Thursday, December 31, 2009

Is this the one?

Earlier this week, Deckboss was pondering the extended search for a new boss at the National Marine Fisheries Service, headquartered in Silver Spring, Md.

Hours after that post went up, a reliable friend in Washington, D.C., advised me a Maryland official now appears to be the favorite.

Eric Schwaab is deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

Here's an old press release with a little bio on Schwaab. The release indicates he once was director of the Maryland DNR's Fisheries Service.

For what it's worth, here's another link to some testimony Schwaab gave to a congressional committee recently on the subject of climate change.

We've heard several names in connection with the top job at NMFS.

Maybe this time we've got a winner in Schwaab.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Wanted: perfection

Good fishery managers must be really hard to find.

We know this because the Obama administration, now just 21 days away from finishing its first year in power, still hasn't chosen someone to lead the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The prior administration of George W. Bush was quicker, naming Bill Hogarth as NMFS chief on Sept. 6, 2001, seven and a half months after Bush's inaugural.

We've heard a few names bandied about for the job: Arne Fuglvog, Elliott Norse, Brian Rothschild. You can read about them in prior Deckboss posts.

I also have it on good authority that Jim Balsiger of Juneau, appointed acting NMFS administrator in February 2008 after Hogarth took a university job, wants to stay in the position.

Evidently, none of these candidates is good enough. Or, more likely, not of the right political or ideological stripe.

Anyway, here comes 2010 and who knows, maybe employees in the nation's foremost fishery management agency will soon know who's at the helm for the long haul.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Pathfinder arrives safely home

The tug Pathfinder moored in Valdez at 12:56 a.m. after a 10-hour, 20-mile tow through Prince William Sound, the U.S. Coast Guard reports. An investigation continues into why the tug, used to help manage oil tankers, hit Bligh Reef on Wednesday. USCG photo

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Pathfinder limping back to port, captain relieved

Here's a few more update items on the Pathfinder, the tug that sustained major damage Wednesday after hitting Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound:

• The Pathfinder is expected to arrive in Valdez around 10 p.m. tonight, having been taken under tow at 2 p.m. off Busby Island, the state Department of Environmental Conservation said.

• About 36,000 gallons of mixed diesel and water were removed from the tug's damaged fuel tanks, the DEC said.

• At least six commercial fishing vessels helped with operations to skim what diesel managed to escape the tug, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

• Still no word from investigators or Crowley Maritime Corp., operator of the Pathfinder, on why the tug crew hit a navigational hazard as notorious as Bligh Reef.

• The tug's master and second mate have been relieved of duty pending further investigation, said Crowley, based in Jacksonville, Fla.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Update on the Pathfinder grounding

The tug Pathfinder with boom to corral spilled fuel. USCG photo

Here's some quick update items from the U.S. Coast Guard on the grounding of the tug Pathfinder on Blight Reef in Prince William Sound:

• A dive team found extensive hull damage, with a section of the keel missing.

• Alcohol testing of all six crewmembers was completed with negative results.

• The Pathfinder is still anchored and boomed south of Busby Island.

• The Valdez Star, an oil response vessel, is skimming the water in the vicinity of a light silver diesel sheen. The sheen is a mile or so east of Glacier Island and is three miles long and 30 yards wide.

Tanker escort tug hits Bligh Reef

This U.S. Coast Guard press release hit my inbox at 3:29 a.m.

Dec. 24, 2009

Coast Guard responding to tug grounding in Prince William Sound

VALDEZ — Coast Guard personnel from Marine Safety Unit Valdez, Sector Anchorage and the cutter Long Island are responding to a 136-foot Crowley tug grounding on Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound.

The Pathfinder crew had completed an ice survey and was heading back to its port in Valdez when the vessel struck the reef Wednesday evening. Vessel Traffic System Prince William Sound personnel received a radio call at 6:15 p.m. from Pathfinder's master via VHF radio reporting the grounding.

The Pathfinder cleared the reef and proceeded to deeper waters at about 6:50 p.m. Anchoring just south of Busby Island, the tug's six crewmembers reportedly deployed 200 feet of fuel containment booms around the vessel.

Two of the tug's centerline diesel fuel tanks were reported breached with a potential spill of 33,500 gallons. The total capacity of the vessel is approximately 127,700 gallons of diesel fuel. None of the crewmembers were reported injured.

The tugboat Invader and the oil recovery boat Valdez Star are en route to the location of the grounding to offer any possible assistance.

Two divers were transported by the landing signal craft Alaska Challenge. Divers conducted an underwater survey of the Pathfinder's hull at approximately 2:30 a.m. but have not provided a report yet. A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak H-C130 Hercules aircraft is scheduled to conduct a overflight about 10 a.m. today.

The Pathfinder is a Crowley Marine Services docking and escort tug for Trans-Alaska Pipeline System tankers. MSU Valdez is investigating the cause of the grounding.

Two tankers departing the Port of Valdez have been delayed to allow for Coast Guard and other response vessels to operate.


Check out The Brig for fisheries enforcement news plus a highly entertaining new Dutch Harbor report.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Salmon Santa on the way to Kotzebue

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

Dec 23, 2009

Coast Guard to deliver 13 tons of donated salmon to Kotzebue

KODIAK — A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak C-130 Hercules aircraft crew is scheduled to deliver approximately 27,000 pounds of donated silver salmon fillets and dry goods to Kotzebue on Monday as part of a special food drive held by Wells Fargo Bank and NANA Regional Corp.

The donated food is scheduled to be accepted by the Northwest Arctic Borough and delivered to families in Kotzebue and surrounding villages.

The Coast Guard aircraft is scheduled to depart from Elmendorf Air Force Base at 10 a.m. Monday and return to Elmendorf around 5:45 p.m. After the delivery the aircraft is scheduled to stop at Coast Guard Loran Station Port Clarence as part of a scheduled logistics flight.

Wells Fargo Bank and NANA Regional Corp. teamed up for a food drive beginning in February which raised more than $11,000 and the 27,000 pounds of fish. The fish fillets came from Sitka and were donated by SeaShare in Washington.

Marketing magic

Fishermen organized under a regional seafood marketing banner called Aleutia are making a big splash this month at Whole Foods Market, the big natural and organic grocery chain.

The Aleutia brand of sockeye salmon is being promoted with flyers, banners and oversized posters in 30 Whole Foods stores in the Rocky Mountain states. The promotion lasts all through December.

Aleutia involves quality-minded salmon, crab and halibut fishermen from Sand Point, King Cove, Nelson Lagoon, False Pass and Akutan.

They're apparently out to prove that Copper River salmon producers don't have a lock on marketing magic.

Click here to see a poster of a Sand Point fishing family whose smiles are greeting Whole Foods customers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Is NMFS science cheating snow crabbers?

Maybe more abundant than we thought. ASMI photo

Some tension always exists between the fishing industry and government scientists over official estimates of just how much fish and shellfish is out there.

The scientists survey the population, then bring the results back to fishermen and processors. Generally, it seems to me the industry has a fairly high degree of trust in the work the scientists do in Alaska, unlike in other parts of the country.

But now comes an apparent admission from the National Marine Fisheries Service in Seattle that surveys for eastern Bering Sea (EBS) snow crab, a multimillion-dollar commercial stock, might be suspect.

The issue is just how good a job the government's survey trawl does in netting snow crab on the seafloor for purposes of estimating abundance. These estimates, of course, have a huge bearing on how many snow crabs the "Deadliest Catch" fleet can harvest.

This past July, according to this brief NMFS report, government scientists and industry players conducted a cooperative experiment on the snow crab grounds to test the standard NMFS survey trawl.

Part of the experiment involved towing two alternative nets, including a modified NMFS trawl and one from an industry organization, the Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation. The foundation's trawl is designed for the European Norway lobster fishery.

You can read the NMFS report for full details, but the bottom line is that the foundation's net is a much more effective crab catcher than the NMFS nets, including the one that was modified to improve its catch rate.

Here's the key paragraph from the NMFS write-up:

"Preliminary results show that more escapement of snow crab under the footrope of the EBS survey trawl occurs than previously estimated. Specifically, only 35% of the large males, 27% of the pre-recruit males, 13% of the small males, 25% of the large females, and just 3% of the small female snow crab in the path of the survey trawl are captured."

Deckboss put the following question to Steve Minor, a crab industry lobbyist and chairman of the Pacific Northwest Crab Industry Advisory Committee:

"Is the government short-changing the crab industry because of a flawed stock survey?"

Minor replied: "Let's just say that stock assessment science is evolving."

Bristol Bay — intercept fishery

Veteran observers of Alaska's salmon fisheries have long heard complaints out of Bristol Bay about fishermen at False Pass
"intercepting" sockeye supposedly bound for the bay.

But you know the old adage about rocks and glass houses.

Just check out this new report from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

It's a fascinating study of the genetic stock composition of sockeye harvests in Bristol Bay during the years 2006 through 2008.

The really interesting stuff is on pages 18-22.

Generally, the findings aren't surprising; the vast majority of sockeye salmon harvested in the bay originate from local stocks.

But we find an eye-opener in the numbers for the Togiak District, the westernmost and least productive of the bay's five fishing districts.

Researchers determined a substantial percentage of the Togiak harvest actually originates from the Kuskokwim stock in western Alaska.

In 2006, Kuskokwim sockeye accounted for nearly 28 percent of the Togiak harvest, or 174,206 fish. In 2008, the Kusko component was more than 25 percent, while in 2007 it was 13.5 percent.

Like many Bristol Bay gillnetters, folks in western Alaska have been critical of the False Pass fishery for picking off "their" salmon.

When it comes to sockeye interceptions, looks like some of the pickin' is in Bristol Bay.

Friday, December 18, 2009

The accidental Chinook

The federal government today posted two huge documents on its plan to limit the "accidental" catch of Chinook salmon in the Bering Sea commercial pollock fishery.

To see the 718-page environmental impact statement and the 342-page regulatory impact review, click here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Some interesting news on The Brig today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Fish and Game’s budget prospects

Gov. Sean Parnell this week released his proposed state budget for fiscal year 2011, which starts July 1, and naturally Deckboss went straight for the Department of Fish and Game section.

The department’s operating budget request is $188.6 million, counting general fund, federal and “other” dollars. That’s 4.1 percent bigger than the current budget.

The department’s biggest division, Commercial Fisheries, is penciled in for $61.7 million, up by less than 1 percent. The Sport Fish Division budget is actually down a hair to $47.5 million.

The Parnell administration also is proposing a $31.3 million capital budget for special Fish and Game projects.

The list of projects is below.

Remember, the governor merely proposes a budget. The Alaska Legislature, which starts a new session in January, ultimately holds the purse strings.

Proposed Fish and Game capital projects:

• Facilities, vessels, aircraft maintenance and upgrades, $700,000
• Crewmember fishery participation database development, $250,000
• Yukon River chum salmon aerial surveys, $200,000
• Assessment and feasibility of Pilot Station sonar, $250,000
• Endangered Species Act listed marine mammals research, $600,000
• Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, $15 million
• Pacific Salmon Treaty Chinook fishery mitigation, $7.5 million
• Sport Fish recreational boating access, $3.1 million
• Economic Contribution of Wildlife to Alaska, $500,000
• Cooperative Resource Program, $455,000
• Statewide facility deferred maintenance projects, $2 million
• Genetic marker screening for estimating stock composition of Western Alaska salmon fisheries, $750,000

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

National parks for Alaska seas?

Something came up at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, which ended today, that really hooked me.

It was a discussion of an emerging national system of "marine protected areas," or MPAs.

This effort began with an executive order President Clinton signed in 2000.

An initial list already has been developed, and it shows Alaska has four MPA sites:

• Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge
• Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
• Glacier Bay National Park
• Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge

Now, federal officials are conducting a nomination process to add potentially many more sites to the list.

To some observers, of course, this is something long overdue to protect the pearls of our seas, just as we protect our redwoods, grand canyons and smoky mountains on land.

But people involved in marine industries such as commercial fishing appear to have good reason to be "afraid" of the MPA nomination process, as one fleet representative candidly told the council.

And why is that?

Because the executive order says federal agencies regulating activities in protected areas "shall avoid harm to the natural and cultural resources that are protected by an MPA."

Much uncertainty exists over just what "avoid harm" means. Could the council, in establishing new MPAs, meet this standard and still allow fishing?

"Quite simply, we don't know," a council staffer wrote in this discussion paper.

If the council and the National Marine Fisheries Service, the agency that regulates ocean fisheries, fail to explain how fishing meets the "avoid harm" standard in new MPAs, they might "find themselves targets of bad press or advocacy campaigns that generate enormous public pressure to take action," the discussion paper says.

The council now has choices.

It can elect to simply not recommend any more sites around Alaska for listing on the national MPA list. Or the council can offer some or all of the many sites it already has protected such as coral gardens, the Sitka Pinnacles and Steller sea lion rookeries.

Seafood industry players reckon that nominating no more MPAs really isn't an option; the Obama administration could just pick more Alaska sites.

So it looks like we'll be listing more MPAs.

How many more?

The council discussion paper identifies 251 eligible sites.

All told, these encompass 988,817 square nautical miles, or about 97 percent of the Alaska Exclusive Economic Zone.

Like I said, this issue really hooked me. You?

Big improvement overall for Gulf catch limits

A reader asks what the North Pacific Fishery Management Council did over the weekend in setting the 2010 total allowable catch (TAC) for Gulf of Alaska groundfish.

Here's a rundown of TACs for some of the main species, as well as the percent change from the current year.

Remember, the U.S. commerce secretary can adjust these figures, as the council merely makes recommendations.

Walleye pollock — 84,745 tons, up 69.8 percent
Pacific cod — 59,563 tons, up 42.5 percent
Arrowtooth flounder — 43,000 tons, no change
Pacific Ocean perch — 17,584 tons, up 16.4 percent
Sablefish — 10,370 tons, down 7.1 percent
Northern rockfish — 5,098 tons, up 16.9 percent

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Council sets 2010 Bering Sea groundfish quotas

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council this afternoon set the 2010 total allowable catch (TAC) for pollock and other important groundfish species in the eastern Bering Sea, the nation's richest commercial fishing hole.

We saw no surprises in the final numbers, which are subject to a final OK from the U.S. commerce secretary.

Here are the main TACs and the change from the current year:

Walleye pollock — 813,000 tons, down a trace
Yellowfin sole — 219,000 tons, up 4.3 percent
Pacific cod — 168,780 tons, down 4.4 percent
Atka mackerel — 74,000 tons, down 3.1 percent
Pacific Ocean perch — 18,860 tons, up a trace

Friday, December 11, 2009

Monster quota announced for Sitka Sound herring

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today announced a preliminary guideline harvest level of 18,866 tons for next spring's Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery.

That's way above the hefty 14,000-plus tons seiners bagged each of the past two seasons.

For more details, here's the state press release.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Here's that national 'catch shares' policy

As expected, the Obama administration today released its draft policy touting the wonders of "catch shares."

Click here to read about it.

Let's fix that Yukon River sonar, governor says

This just in from Gov. Sean Parnell:

Dec. 10, 2009

Gov. Parnell Proposes Funding to Improve Management of Western Alaska Salmon Stocks

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sean Parnell today announced $1.3 million in proposed new funding for improved research and management of Western Alaska salmon stocks. The funding is included in the governor’s FY 2011 budget for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G).

"Western Alaskans depend on healthy salmon runs to feed their families and generate income," Gov. Parnell said. "These budget items will ensure ADF&G has the tools to accurately estimate returns and provide the maximum possible harvest opportunity consistent with sustainability."

Capital projects include funding for genetic analysis of Western Alaska salmon stocks to improve understanding of the distribution of Western Alaska stocks, funding for aerial surveys of Yukon River chum salmon to examine changes in distribution along the river, and funding to improve operations at Pilot Station Sonar. The sonar funding will allow ADF&G to determine the extent to which the sonar may be undercounting fish and to improve the accuracy of salmon return estimates. ADF&G will also conduct extensive site surveys to determine if relocating the sonar would improve accuracy.

Operating budget items include funds for genetic analysis of Yukon River Chinook salmon to allow ADF&G to determine the origin of stocks harvested in the Yukon fisheries, which can improve management decisions. Funding is also included for a statewide project to estimate and monitor subsistence harvests to determine whether needs are being met.

Gov. Parnell continues to push for a federal fisheries disaster declaration for the Yukon River Chinook salmon fishery. If granted, the declaration would allow the state to work with the congressional delegation to pursue additional federal funding.

Catch shares, oh no!

Look for the Obama administration this morning to release its national policy encouraging the use of "catch shares" in fisheries management.

Of course, individual fishing quotas, cooperative allocations and the like are old hat to us Alaskans.

But in New England, many fishermen regard these catch share thingies as an alien concept not to be trusted.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Looking good in the Gulf

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council today kicked off a weeklong meeting in Anchorage, and as always at its December session, the panel's top order of business is setting groundfish quotas for the coming year.

We've already heard a lot about the flagship Bering Sea pollock fishery, and how the scientists are recommending a quota no greater than this past season's 815,000 metric tons.

That's a mountain of fish sticks, but it's a sorry quota compared to a few years ago when the harvest was nearly twice as big.

Because of its status as one of the world's largest fisheries, Bering Sea pollock tends to get all the media love.

But groundfish is important for fishermen and ports in the Gulf of Alaska, too, and the outlook in those waters is much brighter.

Government scientists are recommending an "acceptable biological catch" for pollock of 84,745 tons, which is a 70 percent increase from this year's ABC.

As for Pacific cod, an even more valuable groundfish species in the Gulf, the recommended ABC is 79,100 tons, a 43 percent increase.

Exciting stuff.

But setting quotas isn't the hottest item on the council's agenda for this meeting.

The real fireworks are reserved for what's known as the Gulf of Alaska cod sector split.

What's that, you ask?

The council wants to address what's become quite a war for lucrative cod out of Kodiak and other Gulf ports.

To simmer down the competition, the council at this meeting aims to divide the cod among the different kinds of fishing vessels, which include trawlers, longliners, pot boats and jiggers.

Sound simple? Not.

This tough part is finding a fair way to split the fish among sectors, especially when each is screaming for a bigger piece of the pie.

One fisherman, Craig Cochran of Newport, Ore., summed up the hopes of many in a letter to the council:

"I would ask that this not become a food fight, but a rational decision based on the true history of each sector," he wrote.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Tough job available

I see the Western Alaska Community Development Association is looking for a new executive director.

WACDA is a congressionally sanctioned umbrella organization for Alaska's six Community Development Quota companies.

The CDQ companies hold exclusive rights to as much as 10 percent of the annual Bering Sea fish and crab catch, using the proceeds for the benefit of villages they companies represent.

The new executive director will take over for the departing Wanetta Ayers, who became WACDA's first chief in February of 2007.

Her replacement is sure to have a tough job. The six CDQ companies have never been known as a harmonious group.

Halibut takes another hit

The scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission has released its recommended catch limits for the 2010 season, and the news is demoralizing.

The overall limit of 48.7 million pounds is 10 percent lower than this year's limit.

If the commission goes with the staff recommendations, it'll mark the second consecutive year we'll see a 10 percent cut.

Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), already pounded in recent years, is in line for a painful 26 percent reduction.

The state's richest halibut hole, Southcentral Alaska (Area 3A), could see a cut of nearly 8 percent.

Here's a full rundown of recommended limits in all regulatory areas, including those off the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska:

Area 2A — 760,000 pounds, down 20 percent

Area 2B — 6.6 million pounds, down 13.6 percent

Area 2C — 3.7 million pounds, down 26 percent

Area 3A — 20 million pounds, down 7.9 percent

Area 3B — 9.9 million pounds, down 9.2 percent

Area 4A — 2.3 million pounds, down 8.6 percent

Area 4B — 2.2 million pounds, up 15.5 percent

Area 4CDE — 3.3 million pounds, down 6.1 percent

Monday, December 7, 2009

32-foot limit stays

The Alaska Board of Fisheries today rejected a proposal to eliminate the 32-foot length limit on salmon driftnet boats in Bristol Bay.

Proposal 15 failed on a 3-3 vote.

Board members voting in favor of the proposal were Bill Brown, Howard Delo and John Jensen.

Voting against were Karl Johnstone, Mel Morris and Janet Woods.

Vince Webster, a Bristol Bay permit holder, abstained.

I'll have more later on other major board votes today.

Crunch time

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is bearing down on the finish of its big Bristol Bay meeting, and we might see a vote today on the hottest item: Proposal 15, which would eliminate the 32-foot length limit on driftnet boats.

A board subcommittee already has hashed through the pros and cons, and naturally no consensus was reached.

This will be a tough call, and the outcome is uncertain considering the new members we have on the board since the last time the 32-foot limit came up.

Here's a Deckboss prediction: The proposal won't pass. It might not even come to an actual vote.

Changing the longstanding length limit seems like a pretty fundamental step for the state's top salmon fishery, and rural Alaska interests are opposed.

They believe fishermen from Lower 48 cities would have an advantage in converting to a larger and potentially more competitive boat because they have better access to financing and boatyards.

So, no, I don't see Proposal 15 passing. The board might go with something like a study committee, however.

Anyway, I'll update you with the outcome just as soon as I know it.

Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit

A three-day Alaska Young Fishermen's Summit begins today at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage.

This is a popular event offering young people a crash course on the marketing, money, management, politics and physical dangers of fishing for a living in Alaska.

It's the third such summit hosted by the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program since 2007.

Summit participants will hear from a broad array of experts and veteran fishermen.

Among the presenters: Gunnar Knapp, University of Alaska Anchorage fisheries economist; Kodiak trawl guru Al Burch; Seward halibut and sablefish longliners Jim and Rhonda Hubbard; University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries scientist Gordon Kruse; Sitka salmon troller Eric Jordan; Haines commercial fisherman and state Rep. Bill Thomas; Lea Klingert, president of the Alaska Commercial Fishing and Agriculture Bank; John Sackton, editor and publisher of the Massachusetts-based Web site; and Steve Wardley of the Findus Group, a leading European seafood supplier.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dude fishing rules!

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has voted to continue "dude fishing" in Bristol Bay's Nushagak District.

The dude fishery gives tourists a chance to ride aboard a commercial fishing boat and net a few salmon. A boat operating in the dude fishery may take up to 90 salmon per day.

The special fishery is seen as good business in Dillingham, one of the main commercial fishing villages on Bristol Bay.

The Board of Fisheries originally approved dude fishing as a test three years ago. The authorizing regulation was due to expire, or sunset, at the end of this year.

But the board over the weekend adopted a proposal to eliminate the sunset date.

That means dude can keep fishing!

The board also voted to expand the dude fishing season. Now the season will open June 1, instead of July 1, and run through Sept. 30.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Proposal 13 update

The Alaska Board of Fisheries today took no action on Proposal 13, which would have had the board send the state Legislature a resolution calling for creation of a Bristol Bay "fish refuge."

Instead, the board decided to send a letter to the Legislature noting that a lot of people expressed concerns at today's meeting about the potential for the proposed Pebble mine to hurt the region's abundant salmon and trout stocks.

The letter will recommend legislators adopt additional regulations, if warranted, to protect the fish and fish habitat, board member Karl Johnstone told me.

Sentiment among the 79 people who testified on Proposal 13 ran about two to one in favor, he said.

But the word "refuge" worried some people who felt development or existing land uses could be curtailed.

The board is aiming to have its letter drafted by the time its Anchorage meeting ends Tuesday.


High winds out at Dutch Harbor blew over this enormous APL container crane Friday night, reports my friend Jim Paulin, who kindly supplied this photo.

Proposal 13

The Alaska Board of Fisheries, in the midst of an eight-day meeting in Anchorage, is devoting all of today to Proposal 13, which advocates establishment of a "fish refuge" for Bristol Bay's Kvichak and Nushagak river drainages.

The proposal never specifically mentions the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine, but that's what it's all about.

The Proposal 13 sponsors — they include small salmon processor Leader Creek Fisheries plus some sportfishing and Native representatives — clearly hope a fish refuge might serve as a bulwark against Pebble development.

They're careful, by the way, to say their proposal "is not intended to impinge in any way on subsistence, recreational and commercial fishing."

Proposal 13, we should note, would not in itself create the fish refuge. Rather, it urges the board to pass a resolution asking the Alaska Legislature to do it.

Pebble opponents have been pushing the board and Legislature to establish a fish refuge since 2007, but they haven't made much headway.

Could Proposal 13 be the start of a different outcome?

The board might vote on the proposal tonight. Deckboss of course will try to bring you the news.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

The battle for NOAA's research fleet

The research vessel Miller Freeman. NOAA photo

Quite a battle has been playing out in recent months about where the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration will base its fleet of research ships.

The fleet includes some ships of vital importance for Alaska fisheries surveys, including such familiar hulls as the Miller Freeman.

A while back, NOAA decided to move the fleet to Newport, Ore., upsetting Washington politicians fighting to keep the fleet at Seattle's Lake Union, or at least in Puget Sound.

Bellingham is bidding for the fleet, too.

Here's a press release from Washington's two senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, on the latest twist in this pitched naval battle:

Ruling Casts Doubt on Move from Puget Sound to Oregon

Dec. 2, 2009

SEATTLE — Today, U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., praised the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for ordering a review of NOAA's decision to move its Marine Operations Center, Pacific from Puget Sound to Newport, Ore.

The decision sustains a protest lodged by the Port of Bellingham, one of the bidders in the competition for the Marine Operations Center. The GAO determined that NOAA failed to take into account that the location of the proposed pier in Newport lies within a 100-year floodplain. Locating the NOAA facility in a floodplain is prohibited under both the competition's rules and a presidential executive order.

"The GAO has made the right call in sustaining the Port of Bellingham's protest," said Cantwell, who has been actively engaged in seeking a review of NOAA's decision. "Throughout the process, Bellingham has made a strong case against NOAA's decision and pursued its protest with tenacity and strong leadership."

Cantwell said the award to Newport should be immediately revoked and the Department of Commerce, which oversees NOAA, should follow the GAO's recommendations and also make sure to incorporate the many policy factors neglected in the previous competition.

"NOAA should keep its Marine Operations Center in Puget Sound. The proximity of employees and oceans research centers makes Puget Sound the logical choice," Cantwell said. "With today's announcement, Bellingham's case for keeping NOAA's Pacific fleet in Puget Sound can now get a full and fair hearing."

"As I have said all along, NOAA's decision was a mistake. And apparently the GAO agrees," said Sen. Murray. "For decades NOAA has called the Puget Sound home because it provides the people, resources and setting that help the agency best carry out its important scientific mission."

Port Commission President Scott Walker said: "We are very pleased with this decision and we believe it validates our concern that this was not a fair site selection process. We appreciate the support we have received from Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, as well as Congressman Rick Larsen. We anticipate continuing to work with them as the final NOAA location is determined."

Since NOAA announced its proposal to move NOAA's fleet of scientific ships to Oregon in August, Sen. Cantwell has raised numerous policy concerns about the agency's decision.

Cantwell, Murray and several other members of the Washington delegation have asked whether moving NOAA's fleet outside Puget Sound would damage NOAA's scientific missions; whether it would hurt NOAA's capacity to hire and retain qualified mariners; whether NOAA fully understood the consequences of moving its ships away from a major maritime center; and whether NOAA ignored crucial weather factors in the Pacific Northwest.

As chair of the Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, Sen. Cantwell has principle oversight over NOAA.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


From the U.S. Coast Guard:

Dec. 1, 2009

Hurricane winds hit remote Coast Guard station in Aleutians

ANCHORAGE — The crew of Coast Guard’s long-range navigation (LORAN) station in Attu is digging out after a weekend storm pounded the island with wind gusts of 178 mph and more than a one and a half feet of snow.

The storm, which brought sustained winds of 125 mph or Category 3 hurricane winds and gusts that equal some of the strongest winds of a Category 5 hurricane, slammed into the island causing damage to the LORAN station with a communications antenna breaking from three of its securing mounts. The crew of the station has been busy making repairs and has spent more than 100 hours on snow removal.

The winter storm arrived Saturday afternoon with the winds gradually growing to such a state that all personnel were restricted to the main building.

"This high of a wind is fairly abnormal for us," said Chief Petty Officer Brad Schlenpitz, the executive petty officer of the station and a Jacksonville, Fla., native. "I arrived here last January, and this is the first time I have experienced anything like this."

The LORAN station stayed operational throughout the storm.

LORAN Station Attu is located at the westernmost edge of the Alaska Aleutian Islands, with 20 active-duty personnel stationed there as a one-year assignment.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Another perspective on the 32-foot limit

As noted in my last post, the state Board of Fisheries soon will consider whether to eliminate the longstanding 32-foot vessel length limit in the state's biggest salmon fishery at Bristol Bay.

In the past, I suppose I always considered this proposal rather narrowly.

Could an aggressive fisherman pack more sockeye than his competitors? Could he add chilling or even processing equipment to maximize the value of his catch?

Or might a bigger boat allow the bay's more boorish players to simply bully smaller boats off the line?

Well, on my recent visit to Seattle I ran into a fisherman who broadened my perspective a little. He made two points I'd never considered before.

First, he said bigger boats wouldn't necessarily offer an advantage, as they would have a deeper draft and couldn't fish shallow waters like lighter boats.

Second, a bigger vessel might offer fishermen more versatility. For example, the boat could be used not only to net sockeye at Bristol Bay, but also to work in waters or fisheries such as halibut that ideally require more size.

Deckboss is confident plenty more points will be made at the board's Dec. 1-8 meeting at the downtown Hilton hotel in Anchorage.

Bigger boats at Bristol Bay?

We've got a major meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries on tap starting Tuesday through Dec. 8 at the Hilton hotel in downtown Anchorage.

The topic is Bristol Bay finfish.

Quite a few controversial proposals are on the table, including one that would allow the use of salmon boats longer than the current limit of 32 feet.

Other proposals would allow a person to own and fish more than one gillnet permit.

These proposals have come up before, but I'm sensing a little more buzz around them this time.

A reader kindly sent me the following opinion column, which I'm happy to share with you now. The author, Fritz Johnson, fishes the bay aboard the F/V Jazz. He also works for the Dillingham-based Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp.

Please note the views in the column belong to the author, not Deckboss, who tries to keep his head down and stay neutral on these fish fights!

Bristol Bay: Riches To Rags? Alaska Policy Decisions

By Fritz Johnson

Readers who follow the Alaska Board of Fisheries may be reminded this week of Yogi Berra's comment about deja vu all over again.

Proposals before the board, mostly from out-of-state fishermen, would allow bigger boats and multiple fishing permits to be used in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery, changes that Bristol Bay residents remain convinced will hurt their income and the region's economy.

Three years ago the board took no action on these so-called
"restructuring" proposals other than to table the proposals for further study. Further study is what the board's guidelines call for if regulation changes are expected to have "substantial economic, social or biological impacts."

If board members have actually studied how bigger boats and multiple fishing permits will affect Bristol Bay's watershed residents, they've kept the findings to themselves. Except for the pro and con views of others, the board hasn't published anything, and five of the seven board members have been replaced since the proposals were tabled back in 2006.

The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. took that initiative. BBEDC is the region's Community Development Quota organization that invests in economic development and education projects in the Bristol Bay region. Its research ought to be of interest to every public policymaker, from the Board of Fisheries to Alaska legislators and the Office of the Governor, because the picture it paints is of a fishery that's gradually slipping away from the Alaskans who are most dependent on it for their survival.

According to U.S. census data, in 1980 per capita income of residents of the Bristol Bay Borough was among the highest in the United States. Today it is below that of Mississippi, the poorest state in the nation.

Alaska salmon fishing rights, which provided that enviable per capita income 30 years ago, have been disappearing as nonresidents buy up resident-owned salmon fishing permits. When the state's limited entry system was adopted in 1976, Bristol Bay watershed residents owned nearly 50 percent of the drift gillnet fishing permits. Today they own barely 20 percent and the money they earn from salmon fishing is 30 percent less than what non-Alaskans earn.

That gap will widen if changes in Bristol Bay fishing regulations give advantages to people with access to capital. That's the conclusion of Gunnar Knapp, economist with the University of Alaska's Institute of Social and Economic Research. Not only do watershed residents earn less money from fishing, their living costs are more than twice that of the Lower 48, and except for commercial salmon fishing in the summer, other job opportunities are extremely limited.

For the most part, people who live in the Bristol Bay watershed will not be able to afford the cost of bigger fishing boats and second $80,000 fishing licenses.

Others will, however, largely nonresident fishers, and with bigger boats fishing multiple permits their share of Bristol Bay's salmon harvest will grow at the expense of Alaskans with smaller boats and single fishing permits.

Calls to restructure Alaska's salmon industry came following several years of poor returns and low prices that were felt most strongly beginning in 1997. Since that time, fish runs and prices have rebounded, and Alaska's wild salmon are increasingly valued on world markets.

Natural cycles in salmon abundance are to be expected, however, which explains why some are driven to consolidate competitive fishing advantages by regulation. But Alaska policymakers need to ask if improving our salmon fishery should be guided by those who would, in the name of maximizing economic efficiency, give a larger share of the resource to fewer people.

Is such a course in the best interest of the state of Alaska? Or should state fisheries policy be guided by concern for sustaining coastal communities where Alaska livelihoods depend on access to nearby fishery resources?

Fifty years ago with statehood came Alaska's ban on fish traps, symbolic of the exploitation of Alaska's resources by West Coast canners. It would be a sad comment on our failure as Alaskans if 50 years from now Alaskans are sitting on shore while nonresidents do all the fishing.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

'Cheesecake combat'

Check out the latest Dutch Harbor report on our sister blog, The Brig.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

UFA offers limited OK for ASMI hookup with MSC

Deckboss has written recently about the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute likely becoming the Marine Stewardship Council's "client" for purposes of maintaining the MSC sustainability ecolabel for Alaska salmon.

We also observed how the state's main commercial fishing organization, United Fishermen of Alaska, seemed to have some reservations about such an alliance.

Well, it seems the UFA has mulled it over and come to a final position on the matter, the terms of which are contained in this press release:

United Fishermen of Alaska

Nov. 23, 2009

UFA supports ASMI as client in MSC salmon sustainability certification

United Fishermen on Alaska voted on Wednesday, Nov. 19, to support the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in assuming "client" status for the Marine Stewardship Council’s ongoing sustainability certification of Alaska wild walmon. Ray Riutta, executive director of ASMI, and Joe Bundrant, ASMI board chairman, talked to UFA about the advantages of ASMI assuming the client role and also about their concerns with the MSC certification program.

Chris Ninnes, deputy CEO of the Marine Stewardship Council, also addressed the UFA board. Mr. Ninnes acknowledged that the MSC made a number of mistakes in working with their Alaska clients. He assured UFA that the "Stinky Fish" campaign was clearly one of their missteps and that, on his watch, this type of industry attack would not occur again. Chris recognized that MSC certification for sustainability needed review and consistency worldwide.

On the other hand, Chris championed the merits of MSC certification. MSC is working to expand markets for certified Alaska wild salmon, it has intervened with more aggressive environmental groups to defend Alaska's management of certified fisheries and MSC twice refused to certify famed salmon as "sustainable." Finally, MSC is reviewing a funding construct, proposed by ASMI, for collecting logo use fees.

The UFA motion to support ASMI's association with MSC was conditioned on the satisfactory resolution of six concerns.

1. The "Alaska brand" is protected by allowing use of the ASMI logo on all Alaska seafood regardless of whether it includes the MSC logo. And, the Alaska brand is promoted by continuing an independent ASMI certification of sustainability.

2. The MSC certification program remains "cost neutral" for ASMI with the primary costs of certification paid by MSC logo licensing fees.

3. MSC certification "conditions" do not require substantial changes to Alaska's current fisheries management.

4. MSC maintains consistent certification standards.

5. MSC aggressively defends its brand.

6. MSC refrains from certifying farmed salmon.

Mark Vinsel, executive director of UFA, commented that "UFA support for the ASMI-MSC relationship was one of the big issues at the semiannual UFA board meeting. The initial time allocated for debate was not enough for the board to voice their views and the issues were further discussed late into the evening."

In the end, the board vote was unanimous.

Monday, November 23, 2009

NMFS wins halibut charter case

A federal judge today declared the National Marine Fisheries Service the winner in a lawsuit some halibut charter boat operators were pressing to try to invalidate a new rule holding charter anglers in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) to a bag limit of one fish per day instead of two.

This is a victory not only for NMFS, but for commercial halibut longliners who believe the one-fish rule is badly needed to control the growth of the charter catch in a region where halibut abundance has been declining.

Judge Rosemary Collyer, by the way, previously had blocked the rule temporarily at the request of the charter operators.

Here's the judge's opinion.

Friday, November 20, 2009

So long, Seattle

I wrapped up my visit to the Emerald City today. Naturally, I spent considerable time walking around Fishermen's Terminal taking pictures, despite what seemed like gale conditions all week.

The harbor was full of seine boats targeting fall salmon in Puget Sound, plus a lot of longliners that I assume just finished up the halibut season.

Anyway, here are a few postcards, including one at the end showing a good activity for a really soggy Seattle day.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Jury says Icicle owes hurt crewman $1.5 million

Here's the story in today's Seattle Times.

Expo time!

Today's the start of the three-day Pacific Marine Expo, a showcase for everything from engines to electronics to bait. It's billed as the largest such event on the West Coast, and is being held in the grand Qwest Field Event Center smack in downtown Seattle. Qwest Field, in case you don't know, is home to the Seattle Seahawks. Deckboss will be hanging out in there today and looking to score a few new contacts among Alaska commercial fishermen. Wesley Loy photo

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Man dies after fall overboard near Wrangell

Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission records show the boat named in the press release below belonged to the deceased.

It's not clear what the 32-footer was fishing for, but the records indicate it's rigged for longline and pot gear.

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Canoe Pass near Wrangell
Type: Death investigation
On 11/17/2009 at 1729 hours Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan received a call from Wrangell Search and Rescue who reported receiving a mayday call from the F/V Willow in Canoe Passage, south of Wrangell. The mayday was from David Sweat, age 60, of Wrangell, reporting that Allan Hayes, 56, also from Wrangell, had fallen overboard and was unresponsive. Sweat reported he was unable to get Hayes back onboard. Wrangell SAR responding by boat and the U.S. Coast Guard responding by helicopter. The P/V Enforcer was on wildlife patrol in the area and responded to assist with the investigation. At 1845 hours, Wrangell SAR reported Hayes was deceased. Next of kin were notified of the death. Alaska State Troopers are continuing with a full investigation.

What? Alaska salmon not MSC-certified?

Here's news that the Metlakatla Indian Community in Southeast Alaska will seek Marine Stewardship Council certification.

It seems the Metlakatla tribe, in conjunction with the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, manages a small commercial salmon fishery around Annette Island and neighboring isles south of Ketchikan.

The state manages the rest of Alaska's vast salmon fisheries. And, as regular visitors to this blog know, the state has achieved MSC certification for Alaska salmon as a sustainable fishery.

All the best to Metlakatla.

But one wonders what happens if the Annette Island Reserve salmon fishery doesn't qualify for the MSC ecolabel.

Will we no longer be able to say without qualification that "Alaska salmon" is MSC-certified?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

$370 million worth of salmon!

The Department of Fish and Game has posted a preliminary tally of the 2009 salmon season.

Here are the key numbers:

Total catch: 161.8 million fish

Total value: $370.2 million off the boat

That sounds like a pretty impressive season.

But in 2008, the value was considerably greater at $452 million despite a smaller catch of 146.4 million fish.

I'm not sure how to fully explain the substantial drop in value.

But in comparing the state's 2008 and 2009 tallies, it appears the big mover was pink salmon.

This year's catch of 96 million pinks brought $68.5 million. Last year's 84 million pinks was worth $103.4 million.

The state says the average pink price took a tumble this year to 22 cents a pound, versus 35 cents in 2008.

Matter of fact, average prices for all species of salmon fell this year. Blame it on the recession, perhaps?

My assumption is the value of the 2009 salmon season will climb some as Fish and Game collects better data on what processors actually paid fishermen, including any post-season bonuses.

Pollock holds steady

Federal scientists meeting in Seattle this week appear primed to advise only a slight change in next year's eastern Bering Sea pollock catch.

I haven't spoken to the scientists directly, but it looks like KUCB radio out in Dutch Harbor did, and they favor an "acceptable biological catch" of 813,000 metric tons.

If that number is adopted as the commercial quota, it would be only a nibble off this year's limit of 815,000 tons.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will recommend a quota at its December meeting in Anchorage. The final say belongs to the U.S. commerce secretary.

Bering Sea pollock is the nation's largest commercial fishery by weight. Pollock are used predominantly for goods such as fish sticks and surimi, a protein paste that's fashioned into an array of specialty products in Asia.

The pollock stock is at a low ebb right now, scientists say. That's why the catch quota is way off its peak of 1.49 million tons in 2004.

Sleeping well in Seattle

Fishermen's Terminal in Seattle, hub harbor for North Pacific commercial fisheries. Wesley Loy photo

Deckboss is on the road for a spell, and Seattle is my first stop.

What a city. I could spend hours walking the piers at Fishermen's Terminal looking at fish boats of every size and shape. The restaurants, entertainment and general pace of Seattle is marvelous. Heck, I even like the rain.

I do have some business here. I'll be attending Pacific Marine Expo, also known as Fish Expo, starting on Thursday.

If you go to the expo and see me walking around, by all means step up and say hello.

Monday, November 16, 2009

That's a wrap for halibut

The halibut fishery closed at noon Sunday after an eight-month season.

As usual, fishermen holding individual fishing quota left very few halibut in the water. According to National Marine Fisheries Service figures posted today, IFQ fishermen took 42,075,201 pounds or 97 of the quota.

Going into the season, halibut producers worried about the effects of the global recession on demand for what has become quite a pricey fish.

Based on all the anecdotal evidence I've seen and heard, prices did fall off a bit this year, but not as badly as we might have expected.

I'll try to get better data to see what really happened.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Big Togiak herring quota announced

The Togiak sac roe herring fishery, one of the Alaska's biggest herring harvests, has really struggled the past few years. But it hasn't been for lack of fish.

Seiners and gillnetters willing to keep fishing in the face of Japan's weakened appetite for herring eggs can expect to find plenty of fish again come spring.

A state Department of Fish and Game forecast issued today sets a harvest quota of 25,905 tons of herring for the 2010 season.

That compares to last season's harvest of 16,571 tons on a quota of 21,260 tons.

The sac roe fishery typically plays out in May.

Bristol Bay forecast: 30.5 million sockeye

Bristol Bay next season will produce a commercial sockeye salmon catch of 30.5 million fish, according to an Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast issued today.

That's a really strong number.

For comparison, Bristol Bay this past summer produced a catch of 30.9 million sockeye on a forecast of 24 million.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Lawyers yesterday worked out a sale of troubled processor Adak Fisheries to a newly formed Norwegian-backed concern called Adak Seafood LLC.

Here's the order signed by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Donald MacDonald.

Adak Seafood got the plant on Adak Island, way down the Aleutian chain beyond Dutch Harbor, for $488,000 in cash plus assumption of $6.7 million in loans from Independence Bank of Rhode Island.

The sale price "is millions of dollars higher" than a competing bid from Trident Seafoods Corp., the judge's order notes. Trident didn't offer to take on the bank debt.

It appears the key to the deal was the pledge of certain sums to satisfy Aleut Enterprise, the processor's landlord on Adak.

The order says the sale should clear the way for the plant to open in time for the lucrative Pacific cod season in January.

That would be a good scenario for the young community of Adak, which is counting on its only fish plant to help to convert the former Cold War military outpost into a viable civilian town.

But never mind the island's future. Deckboss just wonders how long it'll take Kjetil Solberg to turn up again at Adak.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Are you too old for this job?

The state Department of Labor's Alaska Economic Trends newsletter for November has a cover story about employment in the seafood industry.

It's an easy and interesting seven-page read. Here's a few highlights:

• The fishing and processing sectors combined for 16,297 jobs last year, up almost 12 percent since the bottom of the salmon depression in 2002.

• The industry's youth is on deck with almost half of vessel crewmen under 30 years old last year. Processing workers generally are older, averaging 39 in 2008. Fishing permit holders are the graybeards, averaging 46 years old.

• Alaska's highly seasonal seafood industry has a huge nonresident component, with 27 percent of permit holders 46 percent of crewmen and 74 percent of processing workers living out of state last year.

The latest on Adak Fisheries

Again this morning, Deckboss trudged through new snow to the bankruptcy court in Anchorge to check out continued proceedings in the case of Adak Fisheries.

So far today, the result has been the same as yesterday: No action on a sale of the faraway fish plant.

If anything, a sale sounds less likely than it did a couple of days ago.

"We are losing momentum, judge," Cabot Christianson, the lawyer for Adak Fisheries, told Bankruptcy Judge Donald MacDonald. "We are losing momentum on the deal."

Presumably, the deal to which Christianson refers is the offer from a Norwegian concern for $488,000 in cash plus assumption of $6.7 million in bank debt on the plant.

Aleut Enterprise, landlord for Adak Fisheries on Adak Island, doesn't like the offer because Kjetil Solberg, which whom Aleut has jousted over the years, might somehow be involved with the buyer.

A competing offer of $2 million in cash is on the table from Seattle-based Trident Seafoods Corp.

The bank that holds the debt on the Adak plant, we assume, doesn't care for the Trident offer.

The numerous lawyers involved in the knotty case are expected to convene again at 2 p.m. at the courthouse.

Search ends without recovery of missing crewman

The U.S. Coast Guard reports it suspended its search at 5:11 p.m. Monday for John Ree Payla, a 21-year-old Filipino crewman reported missing Sunday from the 754-foot coal carrier Corona Infinity 40 miles north of Dutch Harbor.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Lawyers haggle over fate of Adak Fisheries

Deckboss did indeed make it down to the courthouse in Anchorage today for a hearing on the Adak Fisheries bankruptcy.

A bunch of lawyers were gathered there, but spent very little time in the courtroom. Instead, they huddled privately most of the day before asking the judge to postpone matters until 11 a.m. Tuesday.

We've got a tricky situation here involving the debtor processor, its landlord, an East Coast bank looking to recoup several million dollars in loans, and two companies vying to buy the assets of Adak Fisheries.

Lawyers say the key is finding some resolution quickly so a new owner can reopen the plant on distant Adak Island in time for the main cod season in January.

One of the prospective buyers, Trident Seafoods Corp., showed me it's pretty serious about its $2 million cash offer, as the company has sent its ace staff attorney, Joe Plesha, to the court proceedings.

Please be on the lookout

The bulk carrier Corona Infinity. Photo courtesy of Kawasaki Kisen Kaisha Ltd., Tokyo

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Nov. 9, 2009

Coast Guard searching for missing crewman north of Dutch Harbor

ANCHORAGE — The Coast Guard is searching for a 21-year-old Filipino crewman reported missing Sunday from the 754-foot Panamanian-flagged cargo vessel Corona Infinity 40 miles north of Dutch Harbor.

The Coast Guard received a call from the crew of the vessel about 5:30 p.m. indicating that one of their crewman had gone missing and his uniform had been found on the back of the ship about 3 p.m. Sunday.

The Coast Guard immediately diverted an Air Station Kodiak HH-65 Dolphin helicopter assigned to the Coast Guard Cutter Boutwell and issued an urgent marine information broadcast encouraging vessels in the area to keep a look out for the man and assist if possible.

Coast Guard rescue crews searched until 7 p.m. and have continued with a first-light search by an HC-130 Hercules aircraft crew from Air Station Kodiak and an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from the Coast Guard’s forward operating location in Cold Bay. The 92-foot fishing vessel Andronica from Dutch Harbor has responded to the broadcast for assistance and is searching the area.

Weather in the area is forecasted as 30 mph winds, 11-foot waves, air temperature of 43 degrees Fahrenheit and a water temperature of 41 degrees Fahrenheit.

The Corona Infinity is a bulk coal carrier and was in transit to Prince Rupert, British Columbia, when they noticed the crewman had gone missing. The missing crewman’s name is being withheld pending next of kin notification.

Sunday, November 8, 2009


A stolen purse seine at card fraud at a Trident plant...illegal shrimping in Southeast.

Check out The Brig for lots of fresh crime notes, plus the latest Dutch Harbor report!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Commission: Most of N. Pacific awash in salmon

The North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission yesterday issued this press release via the U.S. Coast Guard summarizing last week's commission meeting in Niigata, Japan.

For those who don't care to read the full and rather lengthy release, here is the first and most interesting paragraph:

"Unprecedented high catches of Pacific salmon continue in most areas of the North Pacific, reports the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission. Only at the southeastern part of their range off British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California are Pacific salmon stocks in low abundance."

Friday, November 6, 2009

Reaction from Japan

My recent rant about the lack of information as to just what the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission would be discussing at its meeting this week in Japan drew some quite reasonable criticism of Deckboss for suggesting the international panel might be operating under a degree of "secrecy."

It also yielded this agenda, which was all I was after as an ordinary, interested citizen.

Trident reveals Adak interest

Trident Seafoods Corp. is offering $2 million in cash for the assets of Adak Fisheries.

Seattle-based Trident, in a filing yesterday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage, said it would like to reopen the plant on far-flung Adak Island in early 2010.

The plant is known mainly as a cod processor, but Trident indicates it might process pollock there, too.

As we've previously noted here on Deckboss, however, Trident is not alone in pursuing the plant.

An outfit called Adak Seafood purportedly is offering $488,000 in cash plus assumption of $6.7 million in bank debt.

In papers filed this week in the bankruptcy court, Aleut Enterprise, landlord for Adak Fisheries, opposes the sale to Adak Seafood in part because the processor's former owner, Kjetil Solberg, appears to be involved with the prospective buyer.

Aleut Enterprise said it "does not believe that Mr. Solberg or any company in which he is involved can provide adequate assurance of future performance, based on past performance issues."

The whole affair is set for a big hearing in the Anchorage bankruptcy court starting at 9 a.m. Monday.

Deckboss just might amble down there and check it out.

Exxon payments might come by year's end

The Seattle administrator who won court approval yesterday to distribute almost $300 million in Exxon Valdez interest is "committed to issuing payments before year end assuming no court orders or appeals to the contrary."

Click here for more details about the payout schedule, as well as deductions to be made from individual payments.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Crab boat hobbled but OK in Bering

Just talked with the U.S. Coast Guard, which is monitoring a crab boat with engine trouble in the Bering Sea.

The Lisa Marie dropped some cylinders and is limping its way to Dutch Harbor, making 3-5 knots, a Coast Guard spokesman in Juneau told me.

Weather isn't especially rough at this time.

The Lisa Marie has been featured on the hit cable show "Deadliest Catch." I'm not sure whether she has a camera crew aboard this season.

Here comes the Exxon money

Sure enough, Judge H. Russel Holland today signed the order authorizing distribution of a big piece of the interest money in the Exxon Valdez case.

I'll get back to you as soon as I know more about the timeline for sending checks and direct deposits.

Meantime, here is the main payout list, broken into two parts:

Distribution list, part 1

Distribution list, part 2

Major ruling looks near in Exxon Valdez case

Having taken care of a couple of snags, it appears federal Judge H. Russel Holland is ready to issue an order as soon as today authorizing the biggest single distribution yet of Exxon Valdez winnings — close to $300 million — to thousands of commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs.

When the order comes down, I'll post it here!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

More on the case of Coast Guard Capt. Hamilton

I found this charge sheet on the Web site of Anchorage television station KTUU Channel 2.

The document provides explicit details on the U.S. Coast Guard's investigation of its former Sector Anchorage commander, Capt. Mark Hamilton.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Crewman with eye injury airlifted off longliner

I believe the vessel named in this press release, the Clipper Surprise, is a Seattle-based cod freezer longliner.

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Nov. 3, 2009

Coast Guard medevacs Bering Sea fisherman

ANCHORAGE — A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward deployed in Cold Bay on Monday medevaced a 30-year-old crewman with a reported eye injury from the 124-foot fishing vessel Clipper Surprise more than 50 miles north of Dutch Harbor.

Holden Jonan-Serrano, an El Salvadorian citizen, reportedly sustained the injury to his right eye when he collided with a pipe while working aboard the vessel.

The crew of the fishing vessel contacted their health force provider, which in turn contacted the Coast Guard 17th District Command Center for medevac assistance.

The Cold Bay helicopter crew was already airborne when they received the call for assistance and diverted from their patrol. Arriving on scene at 5:55 p.m., they safely hoisted Jonan-Serrano into the helicopter for medevac to Cold Bay.

Jonan-Serrano arrived in Cold Bay at 7:47 p.m. where he was transferred in stable condition to a Guardian Life Flight jet for further transport to Anchorage.

The Coast Guard stations an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew in Cold Bay as a precautionary measure during the busy fall Bering Sea fishing season.

EPA proposes $177,550 fine for Haines processor

This arrived this afternoon:

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

Nov. 3, 2009

Fish processing plant in Haines, Alaska, faces a possible $177,500 fine for discharging fish waste without a permit

HAINES, Alaska — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has filed a complaint against Chilkoot Fish & Caviar Inc. for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The violations occurred at Chilkoot's fish processing plant located at Mile 5 Lutak Road in Haines. The company, which repeatedly violated its permit over a four-year period, could face a penalty of $177,550, the maximum civil penalty allowed under the Clean Water Act.

EPA alleges that Chilkoot violated the Clean Water Act by discharging fish processing waste into Lutak Inlet without a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit. The administrative complaint alleges illegal discharge activities from May to October in 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.

Fish wastes are the unused portions of the processed fish. The permit requires processors to grind the waste to half-inch size or less. From 2004 through 2007, Chilkoot processed over 824,000 pounds of fish waste.

"Fish processing waste, especially from shore-based facilities, can cause serious harm to the marine environment in the surrounding area," said Edward Kowalski, EPA's director of compliance and enforcement in Seattle. "Obtaining and adhering to discharge permits are fundamental rules that must be followed in order to protect Alaska's waters."

The NPDES permit program controls water pollution by regulating sources that discharge pollutants to waters in the United States.

Fish processing waste from the Chilkoot plant runs into Lutak Inlet. Lutak Inlet is a tributary of Lynn Canal. Both Lutak Inlet and Lynn Canal are considered "navigable waters" and waters of the United States under the Clean Water Act.

Case against Capt. Hamilton disclosed

A few months ago we posted an item about the sudden removal of the U.S. Coast Guard's Sector Anchorage commander, Capt. Mark Hamilton.

Today, the Coast Guard is explaining the reasons why, though full details remain lacking.

Here's the press release:

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Nov. 3, 2009

Senior Coast Guard officer investigated for misconduct

JUNEAU — The former commander of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage has been charged Tuesday with multiple violations of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Capt. Herbert Mark Hamilton was charged with six specifications of failure to obey a lawful general order under Article 92 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice; two specifications of false official statements under Article 107; two specifications of indecent acts under Article 120; three specifications of sodomy under Article 125; one specification of fraud against the United States under Article 132; eight specifications of conduct unbecoming an officer and gentleman under Article 133; two specifications of fraternization under Article 134; three specifications of adultery under Article 134; one specification of indecent language under Article 134; and three specifications of soliciting another to commit an offense under Article 134.

The charges were based on the results of a preliminary investigation conducted by the Coast Guard Investigative Service.

The charges against Hamilton are merely accusations. He is presumed innocent until proven guilty under proceedings conducted in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, the Coast Guard 17th District commander, has directed the charges against Hamilton be investigated in accordance with Article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. An Article 32 hearing is a formal investigation where an investigating officer inquires into the truth of the matters set forth in the charges and recommends disposition of the charges. The accused member and his counsel are present and have the right to question witnesses at such a proceeding. A date and location has not yet been set for the Article 32 hearing.

If the charges against Hamilton are tried at a general court-martial, Hamilton faces a potential maximum sentence that may include confinement, a dismissal from the Coast Guard or a number of other lesser forms of punishment.

Monday, November 2, 2009

'Fishery porn'

A while back we posted some pictures, purportedly shot by a crewman aboard an unidentified Gulf of Alaska flatfish trawler, showing what appeared to be extreme Tanner crab bycatch.

Those pictures caused quite a stir.

Now an anonymous somebody has steered Deckboss to another blog featuring a five-minute video, again from an unidentified trawler, appearing to show extreme halibut bycatch.

Crewman on the video look to be chucking chicken halibut overboard for all they're worth.

Of course, I can't vouch for the authenticity of the clip, which is time stamped Sept. 1, 2004. The host blog is avowedly anti-trawl.

All I can say is the video is fascinating to watch, and looks real enough. Make of it what you will.

Salmon, sake and secrecy in Japan

Regular visitors to this blog know Deckboss doesn't spend a lot of time complaining about what a tough job we journalists have.

But I'm breaking form now to carp a little about an outfit called the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

The commission is holding its annual meeting this week in Niigata, Japan.

For those unfamiliar with the organization, the commission draws together Canada, Japan, Russia, South Korea and the United States under a convention to "promote the conservation of anadromous stocks in the convention area."

An excellent mission, I'm sure you'll agree.

Naturally, I was curious to see what was on the agenda for this big annual meeting.

Salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea, perhaps? Genetic testing to pin down whose salmon are headed where? Or maybe an update on the effects of large-scale Japanese and U.S. hatcheries on wild fish?

But no agenda is on the commission's Web site. At least none that I could find.

All I saw was this barebones notice of the meeting.

Apparently, much additional information is behind a wall labeled "member's area." Click it and all you get is a box for plugging in a password.

I'd be less annoyed with the uncooperative Web site were it not for the lack of a reply to my Oct. 28 e-mail to the secretariat in Vancouver, British Columbia, requesting an agenda.

Here's what I can tell you: For travel opportunity, it must be nice to be a representative on the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission.

Since 2000, the commission has met in such cities as Tokyo, Victoria, Vladivostok, Honolulu, Sapporo and Seattle.

Now the commission is talking salmon and trout in Niigata, which Lonely Planet describes as a "lively capital" where "sake reigns supreme."

Behnken honored

I see the December issue of National Fisherman magazine features Linda Behnken, a Sitka halibut longliner, as one of its Highliner honorees for 2009.

Capsized boat sinks during salvage effort

Sounds like things have gone from bad to worse for the Carley Renee.

Here's a joint press release issued late last night from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation:

Nov. 1, 2009

Juneau fishing vessel sinks during coordinated recovery operation

ANCHORAGE — The Coast Guard, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and Magone Marine Services were coordinating a recovery operation of the fishing vessel Carley Renee when it sank in Sedanka Pass at 3:10 p.m. Sunday.

The Western Viking, a Magone salvage vessel, arrived at the location of the Carley Renee on Sunday.

The Juneau-based fishing vessel was partially submerged near Egg Island with approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board.

Magone salvage crews successfully increased the Carley Renee's buoyancy by pumping air into the engine room. The Western Viking began towing the fishing vessel toward Beaver Inlet, a more suitable location for salvage operations and fuel removal, when the vessel sank approximately one and a half miles northwest of Egg Island.

A 2-mile rainbow sheen was reported in the vicinity of the sunken vessel. Based on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration drift models and the weather conditions the sheen is expected dissipate quickly and cause no significant environmental impacts.

The cause of the incident is under investigation by Coast Guard Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

More on Friday's rescue and vessel casualty

The Guardian stands by the capsized Carley Renee. USCG photo

State records show the name of the boat four crewmen abandoned near Dutch Harbor yesterday is the Carley Renee. The U.S. Coast Guard had spelled it Carly Renee.

Although the owner, Carley Renee LLC, lists a Juneau post office box for an address, state records show the boat is homeported out of Adak. The registered agent for the owner company is John Moller.

The Carley Renee, which the Coast Guard says is now capsized, is a 59-foot, steel-hulled, Wahl-built boat valued at $675,000. She can fish longline, pot or jig gear, state records show.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Four rescued after abandoning ship near Dutch

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

Oct. 30, 2009

Coast Guard coordinates rescue of four fishermen off Juneau fishing vessel

JUNEAU — The Coast Guard coordinated a rescue of four Alaska fishermen after receiving a mayday call from a crewmember aboard the Juneau-based fishing vessel Carly Renee reporting they were taking on water and abandoning ship 22 miles east of Unalaska Island at approximately 4:42 p.m Friday.

The Coast Guard Cutter Munro heard the mayday call over VHF radio from the Carly Renee and immediately issued an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast while en route to the scene.

The fishing vessel Guardian responded within 10 minutes to the UMIB and arrived on scene to safely rescue the four fishermen who were in a life raft.

The Munro arrived on scene shortly after and transferred a health services technician to the Guardian by small boat to determine the condition of the four fishermen.

The four fishermen were reported in stable condition with no injuries and were transferred to Dutch Harbor by the fishing vessel Guardian.

The Carly Renee did not sink. It is capsized and is estimated to have 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel on board.

Weather conditions at the time of the incident were 23 mph winds from the east with 1-foot seas.

The cause of the incident is under investigation by Marine Safety Detachment Unalaska.

Trident planning big chill in Bristol Bay

The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association posted this today on its Web site:

Oct. 30, 2009

Trident introduces dedicated tenders for chilled fish

In a letter to its Bristol Bay fleet dated Oct. 22, Trident Seafoods announced it will introduce dedicated tenders for fishermen who chill their catch.

The BBRSDA wishes to extend its support to Trident for taking this step.

Board member Mike LaRussa's reaction was typical of the board.

"This is pretty big. It's an early signal of a major shift taking place in Bristol Bay. I remember two or three years ago, the board was discussing this as one of the indicators we would watch for to tell us that our 'Quality, Quality, Quality' message was showing results. We still have a lot of work to do, obviously, to see that everybody in the bay is able to deliver a top-notch product. But this is encouraging."

Dedicated tenders will enable Trident — and eventually other processors as well — to send dry fish to canning lines and chilled fish to fillet and H&G lines. According to board member Chris McDowell, "The aggregate quality of their frozen pack will likely see a substantial jump, at a time when the H&G market seems to be heating up a little."

LaRussa quoted the letter he received from Trident: "The plan is to start this program in the Egegik and Naknek districts in 2010, making every attempt to segregate chilled and nonchilled sockeye. This will allow us to channel your best fish and our best fish to premium-value product forms for fresh sales and fillets — products that offer better value and return."

Monday, October 26, 2009

An Olympic opportunity lost for golden king crab?

Alaska Glacier Seafoods Inc. saw a chance to come out a big winner in Vancouver, British Columbia, site of the upcoming Olympic Winter Games.

All the Juneau-based processor needed was a little help from the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

But the board rejected the company's plea during a work session this month in Anchorage. Here's the details:

Alaska Glacier told the board it markets roughly half of the Southeast golden king crab catch each season, with most of it sold in Vancouver.

The Winter Olympics presents an exceptional opportunity to sell fresh, live crab.

But timing of the games is a problem.

The Olympics are scheduled for Feb. 12-28, while the crab fishery will start sometime between Feb. 10 and 17, depending on the tides.

That means Alaska Glacier's crab won't arrive in Vancouver for the most part until after the games are over.

"This will create a very adverse marketing situation," Alaska Glacier's president, Mike Erickson, told the board. "Our Vancouver buyers expect a major drop-off in restaurant spending following the expected very high sales during the Olympics."

Selling into that down market could mean crab fishermen will earn a subpar $2.50 to $3 a pound at the docks, versus the potential $5.35 for golden king crab delivered in time for the Olympics, Erickson said.

So, Alaska Glacier proposed opening the 2010 season, and only the 2010 season, three weeks earlier than usual.

The board didn't act directly on that idea.

Rather, the question at the work session was whether the board would add Alaska Glacier's proposal to the agenda of the Dec. 1-8 board meeting on Bristol Bay salmon issues. The board otherwise isn't scheduled to consider Southeast crab proposals again until 2012.

In the end, the board declined to grant Alaska Glacier's agenda change request, finding it didn't meet strict policy requirements for such changes.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Weekend search ends without missing fisherman

The U.S. Coast Guard this afternoon abandoned the search for Michael Diverty, whose boat the Miss Dee Dee was found abandoned but still running Friday on a beach north of Sitka.

"His son has taken possession of the Miss Dee Dee and is taking the boat back to Sitka," the Coast Guard said in this press release.

The release includes a map of the search area.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Fisherman still missing

The U.S. Coast Guard reported at 4 p.m. today the search continues for Michael Diverty, a Sitka fisherman whose boat, the Miss Dee Dee, was found aground but still running Friday evening in Fish Bay about 20 miles north of Sitka. Searchers with the Coast Guard, state troopers, a mountain rescue team out of Sitka and others are involved with the search. USCG photo

Empty boat found running, aground near Sitka

This came in from the U.S. Coast Guard late last night. State records show the boat was rigged for longlining and salmon trolling.

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Oct. 23, 2009

Coast Guard searches for Sitka man near Fish Bay

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — The Coast Guard is searching for a Sitka man after it was reported by the crew of the fishing vessel Brant that the 32-foot fishing vessel Miss Dee Dee was discovered grounded with the engines still running about 20 miles north of Sitka in Fish Bay around 7 p.m. Friday.

Michael Diverty, age unknown, was last seen leaving Sitka around noon today by the crew of the Brant and is believed to have have fallen off the Miss Dee Dee sometime today north of Sitka. The crew of the Brant searched the vessel and a nearby cabin ashore finding no signs of Diverty.

The Coast Guard Sector Juneau Command Center immediately launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka and launched the Coast Guard cutter Naushon from Ketchikan to search the surrounding waters of Fish Bay. The fishing vessel Brant also remains in the area assisting with the search. The cutter Naushon is expected to arrive in the area tomorrow morning.

The crew of the Brant reported during their initial search that the life raft was still onboard the Miss Dee Dee and that there were no signs of missing life saving equipment.

The weather in the vicinity of the search is reported as winds of 30 mph with five miles visibility and water temperatures at 45 degrees.

Friday, October 23, 2009

An Exxon Valdez update

In case anybody doubts it, David Oesting, the lead lawyer for thousands of fishermen and other plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez case, appears to be working his butt off to get his clients paid.

As you'll recall, when we last visited our favorite 20-year court battle, the judge had just ordered a delay in Oesting's plans to distribute close to $300 million in interest payments from Exxon Mobil Corp.

In this eight-page response, Oesting forcefully attempts to explain to the judge that processor Seafood Sales Inc. and a lawyer purporting to represent cannery workers are trying to grab an extra $27.6 million.

Their "dramatic request," if granted, could mean six months of further delay and potentially blow up a complex allocation plan everybody agreed to years ago, Oesting writes.

One other note: The principal behind Seafood Sales is Terry Bertoson. He's also the owner of Sea Hawk Seafoods, which likewise made a play for more cash but was shot down.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009


Check out The Brig, our companion blog, for high-voltage police news from America's No. 1 fishing port.