Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Grinch sighted — and missiles, too!

Catch the latest Dutch Harbor report now on The Brig.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Gazing into my Aleutian crystal ball

We could see two interesting developments soon with respect to the seafood industry in the Aleutian Islands.

First, some commercial fishing companies are likely to seek intervenor status in support of the state's lawsuit against the National Marine Fisheries Service on the Steller sea lion issue. The state and industry players hope to block restrictions, set to take effect Jan. 1, to curtail harvests of Aleutian fish the endangered Stellers rely upon for food.

Second, the troubled processing plant on Adak Island soon might have a new tenant. The leading candidate looks to be Icicle Seafoods Inc., which flew a team out to Adak in recent days to look things over. Icicle, you might recall, once was a partner in the plant. The big question is whether the plant can be readied in time for the upcoming Pacific cod season.

And what did Santa bring you?

Although he surely didn't deserve them, Deckboss received numerous fine Christmas gifts this year, not the least of which is the "National Audubon Society Field Guide to Fishes."

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

'Acting' dropped from Cora Campbell's title

No surprise here: Gov. Sean Parnell has chosen Cora Campbell from a very short list to be his fish and game commissioner.

Here's the press release:

Dec. 22, 2010

Gov. Parnell names Cora Campbell fish and game commissioner

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today appointed Cora Campbell as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Campbell's name was one of two submitted for the position by the Joint Board of Fisheries and Game. Campbell has been serving as acting commissioner since Dec. 1.

"I commend the joint board for sending me two well-qualified candidates, both whom I know and respect," Gov. Parnell said. "Cora Campbell's fisheries experience and broad understanding of wildlife management make her a great fit for the agency."

As acting commissioner, Campbell represented the State of Alaska on numerous bodies, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees commercial and sport fisheries in federal waters off Alaska. Prior to this appointment, she served as a policy advisor for wildlife, environmental conservation, natural resources, Arctic issues, climate change and fisheries in her role as special assistant to Gov. Parnell.

"I'm honored to serve in this capacity, and look forward to working with agency staff and the public to sustain Alaska's world-class fishing, hunting and wildlife viewing opportunities," Campbell said.

Campbell has served two governors, and was first appointed in May 2007 as Gov. Palin's fisheries policy advisor. Her responsibilities included oversight of state fisheries policies, chairing the fisheries and oceans subcabinets, serving on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors, and coordinating activities of the agencies involved in regulation and development of the state's subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial fisheries. Campbell's responsibilities later expanded to include wildlife and other natural resource and environmental issues.

Prior to her service in the governor's office, Campbell worked in state and federal fishery and regulatory forums, served as executive director of a regional fishing association with an emphasis on economic development and cooperative research, supervised a public outreach program focusing on the federal subsistence process, and served on numerous boards and committees, including the advisory panels to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Research Board. She has also fished commercially for salmon, herring and crab, and managed shore operations for a diversified fishing business.

A lifelong Alaskan originally from Petersburg, Campbell graduated from Pacific Lutheran University. She will be based in Juneau.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Update on commissioner nominations

The Joint Board of Fisheries and Game voted unanimously this afternoon to send two names to Gov. Sean Parnell to consider for fish and game commissioner: Cora Campbell and Ron Somerville.

They were the only applicants for the job.

Parnell already has strongly signaled his likely choice, and that's Campbell, who currently is serving as acting commissioner.

Boards to consider commissioner nominees

Alaska's fisheries and game boards will meet in joint session at 1 p.m. today to consider nominations for state commissioner of fish and game.

Click here for the agenda plus details on how to listen to the meeting via teleconference.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Bering Sea pollock fishery recertified sustainable

Here's the press release from the Marine Stewardship Council.

Even more Sitka Sound herring expected in 2011

Look for another enormous herring haul in Sitka Sound next spring.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today announced a guideline harvest level of 19,490 tons for the 2011 sac roe herring fishery.

That compares to a quota of 18,293 tons for the 2010 fishery.

This truly is a time of extraordinary abundance for Sitka herring.

State biologists say it's "apparent that the Sitka Sound herring stock is at the highest levels seen since the department began monitoring the stock in 1964."

Read the full announcement here.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

State sues NMFS over planned sea lion closures

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has made a habit of suing the federal government. Now he's suing again.

Here's the press release:

Dec. 14, 2010

State sues to overturn NMFS decision on western Steller sea lions

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska today filed suit in the U.S. District Court for Alaska against the National Marine Fisheries Service over the agency's decision to significantly curtail fishing in the western Aleutian Islands out of concern for Steller sea lions.

The state argues that NMFS failed to make "a rational connection" between the facts it found and the conclusions it reached, given that western Steller sea lions had an average annual population growth between 1 and 1.5 percent between 2000 and 2008, and now number more than 70,000.

"The agency's conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available scientific information," Gov. Parnell said. "The drastic measures proposed by NMFS are simply not necessary given the overall health of the Steller sea lion population. This decision will have immediate and significant impacts on local communities and fishermen in the area."

As many as 900 people are employed by fishing fleets in the area facing restrictions. NMFS acknowledges that implementation of its decision would cost fishery losses of up to $66 million annually.

State officials also believe the federal agency committed numerous procedural violations, which had the effect of limiting the opportunity for public and expert comments.

"The state submitted extensive comments on both the process and the foundational science used to reach this decision," said acting Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell. "We are extremely disappointed that NMFS did not adequately consider these concerns and did not more fully incorporate the recommendations of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in its action. We are also very disturbed about the lack of meaningful public process."

A copy of the complaint is available here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Let's clap for this cleanup!

A Juneau-based organization, the MCA Foundation, says it removed more than 400,000 pounds of debris from Alaska beaches this year — junk like lost fishing nets and water bottles.

The foundation also hauled off the wreck of the Ocean Clipper.

Read about it here.

Most Alaska groundfish catches to surge in 2011

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council this morning set the 2011 total allowable catch for pollock and other groundfish.

The limits are subject to final approval by the U.S. commerce secretary.

Here's a rundown of the major species, the catch limits and the percentage change from the 2010 limits.

Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands

Pollock — 1.25 million metric tons, up 54 percent
Pacific cod — 227,950 tons, up 35 percent
Yellowfin sole — 196,000 tons, down 10.5 percent
Atka mackerel — 53,080 tons, down 28 percent
Pacific Ocean perch — 24,700 tons, up 31 percent

Gulf of Alaska

Pollock — 96,215 tons, up 13.5 percent
Pacific cod — 65,100 tons, up 9 percent
Arrowtooth flounder — 43,000 tons, no change
Pacific Ocean perch — 16,997 tons, down 3 percent
Sablefish — 11,290 tons, up 9 percent

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Not exactly a stampede for commissioner's job

Only two people submitted applications by yesterday's deadline for the job of state fish and game commissioner: Cora Campbell and Ron Somerville.

Campbell, of course, is currently serving as acting commissioner.

Somerville is a former chairman of the Alaska Board of Game.

Under state law, it's now up to the fisheries and game boards, acting jointly, to send the governor a list of qualified persons to pick from.

For updates on that process, check here.

Gov. Sean Parnell already has said he wants Campbell as his commissioner.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

NMFS stands firm on fishery closures in Aleutians

The National Marine Fisheries Service is sticking to its guns on a range of fishery restrictions beginning next year in the Aleutians to conserve prey for endangered Steller sea lions.

Here's a press release with a helpful map at the bottom.

The news had industry players grumbling today at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in Anchorage. The speculation is that fishing companies, and perhaps the state of Alaska, will sue the feds over what some consider questionable closures of productive cod and Atka mackerel fishing grounds.

Others, however, applauded NMFS.

"By providing more food for sea lions in the western Aleutians, these measures should help stem the continued decline there," Oceana said in this press release.

Safe and sound

The bulk carrier Golden Seas arrived safely at Dutch Harbor on Tuesday after a 500-mile tow from the Bering Sea. The ship needed the assist after developing engine trouble near Adak Island. The yellow vessel is the tug Tor Viking II. USCG photo

Monday, December 6, 2010

UFA: We support Cora Campbell

United Fishermen of Alaska is backing Gov. Sean Parnell's somewhat controversial pick of Cora Campbell to head the Department of Fish and Game.

Here's the UFA press release:

Dec. 6, 2010

UFA endorses Cora Campbell for commissioner

United Fishermen of Alaska, representing 38 Alaska commercial fishing organizations, announced its support of Cora Campbell for Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. UFA highlighted Campbell's wide-ranging experience in the state and federal fisheries management processes. UFA members have worked with Campbell during her career as Fisheries Policy Analyst for Governors Parnell and Palin, and the members are keenly aware of the skills she has acquired in the Fish and Game policy and planning process during this period of time.

"Cora has impressed the UFA board with her presentations and public comments. She routinely displays a depth of knowledge of state and federal management processes, the importance of science-based management and the far-reaching effects of fish and game management on Alaska citizens. In addition, although she is well-grounded in commercial fisheries, she has extensive experience and knowledge in the federal subsistence management process," said UFA President Arni Thomson.

"We feel she is uniquely qualified with this broad perspective, and we support Governor Parnell in providing her the opportunity to lead the State's world-class, science-based management of our fish and game resources," Thomson said.

Steller rules, Gulf bycatch, harvest limits and more

We've got the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting all week here in Anchorage, and the agenda is packed.

Here's a rundown of the major items:

• The council likely will learn the federal government's final stance on fishery restrictions in the western Aleutians to conserve prey for endangered Steller sea lions.

• The council will hear a report on crab rationalization, five years after implementation.

• The council will discuss the recent high Chinook salmon bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska groundfish harvest. Halibut bycatch is on the agenda, too.

• Finally, the council will take care of one of its main yearly chores: setting catch limits for pollock, cod and other groundfish in the Bering Sea and the Gulf.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

To the rescue

Here's some nifty U.S. Coast Guard video of the disabled bulk carrier Golden Seas and the stud tugboat that's dragging the ship to Dutch Harbor.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Good news on the Golden Seas!

The U.S. Coast Guard and state officials just posted this update:

As of 8:20 PM, the Golden Seas is under tow at 5.5 knots and gaining speed and headed to Dutch Harbor.

Responders prepare to tow hobbled cargo ship

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

Dec. 4, 2010

Golden Seas, Tor Viking II expected to rendezvous today

ANCHORAGE — The Tor Viking II is about 50 miles from the motor vessel Golden Seas and is expected to rendezvous about 40 miles north of Atka Island around 6 p.m. and establish a tow.

The Golden Seas crew reported Friday severe weather had diminished allowing the vessel to utilize limited engine capability to maneuver northeast away from land.

Crews on the Tor Viking II, an oceangoing tug, will be using the emergency towing system (ETS), specifically designed to deploy to a disabled ship from the stern of a tugboat or airdropped to the ship's deck via helicopter. The Tor Viking II is scheduled to tow the vessel to Dutch Harbor.

Weather on scene has diminished to about 40 mph winds and 20-foot seas and is predicted to continue to weaken during the next 24 to 48 hours.

Coast Guard rescue helicopter crews remain in Dutch Harbor in case assistance is needed. An extra ETS is also available in Adak that can be delivered by helicopter. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley is still en route.

The 738-foot Golden Seas is carrying rapeseed used to make canola oil, 450,000 gallons of crude oil, 11,700 gallons of diesel fuel and 10,000 gallons of lube oil.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Another Golden Seas update

The bulk carrier Golden Seas in the Bering. USCG photo

The following U.S. Coast Guard update arrived at 7:25 p.m.

Dec. 3, 2010

Golden Seas gains limited power, assets still responding

ANCHORAGE — The crew of the 738-foot vessel Golden Seas reported on-scene weather has diminished temporarily, allowing the crew to utilize limited engine capability to maneuver northeast away from land.

The waves on scene have reportedly reduced from 29 feet to 20 feet. However, the vessel Tor Viking II remains en route to the Golden Seas and is expected on scene around noon tomorrow. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley is also en route and is expected to arrive sometime Sunday afternoon.

Two Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters and crews arrived today in Dutch Harbor and will continue to Adak to provide rescue capabilities if needed.

The crew of the Golden Seas reported an engine turbocharge failure to the Coast Guard at 4 a.m. today. This limited power and steerage. The ship's position was about 70 miles north of Adak, drifting southeast toward Atka Island.

The Golden Seas is carrying Canola seed from Vancouver, Canada, to the United Arab Emirates.

The Tor Viking II is a 251-foot towing vessel outfitted with four engines totaling 18,300 horsepower.

Golden Seas update

I just spoke with Coast Guard Petty Officer David Mosley, who tells me the seas have laid down enough to allow the cargo ship to make slow forward progress.

That’s a relief, but the Golden Seas is not out of the woods yet.

The turbocharger on the ship's engine remains inoperable, so the vessel is underpowered, Mosley says.

Lots of help continues steaming toward the Golden Seas, which will be escorted to Dutch Harbor.

Cargo ship adrift, threatens Aleutian Islands

A cargo ship laden with rapeseed for making canola oil is adrift without power in the Bering Sea some 44 miles northwest of Atka Island.

The problem sounds fairly dire. The crew of the 738-foot Golden Seas, seen in the photograph, reports the ship's engine can't be repaired at sea, says this Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation situation report issued at 4 p.m.

"The engine is able to turn the ship's propeller, but not with sufficient power for the vessel to hold its position or make headway," the report says. "The vessel is adrift and currently being driven by prevailing wind and seas toward the northwest shore of Atka Island at a speed of approximately 2.5 knots. Current projections have the ship making landfall there in approximately 14 hours."

The good news is two Shell Oil offshore work boats at Dutch Harbor, the Tor Viking II and the Nanuq, have been contracted to go get the cargo ship. But they're many miles away.

Of course, U.S. Coast Guard assets are responding, too.

More from Leader Creek

Here's a note Leader Creek Fisheries founder John Lowrance e-mailed yesterday to the company's Bristol Bay fishermen:

Dear Fishers,

Thank you for your support. As always, we would not be here without you. In recent years, large fish runs and increasing commodity prices for our products have given us all a pretty fine ride. Last year, you received $1.10 for well-handled reds, and this year you will receive a very nice increase over that. All these good things are the result of your continuous efforts to deliver better quality fish year after year, in combination with our commitment to keep pushing forward with quality initiatives, value-added products, and a first class production facility.

Leader Creek made a commitment to an all-refrigerated fleet, sockeye fillets, and a profit sharing relationship during the dark days following the $.40/pound 2001 season. It was a plan borne out of desperation. Prices for H&G in Japan had fallen to a level that would not support the processing/fishing industry as a whole. Fishers joined Leader Creek hoping that through hard work, a commitment to quality, the production of fillets, and the development of new markets in the United Sates, we could lift ourselves back into economic plenty. What you are doing on the water in terms of floating, bleeding, and sliding fish was unthinkable ten years ago. A plant producing 70% fillets was considered impossible. The idea of profit sharing with the fleet more often than not garnered the reaction: "are you crazy Lowrance" or my favorite, "he's ruining Bristol Bay". As you are all aware, the plan borne of desperation has worked out rather well for all of us, and in the process, we have changed Bristol Bay.

There is a price for all things, and you don't get to play the role I have without some cost. Our success has brought with it a huge financial and emotional commitment to running Leader Creek. More and more, I find it overwhelming.

I have decided to sell our stake in LCF in order to unload that financial commitment and risk. From amongst many potential buyers, we are lucky to have attracted the interest of the Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco) and the Jim Pattison Group (you can read more about them in the attached press release).

Canfisco has no desire to merge or blend or combine Leader Creek with any other entity. They want us as we are: an independent, well-run, profitable enterprise. There are no plans to change anything beyond our normal organic growth. The profit sharing relationship and deal will remain the same. I will be running the company through 2011, and if I like it, I will stay into the future.

My commitment to you is that the company you have dealt with in the past is the company you will see when you arrive in Bristol Bay in 2011. The deals will remain the same, and just like every other year, you will get pushed to produce even better quality fish.

Thank you again for all your cooperation and help over the years. This friendly, dynamic, symbiotic relationship we have is really the best part of it all. I am grateful to every one of you.

Sincerely, from a lucky guy (and gal)

John and Adele

P.S. The unsung heroes in all this are the 430 LCF employees, some of whom have been with us since the beginning. Without their continuous efforts, we would not have carried the ball this far. I am grateful to them as well.

Canfisco buys Bristol Bay processor Leader Creek

Here's the press release:

Dec. 1, 2010

Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco) Buys Leader Creek Fisheries

Canadian Fishing Company (Canfisco), a privately owned seafood company of Vancouver, Canada is purchasing Seattle-based Leader Creek Fisheries, Alaska's leading producer of wild sockeye salmon fillets.

Canfisco has agreed to purchase Leader Creek Fisheries for an undisclosed price. The deal is subject to the successful completion of due diligence before closing in December.

Leader Creek Fisheries' founder, John Lowrance, started the company in 1999 and pioneered the production of fillets using Bristol Bay sockeye salmon. The Leader Creek Fisheries fleet employs special onboard techniques to produce premium quality salmon to ensure the company's reputation as Bristol Bay's top producer of sockeye salmon fillets. Lowrance will continue to lead the company and ensure a successful transition of ownership.

Dan Nomura, President of Canadian Fishing Company, said "We are excited to become the proud owner of Leader Creek Fisheries. Leader Creek is a successful company and we intend to continue operating the business in the same manner that has resulted in the company's accomplishments. We will build on the company's history of continued growth and success."

Canadian Fishing Company also owns Seattle-based Alaska General Seafoods, a salmon and herring processor with plants in Naknek and Ketchikan.

Canadian Fishing Company, the largest Canadian producer of Pacific salmon and herring, is a vertically integrated seafood company headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia and is owned by the Jim Pattison Group of Vancouver, Canada, a privately held and diversified corporation with investments in a number of businesses.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Adak outlook changes completely

When last we visited the situation with the Adak Island processing plant, landlord Aleut Enterprise and tenant Adak Seafood reported they were trying to work out a settlement of their lease dispute.

Now it appears this has fallen apart. What's more, the Norwegian principal behind Adak Seafood apparently won't be operating the plant during the upcoming cod season.

How does Deckboss know this?

The details are in two very interesting documents filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage, where the landlord-tenant fight is playing out.

The first document is this status report to the court. Interestingly, Aleut Enterprise filed this jointly with Independence Bank, which has millions of dollars in outstanding loans at stake and had been an Adak Seafood supporter.

The second document is an e-mail from Asbjorn Drevik of Norway informing Aleut Enterprise that he has been unable to raise the money to operate at Adak.

Well now.

The big questions at this point would seem to be: Who will run the Adak fish plant? And can it be readied in time for the fishing season?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

For your convenience

Here's the full slate of recommended 2011 catch limits, by regulatory area, from the scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Limits are expressed in millions of pounds.

Regulatory area2010 catch limits2011 staff limits% change

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Halibut hit hard again

The scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission today recommended catch limits for the 2011 season, and the numbers are seriously ugly.

Coastwide, the staff is recommending a 19 percent cut to 41.02 million pounds.

For Southcentral Alaska (Area 3A), the staff is calling for a 28 percent cut to 14.36 million pounds.

For Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), the staff is recommending a fearsome 47 percent cut to 2.33 million pounds.


The commission meets in January in Victoria, British Columbia, to consider the recommendations.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sarah and sockeye

Tonight on the TLC channel, "Sarah Palin's Alaska" will feature the family's salmon setnet operation on Bristol Bay. Here's a preview.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Crab rationalization, five years in

The staff of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has released a new report titled "Five-Year Review of the Crab Rationalization Management Program for Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Crab Fisheries."

Find the document plus a couple of important appendices on the council's website.

One appendix is a "social impact assessment" of crab rationalization, while the other analyzes the "safety performance" of the program.

Altogether, we have nearly 600 pages of reading here. The perfect pastime for a long Thanksgiving weekend!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It's Cora Campbell's job for now

Gov. Sean Parnell this morning named some new cabinet members and retained some others.

Most significantly for fishing folk, he named Cora Campbell his acting commissioner of fish and game.

Here's the press statement from the governor's office:

Cora Campbell has been named acting Fish and Game commissioner. She currently serves as fisheries policy advisor and special assistant to Governor Sean Parnell with responsibilities for fisheries, game, environmental conservation, natural resources, and Arctic policy issues. She has served as the governor's representative to various boards and committees, including the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Board of Directors. Campbell has served as executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and was an advisory panel member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the North Pacific Research Board.

Campbell received a bachelor's degree in education from Pacific Lutheran University. A lifelong Alaskan, Campbell grew up in Petersburg, where she spent her early years working in the seafood industry.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Who wants to be commissioner?

Newly re-elected Gov. Sean Parnell, you might have heard, is replacing a number of his cabinet members, including his fish and game commissioner.

The governor can't simply hire a new commissioner directly.

Rather, the laws says he "shall appoint the commissioner of fish and game from a list of qualified persons nominated by the Board of Fisheries and the Board of Game meeting in joint session, subject to the right of the governor to request additional nominations."

The commissioner's job is being advertised in large Alaska newspapers, and the deadline to apply is Dec. 8. This website has more details.

I checked late last week with Jim Marcotte in the Boards Support office on whether anybody had applied.

Nope, not yet, he told me.

The joint board meeting will happen in December or early January, Marcotte said.

The speculation probably will get pretty thick in the coming days.

Never one to miss out on the fun, Deckboss can report he's heard three potential candidates: John Garner, an executive with Trident Seafoods Corp.; McKie Campbell, a former fish and game commissioner and now congressional energy staffer under Sen. Lisa Murkowski; and Cora Campbell, fisheries policy adviser to Parnell.

My apologies to all three for dropping their names!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Norton Sound Seafood House to make its debut

Nome cooking on Concourse C.

Now this sounds tasty. A grand opening ceremony for the new Norton Sound Seafood House at the Anchorage airport is set for 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.

The Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., one of Alaska's Community Development Quota fishing companies, is partnering on the themed restaurant with HMSHost, a global shopping and dining concessionaire with a contract at the airport.

The eatery is expected to offer items such as halibut po' boys and king crab cakes. But we'll see for sure once the place opens.

The airport location is a marketing coup for Norton Sound, which harvests a share of Bering Sea fish and crab for the benefit of a group of villages in the Nome area.

"The Norton Sound Seafood House is a showcase of the fisheries, resources and the small-boat fishermen of remote Northwest Alaska," says a press release sent out last week.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Major Exxon Valdez payout to begin this month; check the list to see how much money you'll get

A federal judge has approved the start of what has been described as the final distribution of money from the Exxon Valdez case.

About $100 million will be paid to thousands of commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs in the case, with direct deposits to start by the end of this month and check mailings to begin by mid-December, says the Seattle law firm handling the Exxon Valdez money. The payout is expected to take several weeks.

This is the latest round of payments in what has been a lengthy process to dispense roughly $1 billion in winnings and interest generated through the civil suit brought after the 1989 oil spill.

This final distribution almost completes the process, though for various reasons it will take months or even years longer to dispose of the last dollar.

Here is the 895-page list showing how much each claimant can expect to receive in the coming weeks, before deduction of attorney fees.

Deckboss also recommends reading federal Judge H. Russel Holland's order approving the final distribution.

The judge tells a couple of persistent claimants still fighting to grab millions from the pool to just shut up and go away.

He also explains an unfortunate but apparently unavoidable situation in which some cannery workers won't get as much Exxon Valdez money as they should have, while others were overpaid.

Plenty of herring available at Togiak in 2011

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today forecast a potential harvest of 24,805 tons of herring in next spring's Togiak sac roe fishery.

That would be close to the 25,432 tons that purse seiners and gillnetters took this past spring.

The herring are valued for their eggs, or roe, marketed almost entirely in Japan.

State predicts 28.5 million Bristol Bay sockeye

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today issued its 2011 forecast for Bristol Bay, and state biologists predict a commercial catch of 28.5 million sockeye salmon.

That's close to 1 million fish more than what the University of Washington Fisheries Research Institute predicted this week.

If either outlook holds true, it should be another fine season for fishermen and processors involved in the world's top sockeye fishery.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Big Bristol Bay sockeye catch forecast for 2011

Look for a potential harvest of 27.7 million sockeye salmon next year at Bristol Bay.

That's the forecast fresh out from the University of Washington Fisheries Research Institute.

If the prediction holds true, it would approach this past season's excellent catch of 28.6 million sockeye.

We should see the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's forecast any day now.

Deckboss tips his hat to the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association for sharing the FRI forecast.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A 56 percent hike in Bering Sea pollock catch?

Going on sale next year. Deckboss photo

The National Marine Fisheries Service has posted its draft assessment of the eastern Bering Sea pollock stock, and it indicates we could see a big increase in the commercial catch limit for 2011.

Scientists recommend an "acceptable biological catch" of 1.267 million metric tons. They project a 2012 ABC of 1.595 million tons.

Regulators often set the annual commercial harvest limit — what's known as the total allowable catch — at the same level as the ABC.

For this year, the ABC and the TAC were identical at 813,000 tons.

So, a TAC of 1.267 million tons for next year would be a nearly 56 percent increase!

How can this be?

Well, among other factors, the scientists say their at-sea surveys this year yielded better than expected pollock biomass estimates. See page 2 of the draft assessment for a quick summary.

This news is bound to relieve the pollock industry, which has lived with poor catch limits the past three years.

But critics of how the pollock fishery is managed likely will be alarmed at the prospect of a larger commercial catch.

Pollock is the largest U.S. fishery by weight, and one of the most lucrative. The lanky bottom fish are used for a variety of familiar products such as fish sticks, the McDonald's Filet-O-Fish sandwich and imitation crab meat.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes next month in Anchorage to consider the data and recommend a 2011 pollock TAC to the commerce secretary, who has final say.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

A truce at Adak

The dispute between Adak Seafood LLC and its reluctant landlord, Aleut Enterprise LLC, appears to be sailing toward resolution.

Lawyers on Monday filed this notice in federal court in Anchorage saying the parties "have reached an agreement in principle to settle" the case.

You'll recall that Aleut went to court back in January to evict Adak Seafood over a lease dispute.

Presumably, the settlement will allow Adak Seafood to stay in the Adak Island fish plant and operate during the upcoming cod season.

The parties pledge to file a progress report within three weeks on their negotiations to finalize the deal.

Injured man airlifted off Bering Sea boat

Coast Guard comes to aid of Cape Reliant. USCG photo

A rescue helicopter today airlifted an injured crewman off the fishing vessel Cape Reliant some 55 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor, the U.S. Coast Guard reported this evening.

Tom Webster, 26, was reported to have suffered head injuries aboard the 58-foot boat, the Coast Guard said.

The cutter Alex Haley was in the area and sent over a medical team to tend to Webster pending the helicopter medevac at 4:25 p.m.

Webster later was flown from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage for treatment. A Coast Guard press release offered nothing more on his condition.

The Cape Reliant is a Petersburg-based boat.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Fallen Fish and Game employees remembered

Here's noteworthy news from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. A bit more about the persons listed below can be found here.

Nov. 8, 2010

Department of Fish and Game dedicates memorial plaque

JUNEAU — Today Gov. Sean Parnell and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd dedicated a memorial plaque in honor of department employees who lost their lives studying, protecting and managing Alaska's fish and game resources.

More than 100 employees, friends and family of those honored gathered at Fish and Game's Anchorage office for the dedication.

"We remain indebted to all those who are here memorialized," Lloyd said. "We owe to each of them our gratitude and I am pleased today to be able to help make good on that debt with this commemorative plaque. Thank you all, and may you never be forgotten."

Matching memorial plaques are located in Fish and Game offices in Fairbanks, Anchorage, Juneau and Douglas. The memorial commemorates the following:

Lee Larson, 1959Peter Winslow, 1969
Ralph Reischl, 1960James A. Erickson, 1970
Doyle E. Cisney, 1961Kim S. Bussell, 1971
Lloyd T. Lewis, 1962John David Solf, 1974
Lester E. Varozza, 1962Jonathan Ward, 1975
Lloyd H. Stebbins, 1963Spencer A. Linderman, 1975
Robert E. Lawler, 1963Jack D. Geil, 1981
LeRoy G. Bohuslov, 1964Hugh T. O’Neill, 1982
Gary G. Wohlfeil, 1964Ruth Southern, 1987
Edwin F. Strong, 1965Kenneth M. Friedrich, 1989
Arthur E. Bratlie, 1968Shelli D. Clay, 1990
John J. Frank, 1968Valerie Chabot, 1994
Rex Thomas, 1969Randall H. Kacyon, 1996

Best salmon tally in 18 years

This year's commercial salmon harvest generated a preliminary dockside value of $533.9 million, the best since 1992, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today.

The happy total comes on the strength of high market demand for Bristol Bay's huge sockeye harvest, plus a record catch of pink salmon in Prince William Sound.

Here's a press release with more details.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Some election afterthoughts

Another election in the can. Deckboss photo

While we wait for state officials to tally all those write-in and absentee ballots from Alaska's oddball U.S. Senate race, here are a few election notes you might have missed:

• State Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, bagged 2,227 votes or nearly 67 percent of the total to crush Democratic challenger Terry Haines, who received 1,099 votes or 33 percent. Austerman, you might recall, was state fisheries adviser to former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Haines is a commercial fisherman and former Kodiak City Council member.

• Staying on Kodiak, looks like some major construction is coming thanks to passage of Proposition B, which asked Alaska voters whether the state should issue $397 million in bonds for a bunch of educational projects. The project list includes a new $20 million Department of Fish and Game research facility on Kodiak's Near Island.

• In Washington state, U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, a Democrat, narrowly won election to a fourth term, turning back Republican businessman Dino Rossi. Like Alaska's Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Murray drew hefty campaign contributions from top fishing industry players in Seattle.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Adak electric consumers, prepare for a shock

Goodness knows Deckboss has posted plenty of gnarly news out of Adak Island over the past couple of years.

Now here's more: The local electric utility, TDX Adak Generating, is asking state regulators to approve a 136 percent rate increase for all residential and commercial customers.

Here's the letter to the Regulatory Commission of Alaska spelling out the reasons for the steep rate hike.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Alaska's big three incumbents look like winners

Murkowski, right, sitting pretty election night. Deckboss photo

Alaska's incumbent Gov. Sean Parnell and longtime Congressman Don Young, both Republicans, cruised to apparent victory Tuesday night.

The numbers also looked favorable for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was forced to run as a write-in candidate after losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller.

With nearly 99 percent of precincts reporting, the write-in votes stood at 81,876 or 41 percent of the total, compared to 68,288 or 34.2 percent for Miller and 47,414 or 23.7 percent for Democrat Scott McAdams.

Barring a reversal of fortune, or a successful legal challenge from Miller, Murkowski appears to have pulled off the very rare feat of winning a Senate seat as a write-in.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Southeast to see 'excellent' pink haul next year

The Department of Fish and Game is forecasting an "excellent" catch of 55 million pink salmon in 2011 in Southeast Alaska.

A harvest of that size would be well above the recent 10-year average of 40 million pink salmon, the department says.

Southeast produced a ho-hum catch of 23.4 million pinks this year.

Click here for more details on the forecast.

Hot year for halibut

Alaska's halibut fishery closes at noon Nov. 15, and longliners already have caught 97 percent of the 40.3 million pounds of individual fishing quotas issued when the season opened back on March 6.

So how's it gone this year in terms of prices?

In a word, hot.

The Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners' Association, in the November issue of its newsletter "The Wheel Watch," reports that prices "have reached record highs even with the North American recession."

Association boats landing halibut recently in Seward received $6.40 per pound for the biggest and most valuable fish — those weighing 40 pounds or more. Smaller fish brought between $5.90 and $6.15.

Relatively low inventories plus the prospect of further quota cuts in 2011 likely will buoy the value of fish in cold storage, the newsletter says.

The good news, however, comes with the worry that halibut is pricing itself out of the market.

"There have been several major grocery stores that have taken halibut out of their stores this fall due to the high prices," the newsletter says. Retail prices in Seattle are reported at $18 a pound and up.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fuglvog: I'm loyal to Lisa

Here's an open letter to the Alaska seafood industry from Arne Fuglvog, a former commercial fisherman and aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who's mounting a write-in bid for re-election. Fuglvog didn't send this to Deckboss; a reader did.

Oct. 28, 2010

Members of the fishing industry,

There are lots of rumours flying during election season, but one that I feel compelled to respond to, is whether I would take a job with Joe Miller or Scott McAdams, if either one is successful in winning the upcoming election.

I have been extremely honored to work for Lisa Murkowski for the past four years. She took a chance on me, when she did not know if I could do the job. She has been such a pleasure to work for and I have the utmost respect for her. Her tremendous support of the fishing industry, our fishing families and coastal communities is unquestionable. I have watched her assume the mantle of Ted Stevens in being the go-to Senator on Alaskan fishing issues.

I did not know Lisa Murkowski when I took the job in DC. I had a very good sense of who I thought she was, but during the four years of working for her, I have truly grown to respect and admire her. I would not work for any other Senator in Washington DC. It is such a personal job and you have to trust and believe in the person you are working for. You don't have to agree with everything that they do or believe in, but you must believe in their honesty, integrity and motives. There is not one question in my mind about Lisa Murkowski's honesty, integrity and willingness to do absolutely everything she can to help Alaska and her constituents.

So, to put this one to bed, I would ONLY work for Senator Lisa Murkowski in Washington DC. Period.


Arne Fuglvog

ASMI hires a new spokesman

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has appointed Tyson Fick as its new communications director.

He replaces Laura Fleming, who moved on recently after 12 years with the state agency.

Fick is a lifelong Alaskan with a marketing degree from Washington State University, an ASMI press release says. He's been a small business owner, a legislative staffer, a chef and a flight dispatcher. Most recently, he served as legislative liaison for the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

At ASMI, Fick will manage communications with the Alaska seafood industry, policymakers, the media and the public.

He starts work Nov. 16.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hilsinger, commercial fish director, retiring Dec. 1

John Hilsinger, state commercial fisheries director, will retire Dec. 1, an Alaska Department of Fish and Game spokeswoman confirms.

That is the same date Hilsinger's boss, Commissioner Denby Lloyd, plans to step down, as previously reported.

News of this second departure highlights a big problem Hilsinger himself has addressed — the struggle to attract and retain top biologists and other staff in the Division of Commercial Fisheries.

You'll recall we reported just last week that the state's crab manager at Dutch Harbor, Forrest Bowers, is leaving for a new job with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau.

Lloyd appointed Hilsinger to the position of commercial fisheries director on Feb. 18, 2007.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Russia's pursuit ... death at sea ... shark parts

U.S. Coast Guard officers recently briefed the North Pacific Fishery Management Council on a wide range of response and enforcement activity, and Deckboss was there to hear it.

Here's a rundown:

• Quite a dramatic episode occurred this summer in the vicinity of the Donut Hole, the international waters at the center of the Bering Sea. It began when the Cambodian-flagged Asadara, described as a "fishing support vessel," was sighted in the Russian exclusive economic zone. The Asadara immediately fled toward the Donut Hole with a Russian patrol vessel in pursuit. The Russians asked for help from the Coast Guard, which sent a C-130 aircraft to report the ship's position. After warning shots from the Russians, the Asadara stopped and was boarded and seized on June 10 for escort to Russia.

• Coast Guard officers disclosed the deaths this summer of two crewmen aboard Bering Sea fishing vessels. On Aug. 18, the Coast Guard in Kodiak received a report that a 39-year-old male "was found not breathing and foaming at the mouth in his bunk" on the trawler American No. 1, at sea 90 miles east of Dutch Harbor. Efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, and the vessel steamed to Dutch Harbor to turn the body over to the Alaska State Troopers. The man's name was not disclosed. In another case, the Coast Guard received a call on Sept. 7 from the captain of the longliner Siberian Sea, 38 miles west of St. Paul Island. A 32-year-old crewman "was found unconscious and unresponsive in the fish hold." His mates tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but to no avail. Again, the Coast Guard didn't identify the deceased.

• Two boats netted serious trouble after Coast Guard boardings in June. In Southeast Alaska waters, a boarding party on June 19 found "multiple fishery and safety violations" aboard the halibut boat Godfather. Federal authorities seized the catch. On June 25 in Area 610 in the western Gulf of Alaska, the Coast Guard noted "retention of shark tail without the carcass" aboard the Capt'n Andrew.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Alaska bacalhau para o Brasil?

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is looking for a contractor to study the feasibility of forming a marketing program in Brazil.

Among other things, the contractor would determine how Alaska seafood products stack up against the competition in Brazil; analyze potential for expansion of the bacalhau (codfish) market; determine how much Alaska cod is processed in countries such as Norway and Portugal for re-export to Brazil; evaluate tariffs and other trade barriers; report the Brazilian cities and regions with the highest seafood consumption; and estimate the cost of an effective Brazil marketing program and the potential benefit to Alaska industry.

The contract is for up to $20,000, and all work must be completed by April 1 of next year, says this request for proposals.

Hmm, Deckboss is thinking he might go for this gig if he can score a trip to Rio!

Seriously, targeting the Brazilian market sounds like a smart move.

"With its estimated 201 million inhabitants, Brazil has the largest population in Latin America and ranks fifth in the world," says this U.S. State Department background note.

Brazilians increased their average annual fish consumption by 40 percent between 2003 and 2009, from 14.2 pounds to 19.9 pounds, said a recent study from Brazil's Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture.

ASMI, a state agency, already is an avid marketer in Europe, Japan and China.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Wrangell packer to pay $96,332 pollution penalty

The fish processor cited in the press release below is a division of Pacific Seafood Group of Clackamas, Ore.

Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation

Oct. 22, 2010

State reaches settlement agreement with Sea Level Seafoods LLC

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation today announces it reached an agreement with Sea Level Seafoods LLC to address numerous wastewater permit violations at its Wrangell facility. The company agreed to pay $96,332 to settle violations.

Sea Level Seafoods discharged crab and seafood processing wastewater and waste into marine waters at its Wrangell facility for many years without a federal or state permit authorizing the discharge. The discharges could have been authorized under a general permit that would have included specific discharge limits, and treatment, monitoring and reporting requirements.

DEC considers the violations serious because without the sort of monitoring and reporting required by a permit, it is difficult for the state to determine if a facility is complying with laws that protect water quality.

“Alaska’s regulatory system to protect water quality largely depends on having good permits in place and monitoring compliance with the permits,” said Lynn Kent, director of the Division of Water. “Long-running compliance issues like these are a grave concern to us. Penalties help create a level playing field by ensuring that violators do not obtain an unfair economic advantage over competitors who have obtained and complied with a discharge permit.”

Sea Level Seafoods cooperated with the Alaska Department of Law and voluntarily entered into the settlement agreement.

Murkowski bags another fish endorsement

The Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association endorses the re-election bid of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Be sure to check the end of the endorsement for some interesting economic data on the Community Development Quota program.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Crab bits

The lucrative Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab fisheries opened at noon Friday. Get your drawn butter ready.

Here are a few notes to mark the season start:

• It's been five years since the crab fisheries were "rationalized." That is, since the quotas were sliced into individual shares for fishermen and processors. That took a lot of the fight out of the fisheries. Another effect was the drastic consolidation of the fleet; once the race for crab ended, the need for so many boats evaporated overnight. Here's the trend: 101 vessels fished in the first year of rationalization, 91 in the second year, 87 in the third, 88 in the fourth and 78 in the fifth. For this season, 63 crab boats had registered to fish as of opening day. That's a far cry from the 250-plus boats that used to go after the top prize, Bristol Bay red king crab, prior to rationalization.

• The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is losing its longtime crab fishery manager at Dutch Harbor. Forrest Bowers is leaving at the end of the year to take a new position with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau. Thanks, Forrest, for all your help over the years.

• Finally, although the crab fisheries are tamer than they used to be and nowhere near as deadly, what would a new crab season be without a TV film crew to stir things up? From the Unalaska police blotter:

Disorderly conduct, Oct. 14 — Drunken crew members of two vessels from the quasi-reality show "Deadliest Catch" squared off against each other in the lobby of the Grand Aleutian hotel. Those interviewed claimed "bad blood" between the two vessels had instigated the altercation.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

PVOA likes Republican incumbents

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association favors U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, U.S. Rep. Don Young and Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell in the Nov. 2 election.

Here are the written endorsements: Murkowski, Young, Parnell.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Here are the Exxon Valdez payment lists!

As Deckboss reported over the weekend, the administrator of the Exxon Valdez lawsuit winnings is preparing to make a large "final distribution."

Depending on the outcome of certain remaining issues in court, the administrator intends to pay claims according to one of these three very long lists:

Scenario 1 list
Scenario 2 list
Scenario 3 list

Click on each list to find your name and the possible amount of money you can expect, before deduction of attorney fees.

For more information, click here.

Friday, October 15, 2010

$100 million 'final distribution' nears in Exxon case

After nearly two years of handing out winnings from the Exxon Valdez oil spill case, the court-appointed administrator of the process is now talking about a "final distribution."

Lynn Sarko lays out the plan in this 15-page declaration.

Unless you're just itching to decipher this complex document yourself, let me give you some highlights:

• The final distribution will be big, more than $128 million.

• As in past rounds, this distribution will go out in stages. Fishermen and other plaintiffs with no holds on their claims will get their money first. The initial release will be around $100 million.

• Payments could come in December, but January is more likely.

• People in almost claim categories will share in the final distribution.

• Sarko, the administrator, reckons it'll take until 2014 to fully wrap up this case. That is, for example, to deal with claims that have multiple liens against them, to work out disputes among fishing partners over how to divide a claim, or to handle instances of bad addresses or checks never cashed.

• Any "residual funds" will be distributed by year-end 2013.

One final note: Lists for the final distribution showing the amount each claimant is due (before deduction of attorney fees) have been filed in federal court in Anchorage. Normally I would post these lists, but this time Deckboss can't afford the considerable cost to download them from the Pacer court records database. I'll get them somehow.

Anyway, looks like the end of the Exxon Valdez ordeal is finally on the horizon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Council amends Tanner crab bycatch plan

After passing a plan Sunday to reduce Tanner crab bycatch in the groundfish fisheries off Kodiak, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council took up the matter again the following day and made some amendments.

Here's the final motion the council passed.

Fisheries loan office folded into new state agency

The state Division of Investments, cited in the following press release from Gov. Sean Parnell, is heavily involved in making loans to Alaska fishermen for permits, quota shares, vessels and gear. The division also has made substantial loans for hatcheries.

Oct. 12, 2010

Governor signs order creating Division of Economic Development

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today issued an administrative order to combine the Division of Investments and the Office of Economic Development into a new Division of Economic Development within the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development (DCCED).

The merger will reduce duplicative functions in state government while bringing department front-line staff and leadership together to focus on economic strategies. It will create a “one-stop shop” that can provide an existing or new Alaska business with financing, marketing and general assistance.

“This consolidation will aggressively re-assert the state’s leadership in creating a business-friendly climate necessary for responsible, sustainable development,” Parnell said. “By combining Investments and the Office of Economic Development, we will decrease red tape for the private sector.”

To help identify economic development opportunities and reduce barriers, DCCED also recently formed an Economic Advisory Council consisting of industry leaders from around the state.

“These changes help us better serve the business community and more effectively promote economic development in Alaska,” said DCCED Commissioner Susan Bell. “We look forward to partnering with the private sector in pursuit of a better future for Alaskans.”

The administrative order takes effect immediately. The new Division of Economic Development will be managed by Division Director Wanetta Ayers and will operate from state offices in Anchorage, Fairbanks and Juneau.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Semper paratus

A chopper from the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Sherman conducts a rescue drill with a dummy yesterday at Dutch Harbor. The training is for Friday's start of the Bering Sea crab season. Jim Paulin photo

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Trawlers win!

That's right, trawlers win. But Kodiak crab stocks might be winners, too.

That's my assessment of today's action at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting in downtown Anchorage.

On a 9-2 vote, the council passed a plan to minimize the bycatch of bairdi Tanner crabs off the east coast of Kodiak Island.

The council considered simply closing large blocks of water to trawlers, particularly those using bottom-dragging nets that can accidentally catch and kill crab while in pursuit of groundfish.

But for the most part, the trawlers escaped that fate. Instead, the council gave the trawlers a way to keep fishing in most of waters proposed for closure. They can do this by modifying their trawl gear to have less impact on crabs.

These "trawl sweep modifications" reportedly have worked to reduce crab bycatch mortality in the Bering Sea.

Kodiak's trawl fleet as well as the island's major processors all pushed for the modified gear approach, rather than simply booting boats out of crabby areas.

Here's how council members voted on the final motion:

Voting yes
Jim Balsiger, Dave Benson, Cora Campbell, Sam Cotten, John Henderschedt, Dan Hull, Roy Hyder, Eric Olson (chairman), Bill Tweit

Voting no
Ed Dersham, Duncan Fields

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Council passes observer restructuring plan

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council yesterday voted 11-0 for an overhaul of the observer program.

This makes big changes in how observers are deployed. And it requires new classes of fishing boats including halibut longliners to sometimes carry observers, who log the makeup of the catch.

The overhaul also includes a new way to pay for observers — a fee amounting to 1.25 percent of the dockside or ex-vessel value of commercial catches.

As I understand it, the fee will apply uniformly to all fishing vessels covered under the restructured observer program. The council had considered a higher fee for some fleets and a lower fee for others.

Factory trawlers and other large vessels now required to carry one or more observers 100 percent of the time won't pay the fee. They will continue with the existing system, paying directly for observers as needed.

Remember, council decisions are recommendations. The final say belongs to the U.S. commerce secretary.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

UFA likes Parnell for a full four

Here's a press release from the Parnell campaign:

Oct. 7, 2010

United Fishermen of Alaska backs Parnell

ANCHORAGE — Alaska's gubernatorial contest frontrunner Sean Parnell today announced the endorsement of United Fishermen of Alaska, the largest fishing organization in the United States with 38 member organizations that participate in every commercial fishery in nearly every region of the state. Fisheries include salmon, crab, halibut, pollock, Pacific cod and many other species.

Alaska's commercial fishing industry is the largest private employer in the state generating annual revenue in excess of $3 billion.

Today's endorsement comes a day after Parnell met with UFA members and reaffirmed his strong commitment to defend Alaska's fisheries against unreasonable federal management policies. Parnell also addressed many of the statewide issues impacting fishermen in Alaska in that meeting. Gov. Parnell stood up for Alaska's fisheries several times over the past year, fighting federal Steller sea lion regulation, fighting genetically engineered salmon marketing, and funding more marketing for Alaska's seafood.

"I'm glad for the opportunity to stand with Alaska's fishermen," Parnell said. "Their hard work creates a livelihood for families throughout Alaska. I'm humbled by their support."

Hi, I'm running for public office. Write me a check?

Hanging around a North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting, it's not unusual to see lawyers and lobbyists for seafood companies, crewman right off the docks in their Xtratufs, and even a few millionaire fishermen and processors.

Politicians know this, and come election time they're hanging around fishing for campaign cash.

Take this evening for example. From 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., Gov. Sean Parnell and Mead Treadwell, who's running for lieutenant governor, are holding a "Let's talk Alaska fisheries fundraiser" in the Crow's Nest at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, where the council is meeting this week. I found a stack of postcards hawking the event on a table in the back of the council meeting room.

The Parnell-Treadwell campaign faces competition for fish funds, as U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., is holding his own "very special Alaska fundraising reception" during the same timeframe at the Orso restaurant just up the street. A flier lists some well-known fish lobbyists and lawyers as, I don't know, sponsors I guess.

Seeing as how he has very little money and doesn't care who wins, Deckboss reckons he'll skip both fundraisers.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

NMFS stands firm on Steller closures

Officials with the National Marine Fisheries Service today rejected, for the most part, pleas to scale back planned fishery closures in the Aleutian chain to protect the endangered Steller sea lion.

The news came in a packed and anxious room at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, where the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting this week.

The council in August sent NMFS a less severe alternative to the closures the agency says are necessary to avoid jeopardizing the Stellers, which feed on the same cod and Atka mackerel that commercial fishermen chase.

Doug DeMaster, science and research director for NMFS in Seattle, today told the council the planned closures probably can be reduced slightly in one section of the Aleutians — area 542.

But for the most part, NMFS said no to the council's alternative. Most significantly, fishing for cod and Atka mackerel will be forbidden entirely in area 543, at the western end of the Aleutian chain.

The restrictions are expected to take effect Jan. 1.

The NMFS decision pretty much seals a multimillion-dollar loss of fishing opportunity for the commercial fleet.

Naturally, consternation was written on the faces of the many industry players in the room. And some council members weren't too happy, either.

Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak told DeMaster it seemed to him that NMFS had given the council's alternative "short shrift."

Cora Campbell, representing the state of Alaska on the council, said NMFS was basing the closures on "really scanty data."

DeMaster's major argument was that the "prey field," the amount of fish available for foraging sea lions, is projected to expand greatly under the NMFS plan but only a little under the council alternative.

He said the council alternative simply wasn't adequate to avoid jeopardizing Steller sea lions, the numbers of which have been declining markedly in the western Aleutians while generally rising elsewhere in Alaska.

DeMaster conceded, however, that not enough is known about what the region's sea lions actually eat throughout the year, and how they hunt for food.

Not everyone is unhappy with NMFS. Many people sent comments supporting the planned fishery closures.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

What in the world?

Now here's something you don't see every day — a yellow halibut.

The crew of the fishing vessel Atka Pride caught the fish in mid-September near Atka in the Aleutian chain.

That's skipper Don Malcolm below holding the curious catch.

Photos of the fish were sent to the International Pacific Halibut Commission and the Smithsonian, says Joe Kyle, chief operating officer with the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association.

APICDA, one of Alaska's Community Development Quota organizations, owns and operates the Atka Pride through a subsidiary.

Thanks, Joe, for sharing the pictures of this bumblebee halibut!

Monday, October 4, 2010

UFA still likes Murkowski

United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's top commercial fishing trade group, has again endorsed the re-election bid of Republican U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

UFA initially backed Murkowski prior to her primary loss to Joe Miller.

Council faces three big issues this week

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets this week at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, and the agenda is pretty heavy.

Here's a quick rundown:

Observer reform: The council is poised to take final action on a plan to restructure the observer program. Observers, of course, are those young biologists who ride along on commercial fishing boats to collect important data on what's caught, kept and tossed. Depending on what options the council chooses, program restructuring could mean two new classes of boats — halibut boats and groundfish boats under 60 feet long — will have to start carrying an observer part of the time. And vessel owners in most if not all Alaska fleets could face a fee of up to 2 percent of the dockside value of their catches to cover the cost of observers.

Kodiak crab protection: The council also is expected to take final action on restricting some areas off the east coast of Kodiak Island to protect bairdi Tanner crab stocks. The council could ban trawl and pot boats from the areas seasonally or year-round, or require them to carry observers more often to keep fishing there. As steady Deckboss visitors know, the killing or maiming of crab while in pursuit of groundfish is a touchy subject.

Steller sea lion verdict: With much anticipation, I'm sure, council members will hear the final word from the National Marine Fisheries Service on just how restrictive the western Aleutians cod and Atka mackerel fisheries are going to be come next year. As you'll recall, NMFS proposed extensive commercial fishing closures along the chain to protect the endangered Steller sea lion. The council at its August meeting suggested ways to reduce the closures. It'll be fascinating to see if NMFS bends a little. Either way, we could see litigation bust out over this one.

Farewell: A reception is planned for Friday evening to say so long to Denby Lloyd, who is retiring Dec. 1 as Alaska's fish and game commissioner and thus a member of the council.

Here's the agenda with all the times, dates and places for the council meeting and side gatherings.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bering Sea crab quotas announced

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today announced catch limits for the Bering Sea crab fisheries opening Oct. 15:

Bristol Bay red king crab: 14.8 million pounds, down 7.5 percent from last season.

Bering Sea snow crab: 54.3 million pounds, up 13 percent from last season.

Bering Sea bairdi Tanner crab: Fishery closed due to low mature female biomass. Last season's quota was 1.35 million pounds.

St. Matthew Island blue king crab: 1.6 million pounds, up 37 percent from last season.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Alaska Sea Grant looks to enliven shellfish farming

Alaska Sea Grant says it wants to "reinvigorate the state’s sluggish shellfish farming industry."

In 2010, some 67 shellfish farms held licenses to operate in Alaska, primarily in Kachemak Bay, Prince William Sound and Southeast, Sea Grant said in a recent press release. But only 25 farms regularly supply shellfish to the seafood market.

"Moreover, the farms produce only about 10 percent of their capacity," Sea Grant said. "Total shellfish production has been level for the past five years, averaging about $500,000 in total sales each year."

Ray RaLonde, an aquaculture specialist, hopes to liven up the industry using a two-year, $284,000 grant from the national and Alaska Sea Grant programs.

“Shellfish farming has great business potential for coastal Alaskans, and this grant will allow us to work with communities and individuals to open new areas to shellfish farming,” said RaLonde, with the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.

RaLonde will work with colleagues Quentin Fong, MAP marketing specialist; Gary Freitag, Ketchikan MAP agent; Glenn Haight, MAP business specialist; and Deborah Mercy, MAP instructional media specialist.
They'll conduct shellfish farming instruction, helping the Alaskan Shellfish Growers Association develop a best practices manual and assisting communities with aquaculture plans.
One goal is to identify four new aquaculture zones that could accommodate 20 farm sites, Sea Grant said.
RaLonde said the grant covers a range of other activities: training high school students and new farmers; economics research; business support and technology transfer for existing farmers; and infrastructure assessment for communities interested in aquaculture.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hatchery operator fishes for goodwill

Deckboss has reported previously on the controversy swirling around the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp., the Cordova-based operator of some of the world's largest salmon hatcheries.

As embattled organizations often do, PWSAC employs an economic consultant and a public relations firm to tout its successes.

Click here to see a summary of a new McDowell Group economic impact study.

Democrat McAdams goes to sea with first TV spot

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

EPA plans to take a bite out of mercury

Here's some good news for fish from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

Sept. 27, 2010

EPA will propose rule to reduce mercury from dental offices

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today announced it intends to propose a rule to reduce mercury waste from dental offices.

Dental amalgams, or fillings containing mercury, account for 3.7 tons of mercury discharged from dental offices each year. The mercury waste results when old mercury fillings are replaced with new ones.

The mercury in dental fillings is flushed into chairside drains and enters the wastewater systems, making its way into the environment through discharges to rivers and lakes, incineration or land application of sewage sludge.

Mercury released through amalgam discharges can be easily managed and prevented.

EPA expects to propose a rule next year and finalize it in 2012. Dental offices will be able to use existing technology to meet the proposed requirements. Amalgam separators can separate out 95 percent of the mercury normally discharged to the local waste treatment plant. The separator captures the mercury, which is then recycled and reused.

Until the rule is final, EPA encourages dental offices to voluntarily install amalgam separators. Twelve states and several municipalities already require the installation of amalgam separators in dental offices.

Approximately 50 percent of mercury entering local waste treatment plants comes from dental amalgam waste. Once deposited, certain microorganisms can change elemental mercury into methylmercury, a highly toxic form that builds up in fish, shellfish and animals that eat fish.

Fish and shellfish are the main sources of methylmercury exposure to humans. Methylmercury can damage children's developing brains and nervous systems even before they are born.

Bristol Bay fishermen say thanks, solicit help

An interesting half-page ad appears in today's Anchorage Daily News.

"Thank you to those who purchased, served or ate Bristol Bay wild salmon this season," says the ad, with 100 commercial fishermen signing on.

That support injected up to $368 million into Alaska's economy and supported 3,567 jobs, the ad says.

It bears the logos of three nonprofit organizations: Trout Unlimited, the Alaska Independent Fishermen’s Marketing Association and the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association.

The ad also directs people to the Save Bristol Bay website.

Of course, this is more than an outpouring of thanks. It's another shot in the campaign to block development of the Pebble copper and gold mine proposed for the distant headwaters of Bristol Bay.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Got demerit points?

You might know that a violation of Alaska's commercial fishing regulations can earn you "demerit points."

If so, I'll bet you've wondered — as I have — whether anybody ever loses his fishing privileges because of an excess of points.

I found the answer in the 2009 annual report just out from the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The report contained the following:

Demerit Points

In 1998, the Alaska Legislature enacted AS 16.43.850-16.43.895, which established a demerit point system for suspending commercial fishing privileges based on convictions for fishing violations in the salmon fisheries. Under this law, the Commission must suspend a salmon permit holder’s commercial fishing privileges for a period of one to three years if certain threshold levels of demerit points are accumulated in a three-year period.

Between 1998 and 2009, the Commission has issued demerit points to 977 fishermen. Two Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet permits have been suspended one in 1999 and one in 2007 and two Kuskokwim salmon gillnet permits have been suspended; both in 2009. The majority of the demerit points assessed have been for violations occurring in the Bristol Bay salmon drift gillnet fishery.

The CFEC actually maintains a list of fishermen with demerit points.

Click here to see how many points you get for a particular offense, such as fishing in closed waters (six). Rack up 12 points in a 36-month period and the CFEC will suspend your permit for a year.


Alaska law has a provision to halve the points assessed for a first conviction. Still, Deckboss is kinda surprised that more fishermen haven't had their permits pulled over the years.

How about you?

No genetically modified salmon, Parnell says

Here's a press release from Gov. Sean Parnell:

Sept. 25, 2010

Governor urges FDA denial on genetically engineered salmon

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sean Parnell expressed opposition to the approval of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon for human consumption. The governor said genetically engineered salmon pose significant potential threats to the environment, consumer health, and the wild seafood industry.

In a letter to the federal Food and Drug Administration commissioner, the governor questioned whether the application has received sufficient scientific and public scrutiny, and said he was troubled by the lack of transparency in the review process.

"Like many, we are concerned genetically engineered salmon could jeopardize the health of wild salmon stocks if released into the wild," Gov. Parnell said. "Genetically engineered salmon could spread disease, cross-breed with wild salmon, and out-compete them for food and mates."

The governor's letter reminded FDA that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the National Academy of Sciences have recognized these concerns and warned the FDA about the potential dangers associated with escaped genetically engineered fish.

The governor urged the FDA to comply with federal law requiring consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service and production of a report on environmental risks and impacts on wild stocks and called for rigorous scientific research into the long-term effects of consuming genetically engineered seafood prior to approving such products for sale.

"Alaska's salmon industry is critically important to the state's economy, and a primary source of employment, revenue, and food for Alaskans," Gov. Parnell said. "Putting a product like this on the shelf only serves to undermine our efforts to educate consumers about the health benefits of salmon consumption. At the very minimum, FDA must ensure genetically engineered salmon are labeled as such, giving consumers a choice."

A copy of Gov. Parnell's letter to Commissioner Margaret Hamburg is available here.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

$12.5 million awarded to finish Unalaska harbor

From the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

Sept. 23, 2010

Corps awards contract for Unalaska harbor floating breakwaters

ANCHORAGE — The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District, awarded a $12.5 million contract on Sept. 21 to Pacific Pile and Marine of Seattle to construct and install floating breakwaters to complete the Carl E. Moses Harbor in Unalaska.

Federal funds totaling $11 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allowed the Corps to award the final contract for this project which was begun in 2008. The City of Unalaska, as the local sponsor, contributed to the project.

The two concrete floating breakwaters, one 476 feet long and the other 804 feet long, will enclose a new harbor begun two years ago with a Corps contract to construct a rubblemound breakwater and launch ramp and dredge an entrance channel and moorage basin. The earlier contract also included environmental mitigation work of constructing 30 artificial reefs in three locations near the new harbor. The earlier contract was completed in November 2009.

The floating breakwaters will be constructed in Tacoma, Wash., in
98-foot-long modules which can be towed under their own buoyancy across the Gulf of Alaska to Unalaska, located on Amaknak Island in the Aleutian chain, 800 air miles from Anchorage. The floating breakwaters will be moored using stud-link anchor chain and large concrete anchor blocks.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


That's the amount of this year's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend, Gov. Sean Parnell just announced.

The payments go out to qualified Alaska residents on Oct. 7.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lisa's back in

Having lost the Republican primary to a Tea Party challenger, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski today said she'll stand as a write-in candidate in the Nov. 2 general election.

Russians still want to fish U.S. side of Bering

Deckboss heard Russia recently made a new request to harvest pollock on the Alaska side of the maritime boundary line dividing the Bering Sea.

Paul Niemeier, foreign relations specialist with the National Marine Fisheries Service in Silver Spring, Md., provided this response to my inquiry:

Russian representatives did not specifically ask for access to the U.S. EEZ to fish for pollock at the meeting of the U.S.-Russia Intergovernmental Consultative Committee (ICC) on Fisheries held in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Russia, on September 10-11, 2010. They really didn't have to; they have been asking for such access since 1991 and their position is well understood by the United States. The Russians have made the ratification of the Maritime Boundary Agreement in the Bering Sea and Arctic Ocean conditional on getting access to pollock resources in the U.S. zone. Reciprocal fishing has been on the agenda of U.S.-Russia ICC meetings for nearly 20 years and the two sides have been at an impasse on this issue for almost as long.

We have had ongoing Government-to-Government negotiations with Russia on the conservation and management of living marine resources in the northern Bering Sea since 2002, but there has been little or no progress in recent years. Nevertheless, we are continuing to explore new ways to engage the Russians in order to move the talks forward. We proposed a new cooperative northern Bering Sea pollock research program at the last meeting. There is some intermixing of Russian and U.S.-origin pollock in the maritime boundary and a coordinated fisheries management arrangement to avoid taking of juvenile fish would assist in the overall sustainable management of the fisheries for both nations. Before considering such an arrangement, the United States believes that a cooperative research program and data exchange is needed to answer key scientific questions about the resource and fisheries. The Russians agreed to discuss the proposal at an inter-sessional meeting in Seattle sometime later this year or in early 2011.

Lloyd to retire as Fish and Game commissioner

Denby Lloyd will retire effective Dec. 1 as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

He made his plans known today in an e-mail to staff.

Lloyd is facing a drunk driving charge in Juneau.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Double bird trouble for Bering Sea longliners

You might have caught the news that a commercial vessel fishing for cod in the Bering Sea recently took an endangered short-tailed albatross as bycatch.

You might also know that killing even one of these great gliders is a serious threat to the fishery. Now comes word from a trade association, the Freezer Longline Coalition, that two albatross have been caught.

The group wants to make sure people understand the fleet's sterling record on avoiding the birds. Hence, this press release:

Sept. 15, 2010

Alaska longline fleet takes first short-tailed albatross in 12 years

SEATTLE — The Freezer Longline Coalition has received confirmation that two short-tailed albatross have been incidentally taken by longline vessels fishing in Alaska.

The first was taken Aug. 27 by a longliner fishing in the Bering Sea. A second bird, confirmed this morning as a short-tailed albatross, was taken on Sept. 14, also in the Bering Sea fishery.

FLC Executive Director Kenny Down responded in a statement to his board of directors:

"After 12 years with no takes this has come as especially bad news. A perfect record for 12 years has been viewed by all concerned as remarkable and we were hopeful this day would never come."

The FLC fleet of vessels was the leader in implementing avoidance measures that resulted in reducing all bird bycatch by nearly 80 percent.

These vessels voluntarily implemented measures nearly two years before governmental regulations mandated them. The fleet has also been the leader in pursuing funding for the short-tailed albatross recovery plan and the numbers of birds are on the increase as a result.

FLC President David Little reiterated the fleet's commitment to protect the short-tailed albatross and all seabirds.

"Efforts at eliminating these incidental takes are being reviewed by every Freezer Longline Coalition vessel," he said. "Known effective measures reducing these takes are always in effect on the vessels, and we are consulting with bird avoidance experts to identify any additional measures that can be put in place."

The short-tailed albatross is listed under the Endangered Species Act. As such, incidental takes in the longline fishery are regulated and limits are set. The limit under the current ESA biological opinion is four birds in a two-year cycle. If that level is exceeded, it automatically initiates an ESA Section 7 consultation involving the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. New regulations and further avoidance measures could be placed on the fishery.

Reaction from experts in the field has been supportive of the Freezer Longline Coalition's efforts to date and continued commitment to proven practices.

"The Alaskan cod freezer longliner fleet has been one of the most proactive fleets anywhere in the world in trying to reduce their bycatch of seabirds," said Shannon Fitzgerald, seabird biologist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center. "They have been especially concerned with trying to eliminate the bycatch of short-tailed albatross. Given the high levels of observer coverage on these vessels, they should be commended for going 12 years without an observed take and for the nearly 80 percent reduction overall in seabird bycatch. Their history of collaboration and taking the lead in seabird bycatch reduction is a model for other fisheries. Early on, they stepped up and asked for mitigation gear to be required, were an integral component of the research led by Washington Sea Grant on streamer lines, voluntarily started using streamer lines two years before regulations required their use, and have worked throughout it all to take advantage of in-season data produced by the observer program to monitor individual vessel performance. Their efforts continue as we are currently working with the Freezer Longline Coalition to develop programs to further reduce seabird bycatch by its vessels."

"The performance of the freezer longline vessels fishing for cod has been exemplary over the last decade," said Ed Melvin, the Washington Sea Grant scientist whose research led to the current seabird bycatch mitigation requirements in Alaska longline fisheries.

"These recent mortalities of short-tailed albatross in the Bering Sea are very unfortunate," added Melvin, a member of the short-tailed albatross recovery team. "But I am sure that the industry will explore fully what led to these incidents and improve its seabird conservation efforts."