Monday, December 31, 2012

UFA announces new leadership

United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's largest commercial fishing organization, today made two big announcements:

• Julianne Curry is taking over as executive director, effective tomorrow.

• Arni Thomson has stepped down as UFA president, effective today.

Here's a news release with more details and photos.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Big trouble off Kodiak

The drilling platform Kulluk and two tugs. USCG photo

Shell and the U.S. Coast Guard are fighting like crazy to save a mobile offshore drilling platform that's broken free from tow boats in a stormy Gulf of Alaska south of Kodiak Island.

Responders are thinking about taking the platform, if they can regain control of it, to safe anchorage in Marmot Bay.

Here's a state situation report issued at 5 p.m.

And here's a unified command website with updates, video and photos.

Countdown to relief?

As politicians in Washington, D.C., struggle to avoid the "fiscal cliff," they're also weighing another important matter: a $60.4 billion supplemental appropriations bill (H.R. 1) aimed primarily at providing relief for Northeast states hit by Superstorm Sandy.

The Senate voted 62-32 on Friday to pass the bill.

Now it's up to the House. Time is short. The bill dies without action before the new Congress is seated Thursday.

So what does Alaska care?

The bill includes $150 million in aid for fishery disasters the Commerce Department has declared this year in several states and territories including Alaska, for its recent poor Chinook runs.

Some say the Sandy bill is loaded with questionable items, such as "$150 million for fisheries as far away from the storm's path as Alaska."

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski is just fine with using the Sandy bill as a vehicle for Alaska relief.

Chinook salmon catch a break

Deckboss was reviewing a recent federal fisheries report and found a very interesting chart (below) on Chinook salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl fisheries.

As you can see, it shows bycatch has been much reduced in recent seasons. Use the tools in the lower right corner to enlarge the chart.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Outlook is good for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye

Here's the 2013 forecast for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon.

It calls for a harvest of 4.9 million fish by all user groups. That's well above the 20-year average of 3.8 million.

Tour operator sues over new observer program

A Southeast Alaska sportfishing outfit called The Boat Co. has filed this lawsuit against the federal government seeking to block the expanded fishery observer program taking effect in the new year.

The suit says the revamped observer program isn't adequate to address "massive" bycatch of halibut and Chinook salmon in the Gulf of Alaska.

The Boat Co. describes itself as a nonprofit "cruise fishing operation" that allows clients to sportfish on skiffs deployed from two tour boats, the 145-foot M/V Liseron and the 157-foot M/V Mist Cove.

The suit argues planned observer coverage levels on commercial fishing vessels aren't adequate to collect quality bycatch data and make sound management decisions to "arrest the recent declines in the highly valuable halibut and Chinook populations."

These declines have affected The Boat Co.'s business, the suit says.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fish company landlord fined for asbestos violation

The location cited in this press release is the corporate headquarters for Copper River Seafoods in downtown Anchorage.

Coming Jan. 1

Here's a news release from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about the impending expansion of the federal fisheries observer program.

Despite a lot of squawk out there, this thing is looking like a go.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

A very good year

Eye-opening compensation levels at some of Alaska's six Community Development Quota companies are old news. But still interesting.

The example cited most often is that of Morgen Crow, executive director at Coastal Villages Region Fund. He made $475,000 in 2011, according to the company's latest annual report.

You might be surprised at who ranked second and third behind Crow on Coastal's list of top-paid personnel.

They were Robert Thelen, skipper of the Coastal-owned crab boat North Sea ($356,582), and Owen Kvinge, skipper of another company crabber, the Arctic Sea ($347,502).

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Got longline gear?

The Department of Fish and Game is looking to buy 400 skates of longline fishing gear. Here's the bid solicitation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

We're all doing great!

As noted previously here on Deckboss, the state is conducting a major performance review of the Community Development Quota program.

Launched 20 years ago, the CDQ program reserves a share of the lucrative Bering Sea fisheries for the benefit of disadvantaged Western Alaska villages. Six nonprofit companies manage fish and crab harvests on behalf of village groups.

A panel comprised of Alaska's commerce, labor and fish and game commissioners have been quietly conducting the program review.

Curiously, no public hearings have been held. The review presumably will wrap up around the end of the year, but who knows.

The state at least has seen fit to post review reports from the six CDQ companies.

These are essentially self-evaluations, with each company assessing its financial performance and success in creating jobs and opportunity.

Based on these reports, all the groups are doing just wonderful work out there.

The performance review does have some consequence. If a CDQ company is deemed to have underperformed, officials can take away as much as 10 percent of its quota and redistribute it among the other companies.

Murkowski names a new fisheries aide

Jay Sterne is the new fisheries aide for U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Sterne takes the position previously held by Stefanie Moreland, who left in August to become fisheries adviser to Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell.

A press release today from Murkowski's office describes Sterne as "a 20-year veteran of fisheries and Arctic policy discussions."

Prior to Moreland, Arne Fuglvog was fisheries aide to Murkowski.

Fuglvog resigned from the job after admitting to a federal fisheries violation during his days as a commercial fisherman. He served five months in prison this year for the offense.

By way of background, Deckboss knows only a couple of things about Sterne.

In years past, he was involved in lobbying for Prowler Fisheries, a prominent commercial fishing company that belonged to the late John Winther of Petersburg.

And Sterne, you might recall, was among friends who wrote letters asking the judge to take Fuglvog's character and public service into consideration at his sentencing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sitka herring fishery humbled

The Department of Fish and Game today announced a preliminary quota of 11,055 tons for the 2013 Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery.

That's a big comedown from the 2012 quota of 28,829 tons. Seiners failed to catch anywhere near that amount, ending the season with 13,534 tons.

Lubchenco leaving

Jane Lubchenco reportedly will step down in February as head of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

NOAA is the parent agency of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Monday, December 10, 2012

You knew this was coming

The Alaska congressional delegation is asking federal regulators to partially delay the 2013 implementation of the expanded fishery observer program.

The request is entirely predictable and expected.

For many years, large trawlers and other fishing vessels operating off Alaska have carried observers — typically, young biologists — to record what is caught where.

The data they gather is critical for proper management of the fisheries.

Come the new year, the program is expanding. It means hundreds of smaller boats, such as longliners targeting halibut and sablefish, will have to carry an observer on at least some of their fishing trips.

Now that implementation is upon us, we're getting an outcry — and politicians jumping in as they often do when new federal regulations come down.

Organizations such as the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association have raised a litany of reasons why the expanded observer program will unnecessarily burden the operators of smaller vessels.

A press release on U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski's website lays out some of the gripes.

The bottom line seems to be that some fishermen simply don't want an extra body aboard.

Would you?

It will be interesting to see if the National Marine Fisheries Service gives in to the congressional pressure and delays the program.

Deckboss really doesn't care either way.

But if observers are deployed as scheduled, he'll sure be interested to see an honest accounting of what really comes up on all those hooks.

Council sets groundfish quotas for 2013

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has set the 2013 total allowable catch (TAC) for Alaska groundfish.

Here are the TACs for key species and the percent change from 2012.


Eastern Bering Sea pollock, 1,247,000 tons, up 3.9 percent
Pacific cod, 260,000 tons, down 0.4 percent
Yellowfin sole, 198,000 tons, down 2 percent
Pacific Ocean perch, 35,100 tons, up 42.1 percent
Atka mackerel, 25,920 tons, down 48.9 percent
Sablefish, 3,720 tons, down 13.1 percent


Pollock, 121,046 tons, up 4 percent
Pacific cod, 60,600 tons, down 7.8 percent
Pacific Ocean perch, 16,412 tons, down 3 percent
Sablefish, 12,510 tons, down 3.5 percent

The TACs are subject to U.S. commerce secretary approval. For the full slate of numbers, click here.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Bummer forecast for Southeast Chinook

The Department of Fish and Game has released its 2013 Chinook salmon forecast for the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska, and the news isn't good.

The projected run size is not large enough to allow a fishery at either river in early May, the department says.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Kodiak processors fail in rockfish challenge

Deckboss trusts you recall how Kodiak processors sued the federal government challenging the Central Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch shares program.

The processors were miffed the program omitted processor shares.

Well, the lawyers have made their arguments, and the judge has ruled.

Processors lose.

Here's the order granting the government summary judgment.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A serious new player at Bristol Bay

Deckboss was delighted to receive in his inbox yesterday a forwarded email confirming some talk he's been hearing for quite some time.

The email says Silver Bay Seafoods recently purchased eight acres on the Naknek River to construct a high-volume, state-of-the-art freezing and processing facility.

Now wouldn't that be something?

Bristol Bay's processor ranks certainly aren't what they used to be, and the landscape is littered with old, or dead, salmon canneries.

The email says Silver Bay is "optimistic we can provide Bay fishermen the same benefits enjoyed by our member fishermen in Southeast and Prince William Sound."

The company promotes "fishermen ownership" and "a stable rate of return on member investment," the email says.

It appears the email went to potential fishermen investors. It's signed by Rob Zuanich, Silver Bay's managing partner.

Silver Bay is a fairly new, fast-rising processor with plants in Sitka, Craig and Valdez.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Big money for the biggest of salmon

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell says his fiscal 2014 budget proposal will include $10 million to kick off a five-year, $30 million research initiative on Chinook salmon, returns of which have been poor in recent years. More details here.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

State predicts down year for Bristol Bay sockeye

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a 2013 sockeye salmon catch of 16.6 million fish.

That would be well below this year's so-so catch of 20.6 million.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

EPA fines three fishing companies

Three fishing companies have agreed to pay fines to settle federal pollution violations involving vessels operating off Alaska.

The three companies are Aleutian Spray Fisheries, Ocean Peace and United States Seafoods.

Here's the press release from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Pollock pointing up

We could well see an increase in the catch limit for Bering Sea pollock next season.

Pollock is the largest U.S. fishery by volume — the feedstock for making zillions of kid-pleasing fish sticks, not to mention that oh-so-versatile protein paste known as surimi.

For the 2013 season, scientists are recommending an "acceptable biological catch" of 1,375,000 metric tons.

That's a nearly 13 percent increase over the 2012 ABC of 1,220,000 tons.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will adopt a harvest limit at its Dec. 3-11 meeting in Anchorage.

Passing the gavel

State Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, will chair the House Special Committee on Fisheries when the Alaska Legislature convenes on Jan. 15.

Seaton takes over for Rep. Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, who chaired the committee the past two years.

It's a post Seaton has held previously in his legislative career.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

More on that beached barge

According to the state's latest situation report, vessels are transiting to the Cold Bay area to offload the refrigerated shipping containers on a barge that ran aground Tuesday.

Offloading is scheduled to begin the middle of next week.

Deckboss has seen the cargo manifest, which confirms that Trident Seafoods was the shipper of nearly 1.5 million pounds of frozen seafood goods inside the containers.

The manifest lists mostly pollock surimi, but also cod, sablefish, halibut and other fish, plus octopus, fish meal and fish oil. Some other byproducts also are listed, such as cod heads and stomachs.

Seattle-based Northland Services was operating the grounded tug and barge.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Good salvage plan needed

A tug and barge have run aground on Ukolnoi Island, east of Cold Bay. The U.S. Coast Guard rescued the crew. The barge is laden with 90 refrigerated containers, 60 of which are empty with the other 30 holding nearly 1.5 million pounds of frozen seafood product. Deckboss hears unofficially that the product belongs to Trident Seafoods. The tug and barge were transiting from Sand Point to Dutch Harbor when they grounded at 9 p.m. Tuesday. Salvage plans are in the works. USCG photo

Nonresidents to pay a bit more to fish in Alaska

The state is bumping up the surcharge nonresidents must pay for commercial fishing permits.

The new surcharge will be $190, an increase of $50 from the current amount.

The increase will take effect for the 2013 fishing season.

The Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, the state agency that issues permits, adjusts the nonresident surcharge every three years according to a court-approved formula.

The surcharge applies only to the first permit a nonresident obtains or renews each year. So, if he or she pays the annual base fee for permits in multiple fisheries, the surcharge is paid only once.

The surcharge is meant to help defray the cost of fisheries management.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

State goes fishing for salmon disaster relief

Here's a letter from state Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell to Alaska's congressional delegation making a case for federal disaster aid for the recent poor Chinook salmon returns.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Let more Bristol Bay sockeye swim upriver?

State biologists are recommending somewhat higher sockeye salmon escapement goals for most river systems around Bristol Bay.

Check out the numbers on the second page of this Alaska Department of Fish and Game memo.

The matter will be up for discussion at the state Board of Fisheries meeting next month in Naknek.

Looking back on the election

Here are a couple of observations from last week's general election.

First, it appears state Rep. Bill Thomas, who calls himself the only commercial fisherman in the Alaska Legislature, might have lost his seat.

The Haines Republican currently stands 43 votes behind Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, Democrat from Sitka.

State election officials still must tally absentee and question ballots.

Even if Thomas somehow rallies past his young challenger, he won't keep his powerful post as co-chair of the House Finance Committee. That's because the House majority leadership on Thursday installed Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak, as committee co-chair, with Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, continuing as the other co-chair.

In other action, Alaska voters handily approved a $453 million bond issue for port and other transportation projects statewide.

The bonding package includes $10 million toward a proposed expansion of the Seward Marine Industrial Center.

This is of great interest to Coastal Villages Region Fund, a fishing company operating under the federal Community Development Quota program.

Coastal has amassed quite a fleet of fishing vessels, from salmon tenders right up to the 341-foot factory trawler Northern Hawk.

Coastal wants to "Alaskanize" its operations, which would involve basing its vessels not in Seattle but in an Alaska port, specifically Seward.

But $10 million doesn't get the job done. Recent studies have shown it would take several times that much to expand Seward's port sufficiently to accommodate Coastal's full fleet.

It would appear Coastal is working to woo as large a public subsidy as possible for its fleet relocation.

And why does Deckboss make such a remark?

Here's a press release from Coastal, issued on election day last week, that includes supportive comments from Alaska's entire congressional delegation, as well as state Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer.

Friday, November 9, 2012

In the pinks!

The state is forecasting an excellent harvest of 54 million pink salmon next year in Southeast Alaska.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Cook Inlet's feast and famine

At least the drifters had fun. Deckboss photo

Upper Cook Inlet yielded a lucrative 2012 salmon season, despite dreadful Chinook returns that shut down setnetters.

The commercial catch of nearly 4 million salmon ranked as the ninth largest in 20 years, and the estimated $34.2 million payout to fishermen was the 11th best since 1960.

That's according to this season summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sockeye salmon account for most of the fishery value.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Begich bombs

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, says he has "secured a waiver to allow continued use and sales of non-lethal pest control devices like 'seal bombs' through the 2013 fishing season."

The senator further says he is "working for a permanent solution to allow their continued use."

Deckboss must admit this is the first he's heard of this explosive issue.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Plenty of news on The Brig today, including a costly conviction for Sitka sportfish lodge owner Tom Ohaus and a fresh Dutch Harbor report.

A snapshot of Alaska's seafood workforce

The state Department of Labor focuses on commercial fishing in the latest edition of its monthly publication, Alaska Economic Trends.

Here are a few notes of interest:

• Average monthly employment in Alaska fish harvesting climbed in 2011 for the third consecutive year, to 8,064 permit holders and crewmen.

• Lots of fishermen hold non-fishing jobs in the off-season. Salmon setnet permit holders are the most likely to hold another job, while trawl permit holders are the least likely.

• Construction is far and away the most common off-season job fishermen hold.

• Fewer than 15 percent of resident permit holders and crew are women.

• The median hourly wage for seafood processors was $9.03 per hour in 2011, but those working in Southeast Alaska made a higher median wage by nearly $3 an hour.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Are circle hooks the only way to go for halibut?

Today is the deadline for submitting proposals for regulatory changes to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

The Seattle-based agency has posted the proposals it has received thus far. Check them out here.

Deckboss finds this one pretty interesting. It would make circle hooks the only legal gear in directed halibut fisheries, including commercial and charter fisheries.

The proposal says in part:

Halibut tend to swallow J hooks which can be impossible to remove without damaging the fish and treble hooks are very difficult to remove from a live fish and tend to catch in the gills and cause heavy bleeding. The circle hook is most likely to hook in the harder parts of the mouth just inside the jaw, cause little bleeding and is easily removed. The purpose of this regulation is to increase survivability among fish that are caught and released for whatever reason.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Millions to spare

Coastal Villages Region Fund is having a fine year, with revenue from its Bering Sea fishing operations projected to reach almost $100 million.

That's better than expected, so the Anchorage-based company plans to break off a $2 million bonus for its 20 member villages in Western Alaska.

The money will go to village governing bodies, mainly tribal councils.

Each village can use its share of the $2 million for purposes such as supplying the needy with heating oil, providing services to elders, paying for public safety, or repairing and marking trails, Coastal says.

You might already know that Coastal is the biggest of Alaska's six Community Development Quota companies in terms of revenue.

But nevermind that!

Coastal now reckons it is "the largest Alaskan-owned seafood company in history."

Friday, October 26, 2012

What's the deal with Rep. Thomas?

Earlier this month we reported that a Southeast Alaska commercial fishing group was endorsing state Rep. Bill Thomas for another term, despite his "conflict of interest" in trying to influence state salmon fishery managers.

The suggestion of a conflict is rooted in two facts: Thomas himself is a commercial fisherman, and he holds considerable sway over the Department of Fish and Game budget as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

The Haines Republican appears to be in quite a battle for re-election this year.

Since that initial report, Deckboss has acquired a raft of public records, including email and other documents, from Fish and Game that shed light on Thomas and his dealings with the department.

The records center on the state's management of the 2011 salmon fisheries in northern Southeast, the legislator's home region, and the rivalry between two gear groups — gillnetters and seiners.

Thomas, a gillnetter, appears to push managers for actions that would benefit the gillnetters.

As an example of the records we obtained, here is an internal memo known as a notification of legislative contact in which a Fish and Game supervisory biologist details a call from Thomas.

Thomas, according to the memo, complained that gillnetters had been restricted but not seiners.

He said he would take his concerns to the Fish and Game commissioner and the state Board of Fisheries.

He asserted he was the only commercial fisherman in the Legislature.

And he noted that he "had done a lot for ADF&G's budgets."

More instances of Thomas contacting department staff can be found in this string of documents. Note that some sections have been redacted.

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association endorsed Thomas, but told him his in-season interactions with Fish and Game managers constituted a "conflict of interest."

"Salmon management and allocation issues should be addressed in the appropriate forums and through the proper channels, allowing due process to take its course," the group said.

Deckboss has not contacted Thomas regarding this issue. But certainly he is welcome to respond.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Expect Carlson checks soon

The marathon Carlson class-action case is finally at the finish line.

An Alaska judge has signed an order directing the disbursement of refunds to nonresident commercial fishermen the state overcharged for permits and licenses.

The refund administrator, A.B. Data of Milwaukee, Wis., is expected to start sending out checks soon, perhaps within a week.

Find the payout list and other information at

Where will wild fish stand in 2030?

Frank Asche, a prominent fisheries economist from Norway, will give a presentation tomorrow in Anchorage on global seafood markets and the rising tide of aquaculture. Click here for details.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

No go again

Another season, another herring shutdown in Prince William Sound. Here's the bleak announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Grim update on man overboard

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended the search for a man reported overboard today near Skagway in Southeast Alaska.

The Coast Guard identified the boat involved as the Darlin' Michele, out of Haines.

State records show the 48-foot vessel belongs to Theodore L. Lynch, of Haines.

Haines radio station KHNS reported the vessel captain and a deckhand were commercial shrimping in an inlet between Haines and Skagway when the 62-year-old skipper, believed to be Lynch, went overboard. Listen to the radio report here.

"It is always a very hard decision to make when you have to suspend a search for a man overboard," said Nick Meyers, a watchstander at the Coast Guard Sector Juneau command center. "Our hearts go out to the family, friends and the crew of the fishing vessel."

Man overboard reported near Skagway

The U.S. Coast Guard reports a search is under way for a man reported overboard from a fishing vessel near Skagway.

A press release does not name the lost man, nor the boat involved.

The Coast Guard says it received a call from Skagway police this afternoon saying the man had fallen overboard.

Efforts to pull him back aboard with a life ring failed, the Coast Guard says.

Two helicopters, a C-130 airplane, three good Samaritan vessels and Skagway emergency responders are involved in the search.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Take a picture, win an iPad

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is offering Apple iPads and other prizes in a "fishing families photo contest." Details here.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Can science solve our Chinook problem?

A state symposium opens Monday in Anchorage on "Understanding Abundance and Productivity Trends of Chinook Salmon in Alaska."

The symposium comes in response to the recent poor Chinook returns to some Alaska rivers.

The two-day event at the downtown Egan Center will be divided into four sessions, each featuring presentations and panel discussions with state and federal scientists. Here's the agenda.

The scientists will discuss such topics as ocean survival of Chinook, genetic stock identification, salmon bycatch in commercial fisheries, and the potential role of hatcheries to supplement Chinook stocks.

People can offer questions or comments at the end of each session. Wisely, state officials plan to use a moderator to help control speechmakers.

In preparation for the symposium, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game prepared this analysis identifying Chinook "knowledge gaps." The 27-page document focuses on 12 "indicator stocks" around the state, in drainages such as the Stikine, Copper, Kenai, Karluk, Nushagak, Kuskokwim and Yukon.

Ultimately, the department aims to develop a research plan to better understand the causes for Chinook declines.

Lots more information here on the symposium, including how to attend in person or listen by phone or online.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Processor shares end, rockfish prices soar

Fishermen are getting dramatically higher prices for Gulf of Alaska rockfish.

In 2011, one major processor, Trident, paid 12 cents per pound for northern rockfish delivered to its Kodiak plant, and 10 cents per pound for pelagic shelf rockfish and Pacific Ocean perch.

This year, Trident is paying 27 cents for all three species of rockfish.

And what accounts for this huge rise in prices?

It isn't higher demand for rockfish. The reason is that the forced linkage between vessels and specific processors went away this year.

Now vessels are free to deliver their catches to any processor in Kodiak. As a result, processors this year are bidding up the price.

Deckboss takes his information from this declaration by Trident's chief legal officer, Joe Plesha.

The declaration was filed in the federal lawsuit Trident and three other processors — North Pacific, Ocean Beauty and Westward — are pressing against federal fishery regulators to try to reinstate the old system of tying boats to particular plants.

The processors say that without these linkages, ensuring a steady share of rockfish to each plant, the companies inevitably will bid against each other to such a degree that all of the value of the fish will go to the fishermen.

Friday, October 19, 2012

UFA makes its choice

The unofficial word is Julianne Curry was selected today as United Fishermen of Alaska's new executive director.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Prodigious Togiak herring forecast announced

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting 30,056 tons of herring will be available for harvest in next spring's Togiak sac roe fishery.

That's a gigantic number, far higher than this year's quota of 21,622 tons. The industry, however, took only 17,226 tons.

Read the department's 2013 Togiak herring forecast here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Alaska fishing giant Winther passes

John Winther, a Petersburg resident and a major figure in Alaska's commercial fishing industry, has died, friends tell Deckboss. He had been seriously ill for some time.

Winther was an owner of Prowler Fisheries, and served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council during the 1980s.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Search suspended for crewman lost off cod boat

The U.S. Coast Guard has suspended its search for a crewman reported overboard from the fishing vessel Flying Ocean.

Here is a Coast Guard press release.

We note that the release erroneously says the boat's crew was crab fishing. In fact, the Flying Ocean was participating in a pot cod fishery, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game confirms.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Search under way for man overboard off Kodiak

The U.S. Coast Guard searched today for a fishing vessel crewman reported to have fallen overboard about 30 miles northwest of Sitkinak Island.

Sitkinak is south of Kodiak Island.

The Coast Guard said it received notification at 10:53 a.m. from the F/V Flying Ocean that one of its crewmen went overboard while crab fishing.

Winds of 20 mph and 6-foot seas were reported in the area.

The cutter Hickory, an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and a C-130 airplane searched the last known position of the missing crewman, the Coast Guard said.

In a separate case, a Coast Guard helicopter early this morning rescued five fishermen from a Sitkinak Island beach.

They abandoned their vessel, the 58-foot Kodiak Isle, after it struck a rock and took on water.

The boat was still afloat at 2:30 a.m. when the helicopter departed the scene with the survivors, the Coast Guard said.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

UFA's short list

Deckboss hears reliably that United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's largest commercial fishing association, has narrowed the pool of applicants for the executive director's position to these three:

• Joe Childers, a former UFA president

• Julianne Curry, the outgoing executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association

• Sarah Melton, a former fisheries analyst on the staff of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council

UFA is expected to make its selection at its Oct. 17-19 board meeting in Anchorage.

Keep it or let it go!

Deckboss was reviewing the hundreds of proposals submitted to the Alaska Board of Fisheries for consideration at its upcoming meeting cycle, and found one of particular interest.

Proposal 228 is a sportfishing proposal aimed at stopping angler "high grading."

"There are problems with anglers keeping fish alive on stringers or in live-wells, holding boxes, etc., then releasing them (high grading) when a bigger fish or a fish in better condition, is caught. This practice causes unneeded mortality," the proposal says.

Currently, state regulations say a fish becomes part of an angler's bag limit when landed and "killed." The proposal would replace "killed" with "not immediately released."

And who is offering Proposal 228? None other than the state Department of Fish and Game.

The board will consider the proposal at its statewide finfish meeting March 19-24 in Anchorage.

PVOA endorses Rep. Thomas for another term, but chides him for salmon fishery 'conflict of interest'

The Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, a top Southeast Alaska commercial fishing group, has endorsed a slate of candidates for the upcoming election.

Among these is state Rep. Bill Thomas, R-Haines, a commercial salmon drift gillnetter and one of the Legislature's most powerful members as co-chair of the House Finance Committee.

PVOA's endorsement of Thomas comes with an admonishment. Some members of the organization believe the lawmaker has displayed a "conflict of interest" in apparently trying to influence state salmon fishery managers.

So indicates a recent email to PVOA members from the group's executive director, Julianne Curry. Here it is:

From: Julianne Curry -PVOA-
Date: October 1, 2012 11:37:21 AM PDT
To: Petersburg Vessel Owners
Subject: General Election November 6th, 2012

PVOA members,

Please check your email filters, we have had several problems lately in getting emails to our membership.

At a recent PVOA meeting the membership endorsed candidates for the upcoming general election to be held on November 6th, 2012. Based on experience with the fishing industry, leadership positions, and years of dedicated service to the region, PVOA supported the full slate of incumbent candidates for Southeast and for the U.S. House. Since the last census, Southeast lost more residents than any other region in the State. Due to census-based redistricting, Southeast is losing a Senator and a Representative from the Alaska State Legislature. In order for Southeast to continue to have a voice in the State legislature, be sure to vote on November 6th, 2012 and encourage others to do the same.

Senate District Q: Bert Stedman
House District 31: Cathy Munoz
House District 32: Beth Kerttula
House District 33: Peggy Wilson
House District 34: Bill Thomas
U.S. House of Representatives: Don Young

In response to concerns from PVOA members the following letter was sent to Representative Thomas:

Representative Thomas,

Attached you will find a letter of endorsement from PVOA for the upcoming general election. As the Co-Chair of the House Finance Committee, your work to fund the ADF&G budget has had a major impact on projects in Southeast that are important to our membership. In the 2012 session alone, you established annual funding items including: Southeast Alaska sockeye and Chinook salmon stock assessment at $550,000 a year, a Southeast Alaska pot shrimp fishery in-season management project at $70,000 a year, and a Hugh Smith Lake sockeye and coho adult enumeration project at $120,000 a year. You also helped attain a demersal shelf rockfish and lingcod stock assessment at $340,000 a year and you were instrumental in attaining four years of funding for genetic stock work to determine sockeye stock of origin in the Chatham and Icy Straight corridor for $300,000. It is imperative that the fishing industry has someone to fund important ADF&G projects as well as our ports and harbors and hatcheries. As the only remaining commercial fisherman in the State Legislature, you provide a strong voice for our region.

As a multi-gear multi-species fishing organization, PVOA currently represents over 100 vessels and businesses operating primarily in Southeast Alaska. Of our 85 vessels, 42 of them are Southeast seiners who depend on sustainable management of our salmon resource to ensure a healthy future. Some of our members have expressed concern regarding your interaction with ADF&G’s in-season salmon management. PVOA’s endorsement was made possible by your long list contributions to Southeast and the fishing industry, but also by your willingness to reconsider your approach to how you participate in the management and allocation process of the Northern salmon districts. While we respect any individual’s right to offer potential knowledge and opinion to ADF&G personnel, we feel your service in the Legislature makes in-season interaction with ADF&G a conflict of interest. Salmon management and allocation issues should be addressed in the appropriate forums and through the proper channels, allowing due process to take its course. In the future, we would like to sit down with you and other regional fishing associations to discuss concerns we share regarding Northern salmon management and allocation.

We thank you for your years of service in the Legislature. We look forward to continuing to work with you on common goals and issues that are important to the fishing industry and Alaska. Please feel free to contact myself of any member of the PVOA Board of Directors with any questions or comments you may have. Each of the Board members have been CC’d on this email for your convenience and I would be happy to provide you with their phone numbers if you wish to speak with them in person.

Julianne Curry
Petersburg Vessel Owners Association

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Ho-hum, another 'final action' on halibut

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved a "catch sharing plan" for halibut. Here's the three-page motion that passed Friday in Anchorage.

The intent is to settle a long-running competition for fish in Southeast Alaska (Area 2C) and Southcentral (Area 3A).

The motion, as you will see, is complex. In a nutshell, it aims to establish a "clear allocation" between two sectors: commercial longliners and charter boat operators. Each sector would have a percentage of the halibut available annually for harvest.

The catch sharing plan also has an element to allow charter operators to lease commercial quota, if needed, to keep their angler clients fishing.

In the most basic terms, each side sought to control as much halibut as possible, at the least cost. Commercial fishermen harvest the bulk of the halibut, and feel this is appropriate based on their history and investment. The charter captains feel their industry deserves growing room, and shouldn't be forced to pay for quota that many commercial fishermen originally received for free.

Well, Deckboss reckons both sides will be less than pleased with the catch sharing plan and the numbers it contains.

It's always important to remember that the council's actions are merely recommendations. The U.S. commerce secretary has final say.

We've seen the council take "final action" before on solutions to the halibut war, only to see those actions succumb to politics and bureaucracy.

Will this likewise be the fate of catch sharing plan?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Blue crab blues

Here's one last quota announcement for the upcoming Bering Sea crab fisheries.

This season's St. Matthew Island blue king crab quota is 1.63 million pounds, down 31 percent from last season's 2.36 million pounds.

The fishery opens at noon Oct. 15. More details here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bering Sea snow crab quota cut 25 percent

This season's Bering Sea snow crab quota is 66.35 million pounds, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced today.

That's a 25 percent reduction from last season's quota of 88.89 million pounds.

The season opens at noon Oct. 15. More details here.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Bristol Bay red king crab quota holds steady

This season's Bristol Bay red king crab quota is 7.85 million pounds, the Department of Fish and Game just announced.

That's a hair above last season's quota of 7.83 million pounds.

The fishery opens at noon Oct. 15. More details here.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Here come the crab quotas

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has begun announcing Bering Sea crab quotas for the upcoming season, and the early news isn't good.

The bairdi Tanner crab fishery will remain closed again this season due to weak stocks. Here's the announcement.

Likewise, the Pribilof District red and blue king crab fisheries will remain closed. Details here.

Presumably, the department soon will announce quotas for the state's two most valuable crab fisheries, Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Five indicted in $500,000 theft at Trident

This just in from the U.S. attorney's office:

Five people indicted on charges of embezzling nearly $500,000 from Trident Seafoods

ANCHORAGE — U.S. Attorney Karen L. Loeffler announced today that five individuals with ties to Kodiak were indicted on charges of wire fraud for their role in embezzling almost $500,000 from Trident Seafoods.

Isairis Wolfe, 32, of Kodiak; Anne Wilson, aka Anne Sorio, 31, of Kent, Wash.; Jeremy Smith, 30, of Kodiak; Valerie Olivares, 34, of Corpus Christi, Texas; and Jamie Fathke, 28, of Kodiak, were indicted Sept. 18 on wire fraud charges. Four of the defendants have been taken into federal custody. The initial appearance for two of the defendants from Kodiak, Wolfe and Smith, are scheduled for this afternoon in Anchorage.

According to the indictment, between approximately January 2008 and continuing until August 2010, Wolfe used her position as the bookkeeper for Trident Seafoods in Kodiak to write Trident checks to four of her personal associates Wilson, Smith, Olivares and Fathke. The allegations include that Wolfe, using her check writing authority at Trident, drafted approximately 52 checks on a Trident account and made them payable to her personal associates Wilson, Smith, Olivares and Fathke, as well as to Wilson's minor son, L.E. The checks were negotiated by Wolfe and her associates and they shared the proceeds. It is further alleged that Wolfe concealed the fraud by creating fraudulent accounting records so that the payments appeared to be legitimate.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Aunnie Steward, who presented the case to the grand jury, indicated that the law provides for a maximum total sentence of 20 years in prison, a fine of $250,000 or both for each count as well as restitution for the amount embezzled. Under the federal sentencing statutes, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offenses and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Loeffler commends the FBI for the investigation of this case and the Kodiak Police Department for its assistance.

An indictment is only a charge and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent and is entitled to a fair trial at which the government must prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

UFA's internal debate

United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's top commercial fishing group, has been looking since July for a new executive director.

Naturally, we're all wondering how the search is going.

Deckboss can provide a little insight in the form of a "confidential" email that came his way today. The email is "inside baseball," to some degree, but I expect most readers can follow it. So here it is:

Subject: UFA Exective Director selection process and list of applicants--draft memo
Date: Mon, 17 Sep 2012 10:39:31 -0800
From: Roland Maw
To: Undisclosed Recipients


UFA Board:

We have received the ED selection process memorandum and the list of candidates and I wish to make a few comments on the process. In particular, one of the candidates and her relationship with some of the EC members who will be involved in making EC recommendations to the full Board. First of all, I would recommend that no less than three candidates names be forwarded to the full Board, and that the final selection require a two thirds majority vote of approval.

In terms of applicants, my particular concern is with Julianne Curry, with whom I have professional experiences and observations at the NPFMC relative to the Salmon FMP issue. It is not about Julianne as a person, and it is not about personal issues, instead, it is about her history with fishery policy agendas, how she has pursued them and her professional relationships with UFA groups. I am concerned only about this matter in regard to what is best for UFA as a professional organization. Questions often arise as to how Julianne, with her narrow focus on fisheries issues, lack of willingness to listen to opposing points of view and unwillingness to compromise, can fairly represent the diverse issues of UFA as a statewide commercial fishery organization.

Concerns occur on a regular basis at the NPFMC Advisory Panel (AP) regarding her involvement with the "Super 8," otherwise known as "the Angry 8," on the AP. This group, comprised of two UFA voting member group reps, PVOA and ALFA, routinely votes as a minority block on the AP and develops lengthy minority opinions, both of which are the subject of controversy. Other notable groups represented in the “Angry 8” are: AMCC, the Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition (GOAC3) and the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Development Association (YRDFA). The “Angry 8” group has been a subject of discussion at the AP of the NPFMC for almost a year, resulting in the Chairman of the NPFMC delivering a warning to the AP, through the Chair of the AP, about this issue. The “Angry 8” group unnecessarily takes on issues outside their respective geographic areas, and, in so doing, they injure other UFA member groups. In the case of Cook Inlet, Julianne spoke in favor of the revision to the Salmon FMP against the interests of UCIDA. In the light of these activities, how can she fairly represent member groups as the ED of UFA?

This issue needs to come to light in this selection process and needs to be known to the full Board. There are numerous salmon-based organizations who are not involved in the Council process and are unaware of this organized political activity at the Council. The subject of the "Angry 8" has also become a subject of interest with at least one member of the press. The voting record of the "Angry 8" is a matter of record in the Council minutes. This issue remains an ongoing subject of discussion within the EC of the NPFMC.

Julianne began telling people at the UFA February 2012 winter Board meeting in Juneau that she was going to apply for the UFA ED position in the fall when it was announced. She also announced that she would be resigning from PVOA. Since then, she has made no effort to communicate with any of the group representatives to discuss her plans and goals, if she is to be selected and to tell us how she can fairly represent our diverse interests.

Does this cover bite?

It seems the September issue of Pacific Fishing magazine, above, put editor Don McManman in the doghouse.

Dozens of readers lodged complaints about the cover photo showing Lucky, a dog, trying to "pick" a salmon from a Bristol Bay setnet.

Bristol Bay fishermen have worked hard to raise the quality of their product in recent years, and the cover casts the bay in a bad light, the readers said. As one reader put it, "this cover photo is just bad for business."

McManman, in the October issue just out, writes that "if you're upset with the cover, I apologize."

OK, Deckboss can certainly understand how Bristol Bay producers might cringe at an image of a dog chomping on what might end up as somebody's dinner. How does that help sell the bay's millions of tasty sockeye?

But from a journalistic standpoint, I like the photo. It makes for a fun, sassy cover.

The critics should remember that Pacific Fishing, and Deckboss, aren't mere marketing tools for industry. If they were, I doubt you'd bother reading them.

So, what's your opinion of the cover?

Full disclosure: I've been a contributing writer for Pacific Fishing magazine for many years.

Dear Jane

Last month, three independent experts sharply criticized a federal "biological opinion" on the Steller sea lion.

The National Marine Fisheries Service had used the controversial BiOp as the basis for restricting commercial catches in the western and central Aleutians. The intent is to leave more cod and other fish in the water for the endangered Stellers to eat.

The question now is whether the expert reviews will carry any weight in two ongoing forums on the Steller issue.

One forum is the federal courts, where the state and commercial fishing groups are suing in an effort to overturn what they regard as scientifically unsupported fishery restrictions.

The other forum is the federal bureaucracy, as NMFS prepares an environmental impact statement. A judge in January faulted the agency for not doing an EIS prior to imposing the fishing restrictions.

With that as background, here's an interesting letter the Freezer Longline Coalition recently sent to Jane Lubchenco, the Obama administration official who oversees NMFS. The Seattle-based group is among those suing the government, naming Lubchenco herself as a defendant.

In its letter, the group "respectfully" asks Lubchenco to notify the courts of the "new, important, and compelling information" in the expert reviews. It also asks her to "withdraw the BiOp."

Moonlight Maid goes down

We lost a special boat with the sinking of the Moonlight Maid last week south of Resurrection Bay. Fortunately, the Coast Guard rescued all four people aboard. Clayton Paddock, who said he captained the vessel during the salmon season but had been off the boat for about a month, sent these photos. The mermaid was painted on the stack. The 110-foot wood-hulled boat was built in 1942 as a Navy subchaser, and was among a very few still afloat. More details here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Bristol Bay — Alaska's salmon MVP

This year's catch of nearly 20.6 million sockeye at Bristol Bay paid fishermen $117.8 million, says this season summary from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Four rescued from raft south of Resurrection Bay

The U.S. Coast Guard says it rescued four men from a life raft Thursday night after they abandoned the fishing vessel Moonlight Maid more than 30 miles south of Resurrection Bay.

"The crew reported that the vessel was sinking and they were donning survival suits and entering their life raft," the Coast Guard said.

Here's the mayday call.

A helicopter out of Kodiak located the raft at 10:51 p.m. and safely hoisted the fishermen and took them to Seward.

Reported weather conditions at the time the vessel sank included winds of 20 to 30 mph and 13-foot seas.

The Coast Guard planned to conduct an overflight to check for debris and pollution.

The state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission lists the Moonlight Maid as a 110-foot wood-hulled vessel, built in 1942.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

No go for Southeast red king crab

After opening in 2011 to end a five-year shutdown, the Southeast Alaska commercial red king crab fishery will remain closed this year due to weak stocks.

State fishery managers say the biomass of mature male crab is at its lowest level in 22 years. Read more here.

Last season, 54 permit holders had a small but lucrative harvest of 176,083 pounds of red king crab. The crab paid $10.64 per pound at the docks, for a total fishery value of $1.87 million.


This year's Alaska Permanent Fund dividend is $878.

That's a big drop from last year's $1,174.

Most dividends will be paid Oct. 4 by direct deposit.

Monday, September 17, 2012

State posts FAQ on Chinook disaster

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game answers questions here regarding poor Chinook salmon returns to certain parts of the state.

The FAQ says the science team looking into the matter will hold a symposium Oct. 22-23 at the Egan Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A CDQ civil war

Back in June, Deckboss predicted conflict among the six companies operating under Alaska's Community Development Quota program.

Now we're seeing that prediction play out, as five of the companies are opposing efforts of the sixth, Coastal Villages Region Fund, to obtain a greater share of the quotas.

Coastal is vowing to continue its efforts, which the other five consider to be "dangerous" to the CDQ program.

Read a remarkable exchange of correspondence among the CDQ players in this press packet Coastal distributed this week.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Feds won't intervene in Southeast salmon fishery

The federal government is declining — for now, at least — to take control of the state-managed commercial purse seine salmon fishery near the Southeast Alaska village of Angoon.

Here's a press release explaining the decision.

Kootznoowoo Inc., the Native corporation for Angoon, had petitioned the feds to exercise "extraterritorial jurisdiction," arguing state commercial fisheries had interfered with local subsistence fishing for sockeye.

The Chinook research team

Speaking of Alaska's Chinook salmon woes, Deckboss is sure you recall Gov. Sean Parnell's July announcement that the Department of Fish and Game would assemble "a team of Alaska's top fisheries scientists" to develop a research plan.

A Cook Inlet reader asked me this week if I had any news about the team, such as who is on it.

Here's the reply I received today from the governor's office:

The team is headed up by F&G's chief fisheries scientists Eric Volk and Bob Clark. It also includes other fishery scientists (Andrew Munro and Steve Fleischman), fishery biologists (Ed Jones), a geneticist (Bill Templin) and staff from the subsistence division (Dr. Jim Fall).

Sharon Leighow
Press Secretary
Office of Governor Sean Parnell

Alaska gets in line

This morning we brought you the news of how Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank had declared a fishery disaster for Alaska due to poor Chinook salmon runs in some parts of the state.

Well, turns out Alaska isn't alone.

Blank also issued fishery disaster determinations today for several Northeast states, as well as Mississippi. Details here.

Of course, these disaster declarations really are meaningful only if Congress ponies up significant dollars for relief.

That seems far from guaranteed, with the politicians under enormous pressure to cut the federal deficit and avoid tax hikes.

Feds declare salmon disaster with aid possible

The U.S. Department of Commerce has declared a fishery disaster for Alaska due to weak Chinook salmon returns to Cook Inlet and the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers.

Read the letter to Gov. Sean Parnell.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Steller opportunity for a congressional hearing?

Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, chairman of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, has gotten wind of those independent experts questioning the basis for closing fisheries in the Aleutians to protect Steller sea lions.

Now he wants answers from the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Read the senator's take here.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Is your boat in order?

Here's an important notice from the U.S. Coast Guard:

Dockside safety exams for most commercial fishing vessels
become mandatory in October

JUNEAU — The Coast Guard is requiring all commercial fishing vessels that operate or fish more than three miles from the territorial sea baseline to complete a mandatory Coast Guard dockside safety exam as of Oct. 16, 2012.

This regulatory change comes as a result of Congress passing the Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010. This change affects commercial fishing fleets nationwide, and the Coast Guard is conducting outreach efforts to ensure those affected are aware of the changes with the goal of having them in compliance before the deadline.

"The Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2010 introduces a number of new rules the Coast Guard will be enforcing," said Ken Lawrenson, the Coast Guard District 17 commercial fishing vessel safety coordinator. "The use of 'three miles from the territorial sea baseline' is a bit of a change from the existing regulation, which uses a complicated definition of the 'boundary line.' It will be a lot easier to understand because most nautical charts show a thin grey line that indicates where that three miles from the territorial sea baseline is located so it becomes very simple to see if you are operating seaward or shoreward of that line. If you are operating, either fishing or transiting your boat, beyond that three-mile line, then the 16th of October deadline applies to you, and your fishing vessel needs to have completed a dockside safety exam."

Dockside examinations are free of charge, and currently no penalties will be issued for discrepancies. If discrepancies are found, vessel owners will be issued a worklist and a reasonable time to correct any issues. The goal is to bring commercial fishermen into compliance while minimizing disruptions to fishing.

"There is no good reason to put off or delay the start of an exam," Lawrenson said. "Exams are free and most vessels already have the safety equipment and documentation to pass a dockside safety exam."

A letter from the Coast Guard to the commercial fishing industry explaining the dockside safety exam requirements is available here.

In Alaska, fishermen are asked to contact their nearest Coast Guard Sector or Marine Safety Detachment to schedule an exam:

Ketchikan, (907) 225-4496
Sitka, (907) 966-5454
Juneau, (907) 463-2448
Valdez, (907) 835-7223
Homer, (907) 235-3292
Kodiak, (907) 486-5918
Dutch Harbor, (907) 581-3466
Anchorage, (907) 271-6700

Direct questions or concerns to Lawrenson at (907) 463-2810 or
(907) 321-4110 (cell) or

Sunday, September 9, 2012

A mixed outlook for Alaska crab

Fewer snow crab this season? ASMI photo

The quota for Bristol Bay red king crab might go up a bit, but the Bering Sea snow crab quota could see a substantial cut.

That's the outlook in a nutshell for Alaska's two most valuable commercial crab fisheries, based on this technical memorandum detailing results of this summer's eastern Bering Sea bottom trawl survey.

Typically, the quotas for these fisheries are announced at the end of September or in early October, once federal and state scientists have analyzed all the available data and settle on the numbers.

With respect to Bristol Bay red king crab, Deckboss would direct your attention to Table 6 on page 32 of the PDF, under the "Legal male" column. It shows a biomass estimate of 19,713 metric tons of legal-sized male crabs, the big boys that crab fishermen can retain and sell. That's an increase from the prior year's estimate of 15,412 tons.

As for Bering Sea snow crab, also known as opilio, take a look at Table 19 on page 45. It shows a legal male biomass estimate of 104,456 tons, down nearly 29 percent from the 2011 estimate of 146,275 tons.

This suggests we could see a retrenchment from the recent upward trend in harvest quotas for snow crab.

Deckboss cautions that many factors go into calculating harvest quotas. But estimated legal male biomass is one good indicator of where we might be headed for the upcoming season.

The technical memo includes data on other fisheries including Bering Sea bairdi Tanner crab, a brawny version of the snow crab. The numbers suggest the fishery is likely to remain closed, as it has been for the past two seasons.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Oh well, better luck next year

The latest statewide tally of Alaska's commercial salmon catch is out, and we now stand at just over 118.5 million fish.

Given that we're a week into September and many fisheries are done, it's likely we won't make the harvest forecast of 132 million.

On a brighter note, it seems that prices have been pretty good this year. Anyone disagree?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Kodiak cucumber, urchin diving begins Oct. 1

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has announced red sea cucumber and green sea urchin quotas for Kodiak and areas west.

The quotas for the upcoming season, which opens Oct. 1, are just the same as last year's.

Independent experts rip Steller sea lion BiOp

A panel of independent experts is quite critical of the federal government's "biological opinion" that commercial fishing jeopardized endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutian chain.

The National Marine Fisheries Service, if you'll recall, has imposed costly fishing closures in the region, an action that triggered state and industry lawsuits against the government.

Here are links to the expert reviews of the BiOp:

W.D. Bowen
Brent S. Stewart
Kevin Stokes

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Salmon survivors

What happens when a hundred-year flood seemingly wipes out the salmon population in an Alaska stream?

The salmon simply recolonize and recover to pre-flood levels within four years.

That's what British scientists found in a study of Wolf Point Creek in Glacier Bay. Read about it here.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Search for missing Advantage crewman ends

"Suspending a search for a missing person is one of the most difficult decisions we have to make," Coast Guard Capt. Gregory Sanial said in this press release.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Update on Advantage sinking

Kodiak radio station KMXT is reporting the skipper of the sunken fishing vessel Advantage ended up dying after a Coast Guard helicopter hoisted him and two others from a life raft.

Meantime, a fourth crewmember remains missing at sea.

Three rescued, one missing after Kodiak sinking

Three crewmen have been rescued but a fourth is missing after the fishing vessel Advantage sank 14 miles southeast of Kodiak, the U.S. Coast Guard reports.

A search began just after midnight when the Coast Guard in Juneau picked up an emergency position indicating radio (EPIRB) beacon.

After several unsuccessful attempts to contact the vessel, the Coast Guard sent a helicopter out of Kodiak.

The helicopter crew located a life raft with three Advantage crewmen aboard, and began hoisting them to safety.

The three were showing signs of hypothermia and were taken to Kodiak.

"We are continuing to search for the missing crewman with helicopters from Air Station Kodiak," said Coast Guard Lt. Robert Baysden. “Having the EPIRB aboard the fishing vessel was key to alerting us that there was an emergency.”

The 58-foot Advantage is homeported in Kodiak. State records show it uses longline, pot and trawl gear. The owner is listed as Advantage Fisheries LLC of Gig Harbor, Wash.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Public service announcement

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has announced the following appointments:

Fishermen's Fund Advisory and Appeals Council

Parnell appointed Donald Stiles to the Fishermen's Fund Advisory and Appeals Council. The council consults with the commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development regarding appeals filed in relation to care of sick and disabled fishermen, and advises the department on administration of the fund.

Stiles, of Nome, is a commercial fisherman and high school basketball coach. Active in the community, Stiles is a Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. board member, former chair of Siu Alaska Corp., and a former fisheries specialist with Kawarek Inc.'s fisheries department. Stiles also served in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is named to a seat reserved for a resident of Northwest Alaska.

Pacific Salmon Commission Transboundary Panel

Parnell nominated James Becker, Rod Brown, Arnold Enge, Gary Gray and Dale Kelley to the Transboundary Panel of the Pacific Salmon Commission.

The panel supports the Pacific Salmon Treaty, signed by the United States and Canada in 1985. The panel makes recommendations to the commission on management of in-river and terminal fisheries for salmon originating in the Alsek, Taku and Stikine river systems in Southeast Alaska and northern British Columbia.

The governor's nominations are subject to final appointment by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

Becker, of Douglas, has been a commercial fisherman for more than 35 years and is a lifetime resident of the Juneau area. He is a board member of United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters Association and chairs the City and Borough of Juneau Fisheries Development Committee. Becker was first appointed to the panel in 2000.

Brown, of Wrangell, is a retired biology, marine biology, math and photography teacher. He fished commercially during the summers and is an avid sportfisherman who has lived in Wrangell since 1969. He was first appointed to the panel in 2005.

Enge is a longtime Petersburg resident who fishes commercially for salmon, herring and halibut. He serves as vice chair of the Petersburg Fish and Game Advisory Committee. Enge was first appointed to the panel in 2000.

Gray, of Yakutat, owns and operates Alsek River Lodge and provides guide services for hunters and fishermen in the Yakutat area. He fished as a commercial setnetter for 15 years and serves as a member of the Yakutat Fish and Game Advisory Committee. Gray was first appointed to the panel in 2006.

Kelley, of Juneau, has served as executive director of the Alaska Trollers Association since 1989. She also has served on the board of United Fishermen of Alaska, and as a commissioner of the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission. Additionally, she was an alternate member of the Pacific Salmon Commission's Northern Panel for three years.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Final judgment entered in epic Carlson case; thousands of fishermen could soon see refunds

The state of Alaska is on the brink of refunding millions of dollars in the Carlson case, an epic class action concerning overcharges to nonresidents for commercial fishing licenses and permits.

On Monday, a state Superior Court judge entered this final judgment ordering a payout of more than $33.5 million.

The state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission has prepared this list of fishermen to receive refunds. As you can see, some of the payments will be substantial, even exceeding $50,000.

The CFEC is expected to publish a public notice soon with more details.

My understanding is that refunds could be mailed at the end of October.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Begich backs national seafood marketing idea

The U.S. seafood industry is fishing for a $50 million annual subsidy for marketing.

And U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, will help pursue the funding.

Begich on Friday in Anchorage announced he intends to introduce legislation to create a national seafood marketing and development effort.

The program would feature five regional seafood marketing boards.

The legislation evidently has not yet been introduced. When it drops, Deckboss will provide a link.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Oil watch

About a year ago we told you a jack-up rig had begun exploratory drilling in Upper Cook Inlet.

It was the first such rig to work in inlet waters in a very long time.

Well, now it seems an Australian company, Buccaneer Energy, has brought in a second jack-up rig. It arrived on Friday at Homer.

Click here for a press release with photo.

One interesting note is that a state agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, is a big investor in this second drilling rig.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Yes, a salmon disaster in Upper Cook Inlet

Alaska's congressional delegation has sent the Obama administration a letter supporting Gov. Sean Parnell's request for a fishery disaster declaration for Upper Cook Inlet.

Poor Chinook returns forced painful commercial and sportfishing closures this summer.

Parnell names familiar fisheries adviser

Stefanie Moreland, who took Arne Fuglvog's place as fisheries aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, is returning to state government as Gov. Sean Parnell's fisheries adviser.

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

Aug. 22, 2012

Moreland named adviser for fisheries, oceans and Arctic policy

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today named Stefanie Moreland to the position of senior adviser for fisheries, oceans and Arctic policy.

Moreland currently serves as a legislative assistant for Sen. Lisa Murkowski in the areas of fisheries, oceans and the Arctic.

She also has held several positions in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, including federal fisheries coordinator and manager of the Extended Jurisdiction Program.

"Stefanie's knowledge of Alaska's diverse fisheries and understanding of Arctic issues, and her broad experience at both the state and federal level will be a great asset to my office and the state," Parnell said.

Moreland will be an adviser and coordinator on Alaska fisheries policy between the governor's office and other state and federal agencies. She also will interface and coordinate with state and federal agencies on Arctic policy matters.

Moreland received a bachelor's degree in natural resources and environmental studies from the University of Minnesota and a master's degree in resource and applied economics from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

"I'm honored to have this opportunity to return to Alaska and serve the governor," Moreland said. "I particularly look forward to helping ensure that state interests inform the major federal initiatives under way in the Arctic and waters off Alaska."

Moreland will begin her duties on Sept. 17. She will be based in Juneau.

Activists aim to protect 'stunning' Alaska coral

The Center for Biological Diversity is petitioning the federal government to protect Alaska coral under the Endangered Species Act.

"Human impacts on cold-water corals are devastating, in particular the destructive fisheries practices that can wipe out many square miles of coral habitat in a single day," the center says.

Trawls, longlines and pots can all damage coral, but "the greatest threat" is climate change, the group says.

The nonprofit organization, based in Tucson, Ariz., says Alaska corals "occur in greatest abundance and variety a few miles off the Aleutian Islands, in underwater canyons in the Bering Sea, and on the slopes of submerged volcanoes in the Gulf of Alaska."

Friday, August 17, 2012

Salmon season update

Alaska's commercial salmon catch is now well above 100 million fish.

The little pink salmon is the big story at this point in the season. Pinks are the most abundant kind of salmon, and seiners are really hauling them in.

Of the 107 million salmon of all species taken so far this season, nearly 55 million are pinks, according to the latest tally from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Sockeye salmon is the second-largest catch at 35 million fish, followed by chum salmon at almost 16 million.

It'll be interesting to see whether the industry can reach the state's preseason harvest forecast of more than 132 million salmon.

Even if it does, it won't be a particularly large salmon harvest this year, as the state has seen a number of seasons with catches exceeding 200 million fish.

Here are a few more salmon items of interest:

• We heard a lot of complaining from Cook Inlet setnetters over the extended closures they endured this season due to poor Chinook salmon returns to the Kenai River. The closures denied the setnetters a shot at their main money fish, sockeye. Well, now have a better understanding of their pain. In a letter to federal officials seeking a fishery disaster declaration for Upper Cook Inlet, Gov. Sean Parnell said the eastside setnet fishery was worth about $1.1 million to fishermen this year, compared to the annual average of $10.9 million.

• Coho, or silver, salmon generally are the latest to arrive each season. In Southeast Alaska, trollers have caught just over 580,000 silvers since July 1, receiving an average price of $1.81 per pound, Fish and Game reports. That price, times the average coho weight of 5.9 pounds, gives you a fish worth better than $10.50 at the dock.

• In the Kodiak area, the catch of 1.9 million sockeye is below average for this date in the season, but pink harvests are improving with 13.9 million taken so far, Fish and Game says.

• At Chignik, much of the seine fleet has quit for the season. It appears to have been a good one, with 1.8 million sockeye taken. A total of 68 permit holders made deliveries, the most in several years.

• Something unusual happened at Bristol Bay this season. Gillnetters in the Nushagak District took 877,000 pink salmon. Normally, the only fish in demand from the bay are its millions of sockeyes.

IPHC wants 'mushy halibut' help

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is seeking information from anyone encountering fish with a condition known as "mushy halibut syndrome." Details here.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Parnell wants Cook Inlet added to disaster list

Here's the press release:

Aug. 16, 2012

Governor requests Upper Cook Inlet fishery disaster declaration

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today urged Acting U.S. Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank to declare a fishery disaster for the Chinook salmon fisheries in the Cook Inlet area.

Last month, the governor requested a federal disaster declaration for the 2011 and 2012 Chinook salmon seasons on the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and at that time he noted Cook Inlet fisheries were on a similar path.

The Magnuson-Stevens Act authorizes various forms of federal assistance through the National Marine Fisheries Service when the Commerce secretary determines there is a commercial fishery failure due to a fishery resource disaster.

"Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries were severely restricted and even closed for much of the season in order to conserve Chinook salmon for escapement," Parnell said. "These fisheries are economic drivers for the local and regional economy, providing direct and indirect jobs, income to families, bringing in tens of thousands of visitors, and supporting local businesses. Alaskans suffered substantial losses as a direct result of the decline of the Chinook salmon runs.

"I cannot overstate the importance of fisheries to the economy of the Upper Cook Inlet region. Throughout this area, impacts are being felt by commercial fishermen, sport guides, fish processors, and those who sell fuel, tackle, supplies, groceries and lodging. Local governments will feel the impact of lost revenue to their economic base. The Upper Cook Inlet salmon fisheries affected by the decline of the Chinook salmon runs are crucial to the economic vitality of the region and the well-being of Alaskans."

A federal disaster declaration will not bring automatic assistance to the region as federal appropriation is necessary to provide funding.

In July, Parnell announced the creation of a top-level team of fisheries scientists to conduct a systematic analysis and provide more data about why Alaska is experiencing low returns of Chinook salmon.

Here's the governor's letter to the acting secretary.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Norton Sound's king crab feast

Norton Sound permit holders took 440,000 pounds of red king crab this summer in the open access fishery.

It was the biggest catch since 1986 and produced a record $2.4 million payday for crabbers, the Department of Fish and Game reports.

Suspected high-seas drifter released to Chinese

The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Rush, out of Honolulu, escorts the 177-foot Da Cheng, a suspected illegal high-seas driftnetter seized 850 miles east of Tokyo. The vessel was targeting albacore tuna and had 30 metric tons aboard, along with 6 tons of shark carcasses and fins, the Coast Guard said. No mention was made of any salmon on the vessel. The Rush sighted the Da Cheng and boarded her on July 27. The Coast Guard today transferred custody of the vessel to Chinese authorities. USCG photo

Monday, August 13, 2012

ASMI — semper paratus

The guy retiring as head of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute is a former U.S. Coast Guard officer.

And the guy who's coming in to replace him? You guessed it, a former Coast Guard officer.

Here's the press release:

Aug. 13, 2012

ASMI announces new executive director

JUNEAU — Following an extensive nationwide search, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors has selected retired U.S. Coast Guard Capt. Michael Cerne to replace Executive Director Ray Riutta.

Cerne will begin working in the ASMI Juneau office in September to allow for several months of overlap before Riutta retires in December.

"While it will be difficult to replace someone the caliber of Ray Riutta, I'm very happy with the board's decision and we are quite confident that Mr. Cerne will be an effective leader at ASMI for years to come," said board Chairman Joe Bundrant of Trident Seafoods.

"I've known Michael and his good work for years. His combination of skills and experience will make him a very good addition to ASMI," Riutta said.

Cerne served in the Coast Guard for 31 years and retired in 2011 with the rank of captain.

He is a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy with a degree in marine science. He also has a master of marine affairs degree from the University of Rhode Island.

Cerne served on five Coast Guard cutters in his career, three of which were based in Alaska, including command of Storis in Kodiak.

Ashore, his assignments included commanding officer of the North Pacific Fisheries Training Center in Kodiak, and chief of fisheries law enforcement from 1998 to 2002 at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Cerne's final assignment was at the Coast Guard district office in Juneau where he managed Alaska fishery patrol operations and served on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the North Pacific Research Board and a number of international fishery management organizations.

He is currently completing a project with the United Nations to improve the management of global tuna fisheries.

Cerne is married to the former Holly Hagerty of North Carolina. They have two children, Kathryn, 18, and Sarah, 16.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Feds propose $543,500 fine, charge fish-weighing violations on factory trawler American Dynasty

The American Dynasty in Dutch Harbor. Jim Paulin photo

The first we heard of a potential scandal involving the Bering Sea pollock factory trawler American Dynasty was more than four years ago, at a meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Federal agents said at the time that they were investigating allegations that hauls of fish were inaccurately weighed aboard the 272-foot trawler, which belongs to Seattle-based American Seafoods.

Well, now we know more.

The NOAA Office of the General Counsel, Enforcement Section, says the vessel owner, manager and operator have been charged with numerous civil infractions.

A NOAA case summary doesn't specify exactly when the charges were filed, just sometime during the first six months of the year.

The agency is proposing a $543,500 fine.

Here's the full NOAA summary on the enforcement action, beginning with the file number:

AK0700698; F/V American Dynasty Owner, manager, and operator were charged in thirty-two counts under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act for failing to maintain or operate a flow scale to obtain accurate weights; for submitting inaccurate or false data, statements or reports; for failing to comply with flow scale testing requirements; for failing to provide notification to an observer and failing to have an observer present; for failing to comply with reporting requirements; and for failing to weigh catch, interfering with or biasing the observer's sampling procedure, and failing to provide reasonable assistance. A $543,500 NOVA (Notice of Violation and Assessment) was issued.