Friday, June 29, 2012

No fireworks yet at Bristol Bay

 Will the sockeye show? USCG photo

In coming days we can expect to see the usual explosion of sockeye at Bristol Bay.

Alaska's most valuable salmon fishery typically reaches its harvest peak sometime around the Fourth of July.

The state has forecast a catch of 21.8 million sockeye this season, which is big but far from a record.

The fishing remains slow so far. The tally as of Thursday stood at just under 2 million fish.

Fishermen are suspended in a time of anticipation and anxiety. Will the run boom or bust? And how much will the processors pay?

Deckboss senses considerable worry over price. Global salmon supply reportedly has expanded, with production of farmed fish in Chile on the upswing.

As ever, Bristol Bay gillnetters are fishing on faith, not knowing what they'll be paid.

I'm sure they're hoping to be too busy, or too tired, to watch the fireworks.

Seattle real estate news

Glacier Fish Co., a major player in Alaska's pollock fishery, has landed a new home in Seattle.

Glacier's $5.1 million purchase of this new Class A office building near Fishermen's Terminal was a bargain, says this Seattle Daily Journal of Commerce story reposted on a commercial real estate firm's website.

Glacier will occupy one of the building's three floors.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission leases one of the other floors.

Glacier operates three factory trawlers targeting pollock and other groundfish in the Bering Sea.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Move over salmon, here come the king crab!

This time of year, salmon really begins to dominate the Alaska commercial fisheries waterfront.

But that doesn't mean we don't have other action going on.

Case in point: The Norton Sound red king crab summer fishery opens at noon tomorrow.

The quota is 465,450 pounds, with 430,540 pounds allocated to the open access fishery and 34,910 pounds reserved for the Community Development Quota fishery.

Last year's harvest totaled 400,840 pounds. The average price was $5.23 per pound, the highest ever, producing a record fishery value of just over $2 million, the Department of Fish and Game says.

We could see a new record this season as the major buyer, Norton Sound Seafood Products, has announced price increases. Find more details here.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Begich heading west to talk salmon

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, says he'll travel to Bethel next week to huddle with people facing an emerging Chinook salmon crisis on the Kuskokwim and Yukon rivers.

In this press release, the senator also notes he's written letters to the Obama administration and congressional budget chairmen seeking more federal dollars for salmon research and management.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Big industry push propels Cross to council seat

The U.S. Commerce Department today reappointed Alaskans Dan Hull and Ed Dersham to new three-year terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and appointed newcomer Craig Cross to a Washington state seat.

The Cross appointment is remarkable, as he wasn't the Washington governor's first choice for the seat.

As reported previously here on Deckboss, a large industry contingent lobbied strongly for Cross over fellow nominee Lori Swanson, who was Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire's top pick.

Here's the Commerce Department press release.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Coast Guard leadership to change in Anchorage

A new man takes over Friday as commanding officer of Coast Guard Sector Anchorage and as captain of the port for Western Alaska.

Capt. Paul Mehler III will relieve Capt. Jason Fosdick, who will report to a new post in Alameda, Calif.

Commanding Sector Anchorage is no small job.

The sector has the largest area of responsibility in the nation, covering Cook Inlet, Kodiak Island, the Aleutian chain, the Bering Sea and the Arctic Ocean.

Commerce secretary steps down

Major media outlets are reporting this morning that U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson has resigned.

Bryson had been on medical leave following traffic accidents in California.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Kenai king trouble

Boy, do things sound awful on the Kenai River in terms of Chinook salmon returns.

Here's a news release announcing severe sportfishing restrictions, with this ominous paragraph:

Through June 18, all indices used to assess abundance of early-run king salmon in the Kenai River indicate the 2012 run is the lowest on record. Given the unprecedented low number of early-run king salmon, the department has determined that additional mortality associated with catch-and-release fishing cannot be justified.

Schwaab back as head of NMFS? Not really

Below is an internal note Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, sent to all agency employees the other day.

It says Eric Schwaab, the former head of the National Marine Fisheries Service, has "reassumed" that title.

Apparently, however, this is merely a Beltway technicality, and Sam Rauch continues to run NMFS.

Recall that Schwaab got promoted back in January.

Here's the Lubchenco note:

June 18, 2012

I wanted to let you know that, as of last Friday, Eric Schwaab has reassumed the title of Assistant Administrator of NOAA for Fisheries. As a general rule, the Vacancies Reform Act limits a person to serving 210 days in an acting capacity for a Senate-confirmed Presidential appointee beginning on the date the vacancy occurs. However, Eric will continue to perform the functions and duties of the Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management. Please continue to work with Eric on all issues within the Assistant Secretary for Conservation and Management portfolio.

This move also means that Sam Rauch will revert to his permanent title of Deputy Assistant Administrator and Alan Risenhoover will again be the Director of the Office of Sustainable Fisheries, but both will continue to fulfill delegated responsibilities for the Assistant Administrator as necessary.

I want to thank Eric, Sam, and Alan for their hard work and commitment during the time when acting in these official capacities, and I truly appreciate their dedication as they continue to perform these essential roles in support of NOAA's mission.


Dr. Jane

CDQ battle brewing

You probably haven't heard much about it, but Alaska's Community Development Quota program is coming up for a major performance review, the first in several years.

The CDQ program is a 20-year-old federal initiative that vests six nonprofit companies with exclusive shares of the Bering Sea commercial fisheries. The companies harvest the fish and crab for the benefit of disadvantaged Western Alaska villages.

Through most of the CDQ program's history, these six companies competed fiercely with one another for the lucrative quota during periodic government reviews.

To the relief of many, the competition ended when Congress in 2006 passed legislation that set each company's quota shares more or less permanently.

The law, however, mandated a state review of the program in — you guessed it — 2012, and every 10 years thereafter.

A special panel made up of the state commissioners of commerce, labor and fish and game later this year will evaluate each company's performance in generating village prosperity.

The review has teeth — an underperformer could lose as much as 10 percent of its quota.

Now, longtime followers of the CDQ program won't be surprised to learn that some of the CDQ players aren't content to simply go through the state review.

No, some see a bigger opportunity here and are going — again, you guessed it — directly to Congress seeking a bigger share.

This is the approach of Coastal Villages Region Fund, the Anchorage-based CDQ company representing 20 communities in the Kuskokwim River area.

In the latest edition of its newsletter, Coastal says its president, vice president and staff went to Washington, D.C., in early May to ask Congress to correct the "enormous inequities that exist in the current CDQ allocations."

Already the richest of the six CDQ companies, Coastal argues it actually deserves considerably more quota given its larger constituent population.

Coastal is "asking Congress to fix the inequities that occurred in the CDQ allocations prior to 2006 so that Coastal will get its fair share."

Well, Deckboss is sure Coastal has a good argument. But he imagines the other five CDQ groups also have good arguments — and maybe have taken their own trips to D.C.


I can see an old-fashioned CDQ smackdown coming. Can't you?

Monday, June 18, 2012

UFA announces continuity and change

Arni Thomson has been re-elected as president and Mark Vinsel soon will transition out of the position of executive director.

That's the news today from United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's top commercial fishing organization.

Lots more UFA personnel news here.

Nice save

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter yesterday rescued five fishermen forced to abandon their sinking vessel west of Kodiak.

The Coast Guard received a call at 11:35 a.m. that the F/V Scandia was taking on water and the crew was unable to keep up with the rate of flooding.

The crew donned survival suits, deployed a 17-foot skiff and abandoned ship.

The Coast Guard helicopter hoisted all five crewmen from the skiff at 1:23 p.m. and safely delivered them to Air Station Kodiak.

The 56-foot vessel remained partially submerged more than 70 miles west of Kodiak, the Coast Guard said.

The Scandia is listed in state records as a wood purse seiner and jig boat built in 1950 and homeported in Kodiak. The owner is Luke Anderson.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

President picks Benton for Arctic commission

President Obama today announced his intent to appoint David Benton, of Juneau, to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission.

From the White House press release:

David Benton is currently a self-employed marine resource consultant. From 2004 to 2010, he served as Executive Director of the Marine Conservation Alliance. From 2001 to 2003 and again from 2006 to 2009, Mr. Benton served on the North Pacific Research Board. From 2000 to 2003, he served as the Chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Previously, he held a number of positions in the Alaskan government, including serving as the Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game from 1994 to 2000. In 1999, Mr. Benton was appointed to be a United States Commissioner on the U.S.-Canada Pacific Salmon Commission. Mr. Benton volunteers as President of the Alaska Lighthouse Association and is involved in restoring Point Retreat Lighthouse on Admiralty Island. Mr. Benton received a B.A. with a double major in Coastal Resources Planning and Biology at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Here's a press release from U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who recommended Benton to the White House.

EPA clobbers American Seafoods over refrigerants

Here's the press release.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

USCG, good Samaritans help injured skipper

From the U.S. Coast Guard:

June 11, 2012

Coast Guard medevacs fisherman near Chignik

JUNEAU — Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak personnel this morning medevaced the captain of the fishing vessel Providence after he injured his hand near Chignik.

An MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and a supporting HC-130 Hercules airplane launched at 4:35 a.m. after Coast Guard watchstanders received a medevac request through the good Samaritan vessel Flying Ocean.

The injured captain of the Providence was transferred to the Flying Ocean and the Flying Ocean began making way toward Kodiak to shorten the helicopter's flight distance.

The Jayhawk reached the Flying Ocean near Sutwik Island and safely hoisted the patient at 6:54 a.m., then returned to Kodiak and transferred him to emergency medical services.

"Help from good Samaritans like the Flying Ocean crew significantly reduces response time in medevac cases," said Master Chief Jeremiah Roberts, a watchstander at the 17th Coast Guard District command center. "The willingness of mariners to help others on the water has saved countless lives, and the Coast Guard is grateful for their assistance."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Secretary Bryson takes medical leave

Here's a press release from the U.S. Department of Commerce:

June 11, 2012

Commerce Secretary John Bryson's notice of medical leave

Tonight, U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson notified President Obama that he would be taking a medical leave of absence and immediately transferring his functions and duties as Secretary to Deputy Secretary Dr. Rebecca Blank. Effective immediately, Dr. Blank will become Acting Secretary of Commerce.

Commerce secretary in trouble with the law

California authorities are investigating hit-and-run traffic incidents involving U.S. Commerce Secretary John Bryson. Numerous media outlets have the story, including the Los Angeles Times.

The Commerce Department, of course, houses the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Deep thinking in Sitka

The local government is seeking a consultant to study the financial viability of establishing a deepwater dock, a commercial moorage for large vessels and a marine service industry at Sitka's Sawmill Cove Industrial Park.

Click here to see the three requests for proposals.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Council tightens Gulf halibut bycatch limits

Here's the final motion the North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed regarding Gulf of Alaska halibut bycatch.

The action, subject to U.S. commerce secretary approval, would impose a 15 percent reduction in the annual halibut bycatch limit for the trawl and longline catcher vessel fleets targeting groundfish. The longline catcher-processor sector would see a 7 percent reduction.

The cuts would be phased in over three years, starting in 2014.

The council, meeting in Kodiak, passed the motion Friday on a 10-1 vote.

1,000,000 and counting

Copper River gillnetters already have had a fine year, and we're only a little over three weeks into the season.

The sockeye catch has now surpassed 1 million fish.

But the harvest rate has cooled off, with the last couple of openers producing fewer sockeye than forecast.

The Copper River District opens again at 7 a.m. Monday for a 36-hour period.

Bad day at Kodiak

To keep from sinking, the U.S. Army Reserve landing craft Monterrey beached itself on Puffin Island after hitting a rock and taking on water late Friday in Chiniak Bay near Kodiak. A fishing vessel, the Peggy Jo, took two Monterrey crewmen with minor injuries to Kodiak for medical care. The Coast Guard said an estimated 15,291 gallons of fuel spilled from two breached compartments. The 174-foot landing craft was hauling heavy equipment construction equipment and supplies from Port Hueneme, Calif., to Bethel. USCG photo

Friday, June 8, 2012

Helo medevacs crewman shocked aboard trawler

A Coast Guard helicopter today airlifted a crewman suffering cardiac complications after receiving an electric shock aboard the 145-foot trawler Cape Horn.

The crewman reportedly took a shock of 480 volts while working on an electrical switchboard, the Coast Guard said.

The Cape Horn was in the Bering Sea, 172 miles northwest of Dillingham.

The helicopter reached the vessel at 1:25 p.m., safely hoisted the crewman and delivered him for care at Dillingham.

The Coast Guard didn't name the 43-year-old victim.

Ocean Beauty shutters damaged Petersburg plant

Seattle-based Ocean Beauty Seafoods won't operate its Petersburg cannery this year due to damage sustained when the state ferry Matanuska crashed into the plant May 7.

Ocean Beauty has arranged to process fish elsewhere, including at its Excursion Inlet plant.

Here's the company press release.

The Petersburg plant usually runs from late June to mid-September and employs 160 to 180 people from all over the United States and Mexico, Ocean Beauty's website says.

Deckboss imagines the weak pink salmon forecast made the shutdown decision a little easier.

Recall that Ocean Beauty idled the Petersburg plant before, in 2010, in expectation of a low pink return.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ill crewman airlifted off boat south of Cordova

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter Tuesday night hoisted an ailing crewman off the 130-foot fishing vessel Retriever more than 200 miles south of Cordova.

The 57-year-old crewman was experiencing symptoms of internal bleeding, but he was conscious and able to walk upon arrival at Cordova, the Coast Guard said.

Here's some video of the medevac operation at sea.

Russia's Stellers

Goodness knows the Alaska groundfish industry has taken some hits over the endangered Steller sea lion.

Just last year, you'll recall, federal regulators closed big stretches of water in the western and central Aleutians to commercial fishing to preserve prey for Stellers.

Of big interest to the industry, and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, is the status of Steller stocks much farther west, in Russian waters.

Well, we might soon find out.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking a contractor to conduct a boat-based survey of Steller adults and pups at rookeries and haulouts in East Kamchatka, the Commander Islands, the Kuril Islands, the Sea of Okhotsk and the western Bering Sea.

All told, the field work will cover 1,160 nautical miles of coastline and run into the summer of 2015.

"The contractor must have necessary personnel who are fluent in Russian and English and experienced in surveying and collecting this type of data in the Russian Far East and the ability to obtain the appropriate Russian permits," the contract solicitation says.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

End of the line for high-seas drifter

Federal officials intend to scrap the Bangun Perkasa, the high-seas driftnet vessel detained at Dutch Harbor since October.

They're seeking a contractor to "dismantle and dispose of the ship."

Marine surveyor Jack McFarland found the vessel to be old and poorly maintained. He put its value at $250,000.

See the contractor solicitation, the survey report and a bunch of photos here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Authorities investigate crewman death at Cordova

From the Alaska State Troopers:

Location: Cordova
Type: Unexpected death
On 6/4/12 at approximately 0645 hours, the U.S. Coast Guard reported that the F/V Northern Mariner had an unexpected death occur aboard the vessel between midnight and 0530 hours. The deceased was reported as Sean M. Johnson, a 34-year-old resident of Cordova, who was a crewmember aboard the vessel. A death aboard a fishing vessel is considered a "serious marine incident" by the USCG, which is investigating the incident. The vessel is currently in transit to Cordova and expected late this evening where the state will take possession of the remains. The state medical examiner has requested the body for an autopsy. Next of kin notification is complete.

Unhand that halibut!

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting in Kodiak this week, and the big item on the agenda is halibut bycatch.

With halibut biomass declining in the North Pacific, the council is under considerable pressure to do something to curb waste of the premium fish.

Thus, it would appear inevitable that Gulf of Alaska commercial fleets are going to have to swallow some painful measures to reduce the bycatch, or incidental take, of halibut while pursuing other species such as pollock and cod.

As a "prohibited species," halibut caught incidentally must be thrown overboard, whether alive or dead.

As it stands, the Gulf trawl fleet has an annual limit of 2,000 metric tons of halibut bycatch, while the longline fleet has a 300-ton limit.

The council is expected to consider cutting these limits by 5 to 15 percent.

As you might imagine, a groundswell of voices is urging the council to take the most stringent action against the industry.

Here is one example. And another.

One state legislator is even encouraging people to call the governor to put heat on council members.