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.

Have a hake, it's sustainable!

Looks like the West Coast hake fishery has made the grade for Marine Stewardship Council certification.

Some of the same factory trawlers that catch Bering Sea pollock also harvest hake, or whiting, in federal waters off Washington, Oregon and California.

Here's a press release:

Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative

Oct. 21, 2009

Pacific Hake Fishery MSC-Certified as Responsibly Managed
Fishery Meets the Highest Environmental Standards

SEATTLE — Today the U.S. Pacific hake fishery was independently certified as well-managed and sustainable according to the internationally recognized sustainability standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an organization established by the World Wildlife Fund.

The largest fishery on the West Coast, the U.S. Pacific hake midwater trawl fishery is conducted in federal waters that extend out to 200 miles off the coasts of Washington, Oregon and California. The fish is also known as Pacific whiting in many international markets.

The sustainability certification resulted from a comprehensive two-year scientific assessment of the fishery by a team of independent fisheries scientists. The MSC certification process is based on the best available information, is transparent, and encourages stakeholder participation throughout the process.

The exhaustive review reaffirms that the Pacific Fishery Management Council and National Marine Fisheries Service manage this fishery responsibly, and adjust its management to address changing environmental conditions. This certification is also a reflection of an industry that promotes and supports regulatory actions that ensure healthy fishery stocks.

"Today's determination by the MSC is an important independent validation of how the Pacific hake fishery is managed responsibly by a progressive fishery management system," said Jan Jacobs, President of the Pacific Whiting Conservation Cooperative (PWCC). "This action provides assurance to consumers around the world that products supplied from the Pacific hake fishery are best choices for seafood."

The U.S. clients for the MSC assessment are the PWCC and the Oregon Trawl Commission, representing all sectors, of the U.S. Pacific hake fishery, including the onshore, mothership and catcher-processor sectors.

The PWCC was formed in 1997 to promote rational harvesting and to minimize effects of fishing on the environment. Its members are American Seafoods Company, Glacier Fish Company, and Trident Seafoods Corporation.

Just super

Did you know that Alaska salmon is "Super Green" seafood?

So says the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Our Pacific cod is pretty good, too, but only from longliners. Sorry, trawlers.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Your honor, if you please...

Well, now, I see Anchorage attorney David Oesting yesterday entered his firm's appearance in the Adak Fisheries bankruptcy case.

The firm is representing Trident Seafoods, which has been mentioned as a potential buyer of the Adak processing plant.

Oesting, you might recall, has toiled for many years as lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez oil spill case.

Monday, October 19, 2009

ASMI spells out MSC conditions, concerns

Here's the letter the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has sent laying out its conditions for becoming the Marine Stewardship Council's new "client" for salmon certification.

One of the main points is that ASMI wants the partnership with the MSC to be "cost neutral to ASMI."

It proposes having the MSC extract the $250,000 in costs directly from industry players who benefit from the MSC logo. The MSC would then pass the funds along to ASMI, which would use part of the money to hire a new employee.

The letter raises plenty of other key points and is well worth reading.

For background on this subject, click here.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Arctic fisheries forum launches Monday

We've got a big, three-day event in Anchorage starting tomorrow, the International Arctic Fisheries Symposium.

The symposium is "designed to initiate international discussions for conserving and managing future fisheries in the Arctic Ocean, including managing migratory, transboundary and straddling fish stocks."

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and the state's two U.S. senators, Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, are listed as keynote speakers for the event at the Hotel Captain Cook.

Fisheries experts from Great Britain, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, the Netherlands and Russia also will speak.

The registration fee to attend is $200.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hoping for a nondeadly catch

The major Bering Sea king and Tanner crab fisheries opened at noon today, with the main quarry initially being those giant Bristol Bay red king crab. The total allowable catch this season is 16 million pounds of red kings, down almost 22 percent from last season. The U.S. Coast Guard, citing figures from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, reports that 62 boats are expected to be on the fishing grounds, although 93 preregistered. The Coast Guard has staged a Kodiak-based rescue helicopter at Cold Bay. USCG photo

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Judge delays huge oil spill payout

The Exxon Valdez case — pardon my metaphor. Wesley Loy photo

As you might recall, Deckboss reported in early September how lawyers for the thousands of plaintiffs in the Exxon Valdez case were seeking to distribute the largest sum yet — close to $300 million in interest payments from Exxon Mobil Corp.

That post included a long list showing dollar amounts each person in the affected claim categories could expect.

Well, it seems we now have — big surprise here! — yet another delay in this marathon case of constant waiting.

On Oct. 9, federal Judge H. Russel Holland signed this order explaining why he can't yet approve the big money handout.

"The prospect of delaying that distribution troubles the court a good deal," Holland writes.

The delay has to do, in part, with a challenge from cannery workers hoping for additional payments.

Once the issue is resolved, and assuming no further snags, the distribution will commence in late November or early December, lawyers for the plaintiffs say.

That will take us through a full year since the process began to distribute winnings accumulated so far from Exxon.

Kjetil Solberg — Adak survivor

Here's an update on the bankruptcy case of Adak Fisheries LLC, the company that owns the lone fish processing plant on faraway Adak Island in the Aleutian chain.

It seems the debtor now agrees with the company's main creditor, Independence Bank, that the plant and its equipment should be sold to an outfit called Adak Seafood LLC.

This sale motion the lawyer for Adak Fisheries filed indicates the buyer would pay $488,000 in cash, and would also assume the $6.7 million in debt owed to Independence Bank.

We learn a lot of other very interesting things from this and other documents filed in recent days in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage. To wit:

• Adak Seafood LLC was incorporated in Delaware on Sept. 4 and, as Deckboss reported on Sept. 29, is affiliated with Norwegian seafood company Drevik International. The court papers say Drevik was a major Adak Fisheries customer, and that "a group of Norwegian investors" is behind Adak Seafood.

• None other than Kjetil Solberg, who founded the Adak processor in 1998 but no longer owns it, "has a relationship to" the potential buyer, Adak Seafood. Solberg "would be involved in the operation of the plant if the purchase was successful," and in fact "may be in complete charge of the buyer's new operation," the sale motion says.

This would be a fairly amazing feat for Solberg, who has lost control of the Adak plant before, only to rally back. In 2005, for instance, during a dispute with a former partner and the plant's landlord, a judge barred Solberg from the property, the doors of which were actually padlocked for a time.

• The lawyer representing Adak Fisheries in the bankruptcy case writes in the sale motion that while Adak Seafood has made the only formal offer for the plant, the debtor "believes that there may be another offer coming, from Trident Seafoods."

The whole affair could reach a climax on Nov. 9, when a hearing is scheduled to consider the sale motion.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Coast Guard hoists ailing crewman off Kodiak boat

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crew medevaced a man off the 60-foot fishing vessel Outer Limits today in Kodiak's Moser Bay.

"The captain of the Outer Limits reported at 10:10 a.m. that Brett Miller, 46, was suffering severe dehydration and was unable to eat or drink," a Coast Guard press release said.

Stellers and orcas: 'sudden, traumatic death'

We've long heard the theory that marauding killer whales might be largely responsible for the Steller sea lion's endangered status, not lack of food or some other cause.

Now comes some intriguing new science from Oregon State University to bolster the theory.

Rascal goes down, skipper saved

Here's the salmon troller Rascal, as seen in 2005. The 36-footer sank near St. Lazaria Island in Sitka Sound on Saturday. Rescuers pulled owner Lyle Martin, 68, of Juneau, from the 53-degree water, and he is expected to survive, the Anchorage Daily News reports. Eric Jordan photo, via the U.S. Coast Guard

Monday, October 12, 2009

Body of hatchery worker found after canoe mishap

A drowning victim has been recovered from a lake near the Armstrong-Keta Inc. salmon hatchery southeast of Sitka, the Alaska State Troopers reported today.

Divers on Friday retrieved the body of Daniel S. Sweeney, 24, of Cleveland, Ohio, in about 40 feet of water some 50 yards from shore.

Sweeney and another man from the hatchery had gone fishing Oct. 5 in a canoe on Jetty Lake when a gust of wind reportedly tipped the craft over, troopers said. The second man was able to swim to shore.

Neither was wearing a life jacket, troopers said.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

New name in the wind for top NMFS job

Ever heard of Elliott Norse?

He's president and founder of a Bellevue, Wash., nonprofit called the Marine Conservation Biology Institute.

He's also the latest somebody I've heard the Obama administration is considering for administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

As Deckboss readers know, the Obama camp seems to be having a heck of a time filling the position, which Bush appointee and Alaskan Jim Balsiger continues to anchor.

Fisherman rescued after boat sinks near Sitka

This guy holds permits to troll for salmon, but I can't be sure that's what he was doing at the time of the mishap described in the following press release.

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

Oct. 11, 2009

Coast Guard rescues Juneau man from Sitka Sound

KODIAK, Alaska — A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew from Air Station Sitka hoisted a 68-year-old man from Sitka Sound after his 36-foot fishing vessel Rascal reportedly started taking on water and sank about 9 p.m. Saturday.

Lyle Martin, a Juneau resident, relayed a mayday call to Coast Guard Sector Juneau rescue coordination center watchstanders via VHF-FM Channel 16 at 8:35 p.m. stating his emergency situation. Martin abandoned the Rascal and it is unknown if he was wearing any survival gear. A good Samaritan was in the vicinity, located Martin and held him to the side of their vessel.

Sector Juneau search and rescue watchstanders responded quickly to the call and 35 minutes later, an Air Station Sitka helicopter crew arrived. Martin was hoisted by the crew and safely delivered to awaiting emergency medical personnel. He was transported to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital in Sitka then later medevaced to Seattle. His condition is unknown.

"This is an instance where the mariner greatly assisted the rescue effort by being prepared and letting the Coast Guard know the extent of his situation early," said Scott Girard, Sector Juneau lead command center controller. "Rescue crews and good Samaritans were able to assist quickly, resulting in a life saved."

Marine Safety Detachment Sitka will investigate the cause of the sinking and ascertain if any environmental issues exist. It was reported that 450 gallons of fuel are on board the Rascal. The Rascal does not pose a navigational hazard.

Weather at the time of the rescue was an air temperature of 51 degrees, water temperature of 53 degrees, visibility less than one mile, and 10 mph winds.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Council votes to look at crab bycatch controls

Here's an update on that photographic evidence of appalling bairdi Tanner crab bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council late Thursday voted to analyze options to possibly close important crab waters off Kodiak.

The closures could apply not only to groundfish trawlers, but also to pot boats that incur crab bycatch while pursuing cod.

By the way, it's probably not accurate for readers to conclude the council action was a direct response to seeing those pictures of wasted crab.

In fact, crab as well as salmon bycatch in the Gulf commercial fisheries has been on the council's radar screen for some years now.

Read all about it in this discussion paper prepared for this week's council meeting.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Scandalous crab bycatch exposed?

Bairdi, bagged and broken. Photo courtesy Alexus Kwachka

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has been meeting all week in Anchorage, but Deckboss didn't bother to attend the first few days. Frankly, the agenda looked kinda boring.

This afternoon, however, I decided to make at least a brief appearance.

And wouldn't you know, the action in the council chamber suddenly livened up only moments after your correspondent walked in.

A fisherman, Alexus Kwachka, was among several people testifying about the problem of the growing incidental capture — that's bycatch, in industry parlance — of bairdi Tanner crab in trawl nets dragging for groundfish around Kodiak.

Now, it's old sport down at the council for the guys who fish with pots and hooks to criticize the guys who fish with yawning trawl nets that often drag the ocean floor.

But Kwachka had more than just talk. He brought a series of rather startling photos depicting big mounds of Tanner crab bycatch on the deck of an unidentified trawler.

The pictures were said to have been taken this past summer. I've posted one here showing a multitude of Tanners mixed in with various fish.

To Kwachka and others, the pictures show why the council needs to take swift action to boot trawlers out of the crab grounds so Tanner stocks can complete an apparent revival and provide good income for small-scale fishermen.

A big problem is that Gulf trawlers most of the time carry no federal fishery observer to document the level of bycatch, say activists with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council.

Now I'm just guessing, but I wouldn't expect the trawl industry to concede that these pictures are anything more than anecdotal.

But dang, they really are troubling images, all those half-mangled crab hauled up as waste.

It'll be interesting to see how the council handles this.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

'That was a collision!'

A friend just steered me to Purse Seine Collision 09, an awesome YouTube video set to "Move" by rap-metal band Thousand Foot Krutch.


Check out our companion blog, The Brig, to read about one fisherman's wild, wet night in Dutch Harbor.

Trident generates excitement in Cordova

Peter Kuttel, a manager with Trident Seafoods Corp., gave a Chamber of Commerce talk yesterday in Cordova about the company's big local expansion.

Deckboss wasn't there to listen, but luckily Rochelle van den Broek was and she shared this excellent summary.

It seems that Trident is really surging in Cordova. A big part of its expansion is squeezing value from fish waste though the production of fish oil and a liquefied fertilizer product made from a process known as hydrolyzation.

Trident is employing more people and intends to keep its plant doors open longer each year.

Kuttel indicated this is "the single largest investment that Trident has made in a community in Alaska," van den Broek writes.

Heck, the company has even pledged to help send the town's Miss Iceworm queens to college, she adds.

As background, you might recall that Kuttel ran a Cordova processor called Bear & Wolf Salmon Co. He stayed with Trident after the Seattle-based giant acquired Bear & Wolf in early 2008.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Diving for dollars

Giant red sea cucumber. Photo by Eric Munk, NMFS Kodiak

Alaska's commercial fishing industry really doesn't have an off-season. Somebody is trying to catch something most all the time.

This month, for instance, a number of specialized commercial fisheries are opening.

Most of them involve divers going to the bottom to collect odd creatures that, frankly, aren't much in demand in the United States but command good money in Asia.

Here's a rundown of the action:

• The Southeast Alaska sea cucumber dive fishery opened Oct. 5 with a quota of almost 1.6 million pounds.

• The Southeast red sea urchin red sea urchin fishery opened Oct. 1 with a quota of almost 5.1 million pounds.

• The Southeast geoduck clam fishery opened Oct. 1 with a quota of 623,300 pounds.

• The Southeast pot shrimp fishery opened Oct. 1 with a quota of 692,400 pounds. Fishermen will be going after such species as spot and coonstripe shrimp.

• The Kodiak red sea cucumber fishery opened Oct. 1 with a quota of 140,000 pounds. Smaller quotas are available in the Chignik, Alaska Peninsula, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea districts.

Deckboss would like to say he doesn't have much of a taste for sea cucumber or urchin, but he sure wouldn't turn down a box of those huge, luscious spot shrimp!

Monday, October 5, 2009

Adak Fisheries bankruptcy recalls Ben Stevens

As frequent visitors to this blog know, Deckboss has been bird-dogging the bankruptcy case of Adak Fisheries, an Aleutian cod processor with a turbulent past.

Among the various motions now pending in the case is the company's attempt to break its lease with landlord Aleut Enterprise.

What's really interesting about this motion is its concise history of the business, including a candid accounting of its good and bad years financially.

The motion also mentions Ben Stevens, suggesting the son of the former U.S. senator was a key figure in a falling-out between Adak Fisheries founder Kjetil Solberg and one of his several partners.

Well, enough of my description. Just read the five-page motion.

By the way, the lease matter is scheduled to come up in a hearing on Wednesday in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Harbor Crown president files for bankruptcy

The Harbor Crown Seafoods plant. Jim Paulin photo

We told you in August about the financial troubles of a Dutch Harbor fish processor, Harbor Crown Seafoods Inc.

Well, on Sept. 29 the company president and part owner, Ken Dorris, dba Harbor Crown, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Idaho, where Dorris lives and where the processor had its corporate office.

In his bankruptcy petition, Dorris lists assets of $0 to $50,000, and liabilities of $1 million to $10 million.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Fishermen wary of ASMI partnership with MSC

What's that blue logo really worth, anyway? Wesley Loy photo

The board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute on Thursday signaled its "preliminary intent" to become the Marine Stewardship Council's new "client" on salmon.

That's a surprise, as many industry players sensed something of a rivalry between the two organizations as to who can best tell the world that Alaska's salmon fisheries are sustainable and well-managed.

The MSC is a London-based outfit that awards qualifying fisheries the right to use its blue ecolabel on their products. The label reportedly has become important for selling fish to European buyers, and to major retailers such as Walmart.

Alaska salmon won MSC certification in 2000. All along, the MSC's salmon "client" has been the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

But last year the department sent this letter saying it wasn't so interested in continuing as client. Generally, industry groups seek MSC certification, not government agencies, Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd wrote.

Besides, Fish and Game officials have said, maintaining certification through periodic reviews is tedious and very expensive.

Many in the industry grumble that Alaska salmon needs no validation from an outside certifier, that the world already knows the state's iconic fish is excellent and the harvests stringently managed.

The trouble for the MSC is that the current certification for Alaska salmon expires at the end of the month.

The organization has appeared to be near desperate to keep Alaska's major fisheries, including salmon and Bering Sea pollock, in the MSC fold, as this confidential letter from 2006 indicates.

Now it appears ASMI, a state agency, is ready to dive in as the MSC's salmon client.

That's got the state's top commercial fishing organization, United Fishermen of Alaska, in a bit of a huff. The fishermen feel left out of the loop and wonder where ASMI can find the necessary funding in its lean budget.

ASMI spokeswoman Laura Fleming told Deckboss after Thursday's board meeting in Anchorage that ASMI needs answers from the MSC on a few issues before firmly committing as its salmon client.