Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Another $10 million coming in Exxon Valdez case

As followers of this blog know, lawyers for plaintiffs in the epic Exxon Valdez oil spill case have been laboriously paying out the winnings since late 2008.

Now the lawyers are asking a federal judge for permission to pay another 781 claims totaling $10.3 million, minus attorney fees.

This money is going to parties with "multiple impairments on their claims," court papers say.

Here is a list showing those who will receive — or maybe won't receive — some money.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Togiak herring season nears finish

Gillnetters continue to chase a few roe-rich herring near the village of Togiak. Photo by Tim Sands, ADF&G

The big Togiak herring sac roe fishery is all but done for 2010.

Purse seiners shut down over the weekend, while the gillnet fleet is free to keep working until noon tomorrow, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today.

It's been a big harvest overall at close to 25,000 tons. That's nearly the full quota, and well above last year's take of 17,107 tons.

Sorry, Deckboss has no information on prices. But heck, with a harvest this big, demand must be somewhat improved this year for herring roe, don't you think?

Just asking

Hi friends.

Sorry to be silent for a few days, but Deckboss has been traveling.

And he's about to take flight again, this time down to Kodiak for the crab festival and Friday night's big debate featuring candidates for governor.

I'll be sitting on the media panel of questioners, and I'm interested in your suggestions as to what I should ask the candidates.

So, please, help me out by posting your ideas here. Remember, the debate is about the state's seafood industry, so keep your questions fishy!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nice save!

All hands made it safely off the Cape Spencer. USCG photo

The U.S. Coast Guard says it rescued four crewman today from a sinking longliner three miles south of Montague Island.

A Coast Guard helicopter from Cordova picked up the four from a life raft. They were identified as Kenai residents Thomas Tomrdle, 61, and son Thomas Tomrdle, 29; James Hielala, 70, of Sterling; and Jeremy Sullivan, 34, of Whittier.

The Coast Guard received a mayday call at 9:45 a.m. reporting the 47-foot fishing vessel Cape Spencer was sinking and the crew had donned immersion suits and abandoned ship into the raft.

The helicopter, already in the air for training, arrived on scene at 10:18 a.m. and safely hoisted all four crewmembers. They were delivered in good condition to the Seward airport about 75 minutes later, the Coast Guard said.

"They called the Coast Guard immediately, they had their survival suits on and the life raft inflated and everyone got into it," said Cmdr. Shawn Tripp, the helicopter pilot. "These guys did everything right to be rescued successfully."

The good Samaritan vessel Tia Rose picked up the Cape Spencer's empty life raft and a Zodiac that was drifting in the area.

The Cape Spencer, a Juneau-based longliner, sank completely, the Coast Guard said.

Oceana: 'Sustainable' argument falls flat for flatfish

Do the huge trawl fisheries for flounder and sole in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands merit the Marine Stewardship Council's label as sustainable seafood harvests?

The conservation group Oceana doesn't think so, as it explains in this press release.

"Last year these flatfish draggers killed and wasted almost 8 million pounds of halibut and tens of millions of pounds of other species," writes Oceana biologist Jon Warrenchuk.

He adds: "How can that waste be construed as sustainable?"

Bristol Bay's new marketplace

Speaking of items for sale, I see the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association now offers classified ads on its website.

Looks like drift gillnet permit holders and commercial fishing vendors can post free ads for boats, permits, fishing gear, employment and so forth.

Lots of fun to read these, even if you're just looking and not buying!

Former Harbor Crown plant up for sale

Deckboss wrote a good bit last year about the demise of Harbor Crown Seafoods out at Unalaska.

Now the processing plant, bunkhouse and other associated items are up for sale after an Anchorage-based lender, Alaska Growth Capital, foreclosed on the property.

Wanna bid?

Click here for full details.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Togiak herring fishery coming along swimmingly

Here's an update from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on the Togiak herring sac roe fishery:

May 17, 2010

Gillnet fishery has better results with extended area

As previously announced, the gillnet fishery in progress is open until further notice. The open area will remain the same and include the area west of Right Hand Point for now but the area may be adjusted if gillnet effort shifts back to the east.

The purse seine period in progress will be extended for 24 hours until 10 p.m. May 18. The area for the purse seine period in progress will remain as adjusted by the announcement on May 16.

The harvest on May 16 was 1,547 tons for the purse seine fleet and 756 tons for the gillnet fleet.

The cumulative harvest is 7,410 tons for the purse seine fleet and 1,478 for the gillnet fleet. The seiners have harvested 41 percent of their quota, while the gillnetters have harvested 19 percent of theirs.

Please standby at noon tomorrow for the next announcement.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Copper opens again Monday after so-so first catch

Here's a summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on yesterday's Copper River salmon season opener:

May 14, 2010

The preliminary harvest estimate from the 12-hour period that occurred on Thursday was 924 Chinook, 6,389 sockeye and 1,418 chum salmon with an estimated 300 permits delivering.

This compares to an anticipated harvest of 785 Chinook salmon and 8,986 sockeye for this period.

The Copper River District will open at 7 a.m. Monday, May 17, for a 12-hour period. Waters within the Chinook salmon inside closure area will be open during this period.

BiOp bulletin

Recently I've touched on the subject of the forthcoming "biological opinion," or BiOp, from the National Marine Fisheries Service concerning the status of the endangered western population of Steller sea lions.

We've been waiting an awfully long time for this document, and the anticipation has instilled fear in Alaska's billion-dollar bottomfish industry, which some believe competes with the sea lions for food.

Anyway, today we have word that NMFS intends to unveil the BiOp by late July.

Naturally, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council — which has industry members plus public officials from Alaska, Washington and Oregon — wants to weigh in should NMFS seek to increase or relax sea lion protections for the 2011 fishing season based on the BiOp.

So the council and its subcommittees plan to hold a special meeting Aug. 16-20 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage.

A few million for Yukon salmon failure?

The Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday included $5 million in a spending bill as disaster relief for the poor Chinook salmon runs on the Yukon River in 2008 and 2009.

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, had asked the committee leadership for up to $10.8 million "for assistance to residents of the Yukon River drainage."

This potential aid outlay follows up Commerce Secretary Gary Locke's disaster declaration back in January.

Just how the $5 million would be divvied up, assuming that's the amount the full Congress ultimately appropriates, remains an open question.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Off they go!

A 12-hour season opener starts at 7 this morning for Copper River gillnetters.

And so begins another summer of salmon in Alaska.

Good fishing and be safe, everybody.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Herring time at Togiak

With big schools of fish spotted in the area, fishery managers opened the Togiak herring sac roe fishery at 6 p.m. today. Gillnet boats are free to fish "until further notice," while seiners can fish for 76 hours, the Department of Fish and Game said. ADF&G photo

Upper Cook Inlet king fishery to stay closed

Here's an announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game canceling commercial fishing periods for Chinook salmon in part of Upper Cook Inlet.

Big boat in the village?

Deckboss is somewhat dismayed that Coastal Villages Region Fund has yet to put out a public statement about its business split from that big, Seattle-based fishing company, American Seafoods.

But I notice that Coastal, evidently, has relocated already the enormous pollock factory trawler it acquired in the divorce.

According to Coastal's handsomely redesigned website, the home port for the 341-foot Northern Hawk is now Chevak, a Cup'ik Eskimo village of about 920 people in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Chevak, of course, is one of 20 villages Coastal represents under the federal Community Development Quota program.

Monday, May 10, 2010

'Herring are showing now'

Here's a 1 p.m. update from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on the pending Togiak herring sac roe fishery:

May 10, 2010

Herring are showing now

This is the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham with an update regarding the Togiak herring fishery.

Department staff flew an aerial survey of the Togiak District today. Weather conditions were poor with low overcast and turbid water in some areas. We did observe many large schools of herring entering the district, but no herring were seen in the shallow areas of bays. We had a water temperature report of 38 degrees from Anchor Point this morning. The fleet is building and there are several dozen vessels in the district.

Weather permitting, we will survey the district on Tuesday, May 11, in the afternoon and try and document the threshold biomass.

Six companies have registered for the Togiak herring fishery.

Informational updates are available by calling our recorded message line at (907) 842-5226.

American completes refinancing, Coastal buyout

This just in from American Seafoods:

May 10, 2010

American Seafoods Completes Refinancing and Buyout of Significant Equity Holder

SEATTLE (BUSINESS WIRE) — American Seafoods today announced it completed a refinancing of all the outstanding debt of American Seafoods Group LLC and ASG Consolidated LLC, the direct parent of American Seafoods Group. Concurrent with the refinancing, the Company redeemed the entire ownership interest of a significant equity holder, Coastal Villages Region Fund.

The company refinanced ASG Consolidated's high yield bonds and American Seafoods Group's senior credit facility, significantly extending the maturities on its debt.

"The refinancing represents a significant accomplishment for the company," said Bernt O. Bodal, CEO of American Seafoods. "The fact that we were able to complete a transaction like this in a difficult economic environment is a testament to the strong support of our lending partners and the stellar reputation the company enjoys among the financial community."

Also, in connection with the refinancing, American Seafoods redeemed all of the outstanding equity interests of Coastal Villages in exchange for the pollock catcher-processor Northern Hawk, the freezer-longline vessels Lilli Ann, North Cape and Deep Pacific and certain fishing rights. The completion of the buyout results in Bodal and the rest of the management team increasing their ownership to over 70 percent of the company. As part of the buyout, American will provide management and marketing services to Coastal Villages — enhancing its revenue opportunities over the next few years.

"The buyout offers a terrific opportunity for all of the continuing owners of American Seafoods to increase their ownership stake and positions us well for the long-term growth of the company," Bodal said.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Hickel and halibut

Wally Hickel, the former Alaska governor who died Friday, was always thinking big. And so I expect his sendoff will be big, too.

Here's a remembrance from a fish perspective.

In 1991, during Hickel's second go as governor, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved revolutionary individual fishing quotas for the halibut and black cod fisheries. Or what people fashionably call "catch shares" today.

How did this happen?

As the story goes, Hickel instructed his "fisheries tsar," Clem Tillion, who held a seat and considerable sway on the council, to put more fresh halibut on the dinner table by creating longer, less frenzied fisheries.

Like 'em or hate 'em, that's pretty much what IFQs have done for halibut, which used to all pile onto the docks in only a few hours and head straight for the freezer.

Deckboss hopes Hickel got his share of that fresh halibut toward the end of his 90 years.

Friday, May 7, 2010

On watch at Togiak

Historically, Alaska's biggest herring sac roe fishery by volume has been in Bristol Bay, near the remote village of Togiak.

We're only a few days away from the season opener there, and biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are on the lookout for sea lions and other signs that the herring have arrived for the spawn.

Here's the department's latest update.

This fishery used to be crazy competitive, not unlike the wild derby we just witnessed at Sitka. Alas, Togiak has become a yawner since the roe market collapsed in Japan, with the number of participating boats and processors falling way off.

On the upside, Togiak offers herring aplenty. This year's harvest quota is huge at 25,905 tons. It's so big, in fact, that the industry is likely to leave a big chunk of the quota in the water.

Last year's catch of 17,107 tons on a quota of 21,260 tons paid fishermen $2.6 million. That's a pretty humble payoff for a fishery that 15 years ago was worth nearly $17 million.

So, when will the fishery open at Togiak?

Last year, seiners and gillnetters got started on May 16.

Upcoming events

Here's a rundown of some significant meetings planned in Alaska in the coming days:

• The 2nd International Congress on Seafood Technology runs Monday through Thursday at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. Sponsors are the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the University of Alaska. Click here to see the agenda and find registration details. I see some pretty interesting talks on tap such as "developments in automation of processing equipment,"
"alternatives to antibiotics in aquaculture," and "surimi, state of the technology." Local university economist Gunnar Knapp will talk on "economics of value addition for fish and fishery products," and Fairbanks food technologist Peter Bechtel will talk on "utilization of Alaska fish processing byproducts."

• The North Pacific Fishery Management Council's Crab Plan Team meets Monday through Friday at the Hotel Alyeska in Girdwood. Here's the agenda. Fishery biologists and managers on the plan team review all the science related to the Bering Sea's lucrative stocks of king and Tanner crab. One tasty item I see on the agenda concerns a "discussion paper on crab bycatch in the groundfish fisheries."

• The National Marine Fisheries Service has been holding a series of "listening sessions" around the country to gather feedback on plans to develop a new ocean aquaculture policy. Anchorage is the last stop, with a listening session planned for 1 p.m. May 21 at the Hotel Captain Cook. Deckboss expects Alaskans will continue to shout a collective "no" to any aquaculture.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Headed for the shop

The patrol vessel Stimson. DPS photo

The familiar Alaska Wildlife Troopers patrol vessel Stimson could be out of action for a while this summer.

That's because the state is looking to put the boat into drydock for work ranging from hull painting to propeller reconditioning to fixing those darned wobbly chairs in the wheelhouse.

The state has posted this invitation to bid seeking a contractor to do the work.

The plan is to complete the job over a month's time, most likely in August.

As far as I can tell, this is just routine maintenance and not the result of something unusual, such as a run-in with an outlaw crabber.

A state Department of Public Safety spokeswoman tells Deckboss the boat was last hauled three years ago.

The 156-foot Stimson is based at Dutch Harbor and is the largest patrol vessel in the state fleet. Its primary duty is commercial fisheries enforcement in the Bering Sea and Bristol Bay.

The vessel is named in honor of Sgt. John Stimson, who died in 1983 after a helicopter crash during a rescue mission.

Katmai report now available

As we reported yesterday, the U.S. Coast Guard does indeed plan to hold a Friday event in Seattle to talk about the investigation into the Katmai sinking.

Meantime, the Coast Guard has gone ahead and posted the 136-page report publicly. Click here to see it. FYI, the document is a little slow to open.

Thirty-two recommendations start on page 2.

Here's the press release:

May 5, 2010

Coast Guard releases investigation report on fishing vessel Katmai

WASHINGTON — The Coast Guard on Tuesday released the final report of the investigation into the Oct. 22, 2008, sinking of the fishing vessel Katmai in Amchitka Pass, Alaska.

Of the 11 crew aboard the Katmai, four were rescued, five deceased crewmembers were recovered and two remain missing.

This Marine Board of Investigation was directed by the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. The investigation and public hearings were conducted in Anchorage and Seattle by investigators from the Coast Guard with assistance from the National Transportation Safety Board.

Investigators interviewed 24 witnesses including the four survivors, the vessel owners, the crew and captains of the fish-processing vessels Patricia Lee and Courageous, previous Katmai crewmembers, naval architects and Coast Guard fishing vessel examiners to gather facts about the Katmai's overall condition, operations and the events that led to the sinking.

Several primary causal factors that led to this casualty identified in the report include imprudent voyage planning; failure to maintain watertight boundaries; excessive loading of cargo in the vessel's fish hold; and exposure to heavy winds and high seas. The cause of flooding in the engine room remains unknown.

Recommendations in the report, aimed at preventing recurrence, include several regulatory and legislative changes focusing on inspection and stability requirements, licensing of fishing vessel masters and revising Title 46, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 28, which contains the specific requirements for commercial fishing industry vessels.

The Marine Board of Investigation members will meet with the Katmai crewmembers' next of kin or their legal representatives at 9 a.m. Friday at the Jackson Federal Building, Eagle Room, 915 2nd Ave., Seattle. This meeting is not open to the public or media.

The Coast Guard will hold a press briefing at 1 p.m. Friday.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Report on Katmai sinking could come out Friday

A U.S. Coast Guard spokesman tells Deckboss the investigative report into the sinking of the fishing vessel Katmai likely will be publicly released at an event Friday in Seattle.

The Katmai, you'll recall, sank with an 11-man crew and a load of cod in remote Aleutian waters west of Adak Island on Oct. 22, 2008.

Seven crewmen died while four others were rescued after a harrowing night on a wave-pummeled life raft.

Hal Bernton, a Seattle Times writer, wrote this article last week after obtaining an advance copy of the report, which authorities had sent to survivors and family members of the dead crewmen.

According to the article, the report appears to contain few if any surprises about what led to the boat's demise.

Those factors include an overloaded hold, flooding through an unsecured watertight door, and a poor decision to travel through rough weather, the article says.

Are hatcheries bad for wild salmon?

We've been talking a good bit recently about Alaska's network of big salmon hatcheries, and specifically their expansion plans.

Hatcheries are always good for debate, and certainly the fish talk will be running strong this week in Portland, where a four-day conference starts tonight on this intriguing topic: "Ecological interactions between wild and hatchery salmon."

None other than Tom Brokaw is slated to deliver welcoming comments this evening.

The agenda includes a number of speakers with a history of involvement with Alaska salmon including Ray Hilborn of the University of Washington; Greg Ruggerone of Natural Resources Consultants Inc.; John Burke of the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association; and Rich Brenner, Steve Moffitt and Eric Volk of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Deckboss is especially interested in Volk's topic: "Balancing benefits and risks of large-scale hatchery salmon production in Alaska."

Click here to learn more about the conference and see the agenda.