Tuesday, January 31, 2012

IPHC annual meeting wrapup now available

Here is the official press release summarizing last week's International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Anchorage.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Southeast seine permit buyback, take two

For reasons previously noted here on Deckboss, organizers of a proposed buyback of Southeast Alaska salmon seine permits were forced to redo a reverse auction to determine those willing to sell out of the fishery.

That's been done now, and the organizers recently submitted a new capacity reduction plan for approval.

The plan contemplates using more than $13 million in federal loan funds to buy out 64 of the fishery's 379 state permits.

Owners of the 64 permits, and their bid amounts, are listed at the end of the 17-page plan. The bid amounts average $205,204 and range from $175,000 to $240,000.

If the National Marine Fisheries Service approves the plan, seiners will then vote on whether to carry it out.

Another season, another deep cut for halibut

The International Pacific Halibut Commission today approved a coastwide catch limit of 33.54 million pounds, down 18 percent from last year.

The cut compounds the 19 percent reduction seen in 2011.

The season will open on March 17.

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

Here is the full slate of 2012 catch limits, by regulatory area, expressed in millions of pounds.

Regulatory area2011 catch limits2012 catch limits% change

Click here for a map of IPHC regulatory areas.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

How about a (bigger) loan?

Down in Juneau today, the House Special Committee on Fisheries has a 5 p.m. hearing scheduled on two interesting items.

The first is House Bill 261, which provides for larger state loans to help Alaska residents buy commercial fishing permits.

This sponsor statement explains more fully what the bill is about.

The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. has sent in a letter supporting HB 261.

Cordova District Fishermen United also likes the bill.

The second item on the committee's agenda is this resolution seeking to designate one sportfish seat and one subsistence seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Following up on those geoduck proposals

You might recall our recent post about the state Board of Fisheries considering two proposals to establish "equal shares" for permit holders in the Southeast geoduck clam fishery.

So what happened?

The board, meeting in Petersburg, took no action on the proposals.

A busy morning for rescuers

Here's a press release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

Jan. 25, 2012

Air Station Kodiak rescues 11 from two fishing vessels

JUNEAU — Coast Guard helicopter crews this morning rescued 11 fishermen from two vessels near Kodiak.

Kodiak watchstanders received a call Tuesday night from the 58-foot fishing vessel Kimberly, homeported in Juneau, stating the vessel had run aground in Portage Bay and needed assistance.

An Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter launched at about 9:30 p.m. and arrived on scene within an hour. Foul weather, including sustained 60-knot winds with gusts up to 90 knots and 16-foot seas, prevented the aircrew from rescuing the personnel at that time.

The Jayhawk returned to Kodiak to refuel and a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane and a second Jayhawk were launched to assist the crew of the Kimberly.

As aircrews were returning to assist the Kimberly, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage received a mayday call at 6:30 a.m. from the fishing vessel Heritage south of Kodiak with seven people aboard.

The second Jayhawk was redirected to assist the 68-foot Heritage. Air Station Kodiak launched a third helicopter to assist the Kimberly.

The third helicopter arrived at the Kimberly's location, safely hoisted all four crewmembers and arrived at Air Station Kodiak at 10:30 a.m.

The second Jayhawk continued to the Heritage's location, arriving at about 7 a.m., and began rescuing survivors. Two crewmembers were safely hoisted from the water and the good Samaritan fishing vessel Tuxedni rescued the other five crewmembers from a life raft at 7:40 a.m.

The second Jayhawk crew returned to Kodiak with the two rescued Heritage crewmembers at 9 a.m. and the Tuxedni took the passengers to Lazy Bay. The Tuxedni and five survivors are expected to arrive in Kodiak at 1 p.m. Thursday.

The crews of both vessels were wearing survival suits and are reported to be in good or fair condition.

Monday, January 23, 2012

IPHC makes port call in Anchorage

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is holding its annual meeting today through Friday at the Hilton Anchorage.

Of course, the IPHC annual meeting is a big event on the commercial fisheries calendar. It's when the bilateral panel — three members from the United State and three from Canada — sets catch limits for the upcoming season.

Here's a handout, known as the Bluebook, containing the meeting schedule, a summary of the 2011 fishery, the latest assessment of the Pacific halibut stock, and much more.

As previously reported here on Deckboss, the meeting is likely to culminate with some rather dismal news.

Industry group sees silver lining in sea lion ruling

Here's a press release from the Marine Conservation Alliance:

Jan. 20, 2012

MCA applauds portion of ruling in Steller sea lion case

A victory for open, transparent fishery management process

The Marine Conservation Alliance applauds a judge's ruling in the Steller sea lion lawsuit as a victory for those seeking a more open decision-making process in application of the Endangered Species Act.

In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess found that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement and provide the public with sufficient opportunity to comment when the agency determined additional fishery closures were required to protect endangered Steller sea lions.

"Although western Aleutian Islands fisheries involved in this lawsuit begin the season with fishing restrictions in place, we are pleased that the court acknowledged that there were flaws in the NMFS process which should now be corrected," said Merrick Burden, executive director of MCA, a coalition of harvesters, processors and communities involved in Alaska groundfish and crab fisheries.

The court deferred to the technical expertise of the federal agency in finding that it had properly applied Endangered Species Act standards in its determination that some of the fisheries conducted in the Aleutian Islands region of Alaska could jeopardize the recovery of endangered Steller sea lions.

The state of Alaska and affected fishing companies initiated legal action to halt additional fishery closures because endangered Steller sea lion populations overall have been increasing and are estimated to exceed 50,000 animals in the U.S. and another 25,000 animals in Russia. The legal action challenged the scientific basis for the agency determination and the process used to make that decision.

With regard to the NEPA violation, Judge Burgess has indicated he will enter an injunction requiring NMFS to prepare an EIS in compliance with NEPA procedures, allow for public comment and provide meaningful responses to comments on the draft EIS. The court will set a deadline for that action. All parties in the case have until Feb. 8 to file further briefs to address remedies in the case.

Considerable debate remains about the cause of the population decline, including predation by killer whales and nutritional stress caused by climate change or competition for prey with fisheries.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

'Overtaking, turning into, and colliding with...'

The Sitka herring fishery has a well-earned reputation for rather degrading conduct as seiners — some of them, at least — go hog wild in hopes of landing a lucrative catch.

Every season, it seems, we see more and more evidence of Sitka's cutthroat style of fishing, thanks to the proliferation of digital recording devices and YouTube videos.

Recently, we posted news on our sister blog, The Brig, that one seiner, Daniel Crome, had been charged with a misdemeanor in connection with a vessel collision last season.

Deckboss was curious to learn more about the case, so he requested copies of the charging documents from the Sitka court clerk.

As you will see, authorities had the benefit of audio and video recordings to make the case against Crome.

One wonders whether it's time for changes at Sitka, to bring a bit more decorum into the fishery. And to reduce chances for a real tragedy.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

MSC 'corrects' ASMI statements

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's "own, locally developed scheme" for certifying fisheries is not comparable to the Marine Stewardship Council's "global standard," the London-based MSC says.

Read much more here.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Alaska Supreme Court deals nonresident fishermen a costly blow in the long-fought Carlson case

Read the high court's 26-page opinion here.

The Alaska Department of Law issued the following press release:

Jan. 20, 2012

Alaska Supreme Court reduces judgment by $50 million

ANCHORAGE — A unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decided today in the State v. Carlson case to cut approximately $50 million from a judgment awarded to nonresident commercial fishermen who had filed a class action lawsuit against the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

In so doing, the court overturned one of its own earlier decisions in the case, which had ordered the state to pay the interest rate that applies to delinquent taxes — 11 percent compounded quarterly.

In today's decision, the court substituted the standard prejudgment interest rate for court judgments.

The case was filed in 1984 by non-Alaskan commercial fishermen who disputed the higher commercial fishing fees that Alaska charged to nonresidents.

The state was ordered to refund some of the fees after the court found that while the state can charge higher fees to nonresidents, the additional payment must be related to the nonresidents' share of the state's cost of managing Alaska's commercial fisheries.

The amount of overpaid fees that the state was ordered to refund was approximately $12.5 million and the interest initially awarded for this judgment was about $62 million.

Under today's decision, the interest will be reduced to about $12 million.

This is the fifth time the Alaska Supreme Court has heard an appeal in this case. The court issued earlier decisions in 1990, 1996, 2003 and 2008.

In these earlier decisions, the court decided that nonresidents can be charged a higher rate, determined the elements of the fisheries budget that were relevant to calculating the appropriate rate, and set the prejudgment interest rate that would apply to an overpayment.

In today's opinion, the court reconsidered and overturned that interest rate decision, which it made in the third appeal ("Carlson III").

NMFS reacts to sea lion decision

Here is a statement from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Regional Office, on the Steller sea lion ruling:

"Overall, we are pleased with the court's decision, which supports the science-based foundations of the fishery management regulations we have worked to put in place to protect the western Steller sea lion," said Alaska Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger. "Going forward, NOAA Fisheries will work with the Department of Justice to comply with the Court's request for briefing on a remedy in regards for the need for an environmental impact statement."

"We are certainly most sympathetic to the plight of fishermen in these trying times," Alaska Fisheries Science Center Director Doug DeMaster added. "A healthy ecosystem is in the long-term interest of fishermen, who depend more than most industries on natural resources. We are looking forward to working with our partners and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to maintain healthy, robust ecosystems for the long-term economic benefit of fishers in Alaska."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Conservationists hail Steller sea lion ruling

Deckboss reckons we'll hear quite a bit of reaction to the big Steller sea lion ruling. Here's the first of it, from conservation group Oceana:

Jan. 19, 2012

Steller sea lion protections in Aleutian Islands upheld

Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska upheld protections for the western population of Steller sea lions. The new measures were put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce competition between large-scale commercial fisheries and endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands.

"It's a good day for our oceans," said Susan Murray, Oceana's senior director, Pacific. "This decision shows that responsible management requires steps to protect healthy ocean ecosystems including sustainable fisheries and vibrant communities. We are moving away from managing single species money fish and toward ecosystem-based management that takes into account the needs of apex predators in our oceans."

The court found that the agency based its decision on good science and, with one exception, followed appropriate process. According to the court, the agency did not comply with the law in failing to prepare a full environmental impact statement.

"Today's decision validates the agency's use of the best science to protect our oceans," said Colin O'Brien, staff attorney at Earthjustice. "The next step is a full evaluation of the impacts of fisheries on ocean ecosystems, including Steller sea lions."

Oceana and Greenpeace, represented by Earthjustice, intervened in the lawsuit to defend the new measures.

The parties will submit briefing on the scope of the new environmental impact statement by Feb. 8. The court indicated that protections will remain in place while the new analysis is prepared.

Another note on the sea lion ruling

The judge indicates on page 54 of his decision that despite the failure of federal fishery regulators to prepare an environmental impact statement, he will not vacate, or lift, the fishing restrictions opposed by industry and the state.

The gist of the Steller sea lion ruling

Here is the judge's overall finding in the Steller sea lion case:

As discussed in detail below, although the Court sympathizes with the Plaintiffs and Amici Curiae, who stand to suffer large economic and other losses as a result of the fishery restrictions, "judges are not scientists." The Court must defer to the technical expertise of the agency as long as there is a rational connection between the evidence and its conclusions. In this case, the Court finds that NMFS did not apply improper ESA standards and that the evidence, although equivocal, was sufficient to support its conclusions that the fisheries were likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the WDPS and adversely modify its critical habitat. Additionally, although the procedures NMFS employed to comply with its obligations under the APA and MSA were far from ideal, the Court nonetheless concludes that they were adequate under the law. The Court does find, however, that NMFS violated NEPA by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement and provide the public with a sufficient opportunity to weigh in on its decision-making process.

Here's a mini-glossary for all those acronyms:

APA — Administrative Procedure Act
ESA — Endangered Species Act
MSA — Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
NEPA — National Environmental Policy Act
NMFS — National Marine Fisheries Service
WDPS — Western Distinct Population Segment of Steller sea lions

Judge sides with government in Steller case

A federal judge has ruled substantially in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and against industry groups and the state, in a case involving commercial fishing restrictions the agency imposed to protect endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutians.

Here is the 56-page ruling from Judge Timothy M. Burgess of Anchorage.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The spin from ASMI

A state agency, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, has issued a press release addressing yesterday's news that the bulk of Alaska's salmon industry will allow its Marine Stewardship Council certification to expire.

The release quotes Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, state Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta and United Fishermen of Alaska chief Arni Thomson.

The general message seems to be, "We don't really need MSC certification."

Alaska salmon is covered under an alternative certification, ASMI notes.

Copper River salmon forecast released

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a commercial catch of 1.23 million sockeye salmon this year at the Copper River.

Last year saw an excellent catch of about 2 million sockeye.

The forecast also has the outlook for other salmon species in the Prince William Sound region.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

American Seafoods buys Massachusetts firm

American Seafoods, the Seattle-based operator of the largest fleet of Bering Sea pollock factory trawlers, is expanding its East Coast processing operations with a new acquisition.

Alaska salmon industry bails on MSC

Here's statement just in from the Marine Stewardship Council:

Jan. 17, 2012

MSC statement regarding Alaska salmon

The Marine Stewardship Council has been informed by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, the organization that serves as the client for the Alaska salmon fishery, that it is withdrawing the fishery from assessment toward a possible third five-year certification.

The existing MSC certification runs until Oct. 29, and any Alaska salmon caught prior to that date may be sold as MSC-certified.

Kerry Coughlin, MSC Americas regional director, said: "We regret that the Alaska salmon fishery is being withdrawn from the assessment under way for a potential third certification period. While there are other sources of MSC-certified salmon, Alaska was an early and important leader in the MSC program. We hope that this fishery will re-enter assessment, maintain the market advantage of MSC certification, and continue to showcase their sustainability.

"The number of fisheries and supply chain companies using the MSC program continues to expand worldwide, and consumer appreciation for the MSC ecolabel on products is increasing. MSC remains the recognized global standard by which fisheries confirm they are meeting or improving to global best practice in sustainable fishing as established by a wide consensus of scientists, industry experts and conservation organizations. By demanding a scientifically rigorous, transparent certification process using truly independent, third-party assessments, seafood markets around the world are helping to protect our ocean resources as well as seafood-related jobs and livelihoods now and for the future."

The third assessment was announced by the Alaska salmon fishery on Nov. 18. A certifier had been engaged by AFDF, the first site visit in the assessment process had been scheduled for later this month in Alaska and a number of conservation organizations had registered as stakeholders. The fishery, first certified in 2000 and recertified in 2007, includes Chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon throughout Alaska waters. It does not include the tribally managed Annette Islands Reserve salmon fishery in southeast Alaska, which continues in the program and holds its own separate MSC certification.

Certificates for all other MSC-certified species in Alaska are also unaffected by the change in status for the state-managed Alaska salmon assessment.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sticky proposals for geoduck fishery

Alaska geoducks — worth a lot of clams. ADF&G photo

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is meeting all this week at the Sons of Norway Hall in Petersburg, and quite a few interesting Southeast shellfish proposals are on the table.

Proposals 183 and 184 strike me as particularly intriguing.

These would revolutionize the fishery for geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), a giant clam divers collect from the seafloor. Most all of the clams are exported live to China, and can retail for upwards of $20 a pound, says a recent study done for the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association.

The two proposals would convert the geoduck harvest from a weekly competition among divers to a program where each permit holder would be allocated an equal share of the annual Southeast geoduck quota.

The Sitka Geoduck Marketing Association is offering the two proposals, one of which has an added component to disperse divers between desirable and less desirable harvest areas.

Proponents say the proposals would maximize the value of the fishery by allowing divers to focus on product quality rather than speed. They also tout other benefits such as better controlling the flow of product to the market, and reducing pressure on divers to work in poor weather.

However, the most competitive divers might suffer because of a redistribution of harvest share.

And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it would have to hire more people to manage an equal shares fishery. It also cites potential for high-grading, where divers might keep only top quality geoducks and discard others, increasing harvest mortality.

Nevertheless, the department is taking a "neutral" stance on the proposals.

Well, Deckboss is sure you've heard all the arguments, pro and con, in past debates over various forms of catch shares.

Certainly, based on the recent trend, an equal share of the Southeast geoduck fishery would be quite lucrative.

The dockside value of the fishery has soared, from an estimated $465,000 for the 2000-01 harvest of 438,334 pounds of geoducks to nearly $5.6 million in 2010-11, when 845,582 pounds were taken.

The state has issued 112 Southeast geoduck permits, but only 69 divers made landings last season, earning an average of $81,000.

Should be quite a meeting in Petersburg.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pair of fishy bills filed ahead of legislative session

The Alaska Legislature begins its 2012 session next Tuesday, and lawmakers have prefiled two bills of interest to the commercial fishing community.

House Bill 261 — An Act relating to loans for the purchase of commercial fishing entry permits. Sponsor: Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

Senate Bill 152 — An Act requiring legislative approval before the issuance of an authorization, license, permit, or approval of a plan of operation for a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation that could affect water in or flowing into or over the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. Sponsor: Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Looking at halibut bycatch

A public workshop is planned for April 24-25 in Seattle to review how, and how well, halibut bycatch is estimated in the trawl and longline groundfish harvests off Alaska.

Deckboss imagines many of you would argue the estimates, especially in the Gulf of Alaska, are not nearly good enough.

Anyway, this three-page workshop overview is definitely worth checking out.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Who is Sam Rauch?

As we reported last week, Sam Rauch is taking over as the "acting" head of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

So who is Sam Rauch?

Well, he's currently the agency's deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs. By training, he's a lawyer.

Rauch's bio indicates he previously supervised a NMFS legal team. And prior to joining the agency, he defended NMFS as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.

He has a law degree from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., a master's from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from the University of Virginia.

Now, one might normally expect to see a biologist at the helm of NMFS, not a lawyer.

But I don't believe this is unprecedented. If memory serves, Terry Leitzell, who headed the agency from 1978 to 1981, was a lawyer.

Here's the list of folks who have headed NMFS. Deckboss doesn't know the backgrounds of all of them, but maybe you see more than one barrister in the bunch?

NMFS administrators, 1970 to present

Philip M. Roedel, 1970-1973
Robert W. Schoning, 1973-1977
Terry L. Leitzell, 1978-1981
William H. Stevenson (acting), 1981
William G. Gordon, 1981-1986
William E. Evans, 1987
James W. Brennan, 1988-1989
William W. Fox, 1989-1992
Nancy Foster (acting), 1993
Rolland A. Schmitten, 1993-1999
Penelope E. Dalton, 1999-2000
William T. Hogarth, 2000-2007
John Oliver (acting), 2008
James W. Balsiger (acting), 2008-2010
Eric Schwaab, February 2010 to present

Thursday, January 5, 2012

An update on the Southeast seine buyback

When we last looked in on the proposed buyback of Southeast salmon seine permits, federal officials had just thrown a stick of dynamite in the hold by disqualifying the reverse auction organizers held to determine who would sell out.

Rather than just get mad and let the idea sink, buyback organizers went back to work. Over the past few weeks, they ran another auction by registered mail. Permit holders were to have their bids in by Dec. 28.

Deckboss hears the new buyback list looks very similar, in terms of permit numbers and dollar amounts, to the one generated with the first auction. The revised list will be submitted soon to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Of course, I'll be working to obtain the new list and provide everyone with further updates.

Watching over the Taku

So, in less than an hour a "fact-finding task force" will convene in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau on the subject of the Taku River.

The panel will address possible impacts on the salmon-rich river from the Tulsequah Chief mining project upstream in British Columbia.

Here's a press release from the Juneau legislative delegation.

Eric Schwaab departing as NMFS chief

Less than two years after he was named to the post, Eric Schwaab is leaving as head of the National Marine Fisheries Service to take a new job in the Obama administration as "acting assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management."

The new NMFS chief will be Sam Rauch.

Here is a statement issued today from Schwaab:

Dear Stakeholder

Today, Dr. Jane Lubchenco announced my selection as Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Conservation and Management effective January 17. In this role I will be responsible for driving policy and program direction for NOAA's stewardship responsibilities, focusing on ocean and coastal resource science and management.

This detail presents for me an exciting new opportunity to work across NOAA to confront the challenges for our oceans and for our coastal communities and associated ecosystems. With over half of the U.S. population living in coastal areas, millions of Americans depend upon the health and resiliency of our coastal ecosystems. We have made substantial progress in ending overfishing and rebuilding our nation's fisheries, stabilizing threatened species, protecting marine areas of vital national interest and ensuring the continued safe navigation through coastal waters, but these fragile systems face growing threats and pressures.

At the same time, we face unprecedented fiscal pressures both within and outside of the government. If we are to continue to make progress, we must work in greater partnership with local governments, partner agencies and organizations, and stakeholders to better align strategies and resources. And, given the current fiscal climate, we must seek innovative approaches, processes, technologies and organizational models to most efficiently and cost-effectively pursue our objectives. I look forward to working with David Kennedy and the National Ocean Service team, Craig McLean and the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research team, and with many other colleagues across NOAA to address these important issues.

As I move into this new role, I am pleased to announce that Sam Rauch will be Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, and Alan Risenhoover will be acting in Sam's current role as Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs. Carrie Selberg, currently Sam's chief of staff, will be acting in Alan's current role as Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries until Emily Menashes returns from maternity leave in the spring.

It's been a pleasure working with many of you in my Fisheries leadership role, and I look forward to continuing to work with you, as well as other partners, in addressing a broader set of marine stewardship challenges and opportunities.

Eric C. Schwaab

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

What people are saying about halibut catch limits

As previously noted here on Deckboss, the International Pacific Halibut Commission is meeting Jan. 24-27 in Anchorage to consider this slate of recommended catch limits for the 2012 season.

The IPHC invited public comments, and you can read them here.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Taku River to see king salmon fishery in May

The U.S. allowable catch of large Taku River king salmon is 6,703 fish, says this state forecast.