Thursday, September 30, 2010

Alaska Sea Grant looks to enliven shellfish farming

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hatchery operator fishes for goodwill

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

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

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

Democrat McAdams goes to sea with first TV spot

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

EPA plans to take a bite out of mercury

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

Sept. 27, 2010

EPA will propose rule to reduce mercury from dental offices

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bristol Bay fishermen say thanks, solicit help

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Got demerit points?

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

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

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

Demerit Points

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

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

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

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


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

How about you?

No genetically modified salmon, Parnell says

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

Sept. 25, 2010

Governor urges FDA denial on genetically engineered salmon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, September 23, 2010

$12.5 million awarded to finish Unalaska harbor

From the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers:

Sept. 23, 2010

Corps awards contract for Unalaska harbor floating breakwaters

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


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

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

Friday, September 17, 2010

Lisa's back in

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lloyd to retire as Fish and Game commissioner

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

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

Lloyd is facing a drunk driving charge in Juneau.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Double bird trouble for Bering Sea longliners

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

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

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

Sept. 15, 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Missing man found dead in Nushagak River

Here's an update from the Alaska State Troopers on the search for a man who went overboard on the Nushagak River at Bristol Bay:

Location: Dillingham
Type: Death investigation
On 9/12/10 at approximately 0230 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard was notified that Jerome "Ernie" Beltran, 26, of Dillingham, fell overboard off a fishing vessel that was anchored in the Nushagak River approximately a half-mile upstream from Portage Creek. Alaska State Troopers were notified and a search and rescue effort was launched involving the USCG, AST, Alaska Wildlife Troopers, the Dillingham Search and Rescue Team, Choggiung Ltd. and multiple volunteers from the Dillingham area. On 9/14/10 at approximately 1700 hours, a volunteer search party recovered Beltran's body from the Nushagak River near Portage Creek. He was deceased. The AST investigation is continuing, but at this time there is no indication of foul play. AST would like to thank all those who contributed to this search effort, especially the volunteers who contributed so much.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kookesh subsistence ruling now available

You might have heard that state Sen. Albert Kookesh, D-Angoon, recently won dismissal of a charge that he took an overlimit of subsistence salmon.

We now have the written ruling from the judge.

Deckboss intends to study the ruling carefully as it could be quite significant for Alaska fisheries management.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Searchers look for man overboard on Nushagak

The Alaska State Troopers issued the following press release around 6:50 p.m. Unfortunately, it doesn't say whether the vessel involved was a commercial fishing boat.

Location: Dillingham
Type: Search and rescue
On 9/12/10 at approximately 0245 hours, Alaska State Troopers were notified by the U.S. Coast Guard of a report of a man suspected of falling overboard from a vessel anchored on the Nushagak River near Portage Creek. The USCG, AST, Alaska Wildlife Troopers and private search parties joined in the effort to locate the individual. The individual has not yet been located, but search efforts are continuing.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Ailing seiner crewman airlifted to Kodiak

From the U.S. Coast Guard:

Sept. 11, 2010

Coast Guard medevacs fisherman with possible shellfish poisoning

JUNEAU — A Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter rescue crew this morning medevaced a 28-year-old male reportedly suffering from shellfish poisoning aboard the fishing vessel Miss Michelle in Kupreanof Strait 15 miles northwest of Kodiak.

Jonathon Botz was medevaced after a crewmember on the 55-foot seiner contacted the Sector Anchorage command center via satellite phone. Sector Anchorage in turn contacted the 17th Coast Guard District command center in Juneau at approximately 5 a.m. to coordinate the medevac with the duty flight surgeon.

After the flight surgeon recommended Botz be medevaced, the helicopter was launched at 6:20 a.m.

The crew of the Miss Michelle moored the vessel in Port Lions where the rescue helicopter crew landed and transported Botz to Air Station Kodiak. He was then taken to Providence Kodiak Island Medical Center.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Begich just says no to 'gene-spliced' salmon

Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, says Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically engineered Atlantic salmon for human consumption would be "unprecedented, risky and a threat to the survival of wild species."

Here's the full press release.

Hard times on horizon for king crab?

The stock assessment for Alaska's richest shellfish harvest, Bristol Bay red king crab, is out. And it's disappointing.

The assessment incorporates the latest trawl survey, conducted annually in late May and June.

Deckboss spent some time reviewing the hefty document and found words for worry.

"Male abundance from the 2010 summer trawl survey was lower than expected," the assessment says.

Of course, it's only the big, male crabs that fishermen and processors can legally take to market.

The assessment said estimated mature male abundance and biomass were about 7 percent lower than in 2009.

But this isn't the biggest concern. The red king crab stock, not all that strong to begin with, looks to be heading into further decline.

"Due to lack of recruitment, mature and legal crabs should decline next year," the assessment says. "Current crab abundance is still low relative to the late 1970s, and without favorable environmental conditions, recovery to the high levels of the late 1970s is unlikely."

Recruitment is when young crab reach the adult ranks.

OK, so what does this mean in terms of catch limits for this fall and for coming years?

The fishery opens Oct. 15.

Regulators announced the 2009 quota on Sept. 30, and it was 16 million pounds — down 21.6 percent from the prior year.

We seem likely to see another reduction when this year's quota is announced.

Without recruitment, future cuts could be much more severe.

Certainly, the Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has been a story of spectacular boom and bust. The domestic harvest peaked in 1980 with a catch of nearly 130 million pounds.

The fishery never has approached that kind of productivity since, and managers were forced to shut it down as recently as 1994 and 1995.

Still, it's been extremely valuable in recent years, with last season's catch worth $70 million dockside and the 2008 fishery worth $100 million.

For crabbers, losing money like that would be the deadliest pain.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Two fish firms snag export honors

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell yesterday issued this press release naming recipients of the 2010 Governor's North Star Awards for International Excellence.

Two Alaska seafood companies took the honors for export excellence, the Seafood Producers Cooperative based in Bellingham, Wash., and the Anchorage-based Coastal Villages Region Fund.

Here's what the governor's office had to say about the two companies:

Seafood Producers Cooperative, with 520 members, is the oldest, largest and most successful U.S. seafood cooperative. As a co-op of hook-and-line fishermen for salmon, halibut and black cod, SPC and its members are representative of Southeast Alaska’s fishing communities. With significant investment in its Sitka facilities, SPC was recognized for quality processing and its efforts to market seafood internationally.

Coastal Villages Region Fund is a nonprofit corporation comprised of 20 member villages along the Kuskokwim coast, from Scammon Bay to Platinum. CVRF participates in the Western Alaska Community Development Quota program and uses earnings from the Bering Sea pollock, cod and crab fisheries to provide economic development and other opportunities for its 9,300 residents. In 2009, CVRF completed construction of a $40 million salmon processing plant in Platinum. CVRF began direct international marketing and recently opened an office in Japan.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


A drug dragnet in Petersburg ... the Dutch Harbor report, sleepwalker edition ... a weird case of weir sabotage ... a deceitful dipnetter ...

Catch it all on The Brig!

Friday, September 3, 2010

Judge to Adak Seafood: You gotta pay rent

Loyal Deckboss readers know we've followed fairly closely the feisty lease dispute between Adak Seafood and its landlord, Aleut Enterprise.

To review, Aleut is suing in federal court to evict the processor from the fish plant on distant Adak Island. Aleut has its reasons, the nature of which you may glean from a search of past Adak posts.

Anyway, the two sides have been wrangling in court recently over the terms of an interim arrangement allowing Adak Seafood to stay in the plant while the litigation runs its course.

We now have those terms, as spelled out in this 13-page order from U.S. District Judge Ralph Beistline of Anchorage. The order establishes "conditions of occupancy."

Chiefly, the judge said Adak Seafood will actually have to pay rent, something it sought to avoid. And it must settle up any rent past due.

Further, the judge refused to order Aleut's subsidiary, Adak Petroleum, to sell diesel to the processor, which contends lack of fuel is strangling the business.

So there we have it.

Now let's see whether Adak's only fish plant operates during the mainstay winter cod season.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Gov. Parnell: Let's delist eastern stock of Stellers

This just in from Gov. Sean Parnell:

Sept. 2, 2010

State petitions to delist eastern sea lion stock, raps new BiOp

ANCHORAGE — The state of Alaska this week petitioned the federal government to remove the eastern distinct population segment of Steller sea lions from the list of species protected by the Endangered Species Act. The state coordinated its filing with Oregon and Washington, which also filed a similar petition this week.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has divided Steller sea lions into two "distinct population segments," a western DPS and an eastern DPS. The western DPS is listed as endangered; the eastern DPS is currently listed as threatened.

The eastern DPS has surpassed the recovery objectives set by NMFS and the threats facing the sea lions have been addressed, meriting their removal from the list of threatened species.

"We're working on multiple fronts to ensure that commercial fishing and other important economic activities are not blocked by unwarranted ESA regulations," Gov. Sean Parnell said. "Removing a recovered species from the list reduces needless bureaucracy and litigation risks."

The state of Alaska also submitted comments on the recent NMFS draft biological opinion, or BiOp, and the associated environmental assessment on the impact of federal groundfish fisheries on the health of the western DPS. Despite significant scientific uncertainty and an increasing population trend, the draft opinion concludes that commercial fisheries are inhibiting the recovery of two of seven subpopulations of the western DPS and calls for substantial curtailment of commercial fisheries in the western Aleutian Islands.

"The agency's conclusion that additional fishing restrictions are necessary is not supported by the best available scientific information," said Attorney General Dan Sullivan. "The drastic measures proposed by NMFS are simply not necessary given the overall health of the western DPS."

NMFS has 90 days to decide whether the delisting petition presents enough scientific or commercial evidence of recovery that removal of the eastern DPS may be warranted. With regard to the western DPS, the comments NMFS receives, including the state's, will inform the agency's decision on what, if any, new restrictions it may impose on commercial fisheries.

A copy of the delisting petition and the state's comments on the BiOp are available here.