Wednesday, October 19, 2016

NPFMC Approves Review of Halibut, Sablefish IFQ Program

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has approved the first comprehensive review of the first halibut and sablefish individual fishing quota program since the IFQ program began 20 years ago.

Subsequent to finalization of the document, the council said it plans to reconstitute the IFQ Implementation Committee to provide recommendations to the council on potential future revisions to the IFQ program. The council asked current members of the IFQ committee to express their interest in continuing to serve, and the council is also soliciting nominations for new members, with membership intended to represent a broad range of stakeholders in the IFQ fisheries.

Nominations are due Nov. 11.

Based on findings from the IFQ program review, as well as discussion at the council meeting, several issues were identified for consideration by the IFQ Committee, ranging from the sweep-ups of small blocked quota share units, and the use of the medical lease provision to geographical distribution of new entrant quota ownership and the use of hired masters in the IFQ fisheries.

The new version of the IFQ Committee will be chaired by council member Buck Laukitis of Homer, Alaska. Laukitis, a commercial fisherman, is the former president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association. Council economist Sarah Marrinan said the council hopes to receive a committee report responding to issues that stem from the program review at the NPFMC's February meeting in Seattle.

In other action, the council completed an initial review of a regulatory amendment package that would allow community development quota groups to lease halibut IFQ in Areas 4B, 4C and 4D in years of low halibut catch limits in regulatory areas 4B and 4CDE. In effect, the proposals would allow CDQ groups to lease halibut IFQ for use by residents on vessels less than 51 feet, subject to IFQ use regulations and the groups' internal management.

State Department Responds to Plea to Address Transboundary Mine Issues

State Department officials say they are exploring possible approaches to present to their Canadian counterparts when they meet in late October to discuss boundary waters matters, including transboundary mining issues.

The State Department told the Alaska congressional delegation this past week that they are actively engaging with Canada on protecting shared waters, an issue they recognize as being of significant concern to Alaska. Potential impacts of mining in shared waters in British Columbia and Alaska are discussed in semi-annual dialogues between the two nations, said Julia Frifield, assistant secretary for legislative affairs within the State Department.

Frifield also said some baseline water quality testing has already begun and Congress may make additional funding available for that purpose.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she was encouraged that it appears the State Department understands the importance of this issue to many Alaskans, but is disappointed that the State Department has refused to suggest suggestions, including one to consider appointing a special representative for US-Canada transboundary issues.

The proposed development of several mines in British Columbia along transboundary rivers, as well as at least one existing mine, concern commercial, sport and subsistence fish harvesters in Southeast Alaska, as well as tourism and other businesses dependent on salmon, who feel these mines have great potential to adversely affect salmon habitat. Only agreements on a federal level can ensure financial protections to be in place in the event that environmental pollution occurs.

While Alaska and British Columbia have reached a memorandum of understanding on this issue, it comes with no financial guarantees.

Charges Filed in Mount Polley Mine Disaster

MiningWatch Canada has filed a lawsuit against the British Columbia government and Mount Polley Mining Corp. for alleged violations of Canada’s Fisheries Act in connection with the 2014 tailings dam disaster, the largest in Canada’s history.

Mining Watch’s Ugo Lapointe said the organization was acting because almost two and a half years after the disaster, the Crown has failed to lay charges and enforce the Fisheries Act, despite what they see as ample evidence of the impact on waters, fish and fish habitat when the tailings pond failed to hold.

The collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam sent 25 million cubic meters of wastewater and mine waste solids into downstream waters, destroying or permanently affecting aquatic and riparian habitats. The copper and gold mine in the central interior of British Columbia stored its tailings in a tailings storage facility that failed on an evening in early August of 2014, releasing the debris, which flowed into Hazletine Creek, scouring the channel and floodplain and flowing upstream to Polley Lake and downstream to Quesnel Lake.

A study of the impact assessment of the spill on fish and fish habitat released in 2015 indicated at affected waters included at least 20 different fish species, including sockeye, coho and Chinook salmon. The report estimated that an extensive area of aquatic habitat was permanently altered.

While MiningWatch has a legal team ready to take the case to trial, the organization is also asking Canada’s federal government to carry the prosecution forward.

Lapointe said that if that nation’s environmental waters are to be fully protected, that can only happen when the government uses all means at its disposal to stand against violations of the Fisheries Act. The next step will be a process hearing in the provincial court in Williams Lake, BC in a few weeks.

Fishing for Energy Adds a New Port for Recycling Marine Debris

The public-private Fishing for Energy partnership has partnered with the Port of Grays Harbor, Washington’s Westport Marina to recycle an estimated 1,050 crab pots and other marine debris.

Efforts to collect this marine debris have already begun as part of a project managed by The Nature Conservancy and the Quinault Indian Nation, with a collection bin placed at the marina in Westport, Washington.

The three-year marine debris removal project, led by The Nature Conservancy, is supported by the NOAA Marine Debris Program, and builds on existing marine debris programs on Washington State’s outer coast to remove derelict fishing gear and improve waterways.

Fishing for Energy is a nationwide partnership between the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Debris Program, the sustainable waste and energy solutions firm Covanta, and Schnitzer Steel Industries, a major metal recycling firm. The partnership offers collection bins for disposal of old fishing gear, easing the way for fishing communities to deal with derelict gear. The partnership recycles gear made of metal and processes the remaining gear and debris to generate renewable energy at Covanta’s Energy-from-Waste facilities.

Since 2008, Fishing for Energy has processed more than 3 million pounds of old fishing gear, a portion of which has been retrieved directly from the ocean by fishermen. The partnership is a recipient of the prestigious Coastal America Partnership Award, which is presented to groups that restore and protect coastal ecosystems through collaborative action and partnership.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Crab Quotas Down for Bristol Bay Red King Crab, Snow Crab

State fishery managers in Alaska have cut the Bristol Bay red king crab quota 15 percent, to 8,469,000 pounds and the Bering Sea snow crab quota 47 percent, to 21,570,000 pounds, and closed three other crab fisheries for the 2016-2017 season.

Analysis of 2016 National Marine Fishery Service trawl surveys for Eastern Bering Sea Subdistrict Tanner crab stock, Saint Matthew Island Section blue king crab, and the Pribilof District red and blue king crab were below minimum stock size threshold, and will remain closed for the season, said Alaska Department of Fish and Game area management biologists at Dutch Harbor.

The economic impact of the lower quotas and closed crab fisheries is likely to result in record prices for what crab is harvested, while having a very negative impact on the incomes of harvesters, coastal communities dependent on that income and landing taxes paid to the state of Alaska.

It will have a significant impact, said Eric Donaldson, vice president of The Crab Broker, with offices in Florida and Las Vegas.

“A big component of this whole thing is the numerous economic impacts that will be felt by crab fishermen, communities and state of Alaska landing tax,” he said.

Information compiled by the Alaska Department of Revenue shows that in 2015, the latest year for which tax totals on all crab fisheries were available, shows that the state collected approximately $8.9 million in fisheries business taxes and fishery resource landing taxes. These taxes are shared 50/50 with municipalities where the processing and exporting activity takes place.

"While prices have not been established yet, the market is strong," Donaldson said.

“My anticipation is that finished goods will be absorbed very quickly this year, and we will see record prices this year barring something way out in left field."

“Initial indicators are that Japanese interest will be what it was last year, and the yen is in a better position this year,” Donaldson said.

Russian crab that had competed heavily with Alaska king crab in Japanese and domestic markets is now headed mainly for China and Korean buyers.

New agreements between Japan and Russia allow that no undocumented crab can be landed in Japan, so Russians are taking it to Busan, Korea, where there are no such restrictions, he said.

Alaska crab will find strong markets in Japan, where the crab is more highly revered than in US domestic markets, he said.

Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Intercoop Exchange in Seattle, noted that prices for all crab have been trending upward through this year. The announcement of bairdi and St. Matthew closures, the reduction in king crab and opilio TACs (total allowable catches) will push prices up even further, he said.

“I’m not sure how far it will go at this point, but I’m looking at what will likely be record prices for all crab species,” he said. “As the price goes up, the size of the market shrinks. That’s elementary economics, but somebody will be willing to pay for it,” he said.

Navy Commits to Meeting With Stakeholders

US Navy officials have committed to working with fishermen and other stakeholders in advance of the next Northern Edge, a major simulated warfare exercise scheduled for the summer of 2017 in the Gulf of Alaska.

Navy officials said on Oct. 7 that they plan meetings with the local governments of Kodiak, Homer, Cordova, and Seward, plus discussions with stakeholders at events including COMFISH at Kodiak and the Alaska Marine Science Symposium and Alaska Forum on the Environment, both held in Anchorage.

Military representatives also will attend local, regional and statewide events to initiate a two-way dialogue with residents of coastal communities, fishing interests, the scientific and environmental community and local, state and federal officials, said Dennis McGinn, assistant secretary of the Navy Energy, Installation and Environment. The commitment came from McGinn in a letter to Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who had written to Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, urging the Navy to reengage with stakeholders in communities adjacent to Northern Edge 2017 with all deliberate speed.

Murkowski noted that the city of Homer City Council had already adopted a resolution of opposition to the Navy’s involvement in Northern Edge 2017, and that further delay in communications with stakeholders could result in the adoption of similar resolutions by other coastal communities.

Murkowski said she was troubled to learn that a number of proposed mitigations and avoidance techniques were in the works, but could not be discussed with stakeholders due to a lack of public affairs guidance. Murkowski said she also found troubling reports that the Navy denied Freedom of Information Act requests submitted by marine conservation biologist Rick Steiner, who had sought to verify the impact levels of Northern Edge 2015. “This lack of transparency only fuels concerns that the Navy has something to hide regardless of whether there is any validity to the concerns,” she said.

Steiner had strongly criticized Northern Edge activities in the Gulf, which involved live shelling, numerous surface explosions, aerial drops and intensive deployment of active mid-frequency sonar systems that have been linked to acoustic damage and stranding events in marine mammals.

Norton Sound Red King Crab Price Is Highest On Record

Red king crab harvests in Alaska’s Norton Sound winter open access fishery made 284 landings, for a total of 44,998 pounds and total ex-vessel value of $304,117, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a season summary.

Statistical information gathered by ADF&G showed an overall catch per unit effort of five crab per pot and an average weight of 2.67 pounds, and that the price paid for the crab averaged $6.99 a pound, the highest price ever for the Norton Sound king crab fishery.

The ex-vessel value of the fishery was the third highest for the winter.

A total of 44,998 pounds of some 16,767 crab were harvested, with roughly a third harvested in February and two-thirds in March.

Still the total amount of crab harvested was 45 percent of last year’s harvest, and the number of landings was 43 percent by comparison.

The season started later this year, when ice was more stable, and the number of pots reported lost was much less compared to last year, state biologist said.

Similar to last year, a number of fishermen and harvesters came from the Nome area.

The Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. And Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association divided the CDQ allocation for their area. Only fishermen designated by these two CDQ groups are allowed to participate in this portion of the king crab fishery. They must have a CDQ king crab permit from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and register with ADF&G before they make their first delivery. Fishermen operate under the authority of the CDQ group and each CDQ group decides how to harvest their crab quota. In 2016, as in nine previous years, YDFDA transferred its quota to NDEDC.

The combined results from the winter and summer Norton Sound CDQ fishery included 189 landings and 2,253 pot lifts. The average price paid to fisherman was $7.50 a pound in winter and $6.30 in summer- value of $278,976 for the CDQ fishery. This was the 15th year a CDQ has occurred since the CDQ fishery was first implemented in 1998.

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