'Threats and challenges'

A new annual report from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute sees a number of "threats and challenges for Alaska in the global marketplace."

Among the listed items:

• Chilean salmon farmers have greatly increased production and are on track to fully rebound from devastating outbreaks of the ISA virus, infectious salmon anemia.

• Funding could be reduced for the Market Access Program, which helps promote American products abroad. The federal program has allocated millions of dollars to ASMI in years past.

• Aquaculture continues to increase its percentage of world seafood supply, with Alaska's share now down to 1.3 percent.

• With increases in the value of state's wild salmon, halibut and other species, Alaska producers face "price resistance" in the marketplace.

• Alaska always has been an expensive place to operate, and it's getting worse with rising fuel and transportation costs.

Legislature approves Fish Board appointees

The Alaska Legislature today confirmed Gov. Sean Parnell's picks for the state Board of Fisheries, Karl Johnstone and Orville Huntington.

Most of the governor's appointees, for posts ranging from state attorney general to the Board of Barbers and Hairdressers, passed by unanimous consent.

Johnstone was among the very few names drawing an objection, meaning his appointment was put to a vote of senators and representatives meeting jointly to consider the governor's appointees.

The vote proceeded without any discussion. Here is the outcome:

Senators: 17 yea, 2 nay
Representatives: 27 yea, 11 nay

For your entertainment

Deadliest Catch begins its eighth season Tuesday night. Check your local listings, potheads.

Deckboss also recommends you catch Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, a really nice film.

Less than half of Sitka herring quota taken so far

The Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery opened for a third time Saturday, and seiners bagged 3,740 tons in a little over three hours.

State fishery managers now estimate a total of 13,776 tons have been taken so far this year.

That's less than half the preseason quota of 28,829 tons.

Not to worry, however.

The latest Department of Fish and Game update suggests plenty of herring are still in the area.

To the deep

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Anacapa opened fire today on the Ryou-Un Maru, sinking her in 6,072 feet of water 180 miles off the Southeast Alaska coast.

Click here for Coast Guard video and photos.

Sinking imminent?

Here's another look at that derelict Japanese fishing vessel, the Ryou-Un Maru, as seen Wednesday about 170 nautical miles southwest of Sitka. The unmanned boat, drifting northwest, got loose after Japan's massive tsunami in March 2011. CNN and other media outlets are reporting the owner of the squid boat has been identified, and that the U.S. Coast Guard today might sink the vessel as a hazard to shipping. USCG photo

CDQ champions recognized

Deckboss certainly didn't receive an invitation. Heck, he didn't even known it was happening.

But apparently a big event was held last week in Anchorage to celebrate the 20-year anniversary of the Community Development Quota program.

The festivities included recognizing 15 people who helped create one of Alaska's "most innovative and successful economic development projects."

Among the honorees: the late Sen. Ted Stevens, the late Harvey Samuelsen of Dillingham, former state "fisheries tsar" Clem Tillion of Halibut Cove, and former Anchorage banker Ed Rasmuson.

For the complete list and more details on the March 30 celebration, check out this press release.

Launched in 1992, the CDQ program is a government initiative that reserves roughly 10 percent of the Bering Sea's lucrative fish and crab quotas for the benefit of Western Alaska villages. Six companies represent groups of villages, managing their seafood harvests and investments.

The six CDQ companies have amassed hundreds of millions of dollars in assets, including interests in large fishing vessels and processing plants. Creating rural jobs and educational opportunities is a major focus for the CDQ program, its leaders say.

A third of Sitka herring quota taken thus far

Sitka Sound seiners scooped up another 5,610 tons of roe-rich herring in yesterday's opener, the second of the season, the state Department of Fish and Game reports.

That brings the year's total an estimated 10,340 tons, or more than a third of the 28,829-ton quota.

"The plan is to stand down on further fishing until Thursday to allow for processing and tendering capacity to become available for the next harvesting opportunity," the department said this morning.

Tsunami ghost ship adrift off Southeast Alaska

Unmanned and unlit. USCG photo

The U.S. Coast Guard says a derelict Japanese fishing vessel, the Ryou-Un Maru, has drifted into Southeast Alaska waters and is posing a navigational hazard some 180 miles west of Dixon Entrance.

The vessel was first sighted more than a week ago in Canadian waters.

The Ryou-Un Maru has been drifting unmanned and unlit at sea presumably since Japan's massive tsunami more than a year ago, the Coast Guard says.

The Coast Guard has dropped a data marker buoy near the vessel to track its location, and a cutter is heading out to assess the situation.

Sitka herring update

Saturday's herring opener at Sitka, the first of the season, produced an estimated catch of 4,700 tons, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says.

That's about 16 percent of this season's giant quota of 28,829 tons.

The opener lasted just under three and a half hours.

Fishery managers called a second opening for 11:30 a.m. today, KCAW Raven Radio in Sitka reported.

As usual, the price situation is murky at best. Anybody heard anything credible?

Buyback balloting under way

The voting period has opened for the proposed Southeast Alaska salmon seine permit buyback program.

Permit holders eligible to vote were mailed ballots on Thursday.

Voters must return their ballots by April 30.

If a majority of the 379 ballots come back in favor, the government will proceed with a buyback of 64 permits at a cost of $13.1 million.

Seiners remaining in the fishery will then repay the money over time.

For more information, click here.

And they're off in Sitka

After days of waiting for the right conditions, the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery saw its first opener Saturday afternoon.

No word on the size of the catch.

Or whether seiners and processors were able to reach a preseason price agreement.

Or how many boats rammed other boats.

Johnstone in, Smith out on Board of Fisheries

Gov. Sean Parnell today reappointed Karl Johnstone to the Alaska Board of Fisheries. Johnstone currently is board chairman.

The governor named Orville Huntington to replace board member Mike Smith.

Here's a press release from the governor's office.

IPHC contenders named

Back in February we told you the federal government was inviting nominations for two U.S. seats on the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

So who was nominated? Here's the list.

Ralph Hoard and Phillip Lestenkof currently occupy the two seats, and both are eligible for reappointment. But only one of those names is on the list of nominees.

A new player enters rockfish legal fray

Fishermen's Finest Inc. is seeking to intervene in the lawsuit major Kodiak processors have filed against the federal government over the new Central Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch shares program.

As you will recall, the processors argue the program is unlawful because it created shares only for fishing vessel owners.

Seattle-based Fishermen's Finest operates two large and well-known trawlers in Alaska, the American No. 1 and the U.S. Intrepid.

In its motion to intervene, Fishermen's Finest argues that if the processors win, the company would lose valuable quota.

What's more, a processor victory "would upend the rationalization process for many fisheries in the North Pacific," the motion says.

Rationalization means cutting up a fishery into individual shares. Fishery managers in Alaska have embraced rationalization as a way to alleviate safety and other problems that arise when boats "race for fish."

The processor lawsuit strikes at a burning policy question: Should the government award shares only to fishermen, or should processors receive them too?

While Gulf rockfish is not among Alaska's largest or richest commercial fisheries, it's apparent the rockfish lawsuit could turn into a titanic legal battle.

Deckboss hears we are likely to see more fishing vessel owners file to intervene in the case.

Now property of the USA

To a buyer, or the bottom? James Mason photo

A federal judge in Anchorage yesterday signed this forfeiture decree for the Bangun Perkasa, a suspected high-seas driftnetter authorities seized and took to Dutch Harbor last year.

The judge signed the decree after no one came forward to claim the vessel. The government may now sell it.

Or better yet, says Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, the Coast Guard should use the "pirate" for gunnery practice and sink her.

What's your vote?

Chinook take a dip for Southeast trollers

Southeast Alaska commercial trollers have a Chinook salmon harvest allocation this year of 197,272 fish, down 20,788 from the 2011 preseason allocation.

Here's the announcement from the Department of Fish and Game.

State looks at financing seafood real estate deal

A state lending agency, the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority, is weighing whether to team with a bank on a $7.5 million loan to a Juneau seafood processor.

Here's an AIDEA staff memo with all the details.

The AIDEA board meets Friday. Here's the agenda.

Who knew?

Did you know that the "Grand Canyons of the Sea" can be found off Alaska's coast?

And that these two underwater canyons are prominent "Green Belt" features?

And that Bering Sea commercial fishing vessels, including factory trawlers "the size of ocean liners," are dragging nets and longlines through the canyons?

And that these canyons, which are "remarkable biologically," really should be protected?

And that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting this week in Anchorage and lacks "conservation seats," probably won't do the right thing without a push from Greenpeace and other groups?

Read all about it and see lots of pictures here.

Ready, set...

Sitka Sound herring seiners go on two-hour notice effective 11 a.m. Tuesday.

Here's the announcement from the Department of Fish and Game.

Fuglvog doing his time — in Petersburg!

Arne Fuglvog, the former congressional aide convicted of a federal fisheries violation, is serving his five-month prison sentence at this low-security facility in Petersburg, Va.

That's quite a coincidence, as Fuglvog is from Petersburg, Alaska.

Deckboss hears he reported to prison on March 13.

Fuglvog, 48, is scheduled for release on Aug. 11, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons inmate locator.

Geoduck groans

For the fifth consecutive week, the commercial geoduck clam fishery in Southeast Alaska is closed due to all harvest areas failing paralytic shellfish poison testing.

Deckboss isn't sure if this is some kind of record. But he's confident dive fishermen must be frustrated with such a long closure.

Here's the latest disappointing announcement from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

Litigation update

Here's a quick update on a couple of big court cases brought against federal fishery regulators.

First, processors challenging the new Central Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch shares program have filed this amended complaint in federal court in Seattle.

You will note that International Seafoods is no longer listed as plaintiff. Now its just Trident, Westward, North Pacific and Ocean Beauty taking on the feds.

Second, the state as well as several industry groups on Monday signaled they will appeal their recent defeat in the Steller sea lion case.

They contend the National Marine Fisheries Service lacks justification for imposing extensive fishing closures in the Aleutians to protect the endangered marine mammals.

It's not over yet

Last week came word that Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire was nominating Lori Swanson for a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Well, this choice apparently didn't sit well with a large segment of the industry.

Deckboss has intercepted the following email attempting to rally support for an alternate, Craig Cross.

The email is from Jim Gilmore, the Washington, D.C., lobbyist for the At-sea Processors Association, which represents Bering Sea factory trawlers. It's addressed to several major commercial fishing organizations: the Deep Sea Fishermen's Union, the Alaska Crab Coalition, the Fishing Vessel Owners' Association, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the Freezer Longline Coalition and United Catcher Boats.

Here's the email:

From: Jim Gilmore
Sent: Thursday, March 15, 2012 6:24 PM
To: 'Mark Gleason'; 'Edward Poulsen'; 'Robert Alverson'; 'Arni Thomson'; 'Theodore Kronmiller'; 'Kenny Down'; 'Brent Paine'; 'Justin LeBlanc'; 'Sara Chapman'
Cc: 'Stephanie Madsen'; 'Craig Cross'
Subject: North Pacific Council seat


By now, you have no doubt heard that Governor Gregoire has selected Lori Swanson as the preferred nominee for appointment to the North Pacific Council with Craig Cross as the second choice.

Among many others within and outside the commercial fisheries, our seven organizations supported Craig's candidacy, urging the Governor to select Craig as the preferred nominee. The issue we now face is whether to continue to press the case with Washington's Senators and Democrat House members or to accept the Governor's verdict.

This appointment seems particularly important since among the three Washington Council seats, it is the only seat to be occupied by a commercial fisheries participant — and that is likely to be the case for the next five years until John Henderschedt reaches the end of his third term. John, of course, is an excellent Council member, but he has changed jobs since his first appointment, leaving the industry with one less seat to represent our diverse interests.

What is startling, and troubling, about the Governor's decision is the disregard shown for the almost unprecedented breadth of industry support for Craig's candidacy, certainly when contrasted with the very narrow support for Lori's candidacy. The trawl, longline, and pot vessel sectors, including both catcher and catcher/processor vessels employing those gear types, and a crewmember union voiced unqualified support for Craig, expressing broad stakeholder support for him to fill the one industry seat available to a $2 billion industry.

Both Lori and Craig meet the MSA requirements for Council appointees. Obviously, I am biased in believing that Craig is still the stronger candidate, but I can see a decision maker viewing the candidates as essentially equally qualified to garner the asterisk as the preferred nominee.

What I find appalling though is that the decision ignores the fact that virtually the whole industry lined up behind one candidate and that in evaluating two qualified candidates, the deciding factor — whatever that was — ran counter to the will and confidence of the industry. The MSA requires consultation with the industry, and the Governor's letter to NOAA Fisheries (attached) details such consultations. But what is the point of holding such consultations if the input received is ignored? Fewer than one-third of the "groups consulted" supported Lori's selection and several of those groups are comprised of essentially the same actors only with a different letterhead. Moreover, the expert agency, WDFW recommended Craig as the preferred nominee. There is no rationale for Lori's selection that trumps the expressed wishes of the vast majority of commercial fishing interests or the recommendation of the state's fishery agency.

Overturning the Governor's recommendation is not an easy task. The question is whether the principle established that the commercial fishing industry's input is not a determining factor in gubernatorial decisions a precedent that we are satisfied to let stand. Practically speaking, it would take essentially universal support and active advocacy of our groups to make the case to Democrats in the Washington delegation that they should weigh in with the Secretary of Commerce for Craig's appointment, overturning the recommendation of a lame duck governor who has demonstrated no regard for constituents who supported her for eight years.

What are the wishes of the group? Perhaps each of you should consider your preferred course of action and communicate your intentions to Craig? If there is sufficient support for moving forward to support Craig, we can have a call to discuss strategies, but I also understand if folks decide that it's time to move on to other issues. Thanks.


Jim Gilmore
Director of Public Affairs
At-sea Processors Association
Washington, DC

Juneau restaurant owners to pay $18,000 penalty

The case concerns illegal purchases of subsistence-caught halibut, says this press release from the NOAA Office of Law Enforcement.

Jumbo argument coming on shrimp?

The Alaska Board of Fisheries will consider dozens of shellfish proposals during its meeting Tuesday through Saturday at the Hilton Anchorage.

Deckboss has reviewed the list and is particularly intrigued with four proposals on the commercial shrimp pot fishery in Prince William Sound.

The makers of proposals 358, 359, 360 and 361 all want to see the fishery shut down.

They contend commercial shrimpers actually lose money on the fishery, and that continuing the harvest will crash the stock to the detriment of sport and subsistence shrimpers.

All involved target spot shrimp, or prawns, a very large and tasty variety.

The commercial fishery was closed for 18 years due to low abundance.

It reopened in 2010, and again in 2011, producing catches of 45,349 pounds and 52,694 pounds respectively.

State figures show 75 vessels participated in the fishery in 2010, and 44 vessels in 2011.

As for noncommercial harvest, well in excess of 3,000 permits were issued in both 2010 and 2011, with an estimated take of 87,699 pounds and 59,182 pounds respectively.

The commercial harvest worries the proposal authors. They want the board to put a stop to it.

"Prince William has been a great place for friends and families to go do some shrimping and that is going to go away," writes Mike Crawford, in proposal 361. "The value of the resource is much higher for the noncommercial use than the $200,000 that the commercial fishery is worth."

Unless the commercial fishery is halted, adds Jeff Benkert, in proposal 359, the Sound will "become the desert" it was before.

The Department of Fish and Game, in a February management report, said "survey results for 2011 suggest that spot shrimp abundance remains high relative to recent years."

This year's commercial shrimp pot season is set to open April 15 with a 51,240-pound quota.

Fish and Game says it's neutral on what it terms the "allocative proposals."

More territory for snow crabbers

Ice has covered much of the Bering Sea crabbing grounds, bedeviling the snow crab fleet.

Now the state Department of Fish and Game is providing some relief by opening an additional area to fishing, starting tomorrow.

Here's the official announcement.

Thus far, individual fishing quota holders have taken 46.9 million pounds of snow crab, or about 59 percent of the total allowable catch.

The season is scheduled to close at the end of May.

Off we go on another long season

Speaking of halibut, the commercial fishery opens at noon tomorrow and runs until Nov. 7.

The overall Pacific halibut quota is 33.54 million pounds.

Alaska accounts for about three-quarters of the quota, with the rest allocated to British Columbia and the U.S. West Coast.

Good fishing, everybody, and be safe.

Southeast charter anglers get 'trophy' opportunity

The National Marine Fisheries Service today announced the rules for charter halibut anglers this season.

In Area 2C (Southeast Alaska), the one-fish daily bag limit stays in effect. Retained halibut can't exceed 45 inches in length. An exception, however, allows anglers to keep "trophy" fish greater than 68 inches.

In Area 3A (Southcentral Alaska), the rules are the same as last year: Charter anglers may keep two fish of any size per day.

Parnell likes Dersham, Hull for new council terms

Here's the press release from Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell's office:

March 15, 2012

Gov. Parnell makes nominations to fishery council

JUNEAU — Gov. Sean Parnell nominated Robert "Ed" Dersham and Howard "Dan" Hull for consideration by the U.S. commerce secretary for continued service on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

The governor also named Timothy Evers and Julianne Curry as alternate nominees.

"The fisheries resources in the North Pacific are of vital importance to Alaska, and each of these nominees possesses excellent management and conservation skills," Parnell said. "Mr. Dersham and Mr. Hull have served effectively on the council, and Alaska's interests will continue to be well-served by these nominees."

Dersham, of Anchorage, is completing his first full term on the NPFMC, having served a partial term immediately prior. An active charter boat operator and lodge owner in Lower Cook Inlet for more than 25 years, Dersham retired from a career as a special agent with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. He also served for nine years on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, worked as a consultant for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, and served as a coordinating liaison between the Board of Fisheries and the NPFMC. Dersham earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Oregon.

Hull, of Anchorage, is completing his first term on the NPFMC. He is the owner of Hull Fisheries LLC, fishing for halibut and salmon out of Cordova. He is currently a member of the Alaska Sea Grant Advisory Committee and a former member of the Cordova District Fishermen United board of directors, the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council Public Advisory Group, the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corp. board of directors, the Prince William Sound Fisheries Ecosystem Research Planning Group, and the United Fishermen of Alaska board of directors. In addition to his 30-year career in commercial fishing, Hull also worked as a research associate for the Institute of Social and Economic Research. He earned a master's degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington and a bachelor's degree in anthropology from Dartmouth College.

Evers, of Ninilchik, is currently a member of the Advisory Panel to the NPFMC. A longtime charter operator, Evers owned Deep Creek Sport Shop, Big Valley Lodge and Cabin Rentals, and Fishward Bound Adventures. Evers is the founder and former president of the Deep Creek Charterboat Association, and served on the Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee. In addition, he served five terms on the National Association of Charterboat Operators.

Curry, of Petersburg, is the executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association and a member of the Advisory Panel to the NPFMC. Curry participates in commercial fisheries for halibut, sablefish, salmon, herring and crab. She is a member of the board of directors and executive committee of United Fishermen of Alaska, and is the chair of the Petersburg Commercial Fishing Committee. A member of the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center board of directors, Curry earned a bachelor's degree in business administration from Northern Arizona University.

With jurisdiction over the 1 million square mile Exclusive Economic Zone off the coast of Alaska, the NPFMC has primary responsibility for groundfish management in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, including cod, pollock, flatfish, mackerel, sablefish and rockfish species harvested mainly by trawlers, longliners and pot fishermen.

Established by the Magnuson Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1976, the NPFMC is one of eight regional councils dedicated to the oversight of the nation's fisheries.

The commerce secretary is empowered under the law to choose the final council appointees from applicants nominated by governors of coastal states.

Lori Swanson, trawl fleet rep, tabbed for council

Lori Swanson, executive director of Groundfish Forum, is Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire's top choice for a seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Gregoire's alternate nominees are Craig Cross and former council member John Bundy.

Assuming the U.S. commerce secretary accepts the governor's preferred pick, Swanson will take over the seat now held by Dave Benson, who terms out in August.

The Anchorage-based council has 11 voting members from Alaska, Washington and Oregon. It helps regulate federal fisheries off Alaska. Members serve three-year terms.

Swanson has served on the council's Advisory Panel since 2006. Her employer, Groundfish Forum, is a Seattle-based trade association of flatfish trawlers.

Here is Gregoire's nomination letter.

Could this help?

Down in Juneau, state legislators are thinking about creating a special endowment to fund Chinook research.

Supporters say runs of Chinook, or king, salmon have declined around Alaska, and something must be done to restore the iconic fish.

Especially concerned are Western Alaska legislators representing constituencies dismayed over depressed Chinook runs to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers and Norton Sound.

Sen. Donny Olson, D-Nome, is the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 205, with Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, carrying companion legislation in House Bill 332.

The bills would create an endowment fund, which would be invested. A seven-member board comprised of Alaska's fish and game commissioner and six "public members" from around the state would use the profits to award Chinook research grants.

Assuming legislators support the idea, they'll have to decide how much money to put into the endowment. The bills don't call for a specific amount, although they do make a reference to $50 million.

Certainly, the money is available, as the state is flush with billions of dollars in surplus oil revenue.

But whether a research endowment really has statewide appeal is questionable, as the health of Chinook stocks is varied. Certainly, the Yukon and Kuskokwim runs have struggled, as have other runs such as Kodiak's Karluk River stock. Farther east, in Southeast Alaska, the situation looks better.

The Senate Resources Committee is scheduled to take up SB 205 at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Here is Olson's sponsor statement.

And here's a packet of letters in support of the endowment.

Man overboard was from Pennsylvania

Lower 48 media reports say the crewman lost off a fishing vessel Friday near Sand Point was Joe Haller, of Greenville, Pa.

Here's a western Pennsylvania newspaper story, and here's a TV report out of neighboring Youngstown, Ohio.

The crewman was 19 years old, the reports say.

Contrary to the TV report, the F/V Glacier Spirit was fishing for cod, not crab.

The U.S. Coast Guard has not officially released the victim's name.

Update on man overboard

The U.S. Coast Guard says it suspended the search at 4:42 p.m. for a crewman lost off the fishing vessel Glacier Spirit near Sand Point.

Coast Guard aircraft spent about six hours searching more than 40 square miles without any sightings of the missing crewman.

The Coast Guard said it received a call at 10:26 a.m. from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game requesting assistance in searching for the crewman.

"My thought and prayers are with the victim's family and friends," said Capt. Daniel Travers, 17th Coast Guard District chief of incident management. "Suspending a search without finding the person you're looking for is one of the hardest decisions for the Coast Guard to make."

The Coast Guard hasn't yet released the victim's name.

State records list the owner of the 47-foot Glacier Spirit as Richard Eastlick of Sand Point.

The big show

The place to be this weekend is Boston.

The International Boston Seafood Show, running Sunday through Tuesday, is a giant exhibition — one that many in Alaska's fishing industry find well worth the transcontinental flight.

It's a must event for seafood marketers and dealmakers.

No surprise, then, to find the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute among the show's exhibitors, right there with the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, the U.S. Catfish Institute, the Norwegian Seafood Council and many others.

Top Alaska seafood processors such as Trident, Icicle, Peter Pan and Ocean Beauty will be there, too, along with competitors like salmon farming giant Marine Harvest.

The show also features a slate of panel discussions.

U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, will deliver opening remarks for a panel on "Seafood Jobs in America."

Another panel will feature aquaculture consultant John Forster. You might recall he once wrote a rather ominous report for the state of Alaska on halibut farming.

The show website offers this description of Forster's planned talk:

Through a collaborative effort among academia, officials, farmers and financiers, Chile's salmon aquaculture industry has made a strong recovery from the impacts of a major disease outbreak. Forster will describe how lessons learned there can be proactively applied in other regions.

Sounds interesting. Too bad Deckboss will be stuck here in the Anchorage snow.

Search on for man overboard near Sand Point

The U.S. Coast Guard is searching for a man reported overboard from the fishing vessel Glacier Spirit near Sand Point.

A Coast Guard helicopter and a C-130 airplane are involved in the search.

Weather conditions include winds of 25 mph and 12-foot seas.

Yet another factory boat has medical emergency

The U.S. Coast Guard conducted another helicopter medevac today, this time off the factory trawler Northern Hawk southeast of St. Paul.

A 57-year-old crewman reportedly experiencing cardiac problems was safely hoisted and delivered to St. Paul at 6:40 p.m., the Coast Guard said.

Sitka herring seiners in line for huge haul

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has issued a revised quota for this spring's Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery — 28,829 tons.

That's slightly lower than the preliminary forecast announced back in December.

But dang, it's still a gargantuan number.

Ailing crewman airlifted off trawler Arctic Storm

The U.S. Coast Guard last night airlifted an ill crewman off the factory trawler Arctic Storm, 63 miles west of Cold Bay.

The 52-year-old man was said to be in cardiac distress, the Coast Guard said.

The helicopter, assigned to the cutter Alex Haley on patrol in the Bering Sea, safely hoisted the patient at 11:44 p.m.

Peter Pan reports gasoline spill

Alaska pollution regulators are investigating an estimated 3,468-gallon gasoline spill at a Peter Pan Seafoods tank farm at False Pass.

The gas apparently didn't go into the water. Rather, it's in a lined containment area, the state Department of Environmental Conservation says.

Fishing restrictions to stay in place in Aleutians

Federal Judge Timothy Burgess today declined to lift controversial commercial fishing restrictions the federal government imposed to protect endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutians.

But the judge, in a 13-page ruling, gave the National Marine Fisheries Service a March 2, 2014, deadline to complete an environmental impact statement.

Burgess, as you might recall, in January held that NMFS should have done the EIS before imposing the fishing restrictions.

Another head injury reported on a factory trawler

The U.S. Coast Guard is reporting a man was medevacked this morning off the Bering Sea factory trawler Alaska Ocean after he was "struck in the head by one of the vessel's cables."

A Coast Guard helicopter crew hoisted Franz D'Alquen, 47, at about 11:20 a.m.

The 376-foot trawler was in calm seas some 50 miles north of Cold Bay. Glacier Fish Co. of Seattle operates the vessel.

Crewman killed aboard factory trawler

A crewman died aboard the factory trawler Alaska Juris this past Thursday, reportedly after a cable snapped and hit him in the head, a U.S. Coast Guard spokeswoman said.

Two rescue helicopters responded and lowered a rescue swimmer to the 238-foot vessel, which was more than 150 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor when the call for help came in, said Coast Guard Petty Officer Charly Hengen.

The crewman wasn't hoisted, however, as he was deceased.

The Alaska State Troopers identified the victim as Andrew Fotu, 25, of Seattle.

The Alaska Juris is part of the Fishing Company of Alaska fleet. The company is based in Renton, Wash.

Southeast seiners face a subsistence fight

The Federal Subsistence Board, at a meeting set for March 21-23 in Juneau, will consider a petition seeking to close or curtail commercial salmon fishing in Southeast Alaska.

Kootznoowoo Inc., the Native corporation for the village of Angoon, submitted the petition to the federal government.

The petitioner asks the feds to exercise "extraterritorial jurisdiction" to protect the subsistence priority for Angoon residents. It contends the state-managed commercial fisheries have interfered with subsistence fishing for sockeye.

Kootznoowoo wants commercial fisheries in the waters around Angoon closed or restricted. This includes fishing districts in Chatham, Icy and Peril straits.

The Native corporation also recommends reducing the harvest area adjacent to Hidden Falls Hatchery, located across Chatham Strait from Angoon.

In advance of the meeting, the Federal Subsistence Board has posted a staff report that looks at the petition, area salmon runs, Angoon subsistence practices and fishery management.

The report concludes by saying "not enough information" is available to know if a total closure of commercial purse seine fisheries would meet all of Kootznoowoo's stated needs.

The report adds, however, that it "appears more likely than not that the commercial purse seine fishery is reducing the number of sockeye salmon returning" to federally managed waters.

To see Kootznoowoo's petition and supplement, go to the Federal Subsistence Board website.

Full Alaska delegation jumps into J-1 visa issue

Here's an update on our recent report that the State Department might stop granting foreign students J-1 visas to work in U.S. seafood processing plants.

As you'll recall, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, was telling Secretary of State Hillary Clinton this would be a bad move, that Alaska's seafood industry heavily depends on these student workers.

Now, Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Don Young, both Republicans, have joined Begich on an objection to the Obama administration.

Looking back a few months, Deckboss wonders about the role this Begich letter might have played in precipitating this looming labor crisis for the 2012 salmon season.

Begich suggested the J-1 program might need "modification," noting foreign students had come to work in Kodiak, Kenai and elsewhere without appropriate housing or transportation, and that their employment had cost local resident workers overtime pay.

Some locals even had to resort to a food bank due to the loss of income, Begich wrote.

"Especially when it comes to placing students in smaller communities, we need to assure there is accountability and we are not over-burdening the local area with additional workers competing for jobs," the letter said.

Nice save

A good Samaritan vessel, the Glacier, this morning pulled three people from the water after the 32-foot F/V Cyclone was reported sinking about 20 miles southeast of Kodiak, the U.S. Coast Guard reported.

The three rescued Cyclone crewmen were reported in good condition following the 7:30 a.m. rescue.

Here is audio of the Cyclone's mayday call and the Coast Guard coordination of the rescue.

Two held on murder charges at Dutch Harbor

Details on our sister site, The Brig.

We're moving closer to Southeast seine buyback

This notice was published today in the Federal Register regarding the proposed buyback of Southeast Alaska salmon seine permits.

The notice lays out a schedule of public meetings to be held in Seattle, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Sitka, and lists people eligible to vote on whether to go forward with the buyback.

Shut-out charter operators lose court case

A federal judge has thrown out a challenge to limited entry for Alaska halibut charter boats. Here's the ruling.

And here's what we posted last year when the lawsuit was filed.

Icicle to acquire Snopac

Looks like we're about to see more processor consolidation at Bristol Bay, home of the state's most valuable sockeye salmon fishery.

Snopac Products Inc. today sent the following email to its fishermen announcing the company's pending sale to Icicle Seafoods Inc.

From: Jenna Hall
Date: Tue, Feb 28, 2012 at 1:03 PM
Subject: Snopac Update

Dear Snopac Fishers,

It has been a busy winter for us here at Snopac and we are writing to bring you up to speed on some significant developments to our 2012 plans and fishing operations.

Tomorrow, a press release is going to be issued by Icicle Seafoods regarding their intention to buy Snopac (we have attached a copy to this email for you to read prior to its release). We have signed a Letter of Intent with Icicle, and are now in the midst of a customary "due diligence" process that will take several weeks. Hopefully the sale will close as both parties intend, however until that happens, it is not final.

Should the sale finalize, we will do everything we can to ensure a smooth transition for our fishers and tenders. There will be many operational details to be sorted out and both Icicle and Snopac intend to do so with the most positive impact for our fleet.

Should the sale not finalize prior to the season, we have made arrangements with Icicle to jointly operate in Bristol Bay in 2012 by consolidating resources and expanding services, which will benefit both our operation and our fleet. Icicle is a very competitive market who boasts short tender lines, great offload capacity and high limits. Working with them will give our fleet access to these benefits.

Either way, you can be assured that you have a competitive market in 2012. In addition, Snopac will be announcing a 2011 retro shortly and we will also be coming out with pre-season logistics as far as northbound freight and other timely issues.

Ben and I will be making telephone calls to each of you to personally address any questions or concerns, but feel free to call Greg, Jenna or Ben at anytime.

Thank you for your fish and your continued support.

All the best,


Jenna Blakey Hall
Snopac Products Inc.

Three saved after boat goes aground on Umnak

This just in from the U.S. Coast Guard:

Feb. 27, 2012

Seattle fishermen rescued in the Aleutian Islands

ANCHORAGE — The Coast Guard rescued three fishermen from the northwest side of Umnak Island, one island west of Unalaska Island, after their 58-foot fishing vessel went aground there at 11:46 p.m. Sunday.

A Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter crew forward deployed to St. Paul Island rescued the three crewmembers at 3:19 a.m. and safely delivered them to Unalaska with no reported medical issues or injuries.

Coast Guard communications station Kodiak received a radio call for help from the crew of the Seattle-based fishing vessel Neptune 1 at 11:21 p.m. stating that their fishing vessel was disabled and drifting toward the island.

After receiving the distress call, Coast Guard watchstanders immediately directed the launch of the helicopter and an HC-130 Hercules airplane from Kodiak. The Coast Guard cutter Alex Haley also was diverted from their patrol near Dutch Harbor.

The fishing vessel Alaskan Enterprise, 25 miles away from the Neptune 1, also responded to assist the rescue effort and helped by relaying essential information from the Neptune 1 crew to the rescuers. The Alaskan Enterprise also used its floodlights to help guide the rescue helicopter to the stranded fishermen.

The Neptune 1 crew reported that an engine failure had caused them to drift ashore. The crew donned their survival suits and swam to shore since they did not feel safe aboard the grounded fishing vessel. They also activated their emergency position indicating radio beacon to help rescue crews quickly locate them.

"The crew of the Neptune 1 took all the right steps to ensure their successful rescue, including the activation of their emergency beacon," said Raymond Dwyer, District 17 Command duty officer. "The communications and lighting assistance of the Alaskan Enterprise was also instrumental in the positive outcome of this case."

The vessel is reported as high and dry on the beach resting on its right side. An unknown amount of fuel is on board and Coast Guard response crews will be working with the vessel owner to help minimize any potential environmental impact from the grounding. No pollution has been reported at this time.

Weather was reported as snowing with winds of 25-40 mph and seas of 12-15 feet.

Labor crisis looms for Alaska processors

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, recently sent two letters to the Obama administration objecting to possible changes that could shut off a major source of workers for the state's seafood processing industry.

At issue is the Summer Work Travel Program, which allows foreign college students to come to the United States on a J-1 visa to work and travel during their summer vacation. The U.S. Department of State oversees the program.

Begich worries the State Department, now considering possible reforms to address worker exploitation complaints and other issues, is about to exclude manufacturing and packing facilities from the program, including fish processors.

That would deny Alaska processors thousands of workers, right on the brink of the summer salmon season, Begich says.

One of his letters is to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have a sympathetic ear on this issue. After graduating from college, she worked the slime line in a Valdez cannery.

Third time the charm for herring catch shares?

The state Board of Fisheries begins a 10-day meeting tomorrow in Ketchikan to consider dozens of Southeast Alaska finfish proposals.

Proposals 233 and 234 are especially noteworthy. These would create equal harvest shares for Sitka Sound sac roe herring seiners.

The board has rejected the idea twice before, in 2006 and 2009.

Supporters, however, argue the imperative for equal shares has never been greater.

Converting the fishery from a cutthroat competition to an equal split among the 48 seiners would tame the harvest, improve safety and boost the quality of the catch, they say.

"Everyone in the fishery should realize safety in the fishery has deteriorated to a despicable level and something needs to be done," says Proposal 233, offered by Bill Menish.

The name Menish might sound familiar. During last year's fishery, his boat sustained $40,000 in damage in a collision with another vessel. Daniel Crome, who was running the second boat, is being prosecuted on a charge of reckless operation.

Menish's proposal says the roughhouse tactics at Sitka have become increasingly premeditated, with more seiners joining "combines" in which some members use their boats or nets to block competitors as other members fish.

One argument against equal shares is that the top seiners, the "highliners," would be denied the chance to compete for a lucrative, blockbuster catch. Instead, they would net the same share of the harvest as everyone else.

But Menish notes that combine seiners already are engaging in catch sharing.

And the sponsor of Proposal 234, the Sitka Herring Group, cites state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission data to argue that the notion of consistent highliners at Sitka is "a myth."

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is "neutral" on the two proposals.

How about you?


I don't think this is new in some parts of the world, but I see here in Anchorage that McDonald's is now offering a double Filet-O-Fish sandwich.

Hmmm. If this catches on, will we have to, like, double our harvest of Alaska pollock?

Two processors settle up, save millions

More than two years ago, Deckboss posted an item about pending enforcement actions against two major processors, Peter Pan and Icicle.

The companies were accused of violating limits on crab processing, a very serious matter judging from the fines imposed: around $4.5 million for Peter Pan and $3.4 million for Icicle.

Now we understand the government has quietly agreed to much smaller penalties: $525,000 under the Peter Pan settlement, and $615,000 under the Icicle settlement.

The Icicle case was especially protracted, having begun in 2004.

Bodal on the slime line?

Bernt Bodal, chief executive of American Seafoods, will be featured Friday night on the CBS series "Undercover Boss."

Here's a preview.

Seattle-based American operates the largest fleet of Bering Sea pollock factory trawlers.

"Undercover Boss" puts top executives to work deep within their own companies.

Smaller salmon harvest expected this year

The Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a 2012 commercial salmon catch of 132.1 million fish.

That would be 25 percent lower than last year's catch of 177.1 million.

The difference is a smaller projected pink salmon catch. Pinks are the smallest and least valuable of Alaska's five commercially harvested salmon species, but the most numerous.

Metlakatla plans big cold storage project

The Metlakatla Indian Community is inviting bids for a big freezer expansion project for its Annette Island Packing Co.

According to an ad published in Friday's Anchorage Daily News, the project involves design of a storage room big enough to hold 1 million pounds of seafood.

The town of Metlakatla is on Annette Island, south of Ketchikan. It anchors the only Indian reservation in Alaska.

The local salmon fishery, tribally managed, won Marine Stewardship Council certification in June 2011.

Salmon future looks fine, Icicle manager says

John Woodruff, vice president of operations for Icicle Seafoods Inc., was another speaker Friday at the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference meeting. And he had plenty to say.

Seattle-based Icicle is one of the largest seafood processors operating in Alaska. In fact, Woodruff ranks his company third among shoreside operators behind Trident and Maruha Nichiro.

"I'm a fish buyer," Woodruff began his talk. He oversees production at Icicle's Petersburg, Seward, Larsen Bay and Egegik plants, and spends a good part of his days talking directly with commercial fishermen.

Icicle also has floating processors, including the Northern Victor, a pollock processing ship based near Dutch Harbor.

Here's a sampler of Woodruff's remarks Friday:

• The outlook for wild Alaska salmon is rosy. Demand for two species in particular, pink and chum salmon, has surged remarkably.

Six or eight years ago, pinks paid fishermen only a nickel a pound, Woodruff said. Last year, Icicle paid 45 cents.

"There's a huge interest in wild-capture fish," he said, summing up the general market.

• Woodruff doesn't see quite the same upside for sockeye, historically the main money fish in Alaska's salmon crop.

"I personally don't think sockeye prices are gonna do what pinks and chums have done," he said.

He noted sockeye fillets marked at $9 a pound in Safeway stores.

"That's pretty pricey," Woodruff said.

Bristol Bay is the state's major sockeye fishery. Can fishermen there expect higher prices this summer?

"If I was a Bristol Bay fisherman, I'd plan for prices like what we've seen the past couple of years and hope for better," Woodruff said.

Last year's price was around $1 per pound, not counting bonuses.

• Speaking of Bristol Bay, Woodruff discussed the fishery's drive toward chilling more of the catch for better quality.

He said "well in excess" of half the fish Icicle buys at Bristol Bay is chilled, either with ice or refrigerated seawater systems aboard boats.

Bristol Bay packers, who once just canned the sockeye or froze them whole, now fillet about 15 percent of the catch, mainly for the domestic market, Woodruff said.

• Icicle's newest processing plant is at remote Adak, a former military base far out the Aleutian chain.

The plant is taking crab deliveries now, and contributing significant taxes to the fledging city of Adak, Woodruff said.

• In 2007, a private equity firm bought out Icicle.

"I gotta tell ya, I feel good about 'em," Woodruff said. "They allow us to do our job."

The goal of the firm, Paine & Partners, is to build up Icicle and then sell the company, he said.

APICDA to expand False Pass, Atka plants

The Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association is planning major expansions of its False Pass and Atka processing plants.

Larry Cotter, chief executive of Juneau-based APICDA, offered details of the expansions in a talk Friday at the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference annual meeting in Anchorage.

APICDA is one of Alaska's six community development quota companies. Under the CDQ program, these companies hold lucrative Bering Sea fishing rights, proceeds from which are used to benefit Western Alaska villages.

Recently, the APICDA board decided on a new strategy for the small False Pass and Atka plants, Cotter said.

In the past, APICDA worried that growing larger operations might attract big processors, who could bring crushing competition, he said.

But what APICDA has learned is staying small doesn't work, and doesn't do enough for the local economies, Cotter said.

And so...

At False Pass, a tiny village near the tip of the Alaska Peninsula, the plan is to spend $11 million over the next three years — including $8 million this year — to greatly expand Bering Pacific Seafoods, Cotter said. Construction of worker housing also is planned.

At Atka, in the Aleutian chain more than 300 miles west of Dutch Harbor, the plan is to spend $10 million in 2013-14 to expand Atka Pride Seafoods.

The goal is to turn both plants, now open only seasonally, into diversified, year-round seafood processors, Cotter said.

Wanna be on the IPHC?

The government today published this Federal Register notice inviting nominations for people to serve on the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

The IPHC, as I'm sure you know, is a fishery management panel with three members from the United States and three from Canada.

The Department of Commerce is seeking nominations for two U.S. seats now occupied by Ralph Hoard and Phillip Lestenkof. Both are eligible for reappointment.

Hoard is a longtime IPHC member and, if I'm not mistaken, a now retired Icicle Seafoods executive. Lestenkof is president of Central Bering Sea Fishermen's Association.

Maybe you'd like to relieve one of these guys on the IPHC?

Read the notice for details on the nomination process and deadline.

Look out, codfish!

Artist's rendering of planned longliner Northern Leader.

Seattle-based Jensen Maritime Consultants says it has been selected to design "one of the world's largest freezer longliner fishing vessels."

The 184-foot boat will be built in Tacoma for Alaskan Leader Fisheries and will be homeported in Kodiak.

On the rocks

It doesn't look good for the fishing vessel Kimberly, hard aground in Jute Bay on the west side of Shelikof Strait. The 58-foot steel vessel was forced aground in a storm on Jan. 24. A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter safely rescued all four aboard, but the boat has sustained heavy damage including holes in the hull. The plan now is to delay salvage operations until May when weather improves, the state Department of Environmental Conservation says. The boat's owner is listed in state records as Aloys Kopun of Chignik. Photo by Jack McFarland, Alaska Marine Surveyors Inc.

A big little fishery

So, did you know they do a little trawling in Prince William Sound?

Yep. Looks like pelagic trawlers just cleaned up 6.1 million pounds of walleye pollock.

That's enough for a whole bunch of fish sandwiches, but it's hardly a nibble compared to the 2.65 billion pounds the big boys are chasing this year in the eastern Bering Sea.

Processors sue over new rockfish program

Five major processors with plants at Kodiak are suing the federal government over the new Central Gulf of Alaska rockfish catch shares program.

The plaintiffs are Trident, Westward, North Pacific, Ocean Beauty and International.

The 21-page lawsuit accuses federal regulators of failing to do proper environmental studies before adopting the program.

The real issue, however, is who controls the fish.

Because the program establishes catch shares, but not processor shares, all the profit in rockfish harvest will go to vessel owners, the companies argue.

Well, Deckboss is sure he's greatly oversimplifying this. So he strongly recommends you read the lawsuit for yourself.

In particular, check out page 15, paragraph 39 of the complaint.

For background on the rockfish program, click here.

State, industry ask judge to lift Steller restrictions

We have a flurry of new filings in the Steller sea lion case.

As you'll recall, federal Judge Timothy Burgess last month upheld commercial fishing restrictions the National Marine Fisheries Service imposed to protect endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutians.

However, the judge found that NMFS violated environmental law in taking the action.

He invited parties on all sides of the case to file further input on how to proceed.

The state of Alaska and industry groups want Burgess to lift the fishing restrictions while NMFS prepares an extensive environmental study. Read their filing here.

NMFS says the restrictions should stay in place while it does the study, which could take two years.

Well, sounds like we can look forward to another big ruling from Judge Burgess.

An app for everything

Copper River promoters have launched what they're calling the first-ever salmon locator app for Facebook.

Go to findcopperriver.org to find a king, sockeye or coho near you!

Fuglvog to do time for fishing violation

As expected, a federal judge this morning sentenced Arne Fuglvog to five months in prison for a commercial fishing violation.

Here is the court's sentencing form with more details.

Fuglvog is a former aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska.

Fuglvog explains, and his friends come out

Several interesting documents have been filed in court ahead of Arne Fuglvog's sentencing next week.

Here is a statement from Fuglvog himself explaining the pressures he was under when he committed a federal fishery violation.

And here are letters from friends asking the judge to take Fuglvog's character and public service into consideration at sentencing.

Tommy Thompson letter

Bob Thorstenson letter

Joe Plesha letter

Stephanie Madsen letter

Jay Sterne letter

Celes Eckerman Hughes letter

Fuglvog's prison time could be cut in half

Federal prosecutors are now recommending only five months in prison for Arne Fuglvog, rather than the 10 months called for in a plea agreement.

The recommendation is in this sentencing memorandum filed yesterday in federal court in Anchorage.

Some incredible reading here, let me tell you, including details on why Fuglvog broke the law and his cooperation with investigators.

Sentencing is scheduled for 8 a.m. Tuesday for Fuglvog, a former fisheries aide to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski.

Fuglvog in August pled guilty to a commercial fishing violation prior to joining the senator's staff.

IPHC annual meeting wrapup now available

Here is the official press release summarizing last week's International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting in Anchorage.

Southeast seine permit buyback, take two

For reasons previously noted here on Deckboss, organizers of a proposed buyback of Southeast Alaska salmon seine permits were forced to redo a reverse auction to determine those willing to sell out of the fishery.

That's been done now, and the organizers recently submitted a new capacity reduction plan for approval.

The plan contemplates using more than $13 million in federal loan funds to buy out 64 of the fishery's 379 state permits.

Owners of the 64 permits, and their bid amounts, are listed at the end of the 17-page plan. The bid amounts average $205,204 and range from $175,000 to $240,000.

If the National Marine Fisheries Service approves the plan, seiners will then vote on whether to carry it out.

Another season, another deep cut for halibut

The International Pacific Halibut Commission today approved a coastwide catch limit of 33.54 million pounds, down 18 percent from last year.

The cut compounds the 19 percent reduction seen in 2011.

The season will open on March 17.

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

Here is the full slate of 2012 catch limits, by regulatory area, expressed in millions of pounds.

Regulatory area2011 catch limits2012 catch limits% change

Click here for a map of IPHC regulatory areas.

How about a (bigger) loan?

Down in Juneau today, the House Special Committee on Fisheries has a 5 p.m. hearing scheduled on two interesting items.

The first is House Bill 261, which provides for larger state loans to help Alaska residents buy commercial fishing permits.

This sponsor statement explains more fully what the bill is about.

The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. has sent in a letter supporting HB 261.

Cordova District Fishermen United also likes the bill.

The second item on the committee's agenda is this resolution seeking to designate one sportfish seat and one subsistence seat on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council.

Following up on those geoduck proposals

You might recall our recent post about the state Board of Fisheries considering two proposals to establish "equal shares" for permit holders in the Southeast geoduck clam fishery.

So what happened?

The board, meeting in Petersburg, took no action on the proposals.

A busy morning for rescuers

Here's a press release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

Jan. 25, 2012

Air Station Kodiak rescues 11 from two fishing vessels

JUNEAU — Coast Guard helicopter crews this morning rescued 11 fishermen from two vessels near Kodiak.

Kodiak watchstanders received a call Tuesday night from the 58-foot fishing vessel Kimberly, homeported in Juneau, stating the vessel had run aground in Portage Bay and needed assistance.

An Air Station Kodiak MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter launched at about 9:30 p.m. and arrived on scene within an hour. Foul weather, including sustained 60-knot winds with gusts up to 90 knots and 16-foot seas, prevented the aircrew from rescuing the personnel at that time.

The Jayhawk returned to Kodiak to refuel and a Coast Guard HC-130 Hercules airplane and a second Jayhawk were launched to assist the crew of the Kimberly.

As aircrews were returning to assist the Kimberly, Coast Guard Sector Anchorage received a mayday call at 6:30 a.m. from the fishing vessel Heritage south of Kodiak with seven people aboard.

The second Jayhawk was redirected to assist the 68-foot Heritage. Air Station Kodiak launched a third helicopter to assist the Kimberly.

The third helicopter arrived at the Kimberly's location, safely hoisted all four crewmembers and arrived at Air Station Kodiak at 10:30 a.m.

The second Jayhawk continued to the Heritage's location, arriving at about 7 a.m., and began rescuing survivors. Two crewmembers were safely hoisted from the water and the good Samaritan fishing vessel Tuxedni rescued the other five crewmembers from a life raft at 7:40 a.m.

The second Jayhawk crew returned to Kodiak with the two rescued Heritage crewmembers at 9 a.m. and the Tuxedni took the passengers to Lazy Bay. The Tuxedni and five survivors are expected to arrive in Kodiak at 1 p.m. Thursday.

The crews of both vessels were wearing survival suits and are reported to be in good or fair condition.

IPHC makes port call in Anchorage

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is holding its annual meeting today through Friday at the Hilton Anchorage.

Of course, the IPHC annual meeting is a big event on the commercial fisheries calendar. It's when the bilateral panel — three members from the United State and three from Canada — sets catch limits for the upcoming season.

Here's a handout, known as the Bluebook, containing the meeting schedule, a summary of the 2011 fishery, the latest assessment of the Pacific halibut stock, and much more.

As previously reported here on Deckboss, the meeting is likely to culminate with some rather dismal news.

Industry group sees silver lining in sea lion ruling

Here's a press release from the Marine Conservation Alliance:

Jan. 20, 2012

MCA applauds portion of ruling in Steller sea lion case

A victory for open, transparent fishery management process

The Marine Conservation Alliance applauds a judge's ruling in the Steller sea lion lawsuit as a victory for those seeking a more open decision-making process in application of the Endangered Species Act.

In his ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess found that the National Marine Fisheries Service violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement and provide the public with sufficient opportunity to comment when the agency determined additional fishery closures were required to protect endangered Steller sea lions.

"Although western Aleutian Islands fisheries involved in this lawsuit begin the season with fishing restrictions in place, we are pleased that the court acknowledged that there were flaws in the NMFS process which should now be corrected," said Merrick Burden, executive director of MCA, a coalition of harvesters, processors and communities involved in Alaska groundfish and crab fisheries.

The court deferred to the technical expertise of the federal agency in finding that it had properly applied Endangered Species Act standards in its determination that some of the fisheries conducted in the Aleutian Islands region of Alaska could jeopardize the recovery of endangered Steller sea lions.

The state of Alaska and affected fishing companies initiated legal action to halt additional fishery closures because endangered Steller sea lion populations overall have been increasing and are estimated to exceed 50,000 animals in the U.S. and another 25,000 animals in Russia. The legal action challenged the scientific basis for the agency determination and the process used to make that decision.

With regard to the NEPA violation, Judge Burgess has indicated he will enter an injunction requiring NMFS to prepare an EIS in compliance with NEPA procedures, allow for public comment and provide meaningful responses to comments on the draft EIS. The court will set a deadline for that action. All parties in the case have until Feb. 8 to file further briefs to address remedies in the case.

Considerable debate remains about the cause of the population decline, including predation by killer whales and nutritional stress caused by climate change or competition for prey with fisheries.

'Overtaking, turning into, and colliding with...'

The Sitka herring fishery has a well-earned reputation for rather degrading conduct as seiners — some of them, at least — go hog wild in hopes of landing a lucrative catch.

Every season, it seems, we see more and more evidence of Sitka's cutthroat style of fishing, thanks to the proliferation of digital recording devices and YouTube videos.

Recently, we posted news on our sister blog, The Brig, that one seiner, Daniel Crome, had been charged with a misdemeanor in connection with a vessel collision last season.

Deckboss was curious to learn more about the case, so he requested copies of the charging documents from the Sitka court clerk.

As you will see, authorities had the benefit of audio and video recordings to make the case against Crome.

One wonders whether it's time for changes at Sitka, to bring a bit more decorum into the fishery. And to reduce chances for a real tragedy.

MSC 'corrects' ASMI statements

The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute's "own, locally developed scheme" for certifying fisheries is not comparable to the Marine Stewardship Council's "global standard," the London-based MSC says.

Read much more here.

Alaska Supreme Court deals nonresident fishermen a costly blow in the long-fought Carlson case

Read the high court's 26-page opinion here.

The Alaska Department of Law issued the following press release:

Jan. 20, 2012

Alaska Supreme Court reduces judgment by $50 million

ANCHORAGE — A unanimous Alaska Supreme Court decided today in the State v. Carlson case to cut approximately $50 million from a judgment awarded to nonresident commercial fishermen who had filed a class action lawsuit against the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.

In so doing, the court overturned one of its own earlier decisions in the case, which had ordered the state to pay the interest rate that applies to delinquent taxes — 11 percent compounded quarterly.

In today's decision, the court substituted the standard prejudgment interest rate for court judgments.

The case was filed in 1984 by non-Alaskan commercial fishermen who disputed the higher commercial fishing fees that Alaska charged to nonresidents.

The state was ordered to refund some of the fees after the court found that while the state can charge higher fees to nonresidents, the additional payment must be related to the nonresidents' share of the state's cost of managing Alaska's commercial fisheries.

The amount of overpaid fees that the state was ordered to refund was approximately $12.5 million and the interest initially awarded for this judgment was about $62 million.

Under today's decision, the interest will be reduced to about $12 million.

This is the fifth time the Alaska Supreme Court has heard an appeal in this case. The court issued earlier decisions in 1990, 1996, 2003 and 2008.

In these earlier decisions, the court decided that nonresidents can be charged a higher rate, determined the elements of the fisheries budget that were relevant to calculating the appropriate rate, and set the prejudgment interest rate that would apply to an overpayment.

In today's opinion, the court reconsidered and overturned that interest rate decision, which it made in the third appeal ("Carlson III").

NMFS reacts to sea lion decision

Here is a statement from the National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Regional Office, on the Steller sea lion ruling:

"Overall, we are pleased with the court's decision, which supports the science-based foundations of the fishery management regulations we have worked to put in place to protect the western Steller sea lion," said Alaska Regional Administrator Jim Balsiger. "Going forward, NOAA Fisheries will work with the Department of Justice to comply with the Court's request for briefing on a remedy in regards for the need for an environmental impact statement."

"We are certainly most sympathetic to the plight of fishermen in these trying times," Alaska Fisheries Science Center Director Doug DeMaster added. "A healthy ecosystem is in the long-term interest of fishermen, who depend more than most industries on natural resources. We are looking forward to working with our partners and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council to maintain healthy, robust ecosystems for the long-term economic benefit of fishers in Alaska."

Conservationists hail Steller sea lion ruling

Deckboss reckons we'll hear quite a bit of reaction to the big Steller sea lion ruling. Here's the first of it, from conservation group Oceana:

Jan. 19, 2012

Steller sea lion protections in Aleutian Islands upheld

Today, the U.S. District Court for the District of Alaska upheld protections for the western population of Steller sea lions. The new measures were put in place by the National Marine Fisheries Service to reduce competition between large-scale commercial fisheries and endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutian Islands.

"It's a good day for our oceans," said Susan Murray, Oceana's senior director, Pacific. "This decision shows that responsible management requires steps to protect healthy ocean ecosystems including sustainable fisheries and vibrant communities. We are moving away from managing single species money fish and toward ecosystem-based management that takes into account the needs of apex predators in our oceans."

The court found that the agency based its decision on good science and, with one exception, followed appropriate process. According to the court, the agency did not comply with the law in failing to prepare a full environmental impact statement.

"Today's decision validates the agency's use of the best science to protect our oceans," said Colin O'Brien, staff attorney at Earthjustice. "The next step is a full evaluation of the impacts of fisheries on ocean ecosystems, including Steller sea lions."

Oceana and Greenpeace, represented by Earthjustice, intervened in the lawsuit to defend the new measures.

The parties will submit briefing on the scope of the new environmental impact statement by Feb. 8. The court indicated that protections will remain in place while the new analysis is prepared.

Another note on the sea lion ruling

The judge indicates on page 54 of his decision that despite the failure of federal fishery regulators to prepare an environmental impact statement, he will not vacate, or lift, the fishing restrictions opposed by industry and the state.

The gist of the Steller sea lion ruling

Here is the judge's overall finding in the Steller sea lion case:

As discussed in detail below, although the Court sympathizes with the Plaintiffs and Amici Curiae, who stand to suffer large economic and other losses as a result of the fishery restrictions, "judges are not scientists." The Court must defer to the technical expertise of the agency as long as there is a rational connection between the evidence and its conclusions. In this case, the Court finds that NMFS did not apply improper ESA standards and that the evidence, although equivocal, was sufficient to support its conclusions that the fisheries were likely to jeopardize the continued existence of the WDPS and adversely modify its critical habitat. Additionally, although the procedures NMFS employed to comply with its obligations under the APA and MSA were far from ideal, the Court nonetheless concludes that they were adequate under the law. The Court does find, however, that NMFS violated NEPA by failing to prepare an environmental impact statement and provide the public with a sufficient opportunity to weigh in on its decision-making process.

Here's a mini-glossary for all those acronyms:

APA — Administrative Procedure Act
ESA — Endangered Species Act
MSA — Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act
NEPA — National Environmental Policy Act
NMFS — National Marine Fisheries Service
WDPS — Western Distinct Population Segment of Steller sea lions

Judge sides with government in Steller case

A federal judge has ruled substantially in favor of the National Marine Fisheries Service, and against industry groups and the state, in a case involving commercial fishing restrictions the agency imposed to protect endangered Steller sea lions in the Aleutians.

Here is the 56-page ruling from Judge Timothy M. Burgess of Anchorage.

The spin from ASMI

A state agency, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, has issued a press release addressing yesterday's news that the bulk of Alaska's salmon industry will allow its Marine Stewardship Council certification to expire.

The release quotes Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell, state Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, ASMI Executive Director Ray Riutta and United Fishermen of Alaska chief Arni Thomson.

The general message seems to be, "We don't really need MSC certification."

Alaska salmon is covered under an alternative certification, ASMI notes.

Copper River salmon forecast released

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a commercial catch of 1.23 million sockeye salmon this year at the Copper River.

Last year saw an excellent catch of about 2 million sockeye.

The forecast also has the outlook for other salmon species in the Prince William Sound region.

American Seafoods buys Massachusetts firm

American Seafoods, the Seattle-based operator of the largest fleet of Bering Sea pollock factory trawlers, is expanding its East Coast processing operations with a new acquisition.

Alaska salmon industry bails on MSC

Here's statement just in from the Marine Stewardship Council:

Jan. 17, 2012

MSC statement regarding Alaska salmon

The Marine Stewardship Council has been informed by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, the organization that serves as the client for the Alaska salmon fishery, that it is withdrawing the fishery from assessment toward a possible third five-year certification.

The existing MSC certification runs until Oct. 29, and any Alaska salmon caught prior to that date may be sold as MSC-certified.

Kerry Coughlin, MSC Americas regional director, said: "We regret that the Alaska salmon fishery is being withdrawn from the assessment under way for a potential third certification period. While there are other sources of MSC-certified salmon, Alaska was an early and important leader in the MSC program. We hope that this fishery will re-enter assessment, maintain the market advantage of MSC certification, and continue to showcase their sustainability.

"The number of fisheries and supply chain companies using the MSC program continues to expand worldwide, and consumer appreciation for the MSC ecolabel on products is increasing. MSC remains the recognized global standard by which fisheries confirm they are meeting or improving to global best practice in sustainable fishing as established by a wide consensus of scientists, industry experts and conservation organizations. By demanding a scientifically rigorous, transparent certification process using truly independent, third-party assessments, seafood markets around the world are helping to protect our ocean resources as well as seafood-related jobs and livelihoods now and for the future."

The third assessment was announced by the Alaska salmon fishery on Nov. 18. A certifier had been engaged by AFDF, the first site visit in the assessment process had been scheduled for later this month in Alaska and a number of conservation organizations had registered as stakeholders. The fishery, first certified in 2000 and recertified in 2007, includes Chinook, chum, coho, pink and sockeye salmon throughout Alaska waters. It does not include the tribally managed Annette Islands Reserve salmon fishery in southeast Alaska, which continues in the program and holds its own separate MSC certification.

Certificates for all other MSC-certified species in Alaska are also unaffected by the change in status for the state-managed Alaska salmon assessment.

Sticky proposals for geoduck fishery

Alaska geoducks — worth a lot of clams. ADF&G photo

The Alaska Board of Fisheries is meeting all this week at the Sons of Norway Hall in Petersburg, and quite a few interesting Southeast shellfish proposals are on the table.

Proposals 183 and 184 strike me as particularly intriguing.

These would revolutionize the fishery for geoduck (pronounced gooey-duck), a giant clam divers collect from the seafloor. Most all of the clams are exported live to China, and can retail for upwards of $20 a pound, says a recent study done for the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association.

The two proposals would convert the geoduck harvest from a weekly competition among divers to a program where each permit holder would be allocated an equal share of the annual Southeast geoduck quota.

The Sitka Geoduck Marketing Association is offering the two proposals, one of which has an added component to disperse divers between desirable and less desirable harvest areas.

Proponents say the proposals would maximize the value of the fishery by allowing divers to focus on product quality rather than speed. They also tout other benefits such as better controlling the flow of product to the market, and reducing pressure on divers to work in poor weather.

However, the most competitive divers might suffer because of a redistribution of harvest share.

And the Alaska Department of Fish and Game says it would have to hire more people to manage an equal shares fishery. It also cites potential for high-grading, where divers might keep only top quality geoducks and discard others, increasing harvest mortality.

Nevertheless, the department is taking a "neutral" stance on the proposals.

Well, Deckboss is sure you've heard all the arguments, pro and con, in past debates over various forms of catch shares.

Certainly, based on the recent trend, an equal share of the Southeast geoduck fishery would be quite lucrative.

The dockside value of the fishery has soared, from an estimated $465,000 for the 2000-01 harvest of 438,334 pounds of geoducks to nearly $5.6 million in 2010-11, when 845,582 pounds were taken.

The state has issued 112 Southeast geoduck permits, but only 69 divers made landings last season, earning an average of $81,000.

Should be quite a meeting in Petersburg.

Pair of fishy bills filed ahead of legislative session

The Alaska Legislature begins its 2012 session next Tuesday, and lawmakers have prefiled two bills of interest to the commercial fishing community.

House Bill 261 — An Act relating to loans for the purchase of commercial fishing entry permits." Sponsor: Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham.

Senate Bill 152 — An Act requiring legislative approval before the issuance of an authorization, license, permit, or approval of a plan of operation for a large-scale metallic sulfide mining operation that could affect water in or flowing into or over the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. Sponsor: Sen. Hollis French, D-Anchorage.

Looking at halibut bycatch

A public workshop is planned for April 24-25 in Seattle to review how, and how well, halibut bycatch is estimated in the trawl and longline groundfish harvests off Alaska.

Deckboss imagines many of you would argue the estimates, especially in the Gulf of Alaska, are not nearly good enough.

Anyway, this three-page workshop overview is definitely worth checking out.

Who is Sam Rauch?

As we reported last week, Sam Rauch is taking over as the "acting" head of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

So who is Sam Rauch?

Well, he's currently the agency's deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs. By training, he's a lawyer.

Rauch's bio indicates he previously supervised a NMFS legal team. And prior to joining the agency, he defended NMFS as a trial attorney with the U.S. Department of Justice.

He has a law degree from Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore., a master's from the University of Georgia and a bachelor's from the University of Virginia.

Now, one might normally expect to see a biologist at the helm of NMFS, not a lawyer.

But I don't believe this is unprecedented. If memory serves, Terry Leitzell, who headed the agency from 1978 to 1981, was a lawyer.

Here's the list of folks who have headed NMFS. Deckboss doesn't know the backgrounds of all of them, but maybe you see more than one barrister in the bunch?

NMFS administrators, 1970 to present

Philip M. Roedel, 1970-1973
Robert W. Schoning, 1973-1977
Terry L. Leitzell, 1978-1981
William H. Stevenson (acting), 1981
William G. Gordon, 1981-1986
William E. Evans, 1987
James W. Brennan, 1988-1989
William W. Fox, 1989-1992
Nancy Foster (acting), 1993
Rolland A. Schmitten, 1993-1999
Penelope E. Dalton, 1999-2000
William T. Hogarth, 2000-2007
John Oliver (acting), 2008
James W. Balsiger (acting), 2008-2010
Eric Schwaab, February 2010 to present

An update on the Southeast seine buyback

When we last looked in on the proposed buyback of Southeast salmon seine permits, federal officials had just thrown a stick of dynamite in the hold by disqualifying the reverse auction organizers held to determine who would sell out.

Rather than just get mad and let the idea sink, buyback organizers went back to work. Over the past few weeks, they ran another auction by registered mail. Permit holders were to have their bids in by Dec. 28.

Deckboss hears the new buyback list looks very similar, in terms of permit numbers and dollar amounts, to the one generated with the first auction. The revised list will be submitted soon to the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Of course, I'll be working to obtain the new list and provide everyone with further updates.

Watching over the Taku

So, in less than an hour a "fact-finding task force" will convene in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau on the subject of the Taku River.

The panel will address possible impacts on the salmon-rich river from the Tulsequah Chief mining project upstream in British Columbia.

Here's a press release from the Juneau legislative delegation.

Eric Schwaab departing as NMFS chief

Less than two years after he was named to the post, Eric Schwaab is leaving as head of the National Marine Fisheries Service to take a new job in the Obama administration as "acting assistant secretary of commerce for conservation and management."

The new NMFS chief will be Sam Rauch.

Here is a statement issued today from Schwaab:

Dear Stakeholder

Today, Dr. Jane Lubchenco announced my selection as Acting Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Conservation and Management effective January 17. In this role I will be responsible for driving policy and program direction for NOAA's stewardship responsibilities, focusing on ocean and coastal resource science and management.

This detail presents for me an exciting new opportunity to work across NOAA to confront the challenges for our oceans and for our coastal communities and associated ecosystems. With over half of the U.S. population living in coastal areas, millions of Americans depend upon the health and resiliency of our coastal ecosystems. We have made substantial progress in ending overfishing and rebuilding our nation's fisheries, stabilizing threatened species, protecting marine areas of vital national interest and ensuring the continued safe navigation through coastal waters, but these fragile systems face growing threats and pressures.

At the same time, we face unprecedented fiscal pressures both within and outside of the government. If we are to continue to make progress, we must work in greater partnership with local governments, partner agencies and organizations, and stakeholders to better align strategies and resources. And, given the current fiscal climate, we must seek innovative approaches, processes, technologies and organizational models to most efficiently and cost-effectively pursue our objectives. I look forward to working with David Kennedy and the National Ocean Service team, Craig McLean and the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research team, and with many other colleagues across NOAA to address these important issues.

As I move into this new role, I am pleased to announce that Sam Rauch will be Acting Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, and Alan Risenhoover will be acting in Sam's current role as Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs. Carrie Selberg, currently Sam's chief of staff, will be acting in Alan's current role as Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries until Emily Menashes returns from maternity leave in the spring.

It's been a pleasure working with many of you in my Fisheries leadership role, and I look forward to continuing to work with you, as well as other partners, in addressing a broader set of marine stewardship challenges and opportunities.

Eric C. Schwaab