Friday, July 30, 2010

Senators: Let's not rush this sea lion thing

Well, the week has ended without a new "biological opinion" from the feds on the effects of commercial fishing on the endangered Steller sea lion.

But don't fret, friends. It appears the BiOp certainly will be unveiled Monday, and it'll be a real trophy at 800-plus pages.

As Deckboss has noted previously, the anxiety level surrounding this document is high. Alaska's bottomfish industry could be facing costly new restrictions depending on what it says.

Among the concerned are the four U.S. senators from Alaska and Washington, who today sent this letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke urging that the long-delayed BiOp, once released, not be hurried through to final action.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has scheduled a special meeting for Aug. 16-19 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage to consider the BiOp and any potential fishing restrictions.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Canadian sablefish — it's sustainable!

Deckboss received word today that the Marine Stewardship Council has certified the Canadian sablefish fishery off British Columbia as sustainable and well-managed.

Here's the press release.

Alaska sablefish earned MSC certification in 2006.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

BiOp watch

The federal government as soon as tomorrow might unveil its long-awaited "biological opinion" on the endangered Steller sea lion.

Will it include a "jeopardy" determination for the Steller, or a finding of "adverse modification" of its critical habitat?

Will it force tighter restrictions on Alaska's huge pollock fishery, which by one theory is robbing the sea lions of food?

Will it shut down a valuable harvest you might never have heard of, the Atka mackerel fishery?

Or will the BiOp prove to be no treat at all to commercial fishing?

The scuttlebutt is that scientists within the National Marine Fisheries Service have clashed over what the BiOp should say.

Can't wait to see who won.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Vessel grounding shuts down Sound fishery

The fish tender Cape Cross. USCG photo

The grounding of the fish tender Cape Cross has prompted the Department of Fish and Game to close an area of western Prince William Sound to commercial fishing. Here's the announcement.

The concern is a potential fuel spill from the stricken vessel, which sits in Main Bay. A major salmon hatchery is located at the head of the bay.

Here is the latest on the situation from the U.S. Coast Guard:

July 27, 2010, 18:37 hours

VALDEZ — Three Ship Escort/Response Vessel System vessels arrived on scene with the fishing vessel Cape Cross in Main Bay at approximately 1:45 p.m. and have completely surrounded the vessel with boom containing the sheen and any potential fuel release from the vessel.

Although the vessel's fuel tanks do not appear to have been breached or leaking response crews have commenced exclusionary booming of the Main Bay salmon hatchery before lightering of fuel aboard the Cape Cross can begin.

Responders are assessing the stability of the Cape Cross through the tidal phases. Low tide is at 6:30 a.m. Wednesday.

During low tide, R and R Diving Co. plans to install a temporary patch on the hull of the vessel. When the patch is secure, the Cape Cross will be repositioned to facilitate the lightering of all fuel onboard. Once all fuel is removed and the vessel is stable, efforts to remove the vessel from Main Bay may commence.

The owner hired Alaska Marine Surveyors to assist with pollution response and salvage of the vessel. The marine surveyor is heading to Main Bay and expected on scene this evening.

The Coast Guard cutter Long Island remains on scene to enforce the Alaska Department of Fish and Game's closure of the commercial fishery in Main Bay. A Coast Guard helicopter overflight is scheduled to take place Wednesday to gain a better perspective of the response and determine any environmental impact to the bay.

The Coast Guard continues to investigate the cause of the grounding and is monitoring all phases of the response and salvage.

Bad day in Main Bay

The 102-foot salmon tender Cape Cross swamped after running aground at 5 a.m. Monday in Main Bay in Prince William Sound. The fishing vessel Josie safely picked up all seven crewmen. The U.S. Coast Guard reports a spat of groundings around the state, including the sinking of the 34-foot troller Arcola at Swanson Harbor in Southeast Alaska. USCG photo

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Polar Star update

Just talked with the U.S. Coast Guard about the seiner Polar Star, which went aground Tuesday west of Kodiak.

Sounds like the boat will be saved.

She was refloated, taken to a safe place called Geographic Harbor along the Alaska Peninsula, and then deliberately beached so the crew could better patch a hole in the hull.

The plan, I'm told, is to tow the boat out tomorrow.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Southeast salmon spotting ... Dutch dipsomania

Lots of fresh news this week on The Brig. Catch it here!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Let's pull for the Polar Star

The U.S. Coast Guard dispatched a rescue helicopter and C-130 airplane this morning after the captain of the Polar Star radioed a mayday, saying the 58-foot seiner was taking on water and the crew of five was about to abandon ship. Rescuers arrived on the scene along the southern side of the Alaska Peninsula, some 65 miles west of Kodiak, to find the Polar Star crew in a skiff near the grounded vessel. The aircraft left the scene after the crew indicated they'll wait until high tide at 9:17 p.m. to try to refloat the seiner. The Coast Guard and a good Samaritan fishing boat are maintaining communications with the Polar Star crew. USCG photo

Monday, July 19, 2010

Bristol Bay catch falls short, but value is ... wow!

It's pretty clear now that this season's catch of Bristol Bay sockeye won't reach the state forecast of 30.5 million fish.

But a strong price can make up for lost fish. And from what I'm hearing, this could be one of the most lucrative hauls in many years.

Through the weekend, the harvest tally was 27.2 million sockeye.

Catch rates are dropping fast now, with lots of fishermen pulling their boats from the water and heading home. Traditionally, it's right around this time that processors post their base prices for fish.

Deckboss hears reliably that one processor is paying 96 cents a pound.

That's a leap from the 70 cents the major packers paid in 2009.

The average Bristol Bay sockeye weighs around six pounds, so take that times 27.2 million fish and then multiply the result by 96 cents and you get a total fishery value of about $157 million.

That's the highest level in 15 years.

So, what's propelling the higher prices?

A couple of probable factors: Lower output of farmed salmon from Chile due to a virus outbreak and February's earthquake, and the collapse of the Fraser River sockeye run in British Columbia.

Update on lost Norton Sound gillnetter

The body of salmon fisherman Thomas Sagoonick, 36, of Shaktoolik, has been found.

Local residents discovered the body washed up on the beach Sunday, said Beth Ipsen, a spokeswoman for the Alaska State Troopers.

Sagoonick and two crewmen, Clarence Savetilik Jr., 24, and Brian Savetilik, 19, both of Shaktoolik, were in a small boat laden with salmon when it capsized in rough waters Friday, Ipsen said.

Villagers managed to save the two crewmen, who were clinging to a buoy, troopers said.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Norton Sound gillnetter lost, two saved

The missing fisherman named in this item holds a commercial salmon gillnet permit for Norton Sound.

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Shaktoolik
Type: Search and rescue
On 7/16/10 at 1510 hours the Alaska State Troopers received a report of a capsized fishing boat near Shaktoolik. Two crewmen were found clinging to a buoy and were rescued. The third crewman, Thomas Sagoonick, 36, of Shaktoolik, has not been located. Personal flotation devices were not used.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Solberg: 'I lost everything'

Kjetil Solberg, the founder and former owner of defunct processor Adak Fisheries, has answered a bankruptcy trustee's lawsuit seeking the return of $400,000.

Filing the papers himself without an attorney, Solberg says he's no longer an Adak resident and lists his current station as Panama City, Panama.

He acknowledges a money transfer "to settle my divorce."

But Solberg contends it was money he was due.

"I did nothing wrong, and the value of time and money I invested in the company was far more than I took out over time," Solberg's answer says.

Read the full document here.

A broken arm ... a hellbent sportfisherman

Check out The Brig for a new batch of law enforcement notes, including the latest lineup of gillnetters in trouble with the salmon cops at Bristol Bay.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Semper paratus

A portrait of U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Sean D. Krueger, along with an aviator helmet, flight suit and boots, are displayed at a memorial service today inside the hangar at Air Station Sitka. Krueger was among three members of a Sitka-based rescue helicopter crew who died in a crash July 7 off the coast of Washington state. Petty Officer 1st Class Adam C. Hoke and Petty Officer 2nd Class Brett M. Banks also perished. The memorial service drew top Coast Guard brass along with Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell and U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski. To donate to the families of the fallen aircrew, go to USCG photo

Monday, July 12, 2010

Bankruptcy trustee says Solberg owes $400,000

As previously reported here, Aleut Enterprise is suing to try to evict an unwanted tenant from the seafood processing plant on Adak Island.

Last week, Aleut filed this 17-page memo arguing that, hey, the tenant at least needs to pay rent while the court case plays out.

The real nugget of the memo, however, is the mention of a separate lawsuit previously unknown to Deckboss.

The Aleut memo says the lawsuit levels "troubling ... allegations of self-dealing and fraud" against Kjetil Solberg, the founder and former owner of Adak Fisheries, which filed for bankruptcy last September.

Kenneth Battley, the court-appointed trustee for Adak Fisheries, brought the suit in April.

Just today, Battley asked the judge to declare Solberg in default for failure to answer the lawsuit.

Battley wants Solberg to pay back $400,000 to the Adak Fisheries estate.

The suit says Solberg, or parties on his behalf, received money transfers that were executed too near the time the company filed for bankruptcy.

For example, Adak Fisheries made a $26,425.71 mortgage payment on a piece of property Solberg owns, the Battley suit says.

Another time, checks for $100,000 and $15,838 went to "Ricky Solberg, Mr. Solberg's wife or ex-wife," for "property settlement, credit card payments and child support."

The Aleut Enterprise memo offers further detail, saying: "The trustee has alleged that Mr. Solberg utilized company funds to pay for personal travel, mortgage payments on a recreational property in Halibut Cove, and alimony payments, among other things."

Solberg is now an owner in a new company, Adak Seafood, the successor to Adak Fisheries.

It is Adak Seafood, of course, that landlord Aleut Enterprise aims to evict, arguing the company lacks a valid lease.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Four rescued after longliner burns off Kodiak

Here's good news from the U.S. Coast Guard:

ANCHORAGE — Coast Guard rescue crews responding to an emergency position-indicating radio beacon rescued four fishermen after their Kodiak-based 52-foot longline fishing vessel Nakat was engulfed in flames today five miles off of Sitkinak Island and 80 miles southwest of Kodiak.

Capt. Joe Macinko and Andrew Macinko, both of Kodiak, Wyatt Adams of Anchorage and David Merriman of Shelton, Wash., were hoisted by the aircrew and taken to Kodiak in good condition.

The 17th District Command Center received the automated emergency alert from the Nakat at 8:29 a.m. and immediately launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and a HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak.

The Coast Guard aircraft arrived on scene at 10:20 a.m. and found the Nakat on fire. The Hercules crew quickly located a life raft more than two miles away from the burning vessel and and the Jayhawk crew safely hoisted the four crewmen with no injuries reported.

"The use of the EPIRB was instrumental to having been able to rescue the fishermen," said Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Ernst, Sector Anchorage Command Center watchstander. "It appears the crew had no time to make a mayday call and without the EPIRB we may have never known that they were in trouble and in need of rescuing."

The cause of the fire is not known at this time and under investigation.

Gunfire at Bristol Bay ... sabotage at Sitka

Plenty of interesting news items today on The Brig.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Togiak herring fishery kicks it up a notch

State fishery managers have released their summary of this year's Togiak sac roe herring fishery, and the bottom line looks considerably sweeter than last season.

The fleet harvested 25,432 tons of herring with an average roe content of 10.7 percent. The price for both seine and gillnet fish was the same as last season, $150 per ton, bringing the total fishery value to $3.8 million.

In 2009, the harvest tallied 17,107 tons worth $2.6 million.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

3 dead, 1 survivor in Coast Guard helicopter crash

Here's the latest news from the U.S. Coast Guard on today's tragedy involving a Sitka-based helicopter crew:

July 7, 2010, 5:30 p.m.

Coast Guard responds to Washington helicopter crash

JUNEAU — The multiple agency response to recover the crewmembers from an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crash that occurred today in the waters near James Island, Wash., has concluded.

Four Coast Guard Air Station Sitka members crashed while flying from Astoria, Ore., to Sitka.

One survivor and three deceased have been recovered.

The survivor is at a Seattle hospital being treated for non-life threatening injuries.

"I grieve with a heavy heart at the news of the death of three members of our Coast Guard family," said Rear Adm. Christopher Colvin, commander of the 17th Coast Guard District. "May friends and our Coast Guardsmen around the country bring strength and comfort to the families and crew of Air Station Sitka during this difficult time. My first priority is to ensure the family and members of Air Station Sitka are provided the support needed to endure this tragedy."

The Coast Guard is not releasing the condition of the survivor or the names of the crewmembers until next of kin notification is complete.

The next step of this response is the salvage and investigation phase. The investigation can include survivor interviews, witness interviews and review of information from the flight data recorder.

The search began at approximately 9:45 a.m. when the Coast Guard Air Station Sitka crew did not perform a routine radio check-in.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Troopers wear out ticket books at Bristol Bay

The Alaska State Troopers have issued another 32 illegal fishing citations at Bristol Bay, where the world's largest sockeye salmon fishery is just reaching its season peak.

Among those cited is Charles W. "Chip" Treinen, vice president of United Fishermen of Alaska.

Go to The Brig to see the full list.

10 million and counting

The Bristol Bay sockeye catch has now surpassed 10 million fish.

Daily updates here.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

News from Nome

The summer open access fishery for Norton Sound red king crab starts at noon today with a quota of 370,000 pounds.