Thursday, March 31, 2011

A quick update

The board of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority today again tabled the SMOG deal.

Wish I could tell you more, but Deckboss was unable to attend the meeting.

Off and running in Sitka

The view from a spotter plane. photo

After days of waiting, seiners in Sitka Sound are finally chasing fish for keeps.

The sac roe herring fishery opened at 1:40 p.m., the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports.

Deckboss is still chasing confirmation of the opening price.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Does this SMOG deal smell right?

The board of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, a state lending agency, is scheduled to hear a pitch on Thursday from a company called SMOG LLC.

SMOG is an unappetizing acronym for the Sitka Meal, Oil and Gelatin Co.

The company wants to start a plant at Sitka to process fish waste into goods such as aquaculture and pet feed and human nutritional products.

And it wants the state agency, AIDEA, to finance and own the plant — a project that will cost more than $9 million, agency documents show.

Fish waste, of course, is a monumental headache for Alaska's seafood industry. In many cases, the only option is to grind up the fish heads, frames and guts and pipe the gurry offshore.

SMOG wants to dry and process the waste into marketable products.

It's not the first time fish waste has been processed into something usable, such as fishmeal.

But SMOG has a "new method" to better stabilize the waste, to dry it faster and to extract products higher in nutrients and thus more valuable, AIDEA says.

This newfangled Sitka plant has the support of seafood processors such as Icicle, Ocean Beauty and North Pacific Seafoods, who say they're under pressure from regulators such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to find a better way to deal with fish offal.

But SMOG's technology apparently has never been tried on a commercial scale. AIDEA board members, at a meeting on March 2, had lots of questions regarding feasibility, and ultimately tabled a funding request until the next meeting.

SMOG initially seeks $450,000 from AIDEA for engineering, legal work and other steps necessary to bring the project back to the board for final consideration.

Under a proposed "user agreement," SMOG is obligated to reimburse AIDEA if either party decides to back out of the project.

"However, due to the fact that SMOG has limited financial capacity to reimburse AIDEA's expenditures, there is a substantial risk that if the project terminated, AIDEA will not be able to recover its investment," an agency memo says.

The AIDEA staff, however, seems sold on the project.

Read the agency memo and letters of support from processors here.

SMOG's organizer is Peter J. Stitzel of Seattle, state records show. Stitzel or other SMOG representatives are scheduled to give a presentation to the AIDEA board on Thursday.

Of course, AIDEA might well proceed with caution when it comes to "value-added" fishery projects.

The agency ended up with an embarrassing white elephant after a Anchorage venture called Alaska Seafood International went bust in 2003. AIDEA was landlord for the $50 million, state-owned processing plant, which today serves as a church.

Waiting and worrying in Sitka

Checking roe maturity. Melati Kaye photo for KCAW-FM

As we wait for the start of the always frenetic Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, radio station KCAW-FM in Sitka and reporter Melati Kaye are providing some great insights on herring market conditions.

Many worry the herring price could be down substantially this season because of the troubles in Japan, the main market for herring roe.

My thanks to Melati and KCAW for allowing Deckboss to post one of her fine photos.

Here's the latest fishery update from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Aleut looks to join Steller sea lion fight

The Aleut Corp. and its subsidiary, Aleut Enterprise LLC, are seeking to intervene in the Steller sea lion lawsuit.

Aleut Enterprise owns the seafood processing plant and runs the fuel terminal on Adak Island.

The state and numerous fishing industry players are challenging the federal government's closure of some fishing grounds in the Aleutian chain to protect the endangered sea lions.

Aleut, the Native regional corporation for the Aleutians, and Aleut Enterprise want to intervene in the suit as a plaintiff.

Rudy Tsukada, president of Aleut Enterprise, says in this affidavit the government's fishing restrictions likely will cut Adak marine fuel sales by half, cause fuel prices to spike by nearly 90 percent, cost five employees their jobs, decimate Adak tax revenues, and result in sundry other bad things.

Butterflies at Sitka

The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery goes on two-hour notice effective at 8 this morning.

That means the fleet will stand ready to drop its nets quickly once fishing conditions are right.

Here's the latest update from the Department of Fish and Game.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Governor names newcomer Jeffrey to Fish Board

This just in from the governor's office:

March 26, 2011

Gov. Parnell names appointees for fish, game boards

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today appointed Susan Jeffrey and reappointed Bill Brown and John Jensen to the Board of Fisheries. He also appointed Nick Yurko and reappointed Stanley "Stosh" Hoffman and Ted Spraker to the Board of Game.

The Board of Fisheries is responsible for conservation and development of the state's fishery resources by setting seasons, bag limits, methods and means for the state's subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport and personal use fisheries. The board sets fishery management policy and makes allocation decisions for the Department of Fish and Game to implement.

Jeffrey, of Kodiak, has served as a member of the Kodiak Island Borough Assembly since 2005 and has been the borough representative to the Kodiak Fishery Advisory Committee since 2007. She is a commercial salmon fisherman at a Kodiak family setnet site, and a subsistence halibut and salmon fisherman. A former reporter and editor for the Kodiak Daily Mirror, Jeffrey has also written and edited a number of fisheries publications. A co-founder of the Kodiak Maritime Museum, she brings a wide variety of fisheries-related experience to the board.

Brown, of Juneau, is the owner and operator of Taku Reel Repair. He also serves on the Recreational Fisheries Subcommittee for the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee. Brown earned a doctorate in economics from the University of Colorado, and has taught college-level economics courses throughout the country, including at the University of Alaska Southeast. He was first appointed to the Board of Fisheries in 2008.

Jensen, a lifelong resident of Petersburg, was first appointed to the Board of Fisheries in 2003. A commercial fisherman since 1965, Jensen has owned and operated four fishing vessels, and is the owner of Jensen's Boat Rentals. He has fished in Southeast Alaska, Bristol Bay, the Gulf of Alaska, the Bering Sea, Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound, Western Alaska and in waters around the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian chain. Jensen has fished for salmon, halibut, red king crab, Tanner crab, brown king crab, octopus, Dungeness crab and herring.

The Board of Game works to conserve and develop Alaska's wildlife resources by regulating the protection and consumption of game species, establishing methods and means of harvest, setting allocations of game resources, and taking other action to meet the Alaska Constitution's mandate to manage wildlife for the maximum benefit of Alaskans.

Yurko, of Juneau, worked for the Juneau School District for 27 years, eventually retiring as the senior heating and ventilation technician. He has worked as a commercial fisherman, and is now a part-owner of Wings Airways. Yurko served on the Juneau-Douglas Fish and Game Advisory Committee for nearly 30 years, including service as chairman. He is also a longtime volunteer for the Golden North Salmon Derby and is the chairman of Helping Hands of Juneau, a nonprofit food distribution agency.

Hoffman, a lifelong Alaskan and resident of Bethel, was first appointed to the Board of Game in 2008. He currently serves as the director of corporate facilities for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. He is a licensed assistant guide, a commercial and subsistence fisherman, and also owns and manages three businesses in Bethel: S&A Rentals, Nunapik Dish Network and Tundra Fencing.

Spraker, of Soldotna, was first appointed to the Board of Game in 2003. He is a career biologist, having worked briefly with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and for nearly 30 years with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, ultimately retiring as the area wildlife biologist for the Kenai Peninsula. Spraker has also worked as a commercial halibut fisherman and is a member of the Alaska Trappers Association, Safari Club International and the National Rifle Association.

All six of the governor's appointments are subject to confirmation by the Alaska Legislature, and their terms of service begin July 1, 2011.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Alaska industry rallies for tsunami relief

An Alaska seafood industry charity, originally formed to provide relief after hurricane Katrina, is reactivating to help tsunami victims in Japan, Northern California and Oregon.

More details and how to donate here.

Sen. Begich headlines Kodiak ComFish show

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, will be the "featured guest" at ComFish Alaska, Kodiak's annual commercial fishing trade show.

The show runs April 14-16 at the new Kodiak Harbor Convention Center downtown.

Begich will hold an open forum from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. April 16.

He is chairman of the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, a panel of high importance to Alaska.

Kodiak, of course, is one of the nation's top commercial fishing ports, and the trade show is in its 32nd year.

The show features not only dozens of vendors, but quite a lineup of fishery policy forums.

All the forums, including the senator's, will be held at the Best Western Kodiak Inn, near the convention center.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sad news

Jay Ginter, a highly regarded former supervisory biologist for the National Marine Fisheries Service in Juneau, has passed away.

More information here.

Flying fish featured

The famous — some might say infamous — Alaska Airlines salmon jet is featured in a new online roundup of amazing airplane paint jobs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Cora Campbell picks up support for confirmation

Cora Campbell appears to be gaining momentum in her bid to secure confirmation as commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Here's a sampler of letters sent recently to state legislators. Campbell is finding support from commercial and recreational fishing groups, the state's largest Native organization, a respected marine conservation group, and Community Development Quota players.

Some, however, say she lacks the proper background for the position.

United Fishermen of Alaska — supports

Chitina Dipnetters Association — supports

Alaska Federation of Natives — supports

Alaska Marine Conservation Council — supports

Western Alaska Community Development Association — supports

Sara Jackinsky — opposes

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bills aim to protect fishing permits from creditors

Below is a joint press release from Alaska's congressional delegation.

The legislation was filed as S. 608 in the Senate and H.R. 1210 in the House.

March 18, 2011

Alaska delegation introduces Maritime Lien Reform Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Alaska delegation on Thursday introduced the Maritime Lien Reform Act of 2011.

The legislation would protect fishermen who hold Alaska commercial fishing permits.

The legislation also would prohibit maritime liens from being imposed on permits and protect the right of fishermen to continue to earn a livelihood by engaging in commercial fishing. Similar legislation was introduced in 2006 and 2008 but neither bill became law.

"The legislation is imperative to protect all fishermen's ability to continue to make a living and provide income for their families and to meet their debts," Sen. Lisa Murkowski said. "It will keep fishermen on the water employed with the one asset in which they can keep earning a living and address their creditors."

"Commercial fishing is the backbone of the economy in Alaska's coastal communities and an individual's fishing permit needs to be protected," Sen. Mark Begich said. "This bill will prevent fishermen from having a lien slapped on their ability to fish, and allow them to work through problems they may have. It will help keep permits in local communities and keep fishermen working."

"Commercial fishing is one of the largest industries in our state and a valuable commodity not only to Alaska but to the country," Rep. Don Young said. "This bill protects fishermen's ability to make a profit and pay off their debts without taking away their prime source of income. Debts cannot be paid off if there are no earnings, so this legislation is a win-win for fishermen, creditors and Alaska."

Alaska law already prohibits liens on Alaska limited entry permits, but a court decision threw that into doubt by determining that a fishing license was subject to a maritime lien under federal admiralty law. The decision has become the rationale for attempts to take Alaska fishing permits in federal bankruptcy court and the legislation is the best way to protect these permits and fishermen.

The legislation would not only benefit Alaskan residents. There are over 13,000 individuals who hold Alaska commercial entry permits. While approximately 75 percent of the permits are held by Alaska residents, permit holders live in all 50 states.

Knapp: Alaska losses likely after Japan disaster

Deckboss asked Gunnar Knapp, a University of Alaska Anchorage economics professor and an authority on world seafood markets, to talk about potential implications of the Japan disaster for Alaska's fishing industry. Here's what he had to say:

Like everyone else, I'm shocked by the videos and photos and stories of the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.

I'm particularly shocked because in 2004 I spent several days touring several fishing ports near Sendai with a group of fisheries economists prior to an international meeting in Tokyo. According to an e-mail from the director of our fisheries economics association, the International Institute of Fisheries Economics and Trade, "most of the coastal and fishing areas in the region around Sendai were completely destroyed and thousands are dead — the death toll will probably rise. Matsushima and Kamaishi, where we enjoyed such friendly hospitality and had fun visiting the market, wandering the docks and chatting with fishermen and coop managers, were largely destroyed."

It's very sobering and very sad.

Here are a few general thoughts — I doubt that any of them are original:

Most of the effects upon the Alaska seafood industry probably would derive from Japan's very important role as a market for Alaska seafood. The importance of Japan as a market varies widely depending on species and products. I haven't reviewed the data for the past couple of years, but here's my general sense of the relative importance of Japan for different species and products.

Japan is by far the most important market for:

• Sablefish
• Pollock surimi
• Pollock roe
• Salmon roe
• Herring roe

Japan is an important market but not necessarily the most important market for:

• Frozen salmon
• King crab and opilio crab

Japan is not a particularly important market for:

• Canned salmon
• Halibut

So different parts of the Alaska industry are likely to be affected to differing extents. My general instinct is that the events in Japan will be a significant disruption and will cause significant losses for some parts of the Alaska seafood industry, but that it will not be an economic catastrophe for the industry as a whole.

Alaska's seafood industry is diversified across many species and products and geographic markets. It does not depend entirely on Japan. Japan is a big country. There are large parts of the country that are not directly affected by the earthquake or tsunami or radiation concerns. And many of the effects will be fairly short-term.

For those species and products for which Japan is an important market, it may be useful to think about three potential kinds of effects:

Effects on Japanese companies that buy Alaska fish — Any Japanese companies that buy Alaska fish, or that are actively involved in Alaska, are likely to be, to put it mildly, distracted. They have a lot going on that will distract them from and interfere with normal import business. They may have employees and their family members who died or were injured; they may have facilities which were destroyed or damaged, and even companies a long way from the center of things are facing disruptions because people can't get to work. So hardly anyone is likely to be in a "business as usual" mode.

Effects on Japanese facilities and infrastructure — The press has a lot of reports about damage to processing facilities in the Sendai area; damage to transportation (railroads, roads, ports, airports); damage to cold storage facilities; loss of power (which is hugely damaging to cold storage), etc. This is going to cause a lot of disruption for quite a while, the extent of which will vary for different companies and species and products.

Effects on Japanese consumer demand for Alaska fish — Everything that's happening is going to affect consumers across Japan to varying degrees. It's going to be harder to get fish and they aren't going to have as much money to buy fish. The general rule of thumb is that the higher-priced products are likely to be the most affected.

A nuclear catastrophe could have many additional effects. If a catastrophic meltdown and widespread radiation contamination happened, there could be all kinds of additional impacts on the Japanese economy and society which would be more bad news for anyone trying to sell fish to Japan. However, if the Japanese felt that their own products were unsafe, that might work in favor of imported fish. As far as effects of radiation reaching Alaska, my instinct is to be skeptical that that's a major concern. But all of this is just speculation at this point.

Events in Japan could work against the Pebble mine. My sense is that when there's a big natural disaster (like the earthquake and tsunami) or a technological disaster (like the Exxon Valdez oil spill or now the problems at these Japanese reactors) it has a psychological and political effect: people become more aware of and scared of the potential for future natural or technological disasters, even though the actual risks haven't changed. Part of the psychology and politics of the Pebble mine issue is "how big a risk is it?" Regardless of the objective merits of the arguments, people are more likely to distrust industry assurances that the Pebble mine can be developed safely.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Seiners, sea lions continue wait at Sitka

Here's a herring update this evening from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Another salmon certification

More than a year ago we told you the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute had chosen an Irish outfit, Global Trust, to potentially certify the state's commercial fisheries as well-managed.

Well, now comes word that the salmon fishery has, in fact, been found to measure up against United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization criteria.

Not exactly a shock there.

This builds on the sustainability certification Alaska salmon already holds from the London-based Marine Stewardship Council.

For more information, click here or read the ASMI press release.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Work advances to control Chinook bycatch in Gulf

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is making progress toward controlling the incidental capture, or bycatch, of Chinook salmon in Gulf of Alaska pollock trawl nets.

How can we tell?

Check out this 295-page analysis posted this week on the council's website.

The analysis is a necessary step for meetings coming up later this month and in June, when the council could elect to impose a "hard cap" on the pollock fishery. That means the fishery would be closed down once a certain number of Chinook are taken as bycatch.

Chinook bycatch last year in the Gulf pollock fishery was an alarming 43,915 fish, according to the chart on page 21 of the analysis.

A hard cap, if approved, could be implemented in mid-2012.

The analysis says addressing Chinook bycatch in the Gulf is the council's highest priority.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

On watch in Sitka

All hands are waiting for herring in Sitka Sound.

When they show, we're likely to see another huge harvest of the little fish, prized for their eggs or roe.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has started aerial surveys to look for herring. None were seen yesterday, but another flyover is set for Friday.

The biologists look not only for the fish, but for sea lions gathering to gorge on silvery treats.

The 49 seine boats participating in last year's sac roe herring fishery were able to take a huge harvest, 17,874 tons, thanks to the amazing strength of the stock in recent years.

The quota for this season is 19,490 tons.

The Sitka fishery does not open on a set date. Rather, fishery managers wait until the fish are aggregated and ripe with roe before firing the starting gun.

At that point, look out for a hull-grinding competition.

We're likely several days away from the first opener. Last year's fishery started on March 24.

So what will we see this season?

Boats banging like stock cars, the way they did at times a year ago?

Or monster catches worth half a million dollars, like in 2007?

A major uncertainty this year is the traditional market for Sitka herring roe — Japan. That country obviously is still reeling from the recent earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Alaska waters, seafood remain safe from distant nuclear crisis in Japan, state officials say

The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan have shocked and saddened the world, and have raised concerns about the possibility of a widespread radioactive release.

What does this mean for Alaska's air, water and seafood?

The governor, along with state military affairs and health officials, yesterday issued this press release that said in part:

There is no immediate or anticipated threat of harmful radiation reaching Alaska or its waters, therefore all seafood and other food items produced in Alaska are safe to consume.

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has established an internal "incident command structure" to track developments and "make sure we are getting correct information out to our seafood industry partners and customers regarding the current situation in Japan," spokesman Tyson Fick told Deckboss today in an e-mail.

"Although we do not consider the events in Japan to be a crisis for Alaska Seafood at this time, establishing an Incident Command Structure allows us to be ready should the situation escalate," Fick said.

He added that ASMI's long-time marketing representative in Tokyo, Lee Sung Hwa, and her family "are okay and doing as well as can be expected."

Governor likes Olson for another term on council

Here's the press release from the governor's office:

March 16, 2011

Gov. Parnell makes nominations to fisheries council

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today nominated Eric Olson for consideration by the U.S. secretary of commerce for continued service on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The governor also named Ragnar Alstrom and Jack Schultheis as alternate nominees.

"Eric has provided outstanding leadership on the council, and his continued service will advance Alaska's interests," Parnell said. "Each of these nominees is knowledgeable and experienced in management and conservation of the fishery resources in the North Pacific."

Olson, of Anchorage, is finishing his second term on the council and is the current chair.

Olson was born and raised in rural Alaska, is a Bristol Bay Native Corp. shareholder, and is a lifelong commercial fisherman. He is the director of offshore fisheries for Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association, and formerly served as the regional seafood financial manager for Kwik’pak Fisheries LLC.

Olson also serves on the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, the North Pacific Research Board and the North Pacific Marine Science Foundation. He earned bachelor's degrees in management as well as accounting from the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Alstrom, of Alakanuk, is the executive director of Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association as well as a commercial fisherman, having participated in salmon, halibut, crab and herring fisheries in the Yukon region. Alstrom also serves on the Yukon River Panel and the Bering Sea Fishermen's Association board of directors, in addition to his former service on the NPFMC's Advisory Panel from 1998-2002. He is a former mayor of Alakanuk.

Schultheis, of Emmonak, is the general manager of Kwik’pak Fisheries LLC. He has been involved in processing for 38 years, mostly in Western Alaska fisheries, for companies such as 10th & M Seafoods, North Alaska Fisheries, Yukon Delta Fish Marketing Co-operative, ANPAC Fisheries and Whitney-Fidalgo Seafoods. Schultheis is currently a member of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors.

The NPFMC manages over 900,000 square miles of ocean and is responsible for managing halibut, cod, sole and other groundfish in the Bering Sea, the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands waters. Established by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation Act, the council is one of eight regional councils dedicated to the oversight of the nation’s fisheries.

The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which was originally signed into law in 1976, empowers the commerce secretary to choose the final appointee from applicants nominated by governors of coastal states.

Japan tragedy affects Alaska seafood industry

Here's a story by Hal Bernton of The Seattle Times on the impact of Japan's earthquake and tsunami on the seafood industry.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Kodiak fisherman dies despite rescue effort

The Alaska State Troopers issued the following press release this morning:

Location: Kodiak
Type: Death investigation
On 3/13/11 at approximately 2300 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard contacted Kodiak AST reporting a helicopter launch for an unresponsive male on a fishing vessel anchored in Monashka Bay. Investigation revealed that Alvin Holdiman III, 48, of Kodiak, was found deceased on the vessel. Holdiman was transported to Kodiak Mortuary awaiting an autopsy. No foul play is suspected in this case. The case is still under investigation.

KMXT radio in Kodiak has additional details here.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

What does it mean to work as a crewman?

State Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, has introduced House Bill 181 aimed at collecting a better set of statistics on people working as commercial fishing vessel crewmen.

This is something that's knocked around for quite a while now.

The belief is we don't know enough about crewmen beyond their very sizable raw numbers, as reflected in sales of commercial fishing licenses.

Crewmen tend to be a transient and disorganized workforce, and thus potentially at risk when major changes in fishery management come about.

The prime example is "crab rationalization," the 2005 conversion of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands king and Tanner crab fisheries to catch shares.

Because the shares could be leased or sold, the overbuilt fleet underwent a drastic consolidation, eliminating hundreds of crewing jobs practically overnight.

But what exactly is a crew job?

"At present, data to describe the workforce of 20,000 crew members who work in Alaska's fisheries is almost non-existent," Austerman says in this sponsor statement for HB 181. "We cannot determine whether an individual crewmember fished 5 days or 250 in a given year; whether he or she fished in a single salmon fishery or in seven fisheries across five regions of the state; on a single boat or on 10; or whether he or she fished a single year as an adventure, or is a 25-year veteran of the industry."

The bill would generate a lot more information by requiring the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to collect information on crewmen.

The department would give crewmen a "crew activity form" to fill in such particulars as name and address, the name and homeport of each fishing vessel on which the crewman worked, the total number of days he or she was obligated to a boat, and each fishery in which the crewman participated.

Under the bill, the department would annually, before March 1, collect as many activity forms as possible to compile statistics. The names of crewmen and vessels would be kept confidential.

The data would help state and federal decision makers avoid "deleterious impacts" on a large labor force when implementing new regulations, Austerman says.

Looking at the bill, its weaknesses are pretty obvious. Filling out the forms would be voluntary, and would require diligence and honesty.

Still, any new information could be useful. And HB 181, if it becomes law, would sunset in 2016, giving legislators a chance to review its effectiveness after five years.

The bill is scheduled for a hearing at 5 p.m. Tuesday before the House Special Committee on Fisheries.

Friday, March 11, 2011

King Cove boat laden with cod remains aground

The fishing vessel Capt'n Andrew remained aground near King Cove as of this morning, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. A salvage company, Magone Marine, is working to recover the 58-foot vessel. Responders are trying to remove fuel from the boat, which also has up to 120,000 pounds of Pacific cod in its holds, owner Corey Wilson of King Cove told authorities. No word yet on why the boat ran aground about 6 a.m. Sunday. USCG photo

Halibut opens tomorrow; 2C charter catch limited

Can you believe it? Another halibut season is upon us with the 2011 fishery starting at noon tomorrow.

The season last eight months, closing at noon Nov. 18.

Here are the catch limits by regulatory area.

Be safe and good fishing, everybody.

In a related note, the National Marine Fisheries Service today announced it will implement controversial measures to control halibut catches on charter boats in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C).

Specifically, charter clients will continue to face a one-fish daily bag limit. A new twist this year is that keepers can be no more than 37 inches long.

Charter operators say a 37-inch halibut weighs around 23 pounds.

Here's the NMFS press release:

March 11, 2011

Halibut stock decline forces increased charter measures

The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced it is implementing the regulatory recommendations of the International Pacific Halibut Commission due to concerns over declining halibut stocks. These regulations include limiting the maximum size of a halibut caught by charter anglers in Southeast Alaska to 37 inches, and retaining the one-fish-per-person-per-day rule that began in 2009.

The halibut stock is declining due to reduced numbers of fish reaching a catchable size range, lower growth rates, and higher than target harvest rates. The stock remains at risk of further declines. Conservation of the halibut resource is the primary concern and management objective of the measures.

At its annual meeting in January, the IPHC recommended the maximum size rule for charter anglers in Southeast (Area 2C) as a way to maintain charter harvests at the annual guideline harvest level of 788,000 pounds in 2011. The Southeast charter fleet catch has exceeded its harvest level every year since 2004.

The IPHC's recommendation is based on the analysis and methods adopted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Because of particular concerns for impacts on small businesses in Southeast, NMFS intends to ask the council to review the methodology used to determine maximum size limits, including a 42-inch limit. If the council chooses to adopt a different limit than the IPHC has recommended, NMFS will go back to the IPHC to ask that it modify its recommendation to match that of the council.

"The declining halibut stock is impacting both charter and commercial halibut fishers all along the West Coast from Washington state to Alaska," said James Balsiger, NMFS administrator for Alaska.

NMFS is committed to working cooperatively with Canada to jointly manage the halibut stock "for the long-term benefit of both our countries," Balsiger said.

NMFS has implemented numerous restrictions on the Area 2C charter fleet in an attempt to more closely align charter harvest with the limit, but those measures have been insufficient. Even with the one-fish bag limit in 2010, the charter halibut fleet exceeded its harvest limit by 491,000 pounds, or 62 percent. Each year that the charter fleet exceeds its harvest limit, it leads to a lower fixed quota for the commercial fishery the following year. The commercial catch limit in Area 2C is 73 percent lower in 2011 than it was in 2003.

The purpose of the rule is to allow charter halibut fishermen to continue their operations while staying within the harvest limit, and minimizing adverse effects on the charter fishery, its sportfishing clients, and the coastal communities that serve as home ports for the fishery. Allowing halibut to rebuild will best serve the economic interests of both the charter and commercial fisheries over the long term.

The harvest limit was adopted by the NPFMC and implemented by NMFS in 2003. It is expected to be replaced by a catch-sharing plan in 2012, which would establish management measures designed to prevent overharvesting of the halibut resource and result in a sustainable fishery.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

UniSea speaks

UniSea Inc., the Redmond, Wash., company that runs a huge seafood processing plant at Dutch Harbor, is addressing yesterday's news that it has agreed to pay $1.9 million to settle state and federal pollution claims.

"It is important to note that there was absolutely no harm to marine wildlife; no fish or marine mammals were harmed; and there was no danger at any time to the public or UniSea's employees," says this rare company press release.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

UniSea to pay $1.9 million in environmental fines

Here's a press release from the U.S. attorney's office in Anchorage.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Commerce Secretary Locke to take foreign post

National news outlets are reporting that U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke, the former governor of Washington, is President Obama's pick to take a new post as ambassador to China.

Born in Seattle, Locke is Chinese-American.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is among the many agencies within the Commerce Department.

Monday, March 7, 2011

About that motion for contempt

You might recall our posts on Aleut Enterprise asking a federal judge to hold its former tenant, Adak Seafood, in contempt for a purported failure to pay more than $215,000 in rent under a court-ordered lease agreement.

On Thursday, Judge Ralph Beistline denied Aleut's motion.

On the rocks

A Deckboss reader kindly sent this photo of the fishing vessel Capt'n Andrew, which ran ground Sunday morning on Bold Cape southeast of King Cove. With the help of good Samaritan boats, the five-member crew made it off the Capt'n Andrew safely. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the casualty.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Crew saved after vessel goes aground at King Cove

The U.S. Coast Guard issued this press release about 9:20 a.m.

March 6, 2011

Good Samaritans rescue five off vessel aground near King Cove

A good Samaritan crew on the vessel Just In Case rescued five fishermen after the 58-foot Capt'n Andrew ran aground this morning on Bold Cape four miles southeast of King Cove.

The fishing vessels Golden Dawn and Just In Case responded while the Coast Guard put out an Urgent Marine Information Broadcast requesting local vessels that could safely assist the crew of the Capt'n Andrew, which was aground.

A crewmember of the Just In Case deployed a skiff and took the five-person crew off the partially submerged vessel and transferred them to the Just In Case while the Golden Dawn crew relayed information to the Coast Guard.

Two Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopters forward deployed in St. Paul were launched but were not needed.

"In Alaska, good Samaritans often play an essential role in remote rescues, when vast distances can delay a Coast Guard response," said Jennifer Whitcomb, search and rescue controller at the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Juneau.

The Just In Case safely transported all five crewmembers to King Cove with no reported injuries.

The Capt'n Andrew reportedly is carrying approximately 2,000 gallons of diesel fuel.

Coast Guard Sector Anchorage is investigating.

Weather on scene was reportedly 10-knot winds and less than a mile of visibility.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

CDQ players fill longstanding vacancy

WACDA, the umbrella organization for the six nonprofit companies operating under the federal Community Development Quota program, has hired Aggie Blandford as its new executive director.

Blandford fills a position that came open in late 2009 with the departure of Wanetta Ayers, who now works for the state.

Here's a press release.

Salmon catch expected to exceed 203 million

This year's commercial salmon catch could top 203 million fish, says this Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecast.

If the prediction holds true, it'll be the fifth-largest salmon harvest since Alaska took over management of its fisheries from the federal government in 1960, the department says.

A huge expected return of pink salmon is a big driver behind the rosy forecast.

Commercial fishermen caught nearly 169 million salmon in 2010.

Feds 'regret the confusion' over 3-mile line

You might recall the recent uproar over new federal charts that changed the location of the 3-mile line between state and federal waters in parts of Alaska.

The redraw had the effect of chasing some commercial fishermen off productive cod grounds in Kachemak Bay and elsewhere. That's because those waters suddenly were beyond state jurisdiction.

Alaska officials complained.

Now comes word that, for this year at least, the feds will honor the old 3-mile line with respect to fishery management.

"I regret the confusion," Eric Schwaab, head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, says in this letter to state Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell.

Here is Campbell's initial protest, and a press release from her office.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Cook Inlet commercial fishermen take a licking

Deckboss finally found some time this afternoon to drop by the big Board of Fisheries meeting on Upper Cook Inlet finfish issues.

Although the meeting is scheduled to last into Saturday, commercial fishermen told me they've already been routed.

They said sportfishing interests today and yesterday won board approval of proposals that will seriously limit access to salmon for drift gillnetters as well as setnetters.

David Martin, president of United Cook Inlet Drift Association, estimates the drifters will lose 30 to 40 percent of their catch.

Board member John Jensen, a Petersburg commercial fisherman, confirmed the commercial boys are "having a rough go of it" at this meeting.

Proposals 126, 143 and 147 were among those the board passed, after amendments. You can find and read the original proposals here. They're quite complex, but in general the objective is to restrict commercial fisheries to allow more king, sockeye and coho salmon to pass through for the benefit of anglers and dipnetters, and to reach the inlet's Northern District.

The Kenai River Sportfishing Association and the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Mayor's Blue Ribbon Sportsmen's Committee offered the proposals.