Sunday, June 30, 2013

Update on the Lone Star sinking

The U.S. Coast Guard has released a few more details on the sinking of the salmon tender Lone Star in the Igushik River at Bristol Bay.

"The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has conducted an overflight of the site and reports a narrow sheen extending approximately four miles," the Coast Guard says.

The good Samaritan vessel Tradition responded to the report of the sinking vessel, rescued the four Lone Star crewmen and took them to Dillingham.

The Lone Star is partially submerged in 18 feet of water and reportedly has 14,000 gallons of diesel, 250 gallons of gasoline, 150 gallons of lube oil and 150 gallons of hydraulic fluid aboard.

The Coast Guard has issued a broadcast notice to mariners that the overturned vessel is 3.5 miles north of the mouth of the Igushik River, and boats in the area should maintain a sharp lookout to avoid collision.

As for how the Lone Star sank, a crewmember said that while at anchor a change in the tide "swung the ship against the anchor chain, detaching the transducer and coolant lines," the Coast Guard says. "This created a hole in the steel hull and caused the vessel to take on water."

KDLG radio reports the Lone Star was working for Trident Seafoods.

Trouble in Bristol Bay

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game shut down the local setnet fishery after a salmon tender, the Lone Star, sank this morning in the mouth of the Igushik River.

The good news is all four crewmen aboard the vessel are safe. In fact, they never even got wet, a U.S. Coast Guard spokesman told Deckboss.

The Coast Guard received a mayday at 6:57 a.m. from the master of the Lone Star, who said his vessel was taking on water.

The crew got into a raft, and made it onto another vessel, the Coast Guard spokesman said.

The Department of Fish and Game in Dillingham issued an emergency order for Igushik setnetters to pull their nets due to the possibility of fuel in the water.

"If fish are contaminated they should be isolated and destroyed," the Fish and Game announcement said.

The Lone Star rolled over, the department said. But the vessel remains sticking out of the water, the Coast Guard spokesman said.

State records indicate the 86-foot, steel-hulled Lone Star belongs to Charles A. Burrece, of Bellingham, Wash.

Volunteer? Who, me?

We heard quite a bit of bellyaching when the North Pacific observer program expanded this year to cover new fleets, including halibut boats.

One complaint was that more should have been done to develop an alternative to the inconvenience and cost of having a human observer ride along on small boats.

Surely electronic monitoring — onboard cameras — could keep tabs on catch and bycatch, the critics said.

OK, fine.

Now read this letter from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to several commercial fishing groups.

The letter says a pilot project has been set up to test electronic monitoring systems.

The trouble is, not many commercial fishermen have volunteered to take part in the project so far, the letter says.

The council wants a viable electronic monitoring alternative on the water as soon as practicable, and the volunteer pilot program is "vital to the realization of this goal," the letter says.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Is this anything?

Some days ago, on June 19, a senior seafood buyer for retail giant Walmart sent salmon suppliers this letter.

"Please review the attached letter in regards to wild salmon. This is a reconfirmation of our requirements for sustainable sourcing of wild salmon," said an email introducing the letter. "Now that the wild salmon harvest season is upon us, please review your source fisheries to ensure that they meet our sustainability requirements."

The letter said the company will buy only from fisheries "certified sustainable to the MSC standard," or actively working toward certification.


The bulk of Alaska's salmon industry, you'll recall, recently fired MSC — the London-based Marine Stewardship Council — as tedious, expensive and superfluous.

Walmart said it might consider an alternative to MSC certification. But, according to its letter, "Walmart has not yet determined any other standard to be equivalent to MSC. Therefore, no other standards will be accepted as equivalent until such time as we announce our decision."

Deckboss hasn't talked with the MSC folks, but imagines they're delighted with Walmart's stance.

I've also not talked with Alaska's major salmon processors. But I'm guessing they're not too worried.

Why not?

Because the processors are confident most buyers trust that Alaska has a good and very abundant wild product, and that the state manages its salmon runs sustainably.

Further, I expect the processors believe the Alaska brand trumps the MSC brand.

Deckboss did ask Tyson Fick, spokesman for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, for a comment. Remember, Alaska's major salmon processors control the ASMI board.

"It is amazing to me," he said, "that America's largest retailer appears to be saying that they will not buy American seafood without the endorsement of a foreign-based environmental group while promoting foreign seafood with clearly inferior fisheries management and quality, all in the name of sustainability."

Tenderman dies after ammonia leak at Sitka

KCAW Raven Radio in Sitka reports an 82-year-old man has died after an ammonia leak aboard the fish tender Eigil B. More here.

Is the halibut war finally drawing to a close?

The National Marine Fisheries Service has published proposed regulations to establish a "clear allocation" of halibut between Alaska's rival commercial and charter fleets.

As longtime Deckboss readers know, this has been a long and frustrating conflict, one regulators have repeatedly failed to settle.

Will it be different this time?

Click here for details on how you can weigh in on the proposed halibut catch sharing plan.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Commerce nominee easily confirmed

The U.S. Senate on Tuesday voted 97 to 1 to confirm Chicago billionaire businesswoman Penny Pritzker as the new secretary of commerce.

The Commerce Department houses the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Both Alaska senators voted for Pritzker.

Here are statements from Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski.

Bristol Bay gets going

Out in Bristol Bay, scene of the world's biggest sockeye salmon run, we're starting to see the commercial harvest pick up.

The cumulative catch has now topped 5 million fish, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports.

You can track the daily tally here.

The fishery historically has peaked around the Fourth of July.

The catch forecast for this season is a relatively modest 16.6 million sockeye.

Standing by

Deckboss expects we'll soon hear from the governor's office on appointments to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute board of directors.

The board normally has seven members, with processors holding five seats and fishermen two.

One seat currently is vacant, due to Dennis Guhlke's exit as chief executive of Icicle Seafoods Inc. in February.

The terms for two other ASMI directors expire on June 30. They are Kevin Adams, a commercial fisherman and board chairman, and Jack Schultheis, general manager of Kwik'pak Fisheries LLC.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Dr. White crosses the bar

Here's an online obituary for John White, a Bethel dentist who served on the Alaska Board of Fisheries from 1995 to 2002.

Adak's gamble

We told you in the spring how Icicle Seafoods Inc. was closing its seafood plant on the distant Aleutian island of Adak, and how the processing equipment would be put up for auction.

Well, the auction is over with the city of Adak and a local community development nonprofit jointly submitting the winning bid.

It's a more than $2 million bet that Adak, trying to remain a viable civilian town on what used to be naval base, can attract another processing company to make use of the equipment.

The alternative, City Manager Layton Lockett told Deckboss, was to let the equipment leave the island, perhaps dooming chances for restarting the processing plant.

The city itself has no intention of running the plant, Lockett said.

Folks on Adak are confident they can lure a new processor.

"To take this kind of gamble? Yeah, for sure," Lockett said. "Fishing is our future."

Here's a press release from the city with more details.

Sunday, June 23, 2013


Catch the big haul of fresh items on our companion blog, The Brig.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Coast Guard medevacs crewman with head injury

The U.S. Coast Guard yesterday airlifted an injured man off the factory trawler Alaska Juris.

The man, 43, was injured when a falling box of frozen fish struck him in the head, the Coast Guard said.

At the time of the call for help, the 238-foot vessel was 178 miles southeast of Dutch Harbor.

The Coast Guard directed the Alaska Juris to change course, to close the distance the rescue helicopter had to fly.

The helicopter, off the cutter Boutwell, safely hoisted the injured man and delivered him for medical attention in Dutch Harbor.

Fishing Company of Alaska, based in Washington state, operates the Alaska Juris.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fields, Long appointed to North Pacific Council

The Commerce Department has reappointed Duncan Fields, of Kodiak, to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and also has appointed newcomer David Long, of Wasilla.

Council members serve three-year terms.

Here's a news release on appointments to all the regional fishery management councils around the country.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Search suspended for missing deckhand

The U.S. Coast Guard says it has suspended the active search for a 25-year-old man who went overboard Monday night from the fishing vessel Swift near Porpoise Island, some 40 miles west of Juneau.

The Alaska State Troopers and other responders have been called in to "search the underwater area between the anchored vessel and the beach for the crewman," the Coast Guard said.

The Coast Guard did not name the missing man.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Halt the hatcheries?

An organization called the Sustainable Fisheries Partnership is calling for a moratorium on North Pacific hatchery expansion until the risks to wild salmon populations can be ascertained. More here.

Abandoned boat found in Icy Strait; skipper rescued while search continues for deckhand

A search is under way for a missing crewman in Icy Strait, 40 miles west of Juneau.

The crewman is off the 34-foot fishing vessel Swift.

The U.S. Coast Guard said it received a call just after midnight from the 57-foot tender Pacific Horizon, which had rendezvoused with the Swift and found no one aboard.

A Coast Guard helicopter found the Swift's captain on a beach near an overturned skiff. Mildly hypothermic, he was airlifted to Juneau for medical attention.

A deckhand on the Swift remains missing. He was wearing a gray, hooded sweatshirt and black rain pants.

Winds are light and seas calm in the search area.

KINY radio quotes a Coast Guard officer as saying the Swift was taking part in a chum salmon fishery.

The deckhand fell overboard, and when the captain launched a skiff to help him, he also went into the water, the station reported.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A new approach on the Yukon

Commercial fishermen will have a 12-hour shot Tuesday, from noon to midnight, to harvest summer chum salmon in District 1 on the Lower Yukon River.

What's really interesting about this opener is that fishermen can use only beach seines and dipnets, rather than the usual gillnets.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries acted this year to authorize the new, nonlethal gear types as a way to allow chum fishing without seriously impacting the expected poor Chinook run.

Fishermen using beach seines and dipnets will be required to release incidentally caught Chinook back to the water immediately, and alive.

"In the event that a Chinook salmon is killed by these gear types, the dead Chinook salmon must be recorded on a fish ticket and forfeited to the state," says this press release.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Salmon notes

Lots of salmon fisheries are open around Alaska, but the statewide catch remains modest at this point.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game reports about 2.9 million fish have been taken so far, on a preseason forecast of 179 million.

Here are a few notes on the young season:

• Southeast trollers have landed 11,847 Chinook, which trails last year's catch by 27 percent for this date. The bright side: Prices are very strong at an average of $6.91 per pound, and average fish weight is up by half a pound to 13.3 pounds.

• At the Copper River, gillnetters finally got a couple of openers last week, after enduring a 13-day closure to allow inriver passage to improve. The sockeye harvest stands at an excellent 843,000 fish, and the district will open again at 7 a.m. Monday for a 36-hour period.

• At Chignik, on the Alaska Peninsula, early reports indicate the number of permits fishing this season will be the highest since 2005. Chignik has a significant sockeye run.

• Early season catches have been characteristically low at Bristol Bay, scene of the world's largest sockeye fishery. We likely won't see the action heat up there until early July. Managers on Friday allowed a five-hour fishery targeting Chinook in the Nushagak District.

• The Yukon River Chinook run is expected to be weak again this year, so no commercial fishery targeting those wonderful kings is expected.

Friday, June 14, 2013

McCune takes UFA helm

Jerry McCune, a longtime commercial fisherman out of Cordova and lobbyist in Juneau, has been elected president of United Fishermen of Alaska.

UFA is the state's largest commercial fishing trade association with 36 member groups.

Here's the full announcement with more news on UFA leadership positions.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Longliner sustains fire damage at Unalaska

Lauren Rosenthal with KUCB in Unalaska has a report on a significant fire Wednesday aboard the freezer longliner Blue Pacific.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Council recommends Chinook cap

Here's the final motion the North Pacific Fishery Management Council passed to limit Chinook bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska non-pollock trawl fisheries.

The council is recommending a hard cap of 7,500 Chinook salmon.

As you can see, however, the motion includes a "uncertainty pool" provision that could give trawlers an additional 1,000 Chinook in some years. At least that's how Deckboss reads it.

Council decisions are subject to Commerce Department approval.

For more background on this, see our prior post.

Tough day

We had plenty of trouble on the water Monday.

At 7:30 a.m., police in Cordova received a 911 call from the purse seiner Esperanza reporting a man was lost overboard, had been recovered and was undergoing cardiopulmonary resuscitation.

The Alaska Wildlife Troopers patrol boat Churchill and a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter responded in heavy fog.

The victim couldn't be revived, and the body was transferred to the Churchill.

Troopers said the deceased, Cornell Perry Bean Jr., 40, of Kake, wasn't wearing a life preserver.

In a separate mishap, a crewman on the trawler Alaska Spirit needed an emergency airlift.

The crewman, who wasn't identified, had a crushed finger, the Coast Guard said.

The Alaska Spirit was located 58 miles southeast of Nunivak Island in the Bering Sea.

The victim initially was transferred by small boat to the cutter Boutwell, where the decision was made to medevac him via helicopter.

"Our health care professionals recommended getting the man to a higher level of care within seven hours to have the best chance of restoring functionality to his finger," said Lt. Bernard Auth, a Coast Guard search and rescue controller.

The Alaska Spirit is a 221-foot trawler belonging to Fishing Company of Alaska.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Togiak herring haul worth ho-hum $2.9 million

Here's the official summary of the recently concluded Togiak sac roe herring season.

As previously reported, the catch was impressive at 28,808 tons.

The estimated grounds price was not so impressive at $100 per ton for both seine and gillnet fish. That puts the ex-vessel value of the fishery at $2.88 million.

It's possible, of course, that post-season adjustments could improve the payoff for fishermen.

Farther north, the Norton Sound sac roe herring fishery opens at 6 this evening. Icy details here.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Chinook bycatch headlines council agenda

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is meeting this week in Juneau, and Chinook bycatch is heading the agenda.

The council is set to take final action on measures to control the incidental take of Chinook in Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries targeting species such as Pacific cod, flatfish and rockfish.

The options include an annual limit, or "hard cap," of between 5,000 and 12,500 Chinook salmon.

Chinook bycatch, of course, is a very hot topic these days given the weak Chinook returns to many of Alaska's river systems.

The council has been working methodically to rein in this bycatch.

In June 2011, the council set a cap of 25,000 Chinook in the Gulf pollock fishery.

Regulators also have set caps in the giant Bering Sea pollock fishery.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Illicit halibut charter operator fined $15,000

An Anchorage resident who took customers fishing without the required halibut charter permit will pay a $15,000 fine to settle an enforcement action, federal authorities say.

Sidney Bouschor initially was assessed a $30,300 civil penalty following an undercover operation by NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement.

"Bouschor admitted the charge, but claimed an inability to pay the entire assessed penalty," says this press release. "After supplying the required financial documentation to NOAA, which was evaluated by a NOAA financial expert, NOAA's Office of General Counsel found it appropriate to settle the case for $15,000."

The press release, unfortunately, doesn't specify which port Bouschor was operating out of, or provide other details of the undercover operation.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

NMFS to take action to stop 'scale fraud'

The National Marine Fisheries Service is planning to tighten regulations on scales used to weigh catches aboard factory fishing vessels operating off Alaska.

NMFS says it has "investigated several cases of potential scale tampering and fraud that may have resulted in large underestimations of catch" in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.

Federal authorities have levied more than $2.7 million in fines against American Seafoods, the largest operator of factory trawlers in the pollock fishery.

At-sea scales can provide very precise and accurate estimates of catch, NMFS says, provided the scales are not monkeyed with.

It's now apparent that regulatory changes are needed to stop scale fraud, the agency says.

This briefing paper lays out the possible changes. Among them:

• Require vessels to report scale tests daily

• Expand video monitoring of the scale area

• Have an observer present whenever scales are recalibrated

• Enhance the "audit trail" on scale adjustments.