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.