Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Masonic pumps water, makes for Hoonah

The fishing vessel Masonic called for help today near the Fairweather Grounds in the Gulf of Alaska.

The U.S. Coast Guard says the four-person crew reported they were taking on water and might need an extra pump to keep up with the flooding.

The good Samaritan vessel Myra and a Sitka-based Coast Guard helicopter arrived to help the Masonic with dewatering.

The 70-foot boat was making way to protected waters in Cross Sound, and was expected to arrive Thursday morning in port at Hoonah.

The Masonic is homeported in Sitka.

Crewman medevaced off Bering Sea crab boat

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter today safely hoisted an ailing crewman off the fishing vessel North Sea about 60 miles southwest of St. Paul.

The 23-year-old crewman reportedly was experiencing seizure-like symptoms.

The North Sea is a 126-foot crab boat that belongs to Coastal Villages Region Fund, one of Alaska's Community Development Quota companies.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Sandy has sailed

Alaska's attempt to grab some Superstorm Sandy money for its Chinook salmon disaster has failed.

President Obama has signed a $50.5 billion relief package for the October hurricane that trashed New York, New Jersey and other Northeast areas. Congress gave final passage to the bill Monday.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, voted in favor of the Sandy bill despite the omission of aid for federally declared fishery disasters in Alaska and other states. But she complained about it and said she'll keep looking for a way to reel in federal funding.

Critics panned efforts to use the Sandy bill as a vehicle to address fishery disasters in states far off the storm's path.

It's out

Deckboss has not yet read it, but the Alaska Department of Fish and Game has posted its Chinook salmon research plan.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Full disclosure?

A common complaint we hear about the nation's regional fishery management councils is the apparent conflict of interest some members have in voting on the issues.

To some degree, these conflicts are by design and unavoidable. The councils make recommendations to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the National Marine Fisheries Service. The council system gives people most affected by fishery management decisions — commercial fish harvesters, for example — a seat at the table.

To make sure the public knows who's who, council members are obliged to file federal financial disclosure forms reflecting their involvement in the fisheries, or in lobbying and advocacy.

Sounds good, right? Keep everything above board at least.

But current financial disclosure practices are weak and need improvement, says a new report from the Commerce Department's Office of Inspector General.

A review of 72 disclosure forms turned up numerous instances of incomplete information, the inspector general says.

The report says it's essentially up to council members themselves to judge what information to disclose, and NMFS "does not independently verify the information."

Further, council executive staffs don't feel much empowered to deal with suspected misreporting on the disclosure forms, the report says.

The inspector general says NMFS should strengthen financial disclosure requirements and procedures. Specifically, the agency should do formal reviews of financial interest disclosures, and should tighten policy on identifying and handling conflicts of interest.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, based in Anchorage, has 11 voting members. Four are government officials from Alaska, Washington and Oregon.

The rest are from the private sector; their financial disclosures forms are posted here.

NMFS has told the inspector general it accepts all the recommendations in the report, and will implement them.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Bad boys, bad boys

NOAA has posted its draft enforcement priorities for 2013.

Alaska priorities are on pages 4-5. Among "high priority" items:

• Observer assault, harassment or interference violations

• Felony and major civil cases involving significant damage to the resource or the integrity of management schemes

• Commercialization of sport-caught or subsistence halibut

• Maritime Boundary Line incursions by foreign fishing or transport vessels

Agree? Disagree?

Click here to learn how you can submit comments to NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement.

Friday, January 25, 2013


McDonald's signaled this week that its Filet-O-Fish boxes will sport the Marine Stewardship Council's blue ecolabel.

McDonald's uses Alaska pollock for its popular fish sandwich, and the MSC certifies Alaska's pollock fisheries as sustainable.

McDonald's has produced a glossy video featuring Dutch Harbor, the trawl vessel Defender and skipper Kenny Longaker. Go here and click on fish.

Another pollock-based product, Fish McBites, reportedly is slated for national release.

If the fast-food titan really insists on MSC-blessed fish, it soon might have a choice of suppliers. Producers in Russian waters including the Sea of Okhotsk and the western Bering Sea are closing in on certification.

Yes, you're all doing great!

A state panel has completed its performance review of Community Development Quota organizations, and finds that each of the six group has "maintained or improved its overall performance."

What this means, we expect, is that no group will gain or lose lucrative catch quota.

Click here to see the final reports and cover letters the state sent to each group.

For background, see our December post about the CDQ performance review.

Halibut harvesters catch a break

The International Pacific Halibut Commission today approved a coastwide catch limit of 31.03 million pounds for this year.

That's a reduction of over 7 percent from last year.

But the cut could have been much deeper, with commissioners considering a suggested 33 percent reduction coming into the IPHC annual meeting this week in Victoria, British Columbia.

The commission set season dates of March 23 to Nov. 7.

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

Here is the full slate of 2013 catch limits, by regulatory area, expressed in millions of pounds. Figures are rounded slightly.

Regulatory area2012 catch limits2013 catch limits% change

Click here for a map of IPHC regulatory areas.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Two sunken boats raised, now moored in Homer

Two fishing vessels that sank in December in Jakolof Bay, south of Homer, have been refloated.

Here's a state situation report with more details and a photo of the Kupreanof and Leading Lady.

Heavy snowfall could have contributed to the sinkings, the report says.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

News you can use from the tax man

Here's an important announcement from the IRS on penalty relief for farmers and fishermen.

Monday, January 21, 2013

One more pollock note

The Prince William Sound pollock fishery also opened yesterday.

Trawlers are chasing a quota of 2,623 metric tons, down slightly from last year.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Pollock time!

Speaking of pollock, the Bering Sea pollock fishery opens at noon Sunday with a customarily enormous quota of more than 1.2 million metric tons.

The season is divided into two parts, the A season and the B season.

The A season runs from Jan. 20 to June 10 and is the most important for the industry. That's because pollock are fat with lucrative roe during the winter.

The B season runs from June 10 to Nov. 1.

Despite the vast quantity of fish to be harvested, the pollock fleet is relatively small.

A total of 132 vessels — 108 catcher boats, 21 factory trawlers and three motherships — hold federal permits under the American Fisheries Act.

Of course, some of these vessels are among the largest and most powerful in America, if not the world.

'Billion-Dollar Fish'

A new book is coming out this spring titled "Billion-Dollar Fish: The Untold Story of Alaska Pollock."

The author, Kevin M. Bailey, formerly was a senior scientist with the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The publisher is the University of Chicago Press.

From the book description:

Bailey delves into the science, politics, and economics surrounding Alaska pollock in the Bering Sea, detailing the development of the fishery, the various political machinations that have led to its current management, and, perhaps most important, its impending demise.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Tanners today

Kodiak's little Tanner crab fishery is scheduled to begin at noon today.

The fishery has an unusual wrinkle this year, what with Shell's recently rescued offshore drilling rig, the Kulluk, anchored up in Kiliuda Bay on Kodiak's eastern side.

Nothing has spilled from the rig, but state and Coast Guard officials are being extra cautious to make sure the Kulluk and various response vessels don't cause a problem for the crabbers.

Hence, the hulking rig will stay put in inner Kiliuda Bay for the duration of the fishery.


"A claims process has been established for any crab fishermen losses that occur as a result of the Kulluk's presence," says this update from the unified command set up to deal with the Kulluk grounding and salvage operation.

The catch quota for Tanner crab is a modest 660,000 pounds for the Kodiak District.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Wanted: two IPHC commissioners

Last week we reported how U.S. officials were planning to reopen the competition for a couple of seats on the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Now it's official. Here's the call for nominations.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

A salmon summit in Seattle

Bye-bye MSC bluefish? Deckboss photo

We've noted from time to time how those MSC folks are having a hard time hanging onto Alaska salmon.

MSC is the Marine Stewardship Council, a London-based certifier of sustainable fisheries.

The MSC made quite a splash with Alaska salmon back in 2000, when the fishery first won the organization's blue eco-label.

MSC-blessed seafood is said to have an advantage in the global marketplace.

For a long while, Alaska and the MSC seemed to be happy partners.

In recent years, however, many players in the Alaska seafood industry have become disenchanted with the MSC, for a variety of reasons.

This also goes for state officials, who apparently aren't too enthused about current efforts to keep MSC certification going.

A Seattle-based fishing group, the Purse Seine Vessel Owners' Association, is seeking renewal of the MSC label on behalf of seven Alaska salmon processors led by Sitka-based Silver Bay Seafoods.

Achieving this recertification necessarily would involve a lot of work for the state, specifically the Department of Fish and Game.

But apparently the department isn't much interested in playing along.

Nor is the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which has become something of an MSC rival in pursuing an alternative certification scheme for Alaska salmon and other seafood.

Now, here's the fun part.

It seems that two top state officials will meet tomorrow with PSVOA to discuss "concerns" about the MSC certification program. Here's a letter, co-signed by Commerce Commissioner Susan Bell and Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, seeking out the meeting.

Deckboss has seen some additional correspondence elaborating on the state's position.

"Our concerns with the MSC process have to do with governance and policy, loss of market access, and brand erosion," Bell wrote in a Jan. 3 email to Bob Kehoe, PSVOA executive director.

Interestingly, this summit on Alaska salmon won't be held in Juneau or Anchorage, but in Seattle. The two commissioners are traveling there personally.

Should be a pleasant meeting, no?

Saturday, January 12, 2013

'Effective immediately'

Here's the resignation letter former Board of Fisheries member Bill Brown submitted to the governor.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Your (second) chance for a seat on the IPHC

Remember our post of nearly a year ago on the federal government's call for people to serve on the International Pacific Halibut Commission?

That call produced a good number of nominations for two U.S. seats.

But none of them will be selected. At least not yet.

It seems the government is reopening the nomination process, for reasons outlined in this email to current nominees.

About those Carlson payments

Several folks have asked Deckboss when they can expect checks from the Carlson case.

As you'll recall, the Carlson case was a long-running class action that resulted in the state being ordered to refund millions of dollars to nonresident commercial fishermen overcharged for permits and licenses.

It appeared refund checks might go in the mail before year's end, but that didn't happen.

Loren Domke, the Juneau attorney for the fishermen plaintiffs, today provided an update.

"The first batch of over 2,200 checks will be sent out tomorrow," he said.

Some problems including "accounting issues" took longer to sort out than expected, Domke said.

But the payout will come well within the specified four-month deadline from the court's mid-October disbursement order, he said.

Fish Board member Brown steps down

Bill Brown, of Juneau, has resigned from the Alaska Board of Fisheries, the governor's office confirms.

First appointed to the board by former Gov. Sarah Palin in 2008, Brown's current term was due to expire on June 30, 2014.

That's all we know at this point. Deckboss will try to get more details.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Fishy bill filed

The Alaska Legislature today released a bunch of bills prefiled ahead of the 2013 session, which opens Jan. 15.

Deckboss looked them over and found only one of real relevance to the commercial fishing world.

House Bill 18 — An Act providing priority to personal use fisheries when fishing restrictions are implemented to achieve a management goal. Sponsor: Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak.


Shell's offshore drilling barge, the Kulluk, has been refloated.

The barge had been aground on Sitkalidak Island since New Year's Eve after getting away from tow boats in heavy seas.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Let it be known

Federal regulators have posted notice of a control date for the Central Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries.

The control date of Dec. 31, 2012, is a cutoff date as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council works toward establishing a catch share program.

The council wants to discourage "speculative entry" into the fisheries.

That means, hey, if you're thinking of jumping into the Central Gulf trawl sector and fishing real hard to build up catch history in hopes of landing bigger shares, don't bother. History built after Dec. 31 might not count.

Kulluk recovery outlined

The Aiviq — can she do it? USCG photo

Deckboss just listened in on a unified command press conference on the Kulluk situation.

Here are the key points:

• An effort to tow the grounded drilling platform off the beach will be attempted soon. Spokesmen for Shell and the Coast Guard said timing will depend on weather, tides and having all the necessary equipment in place.

• The main tow vessel will be the Aiviq, an enormous oil industry workboat whose engines failed while towing the Kulluk across the North Pacific in late December, precipitating the grounding.

• Assuming the Kulluk can be pulled from the beach — officials talked like this is a given — the rig will be towed about 30 miles to a "place of refuge," Kodiak's Kiliuda Bay, for closer inspection. Here's an animation of the towing plan.

• The officials said no fuel leaks have been detected from the Kulluk, and the Shell man said the platform is "sound and fit to tow."

Well, let's wish 'em luck with this plan.

Tsunami warning

A tsunami warning is now in effect for Southeast Alaska due to a magnitude 7.7 earthquake 210 miles south of Juneau.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Here's your Copper River forecast

The state has released its 2013 salmon forecast for the famed Copper River.

Biologists project a commercial catch of 1.3 million sockeye and 19,800 Chinook.

Last season, fishermen ended up with a dandy 1.86 million sockeye and a scant 11,617 Chinook.

The forecast also includes numbers for Prince William Sound.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

To the rescue

Shell, headquartered in the Netherlands, naturally plans to use a Dutch outfit, Smit Salvage, to try to retrieve that behemoth drilling platform stranded at Kodiak Island.

The only question now is whether the rig will come off the beach whole, or in pieces.

Here is Shell's statement on the grounding.

Get your bids in, boys!

Looks like Southeast Alaska salmon seiners are pursuing another buyback to further reduce their ranks.

Here's a letter that went out to permit holders recently.

You'll recall that last year, the fleet bought and retired 64 permits using a $13.1 million federal loan.

The fishery currently has 315 permits.

Hard aground

Any hope for the Kulluk? USCG photo
Here's another view of Shell's drilling platform, the Kulluk, beached off Kodiak.

And here's a map of the platform's location.

The latest word from the unified command is the vessel remains stable, with no sign of a hull breach.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Not looking good

The U.S. Coast Guard took this shot today of Shell's mobile offshore drilling platform, the Kulluk, aground on remote Sitkalidak Island on the southeast side of Kodiak Island. Shell used the platform in drilling operations this summer in the Arctic Ocean. A tug was towing the nonmotorized rig to Seattle for maintenance when it experienced engine and towline problems in tough weather. A huge emergency response and salvage effort is under way, but the Kulluk could be doomed. Shell had spent $292 million upgrading the platform, which was evacuated well before the grounding. USCG photo

Disastrous turn of events

Shell's mobile offshore drilling platform, the Kulluk, is now reported aground off Kodiak Island.

Here's the update from the unified command.