for the remaining small amount.

Monday, May 20, 2013

All safe after fire on the Arctic Storm

The U.S. Coast Guard today responded to a report of an uncontrolled engine room fire aboard the factory trawler Arctic Storm.

The 334-foot vessel was about 32 miles west of Grays Harbor, Wash., with 120 people aboard, the Coast Guard said.

The Arctic Storm is a well-known stalwart in the Bering Sea pollock fishery. It also works the Pacific whiting fishery off the Northwest coast.

The operator, Seattle-based Arctic Storm Management Group, has posted a statement on its website saying everyone is safe, but the vessel is disabled.

The Seattle Times also has been posting updates.

Can somebody please clean this up?

A fine 'rock vomit' specimen. NOAA photo

The state is looking to hire a contractor to eradicate Didemnum vexillum, also known as "rock vomit," in Whiting Harbor at Sitka.

D. vexillum is an invasive sea squirt, native to Japan, that was first detected in Alaska waters in 2010 on commercial oyster farming gear in Whiting Harbor. It's a notorious fouling organism that can cover everything.

Whiting Harbor was created as part of World War II efforts to defend the Alaska coast. It has been a site for aquaculture activity as far back as 1988.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game aims to award a contract by mid-June to rid Whiting Harbor of rock vomit. The contract is worth $400,000.

Whoever gets the job, let's wish them good luck.

Blockbuster herring harvest takes shape at Togiak

As of Sunday morning, the herring harvest at Togiak stood at 20,283 tons.

Last year's take was 17,226 tons.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The news from Goodnews Bay

Way out in Western Alaska, commercial herring fishing opens at 11:00 a.m. today in icy Goodnews Bay.

The quota is 800 tons, with Coastal Villages Seafoods apparently the only buyer on the grounds.

Opening day sees big sockeye catch

The season's first shipment of Copper River salmon met with the usual hoopla in Seattle. Alaska Airlines photo

Thursday's 12-hour season opener at the Copper River produced an estimated catch of 82,000 sockeye salmon and 700 Chinook, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports.

The department had anticipated a harvest of 36,000 sockeye and 1,800 Chinook for the period.

Another 12-hour opener is set to begin at 7 a.m. Monday.

An Alaska Airlines jet arrived early Friday in Seattle with the first load of fish. The plane carried product from processors Ocean Beauty, Trident and Copper River Seafoods.

A cook-off ensued featuring top chefs from Seattle restaurants, plus an Air Force Reserve chef representing the 446th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Friday, May 17, 2013

About those hired skippers

When Alaska's halibut and sablefish fisheries went to individual fishing quotas in 1995, regulators envisioned predominantly owner-operated fisheries. That is, IFQ holders should be on the boat when the fish are caught.

In 2010, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council began hearing reports that progress toward the owner-onboard goal was slipping.

The reason was the expanding use of "hired skippers."

IFQ holders increasingly were employing other people to run their boats and harvest the halibut and sablefish. What's more, they were buying additional quota and using hired skippers to catch that fish, too.

Original quota recipients are allowed to use a hired skipper. Regulators recognized it was a widespread practice prior to IFQs. And they figured it would subside as fishermen retired.

The council saw, however, that the transition to owner-onboard fisheries actually was moving in the opposite direction.

A federal analysis found that between 1998 and 2009, the number of original recipients using hired skippers in the halibut fishery increased from 110 to 210. Halibut IFQ landed by hired skippers went from 7.9 percent to more than 19 percent.

A similar trend was seen in the sablefish fishery.

Officials now are moving to tighten regulations on hired skippers.

A proposed rule would bar an original recipient from using a hired skipper to harvest IFQ acquired after a cutoff date of Feb. 12, 2010.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is taking comments on the proposed rule through May 28. Read the Federal Register notice here.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The situation at Togiak

State fishery managers report herring harvesters at Togiak have taken 10,361 tons so far, or about a third of the monster preseason quota of 30,056 tons.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Can you believe it?

The famed Copper River salmon fishery opens at 7 a.m. tomorrow.

Springtime is truly upon us.

Good fishing, everybody. And be safe.

Fisherman takes helm of ASMI board

Kevin Adams has been elected chairman of the board for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

He takes over for Joe Bundrant, an executive with Trident Seafoods Corp. Bundrant will continue as a board member.

The ASMI board has seven members appointed by the governor. Five seats are reserved for processors, and two for commercial fishermen.

Adams has been on the board since 2004, when he was appointed to a harvester seat. He is a Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet permit holder.

Steller sea lion proceedings grind on

The National Marine Fisheries Service has released a draft environmental impact statement pertaining to endangered Steller sea lions in Western Alaska.

This is something NMFS produced only because a court ordered it to.

The agency, as you will recall, imposed tough restrictions on commercial fishing for mackerel and cod along the Aleutian chain beginning in 2011.

A bunch of angry industry players, as well as the state, sued NMFS, arguing the closures simply weren't justified on the notion that fishing boats were starving Stellers.

A federal judge upheld the fishing restrictions but said, tut-tut, the agency failed to do an EIS.

So here it is, a mere 1,281 pages in two volumes, for your reading pleasure.

Commercial fishermen are hoping this arduous EIS process might lead to a relaxation of some of the fishing restrictions.

Meantime, they have an appeal pending in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

Monday, May 13, 2013

American Seafoods responds

American Seafoods issued this statement regarding federal charges that two of the company's factory trawlers underweighed catches of Alaska pollock:

We confirm that we've received two Notices of Violation and Assessments, or NOVAs, proposing civil penalties related to alleged inaccurate flow scale readings on two of our catcher/processor vessels. We are reviewing the NOVAs and related information to better understand the bases for the allegations. American Seafoods takes seriously its commitment to sustainable fishing practices and has cooperated fully with NOAA in investigating these matters. The company intends to respond to the allegations contained in the NOVAs after it has completed its review.

American Seafoods in more hot water; flow scale violations amounted to 'stealing fish,' feds say

Federal authorities today issued a press release that says in part:

On May 8, 2013, American Seafoods Company and the owners and operators of the catcher/processors Ocean Rover and Northern Eagle were charged by NOAA’s Office of General Counsel for tampering with the equipment used for weighing Alaska pollock. Pollock on these vessels are processed for many uses, from frozen fish sticks and imitation crab to roe and fish oil.

The respondents in these cases are alleged to have adjusted their flow scales to record lower weights, and then recorded these inaccurate weights in their logbooks in violation of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the American Fisheries Act.

Flow scales are used to ensure accurate catch accounting. Adjusting the equipment to record a lower weight allowed the vessels to go over their quotas, essentially stealing fish from others permitted in the Alaska pollock fishery.

These are not the first cases of their kind. NOAA’s Office of General Counsel issued a Notice of Violation and Assessment (NOVA) in January 2012 for similar violations alleged to have occurred on another American Seafoods Company catcher/processor, the American Dynasty. The penalty being sought in this pending case is $543,500. In the Ocean Rover case, NOAA’s Office of General Counsel issued a NOVA proposing an assessed penalty of $848,000; in the Northern Eagle case, General Counsel issued a NOVA proposing an assessed penalty of $1,337,000.

Sitka troopers investigate rockfish dumping

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Sitka
Type: Waste of fish
On 5/8/13 Sitka Wildlife Troopers received a report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game that approximately 100 yelloweye rockfish were floating dead in the area of north Olga Strait. Troopers responded and verified between 50 and 100 dead yelloweye. The fish appeared to have been caught elsewhere, then dumped in the area. The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is encouraged to contact the Sitka Wildlife Troopers at (907) 747-3254. Callers wishing to remain anonymous can call the Alaska Fish and Wildlife Safeguard hotline at (800) 478-3377.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Big season for big crab in Norton Sound

The 2012-13 Norton Sound winter king crab season ends at noon Wednesday, and boy has it been a good one.

"Congratulations to Norton Sound commercial fishermen on the best winter crab season in our area's history," the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a news release. "To date, the commercial catch this season of over 19,600 crabs is more than twice the previous record of 9,625 crabs caught during the first winter commercial season of 1977-78."

The price also has been record-setting at an average of $6.67 per pound.

At least 25 crabbers have made deliveries.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Freezer longliners modernize fleet

We're seeing quite a boat-building boom in a major fleet that targets Pacific cod and other species off Alaska.

The latest example: Seattle-based Blue North has signed a contract with Dakota Creek Industries of Anacortes, Wash., for a new 191-foot freezer longliner (rendering above).

A freezer longliner is a factory vessel that catches fish with long strings of hooks, then brings them aboard for processing and packing.

Blue North says its new vessel, designed by Skipsteknisk of Norway, will be state-of-the-art.

The boat will feature an internal haul station — a first in the United States. This means the longline will be hauled through a moonpool in the centerline, so crews will "no longer be exposed to rough seas and freezing temperatures for hours on end," a Blue North press release says.

The boat also will be the first purpose-built hook-and-line processing vessel in the country with a molded hull, which should reduce resistance through the water, Blue North says.

The vessel will have diesel-electric propulsion, and accommodation for a crew of 26.

The price of the new longliner wasn't disclosed. The boat is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2014.

Blue North says it holds an option to build a second vessel starting late this year.

Two other freezer longline operators are wrapping up construction of new boats.

Petersburg-based Alaska Longline Co. is getting the Arctic Prowler, a 136-footer, from the Vigor yard in Ketchikan.

And Alaskan Leader Fisheries, of Lynden, Wash., ordered the 184-foot Northern Leader from J.M. Martinac Shipbuilding in Tacoma. The Seattle Times reported the cost of the boat at nearly $35 million.

All these fishing companies are part of a trade group known as the Freezer Longline Coalition.

In 2010, Congress passed legislation allowing freezer longliners to establish a fishery cooperative and catch shares in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

IFQ for sale

The state is inviting offers for "repossessed" individual fishing quota.

Here's a public notice with more information.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ready to go at Togiak

The herring have arrived at Togiak, and gillnetters and seiners will swing into action at noon tomorrow. Details here.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Coming Thursday

A new report titled "The Economic Importance of the Bristol Bay Salmon Industry" is scheduled for release at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Deckboss is told that "independent researchers" at the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research wrote the report.

The outfit releasing it, however, is an ardent opponent of — you guessed it — the Pebble mine. That would be the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

Thursday's planned telepress conference will feature these participants: Scott Goldsmith, an ISER economist and co-author of the report; Johnathan Hillstrand, captain of the "Deadliest Catch" crab boat Time Bandit, which doubles as a salmon tender at Bristol Bay; John Garner, vice president of top Bristol Bay processor Trident Seafoods; Katherine Carscallen, a Bristol Bay fisherman; and Bob Waldrop, executive director of the BBRSDA.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Three Alaska projects win innovation grants

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation has awarded a new round of grants from its Fisheries Innovation Fund.

Three grants are going to Alaska projects:

Every Halibut Counts: Reducing Halibut Discard Mortality
Grantee: Alaska Marine Conservation Council
Fisheries Innovation Fund Award: $55,000; Matching Funds: $56,232; Total Project: $111,232
The Alaska Marine Conservation Council will conduct a collaborative, industry-driven conservation initiative to reduce mortality of discarded halibut in the Alaska sportfishing sector by facilitating broad use of best practices for careful release. The project focus will be on top ports for recreational halibut harvest and discards in both Southeast and Southcentral Alaska stretching from Craig to Kodiak.

GPS Data Loggers as a Low-Cost Alternative to VMS
Grantee: Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association
Fisheries Innovation Fund Award: $110,000; Matching Funds: $181,500; Total Project: $291,500
The Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association will implement a two-stage field trial to fully evaluate and document the use of GPS data loggers as a low-cost alternative to vessel monitoring systems in Alaska's catch share halibut and sablefish fisheries. The project will be based in Sitka, with field testing conducted throughout Southeast Alaska.

Testing Electronic Monitoring on Small Fixed-Gear Cod Boats
Grantee: North Pacific Fisheries Association Inc.
Fisheries Innovation Fund Award: $127,400; Matching Funds: $120,000; Total Project: $247,400
The North Pacific Fisheries Association Inc. will field test an improved electronic monitoring system on small fixed-gear boats (pot and hook-and-line) fishing for Pacific cod in the Gulf of Alaska. A comparison of costs of electronic monitoring to costs of observers in this fishery will be made. The project will be based in Homer. Field tests will occur in the Gulf of Alaska, Western and Central regulatory areas.

Congress created the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation in 1984.

To see the full press release on the 2013 Fisheries Innovation Fund grants, click here.

Monday, May 6, 2013

'From boat to throat'

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has an interesting analysis on its website looking at the "salmon value chain."

That is, who receives what share of the ultimate (retail) value of a fish.

One example is a typical 6.5-pound Bristol Bay sockeye delivered chilled to a processor for fillet production.

For the 2011 season, it broke down this way:

• Fisherman, $8.45 or 29 percent of retail value
• Processor, $10.53 or 36 percent of retail value
• Distributor, $2.42 or 8 percent of retail value
• Retailer, $7.94 or 27 percent of retail value

The analysis offers similar breakdowns for troll-caught Chinook salmon and seine-caught canned pink salmon.

An ASMI contractor, the McDowell Group, did the analysis as part of the April edition of the Seafood Market Bulletin.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Troopers investigate Californian's death at Akutan

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Akutan
Type: Death investigation
On 5/4/13 Alaska Wildlife Troopers in Dutch Harbor were advised of a death in Akutan. It was reported that Simon Gatpan, 31, of Santa Clara, Calif., was found unresponsive on the beach near the Trident cannery. Gatpan was transported to the clinic and pronounced deceased. Alaska State Troopers, including an investigator with the Alaska Bureau of Investigation, will respond from Anchorage on 5/5/13 to investigate. Gatpan's body will be sent to the medical examiner's office for an autopsy to determine cause of death.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Authorities investigate King Cove skipper's death

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: King Cove
Type: Death investigation
At approximately 0600 hours on 5/3/13, the King Cove Police Department notified Alaska State Troopers of a person missing from a fishing vessel. A crewmember of the F/V Taurus reported waking up at approximately 0550 hours and finding the skipper, Marvin H. Love Jr., 46, of King Cove, missing. The U.S. Coast Guard was contacted and started a response. At approximately 1154 hours, the crew of a Good Samaritan vessel, the Amanda Dawn, reported locating Love's body in the water approximately a mile from where the Taurus was moored near Belkofski. The King Cove Police Department assisted due to response distance and contacted the state medical examiner's office. Next of kin has been notified. The investigation is ongoing.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Arne Fuglvog's new career

Deckboss is sure you recall the sad story of Arne Fuglvog, who served prison time last year for a federal commercial fishing violation.

Fuglvog's legal troubles forced him to resign as fisheries aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Prior to joining Murkowski's staff, Fuglvog helped regulate Alaska fisheries as a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Well, now that he's a free man, Fuglvog has taken up a new career as a lobbyist.

He's registered Coastal Resource Strategies LLC in Washington state.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks lobbying activity, Fuglvog's firm has four clients: Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Blue North Fisheries, Fishermen's Finest and Glacier Fish.

These are all well-known fishing companies operating in Alaska.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Copper River salmon only two weeks away!

The Copper River District will open for the season at 7 a.m. May 16 for a 12-hour period, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game just announced.

Obama picks new commerce secretary

Bet you've never heard of her.

Here's a Washington Post story with details.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Sitka herring post-mortem

Here's a final update from the Department of Fish and Game on this year's Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery.