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 Kenneth.m.lawrenson@uscg.mil.

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.