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 carlsonrefund.com.

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.