Monday, January 31, 2011

Alaska delegation again tries to ban hybrid salmon

Alaska's senators, Democrat Mark Begich and Republican Lisa Murkowski, reintroduced legislation to ban genetically engineered salmon, or what they call "Frankenfish."

Here's a joint press release from the senators.

IPHC issues recap of annual meeting

Here's the official press release summing up action from last week's International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Are you in state waters, or federal?

State Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, says he hears the federal government has "redrawn the three-mile line around Alaska," possibly leading to trouble for unsuspecting commercial fishermen.

Read about it on Austerman's blog.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Halibut cuts confirmed

Here are the major results from the International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia:

• The commission pretty much accepted the recommendations of its scientific staff and approved a coastwide catch limit of 41.07 million pounds for the 2011 season, down 19 percent from last year.

• Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) will take a particularly hard hit with a catch limit of 2.33 million pounds, down 47 percent.

• The 2011 season will open March 12 and close Nov. 18.

The Seattle-based IPHC manages U.S. and Canadian halibut stocks. The bulk of the commercial catch comes from Alaska.

Here's the full slate of 2011 catch limits, by regulatory area, expressed in millions of pounds.

Regulatory area2010 catch limits2011 catch limits% change

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Contempt at Adak?

Deckboss loyalists know this blog has followed closely the legal strife surrounding the processing plant way out there on blustery Adak Island.

I simply don't have the energy tonight to recap the saga. You are welcome to search the archives for past posts.

But here's something new for you Adak aficionados: a motion in which landlord Aleut Enterprise asks that its most recent tenant, Adak Seafood, be held in contempt of court for failure to pay $215,739.73 in overdue rent!

What a halibut meeting looks like

The International Pacific Halibut Commission posted these photos from its annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia. We'll learn tomorrow what the halibut catch limits will be for 2011.

'I'm gonna get you'

I just posted some mighty interesting news on The Brig about a case of observer abuse and, apparently, fish dumping involving a well-known Kodiak boat.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Obama on jobs, education, Iraq ... and salmon

It's not often, I'm sure, that the word "salmon" finds its way into a State of the Union address. Not to mention a salmon joke!

Here's a choice cut from President Obama's speech tonight:

We shouldn't just give our people a government that's more affordable. We should give them a government that's more competent and efficient. We cannot win the future with a government of the past.

We live and do business in the information age, but the last major reorganization of the government happened in the age of black and white TV. There are twelve different agencies that deal with exports. There are at least five different entities that deal with housing policy. Then there's my favorite example: the Interior Department is in charge of salmon while they're in fresh water, but the Commerce Department handles them when they're in saltwater. And I hear it gets even more complicated once they're smoked.

Nice save

The U.S. Coast Guard safely airlifted the three-man crew of the fishing vessel Ruffian to Whittier this morning after the boat began taking on water north of Latouche Island in Prince William Sound. The crew, which reportedly was fishing for Pacific cod and skate, beached the boat on purpose to keep it from sinking. The Ruffian is a 42-footer out of Homer. USCG photo

New loan funds for charters, mariculture proposed

Gov. Sean Parnell yesterday offered some interesting legislation for state lawmakers in Juneau to consider.

Introduced as Senate Bill 67 and House Bill 121, the legislation would establish a "commercial charter fisheries revolving loan fund" and a "mariculture revolving loan fund" within the state Department of Commerce.

These new funds would be capitalized initially with $5 million and $3 million respectively.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Parnell said mariculturists, who grow shellfish, have extremely limited access to start-up capital "because of the time needed for crop development and market readiness."

With respect to charter operators, Parnell cites the halibut charter fleet's impending shift to limited entry.

Beginning Feb. 1, charter operators in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) and Southcentral Alaska (Area 3A) will need to have a new federal charter halibut permit onboard.

As with past Alaska fishery conversions to limited entry, we're hearing an outcry from marginal players who applied but didn't qualify for permits, which are awarded based on past participation in the fishery.

Or course, those who don't qualify for a free permit from the government can now buy one on the open market. And Parnell is looking to help them with that.

In his letter to the legislative leadership, the governor assets that the federal government's denial of up to 40 percent of permit applications will have the effect of "escalating permit prices."

SB 67 and HB 121 would authorize the Department of Commerce to make loans not only for buying charter halibut permits, but for the purchase or construction of charter fishing vessels.

Parnell said the charter loan fund would be similar to the state's existing commercial fishing revolving loan fund, which he characterized as "highly successful."

It appears that loans would be limited to $100,000, with a $300,000 cap on a borrower's total outstanding loan balances.

Only Alaska residents would be eligible for mariculture or charter loans.

Size matters

Here's an article I wrote for the February issue of Pacific Fishing magazine, just now hitting the streets. Deckboss invites your comments.

The big story on halibut: small fish, small quota

By Wesley Loy
For Pacific Fishing

Halibut fishermen are facing a big cut in the coastwide catch limit this year, and nowhere is the pain more acute than in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C).

The scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission has recommended a coastwide catch limit of 41.02 million pounds, a 19 percent reduction from the 2010 limit. The commission, comprised of three U.S. and three Canadian members, was to consider the recommendation at its annual meeting Jan. 25-28 in Victoria, British Columbia.

For Area 2C, the IPHC staff recommended a catch limit of 2.33 million pounds, a 47 percent cut. Longliners in the region have suffered annual cuts since 2005, when the limit was 10.93 million pounds.

The staff also recommended a 28 percent cut, to 14.36 million pounds, for Southcentral Alaska (Area 3A). The area is the top producer of Pacific halibut.

So what's behind these deep cuts? Have we overfished halibut? Is the stock collapsing?

The problem is fish size, not overharvest or a crash, says Bruce Leaman, IPHC executive director.

"There's lots and lots of fish around," he says. "They're just small."

Halibut, especially in the central Gulf of Alaska, are in a period of very slow growth. A fish that used to reach 100 pounds at age 15 today weighs around 35 pounds, Leaman says.

This obviously has huge implications for the catch limit, which is based not on numbers of fish but on biomass.

Scientists believe the slow growth rate is due primarily to competition for food between halibut and another abundant flatfish in the Gulf, the arrowtooth flounder, Leaman says.

The outlook for halibut isn't entirely gloomy.

For one thing, we've endured periods of small fish before, Leaman says.

Another positive is the very strong recruitment coming into the fishery coastwide, though the low growth rate diminishes any increase in the biomass, he says.

As for Area 2C, the good news is that the biomass looks to be stabilizing, Leaman says. To encourage the recovery, the IPHC scientific staff suggested a more stringent harvest policy, which accounts for the sharply lower catch limit recommendation.

Of course, the commissioners don't have to follow the staff advice as they weigh other considerations such as the hardship felt among commercial fishermen, many of whom have invested in costly fishing quotas.

In fact, for 2010 the staff recommended a catch limit of 3.71 million pounds for Area 2C but the commission bumped it up to 4.4 million.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Tensions mount ahead of halibut annual meeting

Big week coming up, friends, with the International Pacific Halibut Commission convening its 87th annual meeting on Tuesday in Victoria, British Columbia.

The six-member commission will recommend 2011 catch limits to the governments of Canada and the United States. It also will take care of such chores as setting the season opening and closing dates.

This promises to be a fairly intense meeting.

Deckboss already has noted the discontent among commercial fishermen in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C), which is expected to take a severe reduction to its catch limit.

Halibut charter boat operators also are feeling anxious. Check out this action alert from SEAGO, the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization.

As usual, the IPHC staff has posted its Bluebook of key reports for the meeting. My favorite chapter is the "Assessment of the Pacific halibut stock at the end of 2010," which begins on page 60.

Regrettably, I can't make it to Victoria. But I'll try to cover the action from afar.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Halibut guide draws jail time for repeat offense

Details on The Brig.

It's unanimous

The state Board of Fisheries just voted 7-0 to grant the city of Adak's emergency petition.

More fishing for Adak?

The Alaska Board of Fisheries this morning is considering this emergency petition from the city of Adak.

The petition would open some state waters along the Aleutian chain to commercial fishing for cod, in conflict with federal regulations to protect endangered Steller sea lions.

Live audio here.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Halibut trouble

As reported last month here on Deckboss, the scientific staff of the International Pacific Halibut Commission is making some tough recommendations on catch limits for the upcoming season, including a 47 percent cut for Southeast Alaska (Area 2C).

The six-member commission is meeting Jan. 25-28 in Victoria, British Columbia, to consider these recommendations.

One Sitka-based commercial fishing group, the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, says it was "staggered" by the staff recommendations and has provided these thoughtful comments to the commissioners.

Among other things, the organization says it can't understand the 47 percent cut in Area 2C, and adds that "constantly changing harvest policies" are undermining stakeholder confidence in halibut management.

Friday, January 14, 2011

This will take only a few minutes...

The National Marine Fisheries Service wants to know: What is the contribution of fishing and seafood processing to the Southeast Alaska economy?

The agency is conducting a survey to find out, and you might be asked to participate.

More information here.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Sea cucumber diver dies near Annette Island

This just in from the U.S. Coast Guard:

Jan. 13, 2011

Coast Guard investigates commercial fisheries-related death

JUNEAU — Coast Guard investigators from Marine Safety Detachment Ketchikan are working with the Annette Island Department of Fish and Game and the Metlakatla Police Department in the investigation of a commercial diving death that occurred Wednesday on the 68-foot fishing tender Island Dancer near Annette Island.

Metlakatla police reported the incident to the Coast Guard at 2:30 p.m. and two Ketchikan-based investigators flew to Metlakatla to begin the investigation.

The crew of the commercial vessel Island Dancer has reportedly told investigators the diver surfaced and took off his mask and immediately sank about 1 p.m.

The crew reportedly pulled the diver out of the water using the air hose and immediately provided first aid.

The Island Dancer crew was reportedly fishing for sea cucumbers in Chester Bay near Metlakatla at the time of the incident.

Outlook is bright for Cook Inlet sockeye

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today issued the 2011 sockeye salmon forecast for Upper Cook Inlet, and the numbers look strong.

The projected harvest total for all user groups is 4.4 million to 4.8 million fish. That's well above the 20-year average harvest of 3.8 million.

Last year's total harvest for all user groups was 3.6 million sockeye on a preason forecast of 2.3 million.

'Arbitrary and capricious'

Another commercial fishing group, the Freezer Longline Coalition, has sued the federal government over new fishing restrictions put into place in the Aleutians to protect Steller sea lions.

Here is the lawsuit and here is a press release.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Vessel owner criticized in Alaska Ranger report

Don McManman, editor of Pacific Fishing magazine, kindly sent this report on today's release of the U.S. Coast Guard investigation into the Alaska Ranger tragedy.

Nearly three years after the deadly sinking, the U.S. Coast Guard on Wednesday had brutal words for owners of the F/V Alaska Ranger.

The Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation determined the vessel sank in the Bering Sea because of the "poor material condition of the vessel," said Capt. John P. Nadeau, chairman of the board, in answer to a question from the press.

The sinking — and five deaths — "could have been prevented," Nadeau said during a Seattle news conference.

The Alaska Ranger sank in the early hours of Easter morning on March 23, 2008. The head-and-gut catcher-processor had 47 workers on board. More would have died if not for "exceptional" efforts by the Alaska Warrior, a sister ship also owned by Fishing Company of Alaska, and Coast Guard helicopter and cutter crews, Nadeau said.

Immediately after the sinking, the Coast Guard named a Marine Board of Investigation, which held hearings in Dutch Harbor, Anchorage, Seattle and Boston. During the hearings, the panel promised a full report by the end of 2008.

When asked about the delay, Nadeau said the investigation had been very complex. In addition, the original board chairman had retired in 2009.

The board's report also focused on the alternative compliance program initiated after the F/V Galaxy burned on the Bering Sea in 2002. Safety standards on vessels such as the Galaxy and Alaska Ranger were not fully addressed by federal regulations. To address such lapses, the Coast Guard and vessel owners agreed to a set of standards outside the normal government regulatory process.

The alternative compliance program did not function well in its early months, Nadeau said. It was understaffed and underfunded, he said. Even so, the Alaska Ranger failed the minimal standards enforced in early 2008, Nadeau said.

The vessel had emerged from a major refit in a Japanese shipyard only three months before it sank. But structural deficiencies aboard the Ranger "had not been addressed," said Nadeau.

The Coast Guard confirmed that flooding began in aft compartments and, while it's impossible to prove, the initial catastrophic hull failure likely was caused by weakened struts designed to support the Ranger's Kort nozzle, Nadeau said.

The vessel flooded from aft and, shortly before 4:30 a.m., rolled and sank.

After the Ranger sank, the Coast Guard was faced with a decision of whether to "ditch" the alternative compliance program, Nadeau said. But the Coast Guard commandant chose to "reinvest" in the program, tripling the number of inspectors and improving guidance, Nadeau said.

Such alternative compliance programs are central to new safety regulations imbedded in the Coast Guard authorization bill passed by Congress last fall.

To read the complete 192-page report on the sinking of the Alaska Ranger, click here.

USCG: doomed boat not properly maintained

Here's a press release summarizing U.S. Coast Guard findings in the Alaska Ranger sinking.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Coast Guard to release Alaska Ranger findings

The U.S. Coast Guard says it will hold a media briefing tomorrow afternoon in Seattle to release its investigative report into the Easter 2008 sinking of the Bering Sea trawler Alaska Ranger.

You might recall that the National Transportation Safety Board already released its conclusion on the sinking, in which four crewmen died, one remains missing and 42 were rescued.

Calling all fishermen's wives

Shed Media US, a Los Angeles television production company, is looking to cast a new reality series called "Alaska Fishermen's Wives."

Casting producer Annette Ivy tells me she's looking to contact women who are "outgoing and have big personalities."

"We are interested in hearing about the day-to-day worries and stresses the women have to endure as a result of being fishermen's wives," Ivy tells Deckboss. "We also are interested in other activities they are involved with as a result of living in such a beautiful wilderness such as hunting, fishing, etc."

Shed Media US productions include "The Real Housewives of New York City," "World's Strictest Parents," "Basketball Wives" and "It's Me or the Dog."


Contact Ivy at (323) 904-4680, ext. 1061, or

Another fish in the MSC boat?

North Pacific halibut has Marine Stewardship Council certification.

Now the Atlantic Canada halibut fishery wants it, too. Details here.

Feds extend comment period on Steller closures

The National Marine Fisheries Service is giving us an extra 45 days to comment on its "interim final rule" to restrict cod and mackerel harvests in the Aleutian Islands.

The restrictions are designed to reduce the commercial harvest of fish endangered Steller sea lions need for food.

Here's the press release.

Monday, January 10, 2011

$635,000 awarded to eradicate pike pests

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

Jan. 4, 2011

Alexander Creek pike removal project funded

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game was recently awarded $635,000 from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund for a four-year program to accelerate efforts to remove northern pike from the Alexander Creek drainage in Northern Cook Inlet.

Coupled with funds appropriated by the Legislature last session, this award will allow the department to further the objectives of removing spawning northern pike through intensive gillnetting. A program for enumerating king salmon smolt in the area will also be initiated to help monitor the effectiveness of pike removal.

Northern pike, which are not native to areas south and east of the Alaska Range, have been illegally introduced into a number of river basins where they have had very detrimental impacts on other fisheries resources.

Alexander Creek in the Susitna River basin is one of the most heavily impacted systems. As an extension of ongoing efforts to gauge distribution and relative abundance of pike within this drainage, a concerted effort will now be made to significantly reduce pike numbers.

The overall objective is to restore salmon and resident species populations in this once highly popular fishing destination to long-term sustainable levels that will again provide important sportfishing opportunities.

"We thank the Legislature and the local area partnerships for their support of our efforts to reduce the negative impacts of invasive northern pike," said Charles Swanton, director of the ADF&G Sport Fish Division. "The investments made should be returned many fold in terms of economic and social benefits resulting from successful implementation of this project."

Additional information on ADF&G management plans for aquatic nuisance species and northern pike is available here.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

There oughta be a law...

State legislators yesterday unveiled a pack of bills they've prefiled ahead of the Jan. 18 start of the 2011 session.

Here are the bills of interest to Alaska fish folk.

House Bill 20, providing for a priority for a fishery that is restricted to residents when fishing restrictions are implemented to achieve a management goal. Sponsor: Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak

House Bill 59, relating to loans made to commercial fishermen under the Commercial Fishing Loan Act for product quality improvements and energy efficiency upgrades; and providing for an effective date. Sponsor: Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer

House Bill 60, relating to aquatic farm permitting involving geoducks and to geoduck seed transfers between certified hatcheries and aquatic farms. Sponsor: Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer

Senate Bill 20, relating to personal use fishing permits; and establishing the personal use fishery fund. Sponsor: Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai

Senate Bill 24, establishing the Sport Fishing Guide Services Board and licensing requirements for sport fishing guide-outfitters, sport fishing outfitters, sport fishing assistant guides, and sport fishing transporters; making conforming amendments; allowing the Department of Fish and Game to collect information on guiding services; and providing for an effective date. Sponsor: Sen. Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Parnell's pick for commissioner draws more heat

Another group is opposing Gov. Sean Parnell's choice of Cora Campbell as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Here's a letter the Ketchikan Herring Action Group sent to state legislators urging them to vote against Campbell's confirmation.

Your chance to chill in Petersburg

Here's a cool opportunity from Alaska Sea Grant:

Sea Grant offers vessel refrigeration workshop for fishermen

PETERSBURG — Top quality Alaska seafood products begins with properly chilling the catch aboard vessels at sea. To help commercial fishermen improve their operation and maintenance of onboard marine refrigeration systems, the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program is partnering with Integrated Marine Systems Inc. to offer a one-day workshop Feb. 1 in Petersburg.

The workshop will focus on how to maintain, operate and troubleshoot onboard refrigeration equipment. Additional topics include refrigeration theory, system winterization, controller programming, refrigeration safety and system sizing. Participants will use a marine refrigeration training unit for hands-on activities.

The workshop will be held beginning at 8:30 a.m. Feb. 1 at Petersburg's PFI Cookhouse.

The workshop fee is $150 and includes a course manual. Space is limited and preregistration is required by Jan. 26. Register here.

For questions, contact Sunny Rice at the Petersburg office of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program: or (907) 772-3381 or (888) 788-6333.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Industry players sue feds over Steller restrictions

As expected, commercial fishing groups have gone to court in an effort to block federal restrictions on fish harvests in the Aleutians.

Here's the lawsuit, filed yesterday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage.

The restrictions, which took effect at the first of the year, are designed to leave more Pacific cod and Atka mackerel in the water for endangered Steller sea lions to eat.

The industry's concerns are summarized in this press release.

Looking at the lawsuit, the plaintiffs appear to be mainly trawlers at this point.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Dollars and good sense

The start of a new year is a fine time to assess your finances.

For you fishermen out there, here's some help courtesy of Alaska Sea Grant.

It's a nifty guide titled Tips for Managing Yearly Fishing Income.

Lots of good knowledge in these four pages, guys.

Monday, January 3, 2011

What a year

Fish of the year: This bumblebee halibut, caught by the crew of the fishing vessel Atka Pride in September in the Aleutians.

Deckboss took a few minutes over the weekend to review the news of 2010 and compile this Top 10 list of the biggest stories. By all means, tell me where I've gone wrong!

Crossing the bar: Iconic former Sen. Ted Stevens dies in an August plane crash that also takes the life of Bill Phillips, owner of the Bering Sea pollock mothership Excellence.

Super salmon season: Alaska's commercial salmon harvest was worth $534 million dockside, the best since 1992.

Lisa's fight: Sen. Lisa Murkowski retains her job after an unlikely write-in victory.

Drilling ban: The Obama administration nixes oil and gas leasing in Bristol Bay.

Business breakup: Partners American Seafoods and Coastal Villages Region Fund divide the fleet and go their separate ways.

We're watching you: The North Pacific Fishery Management Council overhauls the groundfish observer program, extending coverage to new classes of fishing boats including the halibut fleet.

Steller troubles: The National Marine Fisheries Service moves to close Aleutian fishing grounds to conserve fish endangered Steller sea lions need for food. The state in turn sues NMFS in a bid to block the restrictions.

Exxon Valdez money: The slow and tedious payout of winnings from the Exxon Valdez oil spill case continues, with a $99 million chunk disbursed just before year's end.

Personnel moves: Obama administration names Eric Schwaab of Maryland as the new head of NMFS; Juneau's Jim Balsiger returns home to head NMFS in Alaska; Cora Campbell takes over for Denby Lloyd as Alaska's fish and game commissioner.

Semper paratus: The U.S. Coast Guard reports saving 142 lives in Alaska, but loses three of its own from Sitka in a July helicopter crash off the coast of Washington state.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Improved sockeye catch forecast for Copper River

Commercial fishermen can expect to net 1.18 million sockeye salmon and 9,200 Chinook this season at the famed Copper River.

That's according to this forecast just out from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

If the forecast holds true, it would represent considerable improvement over the lackluster 2010 season, at least with respect to sockeye.

Copper River gillnetters last year caught 635,968 sockeye and 9,654 Chinook, this season summary says.