Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A bit more on those ASMI appointments

Dennis Guhlke, the Icicle Seafoods chief executive, replaces Tom McLaughlin of the Seafood Producers Cooperative on the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors.

The seven-member board is made up of five processors and two commercial fishermen.

The governor appoints all members, who serve three-year terms.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Icicle's Guhlke added to ASMI board

Here's an announcement today from Gov. Sean Parnell:

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors

Gov. Parnell appointed Dennis Guhlke and reappointed Kevin Adams and Jack Schultheis to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors. The board promotes seafood and byproducts harvested in Alaska for sale, and develops market-oriented quality specifications.

Guhlke, of Edmonds, Wash., is the president and CEO of Icicle Seafoods Inc., where he has worked since 1993. He has a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance. Guhlke is appointed to a large processor seat.

Adams, of Anchorage, has 38 years of experience as a driftnet boat captain in Bristol Bay. He has also worked as a contract employee for the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and the Bering Sea Fisherman's Association. He is a former vice president of the Great Ruby Fish Co., and the former manager for Adams Enterprises. Adams is appointed to a harvester seat.

Schultheis, of Emmonak, is a general manager for Kwik'pak Fisheries. He has been involved in processing for 37 years, mostly in western Alaska fisheries. Schultheis is appointed to a small processor seat.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

McAdams goes fishing for U.S. Senate seat

All the hubbub over the still undecided Republican primary battle between Sen. Lisa Murkowski and challenger Joe Miller has overshadowed the winner among Democrats, Scott McAdams.

So who is Scott McAdams?

He's mayor of the City and Borough of Sitka. And not surprisingly for a coastal Alaskan, he's had a hand in commercial fishing.

From his website: "Scott spent his elementary years in Petersburg, and spent his young adult years working as a commercial fishing deckhand around the state. He credits these years as instilling an appreciation for hard work, as well as a deep admiration for Alaska's commercial fishing heritage."

Friday, August 27, 2010

Three safe after boat hits iceberg, sinks

News here from the U.S. Coast Guard. As best I can tell from state records, the sunken boat is a salmon tender.

Aug. 27, 2010

Boat sinks near Wrangell Narrows, good Samaritans save three

JUNEAU — The Emily Jane, a 60-foot fishing vessel, took on water and sank after reportedly striking an iceberg this morning 200 yards northwest of the Wrangell Narrows entrance buoy.

The Alaska Marine Highway System's motor vessel Taku along with the fishing vessel Miss Barbara responded after hearing the Coast Guard's urgent marine information broadcast. The crew of the Miss Barbara took the three passengers off the Emily Jane and transported them safely to Petersburg with no reported injuries.

Sector Juneau deployed pollution and marine casualty investigators to the scene via Coast Guard Cutter Elderberry to evaluate the situation. Additionally, local Coast Guard Auxiliary personnel from Petersburg have been engaged to assist with the response effort as crews are available.

"Thanks to the fast response of the good Samaritan vessels Taku and Miss Barbara, the three people were able to get off the sinking vessel without injury and avoided a more serious situation," said Senior Chief Petty Officer Adam De Rocher, command duty officer for the Sector Juneau command center. "We encourage everyone out on the water to use extreme caution when transiting the area until the vessel is removed."

The Emily Jane sank with approximately 800 gallons of diesel fuel on board and the owner of the vessel hired Alaska Commercial Divers to plug the fuel vents and boom off the vessel. Salvage operations will commence Saturday.

Weather on scene is 10-knot winds, 2-foot seas and patchy fog.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Fishing industry put its money behind Murkowski

Deckboss believes it's safe to say Alaska's commercial fishing industry is feeling somewhat distressed over the strong possibility that U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski has lost her job.

Less than 1,700 votes separates her and challenger Joe Miller as election officials prepare to count absentee ballots from Tuesday's Republican primary. That'll take some days.

Murkowski says she's not about to concede to the conservative Fairbanks lawyer, who rode Tea Party power to his surprising lead.

Murkowski has been in the Senate since 2002.

The fishing industry was firmly behind her re-election, based on my cursory review of campaign finance disclosures on file with the Federal Election Commission.

The list of donors is a who's who of the industry, with $500 checks coming from executives of such firms as American Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, Glacier Seafoods, Alaskan Leader Fisheries, Fishermen's Finest, Alyeska Seafoods, UniSea, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Alaska General Seafoods.

I also saw some top Bering Sea crabbers on the donor list, and leaders of such trade organizations as the the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, the At-sea Processors Association and the Groundfish Forum.

Two of the state's top organizations representing commercial fishermen and ports, United Fishermen of Alaska and the Marine Conservation Alliance, endorsed Murkowski.

She's been regarded as an emerging leader on fisheries policy since Ted Stevens lost his Senate seat in 2008. One of Murkowski's aides is Arne Fuglvog, a former Petersburg commercial fisherman who last year was in the running to become the Obama administration's pick to head the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Now it appears both Murkowski and Fuglvog might have plenty of time for some fishing.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

NMFS extends public comment on sea lion BiOp

If you've got something to say about the government's new "biological opinion" on commercial fishing and the endangered Steller sea lion, you now have an extra week to weigh in.

Here's the press release.

Pinks galore!

The "all-girl" crew of the Cricket, a seiner out of Cordova, rides a deckload of pink salmon during what has been a wonderful fishing season in Prince William Sound. Through Sunday, the fleet had taken 65.9 million pinks, a new harvest record for the Sound. The old mark was 63.5 million fish in 2007. Most of the Sound's pink salmon begin life in hatcheries, and hatchery returns have been terrific this year. Fishermen are enjoying not only a banner run, but a strong payoff. Processors have advanced seiners a price of 35 cents per pound. Last season the average price for Prince William Sound pinks was 24 cents. Thanks to Audrey Burton for the great photo.

Monday, August 23, 2010

MCA likes Murkowski for six more years

Something here from the Murkowski campaign:

Aug. 20, 2010

Marine Conservation Alliance Endorses Lisa

ANCHORAGE — Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, today announced the endorsement of the Marine Conservation Alliance.

"The Marine Conservation Alliance is pleased to endorse Sen. Murkowski's candidacy for the U.S. Senate," said David Benton, executive director of the MCA. "We very much appreciate her leadership to support the Alaska seafood industry in a manner that protects the environment, ensures sustainable harvests, and sustainable coastal communities."

Lisa welcomed and thanked the MCA for its support: "I am very proud to receive the endorsement of the Marine Conservation Alliance and its members. I fight for our state's commercial fishing industry because I understand its critical importance to our coastal communities and our economy. I look forward to continuing to represent our state's fishermen and women in the United States Senate."

The MCA is a coalition of harvesters, processors and communities in the Alaska groundfish and crab fisheries. The alliance represents approximately 70 percent of the harvesters and processors who provide seafood from the federal waters off Alaska. Commercial fishing provides over 60,000 jobs in Alaska, half of the state's exports and contributes over $5 billion in economic output to the state.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Friday, August 20, 2010

Council to NMFS: Please back off sea lion closures

Here's the motion the North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed today on the Steller sea lion issue.

It's basically an industry-inspired plea to the National Marine Fisheries Service to scale back its plan to close waters in the western Aleutian chain to reserve more fish for the endangered Stellers.

NMFS officials said they'll work with the council recommendation.

We'll see what that means in early October, when the agency will present its final plan to the council.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Afloat again

A salvage crew today successfully towed the refloated salmon tender Cape Cross to Seward, the U.S. Coast Guard reports. The boat went aground July 26 in Main Bay in western Prince William Sound, forcing a commercial fishing closure. Responders worked hard to keep any fuel spillage from reaching the nearby Main Bay salmon hatchery. Magone Marine refloated the vessel Tuesday after inserting flotation foam into the hull. Naturally, no one is saying anything of substance as to the cause of the grounding, many days after the event. It remains "under investigation," the Coast Guard says. USCG photo

A lingering 'tone of advocacy'

A panel of university and government scientists has issued this report on the federal government's new "biological opinion" on commercial fishing and the endangered western stock of Steller sea lions.

The Scientific and Statistical Committee, or SSC, reports to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting in Anchorage this week to review the BiOp.

The BiOp concluded that fisheries in the western Aleutian Islands are likely to jeopardize the sea lion. To avoid jeopardy, the National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing closures and other restrictions that could cost the fishing industry millions of dollars.

Here's a summary paragraph from the SSC report:

"Overall, this BiOp much improved from earlier ones. Previously, the SSC has commented on lack of balance and tone of advocacy. The current document has a more balanced, neutral presentation of the scientific information in the background chapters although the conclusion chapter has retained some tone of advocacy, stating as fact some conclusions that still have a great deal of uncertainty about them."

New laws on land and loans

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

Please read with caution. The release seems to imply we're getting a road between King Cove and Cold Bay, but my understanding is that an actual road is far from a fait accompli.

Aug. 19, 2010

Gov. Parnell Signs Land Exchange, Fisheries Bills

ANCHORAGE — Gov. Sean Parnell today signed House Bill 210, authorizing a land exchange with the federal government for a road corridor through the Izembek National Wildlife Refuge, providing road access between King Cove and Cold Bay. HB 210 was sponsored by Rep. Bryce Edgmon.

"This is a tremendous victory for King Cove and Aleutians East residents, who have fought for road access for more than a decade, and currently use a hovercraft for transportation between the communities," Parnell said. "A road is a safe, economical and long-term solution to accessing King Cove and providing increased mobility and access to services for residents."

The approval of the exchange was introduced in Congress by Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young in 2007. The land exchange was eventually rolled into the Omnibus Lands Bill, which was passed in 2009 and signed into law by President Obama in March.

Gov. Parnell also signed House Bill 20. Sponsored by Reps. Bryce Edgmon and Bob Buch, HB 20 allows a larger number of Alaska fishermen to obtain loans through the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan Fund to upgrade their vessels for fuel efficiency.

"Alaska's commercial fishing fleet is made up of thousands of small, independent businesses, and this bill provides for low-interest loans to those who wish to upgrade to more fuel-efficient engines to assist them in coping with rising marine fuel prices in coastal Alaska," Parnell said.

A new face

As the North Pacific Fishery Management Council continues meeting this week on the Steller sea lion issue, it's interesting to note someone new occupying the state's chair on the 11-member panel: Cora Campbell, fisheries policy adviser to Gov. Sean Parnell.

Normally, state Fish and Game Commissioner Denby Lloyd occupies that seat, and certainly you might imagine he would want to be a part of so important a meeting.

But Lloyd, as we reported on Aug. 8, is facing prosecution after a drunk driving arrest in Juneau.

The governor has said that if the court system "reveals guilt, swift and appropriate action will be taken" against Lloyd.

Deckboss yesterday checked with Parnell's press secretary, Sharon Leighow, on Lloyd's status. Nothing has changed, she said.

But judging from the look of the council these days, maybe we do have a change.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

So who besides sea lions eats Atka mackerel?

Deckboss spent a couple of hours yesterday hanging around the North Pacific Fishery Management Council proceedings in downtown Anchorage.

Here are a few scribbles from my notebook:

• The fishing industry rolled out an alternative to the suite of proposed Aleutian Islands closures the National Marine Fisheries Service says is necessary to protect endangered Steller sea lions. The industry aims to scale back the closures, and is hoping NMFS will go along. For example, in management area 543 way out at the western end of the Aleutian chain, the industry proposal would allow some commercial harvest of cod and Atka mackerel, whereas the government would simply shut down those fisheries.

• You might ask, what is an Atka mackerel? Most likely, you haven't seen it on a restaurant menu unless you dine in Japan, where basically all of the Alaska catch is exported. As you can see from the picture, the Atka mackerel is quite colorful. A handful of bottom trawlers catch the fish, generally available only along the Aleutian chain, which happens to include an island called Atka. One trawler told me this is how Atka mackerel is prepared in Japan: They're split, dried, salted, broiled and then served as an entrĂ©e. The fish is low value, worth only pennies a pound to harvesters, with a rather gray and fishy flesh the Japanese palate enjoys. Of course, sea lions like Atka mackerel, too, which is why the government wants to curtail mackerel fishing in hopes this might help stem the Steller decline in the western Aleutians. A representative of the Atka mackerel fleet says the sea lion closures would chop each boat's gross revenue by 20 percent.

• The fishing restrictions have one famous Seattle-based seafood purveyor, Ivar's, seriously worried. In a letter to the council, Ivar's President Bob Donegan says diners will suffer if one of his major fish suppliers, a factory trawler named the Katie Ann, is no longer able to catch the large western Aleutian cod the restaurant chain prefers.

• Don't look for the council to make any grand statement at this meeting about whether it agrees or disagrees with the restrictions NMFS is proposing. Rather, the council is likely to respectfully ask NMFS to make some changes to help the industry, which says some boats could go out of business due to the closures. NMFS is scheduled to present its final set of sea lion restrictions in October after considering council and public input.

• A really big fish from the political world, U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is scheduled to make a campaign, uh, policy appearance before the council at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. Sorry, Deckboss couldn't resist a little quip there, as he just hates elections. Anyway, the Alaska Republican is expected to deliver a rather important point: That the federal government seems to be rushing the sea lion restrictions into place. It was only on Aug. 2 that NMFS unveiled its intense, 836-page "biological opinion" of the impacts of commercial fishing on the Stellers, and the agency seems intent on implementing the closures early next year.

• Of course, council action will be suspended this afternoon so people can attend the memorial service for Sen. Ted Stevens.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Hot pinks in Prince William Sound

Alaska's commercial salmon catch has now surged to more than 113 million fish, and a big reason is the record-setting pink salmon fishery in Prince William Sound.

Seiners took a staggering 20.3 million pinks in the Sound from Aug. 5 through Aug. 11.

It was the best harvest ever in a single week, almost doubling the old record of 11.1 million pinks in 2007, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reported.

The harvest might have been even bigger, but processors were swamped and the fleet of 164 seine boats had to be throttled back.

The arrival of two floating processors in the Sound helped ease the capacity crunch.

Evidently the markets must have a serious hankering this year for pinks, the smallest, most numerous and least valuable of Alaska's five commercial salmon species.

Even in Bristol Bay, traditionally all about sockeye, gillnetters have taken more than 1.2 million pinks this season.

That's unheard of, buddy.

Monday, August 16, 2010

'Adak got whacked'

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and its advisory committees begin a special meeting today at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, and only one item of business is on the agenda: the federal government's new slate of commercial fishing restrictions to protect endangered Steller sea lions.

We're beginning to get a sense now of the significant pain the proposed Aleutian Islands closures will inflict on some industry players and communities.

For a taste of the concerns, here's a packet of letters the council received ahead of the meeting.

Among the worries:

• Millions of dollars worth of cod and Atka mackerel harvests could be lost each year.

• Vessels accustomed to fishing the Aleutians could be forced to crowd into other areas with plenty of boats and Steller sea lion worries of their own.

• Efforts to convert the former naval base on Adak, in the central Aleutians, into a civilian fishing town could be badly damaged, not only because of diminished deliveries of fish to the island's lone processing plant but also lost fuel sales to the fishing fleet. In the words of one fisherman, "Adak got whacked."

Deckboss must point out, however, that some interests support the government's proposed fishing restrictions, which could take effect after the first of the year regardless of whether the council endorses them this week.

What's more, some folks are asking for a wider trawling ban around one Steller sea lion haulout on St. George Island in the Bering Sea.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Two lives saved in Bristol Bay!

The U.S. Coast Guard sent out this press release last night:

Aug. 14, 2010

Coast Guard rescues two fishermen in Bristol Bay

JUNEAU — A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter aircrew along with an HC-130 Hercules aircraft crew from Air Station Kodiak located and rescued two people in the water Saturday who abandoned the 32-foot aluminum vessel Intrepid as it took on water in north Bristol Bay.

Shawn Elliott, 27, contacted the Coast Guard Sector Anchorage command center about 12:53 p.m. reporting his vessel was taking water over the railings and he along with Nick Kailukiak, 31, were going to abandon ship. The command center immediately launched the Jayhawk and diverted the Hercules aircrew, which was conducting a logistics flight from Cordova.

The Hercules was first on scene, locating the two people in Nushagak Bay with their survival suits on. Once the Jayhawk aircrew arrived on scene at 3:45 p.m. they safely hoisted the two fishermen and transferred them to Dillingham where local emergency medical services were waiting.

"Having working survival suits and donning them prior to abandoning ship allowed the Coast Guard the valuable time necessary to arrive on scene and conduct a successful rescue," said Lt. Herbert Law, command duty officer for the 17th Coast Guard District. "Without these suits the outcome may have been drastically different."

Weather on scene was reportedly 40-knot winds, 8-foot seas and a water temperature of 48 degrees.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

View from Dutch Harbor

The Bering Sea pollock mothership Golden Alaska, tied up recently at the Kloosterboer cold storage at Dutch Harbor. Kloosterboer, based in The Netherlands, officially opened the big Ballyhoo Road plant on Aug. 29 of last year. Jim Paulin photo

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Crash victims included pollock player Phillips

Among the four others who died with former Sen. Ted Stevens in the Dillingham plane crash was Bill Phillips, a Bethesda, Md., lawyer and lobbyist and the senator's former chief of staff.

Phillips was well-known in Alaska commercial fishing circles as the long-time owner of the Bering Sea pollock processing ship Excellence.

In January the Excellence merged with the partners in another processing ship, the Ocean Phoenix.

The ships market their products through a Seattle-based company, Premier Pacific Seafoods.

The vessels are known in the industry as motherships, taking fish from catcher boats for processing at sea.

Ted Stevens, Nov. 18, 1923 — Aug. 9, 2010

Here's a statement from the National Marine Fisheries Service on Ted Stevens, who died Monday in a plane crash north of Dillingham:

Aug. 10, 2010

Regional Administrator's statement regarding the passing of former Senator Ted Stevens

This is an especially sad day for the Alaska Region of NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service, where we have worked in cooperation with former Senator Ted Stevens to make Alaska's fisheries among the best managed in the world.

Senator Stevens was distinguished as a champion of sustainable ocean policy and influenced nearly every marine environmental and resource management law in the U.S. Senate over the past four decades. Alaska waters were often the test bed of revolutionary new ways of science-based fishery management and resource allocations that promoted safety and incentives for sustainability.

Senator Stevens was a tireless advocate for U.S. fisheries and marine science. He was instrumental in promoting the new Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Juneau which replaced the aging Auke Bay Lab. This laboratory honors his legacy with the name, the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute.

Our deepest, most heartfelt thoughts are with his family during this time of loss.

Jim Balsiger
Regional Administrator
NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service
Alaska Region

Monday, August 9, 2010

How are we doing on salmon?

The Alaska salmon season is heading into the homestretch now, and we've seen plenty of positives this year.

Overall, the commercial catch through Aug. 6 stood at 93 million fish on a forecast of 138 million.

The catch of sockeye, the state's top money fish, stands at nearly 40 million, about 6 million shy of projection. This could be the most valuable sockeye harvest in years thanks to substantially higher prices at Bristol Bay, our main sockeye fishery.

Upper Cook Inlet gillnetters surely have enjoyed this season with a commercial catch so far of 2.7 million sockeye, or nearly 800,000 more than forecast.

Much of the fishing effort this time of year is focused on pink and chum salmon.

This wasn't projected as a big year for pinks, but the news is hot nonetheless. Returns to Prince William Sound hatcheries are robust, and the pink salmon harvest on Aug. 3 shattered the daily record at 15.2 million pounds or 4.2 million fish, the Department of Fish and Game reports.

Parts of Southeast also have seen some strong pink harvests, with the fishing effort perhaps "influenced by the increased demand and price for pink salmon this season," the department says.

Way up north in Norton Sound and at Kotzebue, they're seeing great chum runs and catches.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Friday, August 6, 2010

'I want to thank the employees'

Deckboss on Wednesday linked to a press release about Icicle Seafoods Inc. selling the assets of its Bellingham, Wash., surimi business to Trident Seafoods Corp.

Funny, though, how press releases sometimes don't give us the full story.

Turns out that on Aug. 2, the very same day the release came out, the Washington State Employment Security Department received word from Icicle that, well, 71 workers would be permanently laid off in Bellingham beginning Oct. 18. The notice specifies "closure" as the reason for the layoff.

Dennis Guhlke, Icicle's chief executive, was quoted in the Trident-issued press release as saying: "I want to thank the employees of the Bellingham plant, whose contributions over the years are very much appreciated."

But the release didn't mention any worker layoff or closure of the plant, which Icicle's website says has been making imitation crabmeat and other surimi-based goods since 1986.

Seattle-based Icicle, born 45 years ago in the quintessential Alaska fishing town of Petersburg, today is a chip in a San Francisco private equity firm's "portfolio." The firm, Paine & Partners, holds all sorts of investments, from vegetable seeds to telecom to oil industry services to French perfume.

Trident's existing surimi operations include its Louis Kemp plant in Minnesota.

Parnell weighs in on 'ocean zoning,' sea lions

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, who is running for a new term, has done a lot of tough talking this year about that darned federal government.

Here's a little more:

Aug. 5, 2010

State Fights Federal Actions that Threaten Alaskan Jobs

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska is taking steps to fight two recent federal government actions that threaten Alaska fisheries and jobs.

Ocean Zoning — Marine Spatial Planning

President Obama recently signed an executive order creating a new federal bureaucracy tasked with setting ocean policy and requiring marine spatial planning — that is, ocean zoning — in all U.S. waters.

"The federal bureaucracy is too cumbersome already," Gov. Sean Parnell said. "Creating more councils, committees and approval processes won't accomplish anything in this instance except create delay and greater obstacles to Alaska jobs and Alaska fisheries."

The governor was responding to Executive Order 13547, signed by the president, which creates regional planning bodies to develop marine spatial plans for all coastal waters. Ocean zoning is of great concern to fishermen, boaters and resource developers. The policy could have significant adverse impacts on commercial use and development in the oceans and coastal zone.

"Before statehood, when a distant federal bureaucracy managed our resources, Alaskans experienced devastating economic effects," Gov. Parnell added. "In the midst of an economic downturn, the federal government should be more focused on private-sector job creation, not killing off opportunities for Alaskans."

The governor is also concerned the marine spatial plans would include state waters and potentially even upland areas, raising significant jurisdictional issues.

Steller Sea Lions and Alaska Fisheries

In addition, the National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed closing certain Alaska mackerel and cod fisheries to protect sea lions, despite an overall increase in the Steller sea lion population.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is conducting an evaluation of the federal government's recommended fishery restrictions while pushing for an independent scientific review.

The Department of Law is conducting a legal review of both of the recent federal government actions. Gov. Parnell indicated the state is prepared to litigate to protect Alaskans' livelihoods and fisheries.

UFA likes Murkowski for six more years

United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's top commercial fishing organization, today endorsed the re-election bid of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Murkowski is facing what appears to be a tough challenge from Joe Miller of Fairbanks.

The two square off in the Aug. 24 Republican primary.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Don Young says he's in the clear

This was posted today on U.S. Rep. Don Young's website:

A Statement From The Office Of Congressman Young

Washington D.C., Aug 4 —

Congressman Young's legal team has been notified that after full cooperation from the Congressman, the Public Integrity Section of the Department of Justice has concluded their investigation and declined prosecution of Congressman Young.

Big boys Trident, Icicle work a surimi deal

Read about it here.

NMFS pledges independent review of BiOp

Here's a National Marine Fisheries Service white paper that was posted briefly on the agency's website Monday and then removed.

Deckboss spoke with Jim Balsiger, head of NMFS for Alaska, who explained the document was a rough draft that was posted inadvertently.

Anyway, he said the gist of the paper is true: NMFS will subject its new Steller sea lion biological opinion to an "independent scientific review" via the Miami-based Center for Independent Experts.

This is good news for the commercial fishing industry, which faces big losses due to planned closures along the Aleutian chain. The BiOp calls for these fishing closures to protect food supplies for the endangered sea lions.

According to the white paper, NMFS might develop a new BiOp depending on the outcome of the independent review.

The fishing industry, of course, sees lots of other potential culprits in the decline of Steller sea lions, such as voracious killer whales and environmental shifts.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Steller impact greatest in western Aleutians

Below is the meat of a press release the National Marine Fisheries Service issued today along with its Steller sea lion biological opinion.

And here's a handy map for reference.

The greatest concern is in fishery management area 543, in the western Aleutians. From 2000-2008, adult numbers declined 45% in this sub-region. Pup production declined 43%, making the ratio of pups to adult females on rookeries in this sub-region the lowest in the entire western Steller sea lion population. This continued low birth rate is an indicator of nutritional stress, or lack of food.

"We need to mitigate the potential for competition for food in areas where sea lion numbers are declining," said Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries, Alaska Region.

A definitive cause for the decline of sea lions has not been identified, and it is likely that other factors are important in understanding the lack of recovery, Balsiger said. "Even though factors other than fishing also affect the sea lion population, under the Endangered Species Act we are required to ensure that the actions our agency takes to authorize fisheries do not jeopardize these endangered animals."

NOAA Fisheries has included a Reasonable and Prudent Alternative (RPA) in the draft biological opinion that would modify groundfish management in the Aleutian Islands to limit competition between commercial fishing for groundfish and the sea lions. The RPA provides a proposed approach to avoid jeopardizing the western population of Steller sea lions and impacts to designated critical habitat (0-20 nautical miles from rookeries and haulouts). Because Atka mackerel and Pacific cod are the two most prominent species in the Steller sea lion diet in this region, the alternative calls for the closure of the Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries in area 543. Additional but less restrictive measures are also needed in adjacent areas 541 and 542 in the central Aleutians, where sea lions continue to decline as well, albeit at a much slower rate than in area 543.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the public will review the draft biological opinion at a special meeting in Anchorage August 16-20.

"NOAA Fisheries will work with the Council to develop management measures for the groundfish fisheries to ensure fishing operations are consistent with the mandates of the ESA," said Balsiger. "The ultimate goal is the recovery of the western Steller sea lion population so that the species can be removed from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife."

A final biological opinion is expected in January 2011. The new fishery management measures are expected to be implemented in January 2011.

Feds want fishery closures to save sea lions

The National Marine Fisheries Service today released its long-awaited draft biological opinion on the effects of commercial fishing on the endangered western population of Steller sea lions, concluding the fisheries are likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the animals and "adversely modify" their critical habitat.

OK, so what does that mean?

The agency is proposing a "reasonable and prudent alternative," or slate of changes in the harvest of groundfish such as Pacific cod and Atka mackerel.

The idea behind the RPA is to minimize "local competition" between fishing boats and the sea lions for food fish.

The proposed fishing changes appear to be confined to waters in the central and western Aleutian Islands, where the sea lion population decline is most problematic.

Here is the RPA, taken directly from the massive biological opinion:

This RPA requires changes in groundfish fishery management in Management Sub-areas 543, 542, and 541 in the Aleutian Islands Management Area.

RPA for Area 543
Pacific cod fishery
1. Close the directed fishery and prohibit retention of P. Cod in Area 543.
Atka mackerel fishery
1. Close the directed fishery and prohibit retention of Atka mackerel in Area 543.

RPA for Area 542
Groundfish fishery
1. Close waters from 0-3 nm around Kanaga Island/Ship Rock to directed fishing for groundfish by federally permitted vessels.
Pacific cod fishery
1. Close the 0-10 nm zone of critical habitat to directed P. cod fishing by federally permitted vessels using fixed gear year round. Close the 10-20 nm zone of critical habitat to directed fishing for P. cod by federally permitted vessels using fixed gear January 1 through June 10.
2. Close the 0-20 nm zone of critical habitat year-round to directed fishing for P. cod by federally permitted vessels using trawl gear.
3. Prohibit P. cod fishing November 1 through December 31 in Area 542.
Atka mackerel fishery
1. Close the 0-20 nm zone of critical habitat to directed fishing for Atka mackerel by federally permitted vessels year round.
2. Set Atka mackerel TAC for Area 542 to no more than 47% of ABC.
3. Eliminate the HLA platoon system for Atka mackerel harvest.
4. Change the Atka mackerel seasons to January 20 through June 10 for the A season and June 10-November 1 for the B season.

RPA for Area 541
Pacific cod fishery
1. Close the 0-10 nm zone of critical habitat to directed fishing for P. cod by federally permitted vessels year-round.
2. Close the 10-20 nm zone of critical habitat to directed fishing for P. cod using fixed gear by federally permitted vessels January 1 through June 10.
3. Close the 10-20 nm zone of critical habitat to directed fishing by for P. cod using trawl gear by federally permitted vessels June 10 through November 1.
4. Prohibit P. cod fishing November 1 through December 31 in Area 541.
Atka mackerel fishery
1. The available data do not indicate a need to further modify fishery management measures to conserve Atka mackerel forage availability within this fishery management area. However, the elimination of the platoon management system provides an opportunity to further disperse the Atka mackerel seasons to January 20 through June 10 for the A season and June 10 through November 1 for the B season.