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.