Friday, March 29, 2013

Halfway there in Sitka herring fishery

We've now had two openers in the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery, and the total catch stands at 5,700 tons.

That's almost half the preseason quota of 11,549 tons.

Samples taken yesterday indicated "very high quality herring," the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said.

That means the fish were especially rich with roe, or eggs. The roe is marketed primarily in Japan, and accounts for almost all the value of the fishery.

Another opener isn't expected until tomorrow at the earliest.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Processor refloated

Here's a new situation report from the state on the Pacific Producer, the processing vessel that ran aground on Kodiak Island a while back.

This is the pertinent paragraph:

The vessel was refloated March 24, 2013 without assistance from the salvage team. The vessel transited under its own power to the harbor in Ouzinkie where it remains while the vessel's stability is evaluated by the USCG. The hull was inspected by a dive survey on March 26, 2013 and found to be intact.

As for the cause of the grounding?

Naturally, that remains "under investigation."

And they're off!

Raven Radio KCAW in Sitka reports the herring fishery got its first opener of the season yesterday afternoon, but the catch was modest.

Check out the report here.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Kluberton, Webster to continue on Fish Board

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell today reappointed Tom Kluberton, of Talkeetna, and Vince Webster, of King Salmon, to the state Board of Fisheries.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Dipnet supremacy?

The House Special Committee on Fisheries will hold a hearing at 10 this morning on House Bill 18, which would give "personal use" or dipnet fisheries priority over all other fisheries except subsistence.

The bill sponsor is state Rep. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak.

You can listen to the hearing by teleconference.

Here's a Matanuska-Susitna Borough resolution favoring HB 18.

And here are a bunch of letters from commercial fishermen opposed to the bill.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Legislature passes anti-GE salmon resolution

The Alaska Senate today unanimously passed a resolution opposing U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval of genetically engineered salmon.

The resolution, which previously passed the House, now goes to Gov. Sean Parnell.

A resolution does not carry the force of law. Rather, it merely expresses legislative sentiment.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

'Large bodies of herring' seen

Here's the latest update on the fast approaching Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery.

Attention salmon trollers

Here are two state announcements that sound like Chinook salmon trollers are getting some money.

Announcement 1
Announcement 2

Friday, March 22, 2013

Here we go again

Two of Alaska's most valuable commercial fisheries kick off a new season at noon Saturday.

That's when longliners are free to drop their hooks for halibut and sablefish.

The season is long, running to Nov. 7.

Alaska fishermen hold individual quotas totaling 21.8 million pounds of halibut and 28 million pounds of sablefish.

Because the fisheries are no longer managed as derbies, it's rare to see the sinkings and deaths that once were commonplace.

Still, safety is paramount, and the U.S. Coast Guard is urging fishermen to undergo a free vessel safety exam.

Click here for details on how to get your safety decal.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Long endorsement

United Fishermen of Alaska, the state's top commercial fishing group, is supporting David Long for a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Here's the UFA endorsement letter.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Let go of that octopus!

Cook Inlet area fishermen have taken nearly the full 35,000-pound bycatch allowance of octopus.

And so, retention of octopus will be prohibited after 5 p.m. Thursday, says this announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

My understanding is that fishermen targeting cod or other fish retain octopus largely for use or sale as bait.

Sitka herring quota edges up

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has adjusted the quota slightly for the upcoming Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery.

The new quota is 11,549 tons, up from the 11,055 tons announced back in December.

More details here.

Is Congressman Young in trouble?

The House Committee on Ethics has opened an investigation into U.S. Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

The committee will look at "allegations that he, or persons acting on his behalf, improperly obtained, received, or accepted gifts, improperly used official resources or campaign funds for personal purposes, failed to report certain gifts on his annual Financial Disclosure Statements, and made false statements to federal officials."

Naturally, this is getting widespread attention. Here are links to a few news reports:

Anchorage Daily News
The Washington Post
The Washington Times

Monday, March 18, 2013

Commerce Department will need new leader

Acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank is leaving to become chancellor at the University of Wisconsin.

Here's a statement from President Obama.

You'll recall that Blank became acting secretary after an incident in California involving former Commerce Secretary John Bryson.

The Commerce Department is hugely important to the commercial fishing industry, housing agencies such as the National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Weather Service.

Hard aground

The Pacific Producer, beached on Kodiak Island in Ouzinkie Narrows. The fish processor ran aground Friday morning with 16 people aboard. No injuries were reported. The U.S. Coast Guard is investigating the grounding. State officials say up to 15,000 pounds of frozen bait is aboard, and generators continue to operate. The plan is to try to refloat the 169-foot vessel on a high tide next week. A 10-inch crack was discovered near the waterline, along a freshwater tank. The owner of the Pacific Producer is East West Seafoods of Seattle. USCG photo

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The battle for scallops in Juneau

Alaska has a small but lucrative fishery for weathervane scallops, a sweet and extra plump variety.

The scallops are taken from beds in federal and state waters, with the majority of the catch coming from the federal side.

A cumbersome system of federal licenses and state permits limit entry in the fishery.

The handful of scallop participants want to keep the gate closed, and are trying to push through legislation in Juneau this session to extend limited entry in state waters for another five years at least.

The bill that's advanced the farthest is Senate Bill 54. Click the Documents button to read letters for and against.

This is a controversial issue, for a couple of reasons. First, the state scallop permits attach to vessels, not people as in the salmon, herring and other fisheries. That rubs some people the wrong way.

Second, some believe the scallop fishery is too concentrated in the hands of a very few persons or corporations.

Here's a report from within the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. It lays out what look like strategic business moves to consolidate control of the harvest.

Above all, scallop players don't want to see state limited entry expire after this year. This would allow the state waters to revert to open access, and would be bad for the fishery overall, in the view of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

At least three lobbyists are working on behalf of the Alaska Scallop Association, a fishery cooperative.

They include Frank Homan, a former CFEC commissioner, who has reported a fee of $12,000; Gerald McCune, $5,000; and Bob Thorstenson Jr., $5,000.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Crewman needs medevac after fall overboard

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter on Friday hoisted a hypothermic crewman off the 58-foot fishing vessel Stella in Shelikof Strait.

Earlier in the day, the 35-year-old crewman had fallen overboard.

He spent about 25 minutes without a survival suit in the 38-degree water before his fellow crewmen could bring him back aboard, the Coast Guard said.

"This crew did everything right to rescue this man and this is a perfect example of why vessel crews need to practice their emergency drills monthly," a Coast Guard spokesman said.

The crewman was flown to Kodiak for medical attention.

"Coast Guard personnel will investigate the cause of the man overboard," a press release said.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Governor likes Fields, Long for fish council

Gov. Sean Parnell is backing Duncan Fields to continue on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and favors Wasilla resident David Long to replace two-term member Sam Cotten.

Here's an abbreviated version of the press release from Juneau:

March 15, 2013

Gov. Parnell makes nominations to fishery council

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell today nominated Duncan Fields and David Long for consideration by the U.S. secretary of commerce for service on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The governor also named Stefanie Moreland and John Moller as alternate nominees.

"The fisheries resources in the North Pacific are of vital importance to Alaskans and Alaskan communities, and these nominees are experienced in the harvest, conservation and management of fisheries resources," Parnell said. "Mr. Fields and Mr. Long will effectively press forward on issues that are important to Alaska."

Fields, of Kodiak, is completing his second term on the NPFMC. He has been an active fisherman since 1960. Fields serves as a technical adviser for the Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition, the vice president of natural resource and community development for Old Harbor Native Corp., and a natural resource consultant for Shoreside Consulting. He served on the NPFMC Advisory Panel from 2001 through 2007 and is a member of the executive committee of United Fishermen of Alaska. He earned a bachelor's degree with a comprehensive social science major from Cedarville College and a law degree from the University of Oregon.

Long, of Wasilla, has acquired extensive and diverse experience over the past 40 years through active participation in fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, Bristol Bay and the Sea of Okhotsk in a variety of gear types and fisheries. He is a licensed master of oceans, has mastered vessels with oceanographic research and development programs, and has served the Alaska State Troopers as a vessel supervisor. He also has participated in the NPFMC process by providing testimony and information. Long also is an avid sportfisherman.

Moreland, of Juneau, is currently a special assistant in the governor's office, serving as a policy adviser on fisheries, wildlife, oceans and Arctic issues. She formerly served as a legislative aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Moller was born in Unalaska and resides in Juneau, where he serves as a senior rural affairs adviser and special assistant in the governor's office. He served for 13 years as general manager of the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association.

The NPFMC is one of eight regional councils dedicated to oversight of the nation’s fisheries.

Sitka herring update No. 1

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has conducted its first aerial survey for the upcoming Sitka Sound sac roe herring season.

No herring were seen, but sea lions and whales are gathering in anticipation of a good meal.

Read the department's update here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

You're in

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland has granted the Fixed Gear Alliance's motion to intervene as a plaintiff in The Boat Co. lawsuit.

Here's the judge's order.

So far, a savvy deal for salmon seiners

Back in January, we told you how Southeast Alaska salmon seiners were considering another round of permit buybacks to further trim the fleet.

That's not going to happen, at least not this year, says this update from buyback organizers.

As for last year's buyback of 64 permits, the update indicates the fleet is having no problems at all repaying its federal loan.

In fact, the fleet is looking to reduce its 3 percent landings tax to only 1 percent.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Stedman explains need for sea otter bounty

Here's a sponsor statement from Sen. Bert Stedman, R-Sitka, on his sea otter control bill.

Senate Bill 60 would have the state pay Alaska Natives a $100 bounty for every sea otter taken lawfully under the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Stedman says the fast-growing population of voracious sea otters threatens the future of dive and crab fisheries in Southeast Alaska, jeopardizing hundreds of jobs and tens of millions of dollars in economic activity.

The bill is up for a hearing at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Senate Resources Committee.

Hearing to focus on Magnuson-Stevens Act

A congressional committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Looks like a couple of Alaska industry players are on the list of witnesses, including Joe Plesha, chief legal officer for Trident Seafoods Corp., and Bob Dooley, president of the trawl group United Catcher Boats.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Hearing set on 'dude fishing' license bill

The House Special Committee on Fisheries is scheduled to hold a hearing at 10 a.m. tomorrow, in part on House Bill 143.

This bill would increase the fee for a seven-day, so-called "dude fishing" crew license from $30 to $60.

We now have a sponsor statement from the committee chairman, Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, explaining the problem he sees with people buying multiple seven-day licenses.

We also have a fiscal note from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which says that last year, 443 resident and 2,317 nonresident seven-day commercial crew licenses were sold.

The note further says that 136 nonresident fishermen purchased four or more seven-day licenses in 2012.

Boston is the place to be

The International Boston Seafood Show is this week's big event in the fish world.

The show is produced by Diversified Business Communications, of Portland, Maine. Diversified publishes National Fisherman magazine, and also produces Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle.

The Boston show is billed as "North America's largest seafood trade event, drawing 19,000 buyers and sellers from more than 100 countries and over 1,000 exhibiting companies."

Boston is a big deal for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which usually stakes out a large presence at the show.

"Alaska's seafood industry is a crucial part of our state's economy," said Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, who's attending this year's event.

According to this press release, the governor and ASMI reps today met with seafood buyers including Darden (Red Lobster, Olive Garden), Costco, Long John Silver's and Captain D's.

Tonight, ASMI was to host a reception sponsored by Alaska's major seafood processors.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bill would double fee for seven-day crew license

State Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer, has introduced House Bill 143, which would raise the fee for a seven-day crewmember license from $30 to $60.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Crewman with hand injury needs medevac

A rescue helicopter this morning hoisted a crewman with a hand injury off the fishing vessel Beauty Bay near St. Paul Island in the Bering Sea, the U.S. Coast Guard reports.

The Coast Guard didn't name the crewman, but said he's 27.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Will this help Cook Inlet setnetters?

The problem of poor Chinook salmon returns, which pretty much shut down eastside Cook Inlet setnetters in 2012, has received a lot of attention this off-season.

And the focus on the problem continues.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is now looking for a contractor to "identify differences in the migration patterns of Chinook and sockeye salmon" in the eastside setnet fishery and "determine potential alternative management strategies to reduce Chinook harvests."

The state solicitation indicates the research contract is worth $693,000.

Jump to page 23 to read the background information, and to see a map.

The department wants the contractor to attach acoustic telemetry tags to salmon captured in Lower Cook Inlet.

"Test fishing has determined that the majority of sockeye salmon entering the Central District migrate northward near the center of Cook Inlet ... but it is not known whether Chinook salmon follow this same migratory pathway," the solicitation says.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Your cost of doing business, rising again

The U.S. Coast Guard is proposing a $26 annual renewal fee for vessel documentation.

Here's the notice published today in the Federal Register. Fair warning: The densely bureaucratic notice is sure to give you a headache.

The Coast Guard says it hasn't adjusted its fees for vessel documentation services since 1993, and needs more revenue to cover its costs.

To my knowledge, the Coast Guard didn't issue a press release or handy Q&A to explain the $26 fee in plain language.

The Coast Guard did, however, see fit to issue a press release about its sponsorship of a musher in the Iditarod sled dog race.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Maybe we should stop calling them dogs

Deckboss was checking out the state's review of the 2012 salmon season and ran across a remarkable figure: $85 million.

That's the estimated dockside value of the chum salmon catch in Southeast Alaska.

Yes, $85 million.

To put it in perspective, the Bristol Bay sockeye catch paid about $118 million.

Most Southeast chum salmon come from hatcheries. Fishermen last year took 12.4 million chums, the sixth-highest harvest since statehood.

The chums paid an average of 75 cents a pound, the state says.

Traditionally, chums have been valued mainly for their roe.

But I'm thinking the roe, or even the large harvest volume, can't fully explain how a bunch of "dog" salmon can tally $85 million.

Is it marketing? New product forms?

I mean, wow, $85 million!

Ocean Beauty to be ready at Petersburg

Tom Sunderland of Ocean Beauty Seafoods tells Deckboss the company plans to open its Petersburg cannery for this year's salmon season.

You'll recall the plant was closed last year after the state ferry Matanuska crashed into the dock on May 7, causing considerable damage.

Southeast Alaska is expecting a big pink salmon harvest this summer, and the Petersburg plant will be ready, Sunderland said.

Will Icicle keep its seat?

The sudden replacement of Dennis Guhlke as chief executive of Icicle Seafoods Inc. creates a vacancy on the board of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

The seat is reserved for a larger processor representative, and the governor makes ASMI board appointments.

It'll be interesting to see if Icicle's new president, Amy Humphreys, is named to the ASMI board, or perhaps someone else from the company.

In any event, it could be a short gig, as Guhlke's term on the seven-member board was due to expire June 30.

Gov. Sean Parnell appointed Guhlke to the board in August 2010.

Presumably, ASMI would like to have the new board member in place as soon as possible. The board has big meetings coming up on March 10 at the International Boston Seafood Show, and on May 8-9 in Anchorage.