Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Highland Light agrees to pay $135,000 penalty

Here's news from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency:

June 29, 2010

Alaskan processor fined $135,000 for Clean Water Act violations

SEATTLE — Highland Light Seafoods LLC, an Alaskan seafood processor headquartered in Seattle, has agreed to pay a $135,000 penalty to settle federal Clean Water Act violations, according to an EPA order.

Based on an inspection in December 2008, EPA found that Highland Light's 160-foot catcher-processor vessel, Westward Wind, was not in compliance with its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit while operating in Alaskan waters.

Highland Light Seafoods had the following NPDES violations:

• Over the past five years, the company failed to maintain records documenting visual monitoring of the effluent grind size and waste conveyance systems.

• During 2004 and 2005, the company failed to maintain records documenting visual monitoring of the shoreline and sea surface.

• In 2005, the company violated its NPDES permit when the Westward Wind discharged to Nazan Bay.

• In 2006, the Westward Wind discharged near the Pribilof Islands without an authorized NPDES permit.

• On numerous occasions, the Westward Wind discharged seafood waste in quantities greater than the company specified in its application, and

• The company failed to update its application after it made significant changes in its operation.

According to Kim Ogle, NPDES compliance manager, the penalty amount was driven by the lack of demonstration that the crew of the Westward Wind was monitoring its operation for the last five years.

"Monitoring is a cornerstone of the NPDES Program and provides real time input for the company on the effectiveness of its operations," said EPA's Ogle. "Using monitoring to improve operations is an important step in reducing the effects of discharges on the environment."

The NPDES permit program, a key part of the Clean Water Act, controls water pollution by regulating sources that discharge pollutants into waters of the United States.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Make way for crab

Salmon isn't the only lure for commercial fishermen this time of year.

Halibut season also is open, and in some places crab!

Take Norton Sound, for example, where the summer red king crab fishery opened today with a quota of 400,000 pounds.

The fishery begins with a special harvest for the federal Community Development Quota program, which reserves 7.5 percent or 30,000 pounds for CDQ crabbers.

A general fishery for the remaining 370,000 pounds "will open later at a time to be announced, pending buyer interest," the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said.

Elsewhere, fishermen in Southeast Alaska have been stalking Dungeness crab since the fishery opened on June 15. The total season's catch is expected to exceed 2.25 million pounds, meaning crabbers will enjoy "a normal season length," Fish and Game announced today.

Here we go on the Yukon

Commercial fishing on the lower Yukon River opens tonight from 6 to midnight.

The target is chum salmon, but fishermen will be allowed to sell Chinook salmon they catch incidentally.

Here's the announcement from the Department of Fish and Game.

The Chinook catch is expected to be quite low.

Just how coveted is the king of kings?

The Anchorage-based online retailer FishEx is offering fresh Yukon king fillets at $42.95 a pound.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Adak conflict widens

Regular visitors to Deckboss know we've expended a fair amount of energy covering the legal battles surrounding the cod plant on faraway Adak Island.

Now comes yet another twist.

It seems the city of Adak feels the owner of the plant property, Aleut Enterprise, should pony up the unpaid utility bills left behind by its bankrupt former tenant, Adak Fisheries.

The city has sued Aleut in state Superior Court seeking $428,728.55 for electric, water, sewer and garbage services rendered.

Of this sum, $300,890.43 is for utility services to the processing plant, with $127,838.12 for services to 38 housing units that Aleut also leased to Adak Fisheries.

In an answer to the lawsuit, a lawyer for Aleut "denies the City's right to recover any of the requested relief through its claims."

Aleut argues the city is barred from collecting due to its "own negligence," and further cites the "doctrine of unclean hands" and sundry other defenses.

Of course, Aleut is battling in a separate case to evict the plant's successor occupant, Adak Seafood.

And an East Coast bank with millions of dollars in loans at stake also is involved in this fine kettle of fish.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Here they come!

The Bristol Bay sockeye catch has now exceeded 1 million fish.

Track the daily count here.

Friday, June 25, 2010

New laws aid injured fishermen, salmon industry

Gov. Sean Parnell was in Petersburg today and signed into law two pieces of legislation important to fish folk:

Senate Bill 163 revises the Fishermen's Fund, a kind of state insurance program for commercial fishermen who are injured or fall ill on the job. The new law increases the claim allowance from $2,500 to $10,000. The Fishermen's Fund is what's known as a "payer of last resort." That means, for example, that the fund can pay for care in the case of an injured fisherman who is underinsured. The prime sponsor of SB 163 was Sen. Joe Paskvan, D-Fairbanks.

House Bill 344 extends the salmon product development tax credit by four years, through 2015. This tax break has been around since 2003. It was among steps the state took to help the depressed salmon industry better compete with fish farmers. The goal is to encourage processors to add value to the salmon. Equipment for filleting fish, removing pinbones and packing salmon in convenient pop-top cans are examples of investments eligible for the tax credit. The new law adds ice machines to the list of qualified investments. Processors already have earned several million dollars in credits, the Department of Revenue says. The prime sponsor of HB 344 was Haines Republican Rep. Bill Thomas, himself a commercial fisherman.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Alaska industry is sending money to Gulf

A Juneau-based nonprofit, the Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission Inc., is sending a $10,600 donation to Louisiana to support efforts to create a watchdog committee for the Gulf of Mexico oil industry.

Here's the press release.

Cotten, Fields retain seats on council

The Obama administration today appointed Sam Cotten of Eagle River and Duncan Fields of Kodiak to new three-year terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

That Cotten will stay on the 11-member panel is a bit of a surprise, as Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell indicated he wanted to replace him with Jim Hubbard, a Seward halibut and sablefish longliner.

Cotten waged a strong campaign to keep his seat, industry players said. Plus, he is strongly identified as a Democrat, which certainly can't be said of the governor.

Of course, one might also suppose that Cotten simply has done a job worthy of another term on the council.

Here is today's announcement from the Commerce Department.

A tragedy in Haines

The victim in this apparent case of fatal shellfish poisoning was a Southeast salmon drift gillnetter and held other types of commercial fishing permits as well.

Safety check

The U.S. Coast Guard says it conducted more than 250 dockside safety checks on boats preparing for battle in the Bristol Bay salmon fishery. Dillingham was one of the ports where the courtesy exams were done. "We don't issue fines or other penalties for any problems we discover," a Coast Guard officer said. "We focus on safety concerns such as flares, fire extinguishers and navigational charts, lights and signals." Fishermen who earn a safety decal are less likely to see the Coast Guard or state troopers board their boats at sea, interrupting valuable fishing time, the officer said. USCG photo

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Chasing 138,000,000 salmon

Yesterday was the first day of summer, and Alaska's salmon flower is just starting its annual bloom.

State biologists predict a statewide commercial catch this season of 138 million salmon — 143,000 Chinook, 45.8 million sockeye, 69.1 million pinks, 18 million chums and 4.4 million coho.

Sounds like a passel of fish, but if the forecast proves accurate this will be a relatively poor year compared to last season's 162 million salmon, worth $370 million at the docks.

Fishermen have landed just over 2 million fish so far, according to the state's latest tally.

We've been feeling positive vibes on the markets and prospects for higher prices.

But the value of this year's salmon crop won't be clear until after our main money fishery, Bristol Bay sockeye, wraps up in late July.

Bristol Bay accounted for $128 million of that $370 million statewide haul in 2009.

Anyway, it's still quite early. But let's cruise around the coast for a look at regional fisheries:

Southeast Alaska: Things got off to a bummer start at the Stikine and Taku rivers, where weak Chinook runs kept early gillnet fisheries closed. For purse seiners, this will be an off year for pink salmon with a harvest of 19 million expected. Last year saw 38 million taken.

Prince William Sound: It's shaping up as a sorry season for the famed Copper River. Through June 14, fishermen had landed 8,441 Chinook, roughly half the number anticipated by that date. The sockeye story is even worse: 245,455 landed, a third of expectations. On a brighter note, the state Department of Fish and Game reports "early and robust returns of chum salmon" to the Wally Noerenberg Hatchery.

Kenai Peninsula: The action in Upper Cook Inlet hasn't really begun yet. The sonar for counting Kenai River sockeye goes into operation July 1. Fish and Game reports a "very poor" catch of 18,800 sockeye through June 16 in Resurrection Bay.

Kodiak: Chinook and sockeye runs into the Karluk River are weak again. The Alitak District sockeye harvest "is below average and is either weak or late," Fish and Game says.

Chignik: Looking good! Sockeye escapement is above recent averages with nearly 134,000 fish passing the Chignik River weir through June 16.

Alaska Peninsula: Sockeye returns to the Northern District appear to be late. The South Peninsula seine fleet is fishing now following a voluntary standdown to avoid netting chum salmon bound for other regions.

Bristol Bay: The real fireworks won't start until close to the Fourth of July. The forecast calls for a massive sockeye catch of 30.5 million sockeye, comparable to last year's take. Through the weekend, the catch stood at fewer than 70,000 fish. A couple of openers targeting Chinook in the Nushagak District produced lousy results.

Yukon River: Another weak Chinook return is expected, with no commercial fishing likely. "The Yukon River Chinook salmon run is later than average, likely because of late coastal ice breakup," Fish and Game reports.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Coastal Villages reorganizes its salmon operations

Here's an interesting news item I wrote for the June issue of Pacific Fishing magazine:

Coastal Villages Region Fund is revamping its processing operations for the upcoming salmon season.

Instead of running two processing plants at Quinhagak and Platinum, the company will consolidate its fish processing in the newer Platinum plant. Quinhagak, meantime, will serve as a buying and icing station.

"The fishermen won't notice any difference," said Trevor McCabe, operations director for Coastal.

Fishermen will be able to deliver their predominantly chum salmon catches dockside at Quinhagak, or to tenders there. The fish then will be hauled south to the Platinum plant, which has a daily freezing capacity of 150,000 pounds.

By consolidating into one plant, Coastal expects to employ 10 to 20 percent fewer processing hands this year compared to last, when nearly 300 were on the payroll. But the company feels the changes are prudent to maintain regional salmon and halibut operations supporting 1,500 fishermen, processors and others, McCabe said.

Coastal is one of six Alaska companies holding catch rights to Bering Sea groundfish and crab under the federal Community Development Quota program. Coastal represents 20 villages in the Kuskokwim River region and uses its substantial pollock revenue to pay for such projects as the $35 million fish plant at Platinum.

The plant opened in July 2009.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nice save

The crew of the 57-foot Copasetic was forced to beach the boat early this morning in the Valdez Narrows at Jack Bay after it began taking on water. Skipper and owner Jonathan Wilkie, along with Derrick Branson and Joshua Zimmerman, all of Seward, used a skiff to reach the shore, where a U.S. Coast Guard boat picked them up safely. The Copasetic sustained serious bow damage. USCG photo

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Another Alaska legislator has found trouble with the fish cops.

Details on The Brig.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Eagle episode ends for Ocean Beauty

Sounds like Ocean Beauty Seafoods is in the clear on those eagles.

You remember this slimy story.

One day in January 2008, a flock of ravenous bald eagles took a deadly dive into a truckload of fish waste at the company's Kodiak processing plant.

It was a stampede in the mire, coating birds in goo that left them vulnerable to the cold. Federal wildlife officials said 23 eagles died with another 29 held for rehabilitation.

Ocean Beauty executives apologized profusely, saying the eagles hit before workers could cover the load for the drive to the town's fishmeal plant.

The company donated $11,000 to bird-care organizations plus fish to feed the recovering eagles.

But federal law protects bald eagles, and Ocean Beauty faced a possible civil or criminal enforcement action.

But that's not going to happen.

Federal prosecutors have decided not to bring a case against Ocean Beauty, Bruce Woods, spokesman for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, told Deckboss today.

More time allowed for Harbor Crown sale

Deckboss told you last month about how the defunct Harbor Crown Seafoods processing plant out at Unalaska was being offered in a foreclosure sale.

Now comes word today from the commercial real estate broker handling the sale that the bid deadline has been extended until 5 p.m. June 21.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Oregon connection

The National Marine Fisheries Service this summer is interviewing Oregon commercial fishermen who began their fishing careers in Alaska.

"Recent field work from Oregon State University in Oregon fishing communities revealed that many current Oregon commercial fishermen got their start fishing in Alaska during the boom days of the 1980s," a project summary says. "These fishermen in many cases were able to purchase their fishing vessels using the money earned fishing in Alaska. Many of these Oregon fishermen are now nearing retirement age and have spent the bulk of their fishing careers fishing locally in Oregon, but some are still involved seasonally in Alaska fishing."

More information here.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Path cleared for Southeast salmon seiner buyout

Gov. Sean Parnell today signed House Bill 365 into law.

The law gives the National Marine Fisheries Service access to confidential state records on the value of fish harvests.

Why is this important to the feds?

Because they want a way to verify the salmon industry promptly collects a landings tax to repay a big federal loan for retiring part of the Southeast Alaska seine fleet.

My understanding is the seiners could vote early next year on whether to shoulder a 40-year loan of up to $23.5 million. Fishermen and processors would pay it back with a 3 percent tax on the annual value of the catch.

Buyout organizers want to reduce the number of Southeast seine permit holders from the current 379 to as few as 260.

The aim is to create a more profitable fishery for those seiners remaining on the water.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Alcohol involved

The Dutch Harbor report returns today to The Brig!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Crabber: Let's cure 'indefensible' lease rates

Deckboss asked crab boat owner Ian Pitzman for permission to post the following letter calling attention to what he believes is a serious problem with crab rationalization, the reform that converted Alaska's major king and Tanner crab fisheries to catch and processing shares beginning in 2005.

The letter is addressed to the board of ICEPAC, the Inter-Cooperative Exchange Policy Advocacy Committee. ICEPAC is an umbrella group for many Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands crab harvesters.

I'd sure like to elaborate on this important letter, but lacking sleep I'll just post it for now and maybe circle back later.

May 10, 2010

ICEPAC Board of Directors

Mr. Chairman:

As a concerned member of your organization, I would like to address the sensitive subject of lease rates, a.k.a. "royalties," in the Bering Sea crab fisheries. I believe that the current environment, with lease rates at seventy to eighty percent, is unsustainable. In its short tenure, ICEPAC has proven very effective in addressing problems that confront our changing industry. With regard to the Bering Sea crab fisheries, lease rates are, by far, the biggest issue to everyone actually working on the water. Responsible vessel maintenance comes at no small price. Unsustainably high lease rates, paid out before vessel and crew costs, create a very real safety issue. Furthermore, these high rates are stifling to new entrants in this fishery. I am certain that these are unintended consequences of crab rationalization.

To be true stewards of a fishery, sometimes tough choices must be made. This is a tremendously valuable natural resource and we must make sure an equitable share remains on the water for the benefit of the vessels and their crew. I suggest to you that it is in our best interest as an industry to address this issue cooperatively. If the will does not exist for a voluntary agreement amongst harvesters, I feel it is our responsibility, as a group, to ask the NPFMC for lease rate regulation.

I have been a Bering Sea crabber all of my adult life. I live in Homer, Alaska, and I own two crab vessels, one of which is currently fishing. I have a modest amount of quota, and I lease from four other quota holders to maintain my fishing enterprise. Because I bought my first boat in 2006, just after crab rationalization, quota leasing is absolutely critical to my survival in this fishery. As I see it, businesses like mine are the model for future access to the industry. Short of inheritance, for an Alaskan to progress from the deck to wheelhouse to vessel owner, they must tread my path. This is a path of opportunity that must remain accessible.

Some may say that I can just opt out. If I can't afford the lease rates, just don't participate. But all that accomplishes is another boat tied up, more jobs lost, and one more voice silenced. I feel that this is an industry-wide problem and it must be addressed broadly. I can't ask my leaseholders to take less than the market rate for their quota, just as they wouldn't ask me to catch it for more. What is needed is an industry-wide lease rate that has variable potential, taking into account quota value, vessel operating costs, fair crew wages, etc. Perhaps an annually arbitrated cap verified by EDR would be prudent.

My intent in writing to the board today is twofold. First, I would like to see this subject "out of the closet," so to speak, and roundly discussed in public prior to the Council addressing it later this fall. Secondly, I would like to see our group take up this issue at the Kodiak ICEPAC meeting on May 27th. Let us be proactive rather than reactive. Everyone is well aware that seventy to eighty percent lease rates are indefensible.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


Ian Pitzman

Fortune Sea LLC
Homer, AK
F/V Cape Caution & F/V Kona Kai

Monday, June 7, 2010

Area M seiners stand down to save chums

Purse seiners in Sand Point and King Cove are voluntarily sitting out this week's salmon season opener as a way to avoid intercepting chums possibly bound for Western Alaska rivers.

Here's a press release from the Aleutians East Borough.

We saw the seiners stage a similar goodwill shutdown in 2005 when chums were running too thick in what's known as the Area M or False Pass fishery.

The seiners fear that netting too many chums while chasing their main quarry, sockeye, could result in ruinous fishing restrictions to protect Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim salmon runs.

High times for halibut

Halibut prices have Travis Goodrich smiling. Deckboss photos

While in Kodiak for the May 28 gubernatorial debate, I walked the docks a little and ran into the crew of the halibut longliner Inua.

Skipper Travis Goodrich and the boys were baiting hooks with chunks of pollock and looking pretty pleased with life.

Goodrich said they'd made a big delivery of halibut a couple of days earlier and got $4.75 to $5.25 a pound for the fish, depending on the size.

"That's excellent," said Goodrich, about as high as he's ever seen at this point in the season.

After talking awhile, Deckboss looked up from his notepad long enough to realize the Inua is actually a sailboat!

Goodrich said he and his crew have been known to raise the big sail on occasion, though not too often.

The latest issue of the Seafood Market Bulletin, prepared for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, confirms improved market conditions this year for halibut.

Read the report here.

Petersburg — Alaska's fishing centenarian

The Alaska Department of Labor has a nifty profile of Petersburg in the May issue of its newsletter, "Alaska Economic Trends."

"Ask Alaskans what they know about Petersburg and if they don't know anything else, you can be sure they'll mention at least two things: fishing and Norway," the article begins.

Here's a few noteworthy observations from the four-page spread:

• Petersburg's estimated population last year was 2,973, down about 250 since the 2000 census.

• The town's economy faces challenges including a decline in halibut catch limits and this summer's closure of the Ocean Beauty Seafoods processing plant. The shutdown is expected to be for this season only, due to a poor pink salmon forecast.

• The town's top employer is Icicle Seafoods.

• More and more tourists are coming to Petersburg, now exceeding 50,000 a year. But don't look for the giant cruise ships that call on other Southeast Alaska towns, as Petersburg lacks a deep-water port.

Deckboss recommends you also check out another article in the Labor Department newsletter pertaining to self-employment in Alaska.

Commercial fishermen, it seems, are in the occupational category with the highest concentration of self-employed people.

"Fishermen are the quintessential Alaskan group of self-employed — rugged individuals, out there in the open seas, with their own boat and crew," the article says.

Click here to see the newsletter.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Bristol Bay now open for business

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today opened much of Bristol Bay to commercial salmon fishing. Here's the announcement.

Of course, the action on the world's most prolific sockeye grounds won't really heat up until close to the Fourth of July weekend.

The forecast is for a explosive harvest of 30.5 million fish.

MSC certifies Alaska flatfish as sustainable

Last month we noted the Marine Stewardship Council was close to certifying Alaska's flatfish harvest as sustainable and well-managed.

Well, today comes this announcement that Alaska flatfish has indeed achieved the MSC eco-label.

Flatfish trawlers target a variety of soles, flounder and plaice.

The MSC announcement asserts the flatfish harvesters have
"significantly reduced bycatch" and cut the bottom contact of their trawl gear by 90 percent.