Wednesday, December 7, 2016

NMFS Seeks Comments on Proposed 2017, 2018 Groundfish Harvest Specifications

National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed 2017 and 2018 harvest specifications, apportionments and prohibited species catch allowances for groundfish for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands.

The proposed rule, published in the Federal Register, seeks comments by Jan. 5.

NMFS said the action is necessary to establish harvest limits for groundfish for these fishing years and to accomplish the goals and objectives of the Fishery Management Plan for groundfish in the BSAI management area.

The intended effect of this action, said NMFS, is to conserve and manage the groundfish resources in this area in accordance with the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

Electronic copies of the Alaska Groundfish harvest specifications final environmental impact statement, record of decision, supplementary information report to the EIS and initial regulatory flexibility analysis prepared for this action are at http://www.regulations.gov or also available from the Alaska Region website at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov.

Submit comments electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0140, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields and enter or attach comments.

Submit comments by mail to Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian. Via P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.

Comments sent by other methods may not be considered by NMFS.

For further information, contact Steve Whitney, at 1-907-586-7228.

Ocean Acidification Workshop Draws Seafood Harvesters, Researchers

Growing concern over increased acidity in the ocean and the need for adaptation strategies drew seafood harvesters, researchers and others to an ocean acidification workshop in Anchorage to learn how to enhance monitoring and engage communities.

“At least we know what we don’t know at this point,” said Jeremy Mathis, director of the Arctic Research Program for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“There isn’t going to be one magic bullet,” Mathis said. “I don’t have the answer. We don’t know how we are going to adapt.” What Mathis and other speakers at the workshop are aiming to do is to educate the public on the processes and consequences of ocean acidification on marine ecosystems and northern societies that depend on them.

There is a need, said Mathis, to implement adaptation strategies that address all aspects of Arctic change, including ocean acidification, tailored to local and societal needs, and to develop strategies that will allow communities to be successful in the future.

“We have three options,” he said. “We can mitigate, we can adapt, or we can suffer. We can do something now or deal with the consequences later on.”

Acidity in the ocean is measured in terms of pH (potential of hydrogen) on a scale from 0 to 14. The level of pH tells how acidic or alkaline a substance is. The more acidic the solution, the lower the pH. More alkaline solutions have higher pH. Substances that aren’t acidic or alkaline – neutral solutions- usually have a pH of 7.

Ocean acidification refers to a reduction in the pH of the ocean over an extended period of time, caused primarily by uptake of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere. Ocean acidification affects many species, including pteropods, small calcifying (or shelled) organisms that live as zooplankton in the water column and are an important prey species for many fish.

Researchers at NOAA’s Kodiak laboratory, led by Bob Foy, are doing extensive research on the physiological response of crab to ocean acidification, and the impact of ocean acidification on different life stages of the crab, including embryo, larvae and juveniles.

Studies have shown that in general crab survival decreased at every life stage when crab were exposed to lower pH water. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center crab scientists at Kodiak and Bering Sea Fisheries Research Foundation have worked cooperatively since 2004 on research relative to Bering Sea king, snow and southern Tanner crab surveys, biology and assessment. Learn more about ocean acidification and its biological impacts at http://www.aoos.org/alaska-ocean-acidification-network/

Alaska Issues Chinook Salmon Forecasts for Stikine, Taku Rivers

Directed Chinook salmon fisheries in Districts 8 and 11 in Southeast Alaska appear to be out in the coming year because forecasts for both districts are below the midpoint of the escapement goal range for both the Stikine and Taku rivers.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game this week issued preseason forecasts for Chinook salmon returning to the Stikine and Taku rivers in Southeast Alaska in 2017.

A 2017 preseason terminal run size forecast for the Stikine River large Chinook salmon is 18,300 fish. Biologists said that a preseason terminal run forecast of this size does not provide an allowable catch for either the United States or Canada, as the forecast is below the midpoint of the escapement goal range of 14,000 to 28,000 fish, and that no directed fisheries will be allowed in early May.

Inseason terminal run size estimates may be produced starting in late May of 2017, but biologists said it is unlikely that any directed Chinook salmon fisheries will be occurring in District 8 next year.

The 2017 preseason terminal run size forecast for the Taku River large Chinook salmon is 13,300 fish.

A preseason terminal run forecast of this size does not provide an allowable catch for either the US or Canada, since the forecast is below the lower end of the escapement goal range of 19,000 to 36,000 fish, and no directed fisheries will be allowed in early May, biologists said.

Inseason terminal run size estimates may be produced starting in late May, but again, biologists said, it is unlikely any directed Chinook salmon fisheries will occur in District 11, in 2017.

Marine Debris Removal Continues in Kodiak Archipelago

More than a quarter- century after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, oil on the shores of Shuyak Island in the Kodiak archipelago has been replaced by marine debris, prompting a long-term cleanup project set to conclude in September of 2017.

With a grant from the NOAA Marine Debris Program, the Island Trails Network in Kodiak has been leading the two-year effort to remove marine debris from this remote island in the western Gulf of Alaska.

The ITN has assembled a team of 100 volunteers and trained crew to reach its goal of removing some 40,000 pounds of marine debris from Shuyak Island, an area that offers critical habitat for numerous species of fish, birds and marine mammals. A large amount of marine debris accumulates due to strong currents and high winds.

Following aerial surveys that identified numerous medium to large debris items and long stretches of high marine debris accumulation, specific areas of Shuyak Island were identified as high priority targets for removal of debris and selected as the focus of this project.

NOAA notes in its December newsletter on the Marine Debris Program that overall the ITN plans to clean up 60 miles of shoreline on Shuyak Island.

Because of the rugged terrain and active surf, debris can often be hard to reach and harder to remove. Sea kayaks are used to deploy qualified volunteers from around the world. They work in two-week shifts over an eight-week period, paddling to target areas and removing marine debris, collecting it in super-sacks and piling it at more accessible locations.

Later the collected super-sacks are loaded onto a large vessel for transport back to Kodiak, where the debris is sorted and later transported for disposal.

Following the field season, the crew, additional community volunteers and student groups analyze and sort the removed debris to determine its composition and quantity. The information is then documented in photographs videos and displays for use in local, statewide and national education and outreach on the impacts of marine debris, NOAA officials said.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Bristol Bay Salmon Prices Trending Up

A new market report on the Bristol Bay wild salmon fishery says wholesale prices for sockeye products are trending up, and that product appears to be moving faster this year.

Wholesale prices of farmed salmon are also up considerably over the past 12 months, noted the fall 2016 sockeye market analysis prepared for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association by the McDowell Group.

The report notes that the preliminary ex-vessel value of Bristol Bay sockeye increased 66 percent in 2016, due to a price increase and strong harvest volume. Meanwhile the value of all other Alaska sockeye declined 7 percent.

After a couple of years of negative trends, currency rate movements have generally been favorable for Alaska sockeye producers in 2016, and the estimated market value of Bristol Bay salmon driftnet permits is up 22 percent, or approximately $24,000, from the beginning of the year, the report said.

Andy Wink, who follows salmon markets for the Juneau, Alaska research firm, says that with wholesale prices tending up, albeit still low, and major product forms selling faster this year, “a fantastic opportunity is developing in the US market, but it’s going to require top notch quality.”

“US fresh and refreshed sockeye markets offer the best chance for growth,” Wink told BBRSDA members at a gathering on Nov. 18 during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle. “Fishermen who provide high quality fish to these channels will be in the best position to benefit,” he said.

The success of the branding program that the BBRSDA is rolling out will depend on a sufficient supply of high quality fish, he said. Chilled fish in fillet and headed and gutted markets creates higher value, so the goal is to provide enough chilled fish for billet and H&G production, plus a buffer, he said.
The report itself notes that ideally all chilled Bristol Bay sockeye would be directed to fillet and H and G lines and unchilled sockeye would be used in canned product. The chilled sockeye produces higher quality fillet products that require fewer discounts. In the canned market, there is currently very little difference in prices regardless of whether the fish was chilled or not.

Ocean Acidification Workshop Opens in Anchorage

A free Alaska Ocean Acidification Workshop is underway today and tomorrow at the Downtown Marriott Hotel in Anchorage, and open to the public.

Topics range from ocean acidification basics to monitoring efforts, lab research, impacts to marine species, future forecasting and more.

For those unable to attend in person, there are remote viewing sites in Cordova, Fairbanks, Homer, Juneau, Kodiak, Nome, Seward, Sitka and Unalaska.

The first day is aimed at a broad audience, to include harvesters, shellfish growers, resource managers, researchers, coastal residents and anyone else interested in ocean acidification, while the second day will be more discussion-oriented and include breakout groups and a session for ocean acidification researchers.

Participating speakers include Jeff Hetrick of the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery, Hannah Heimbuch of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Bob Foy, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service crab laboratory at Kodiak, Jeremy Mathis, of the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, and more. On Day 2, Meg Chadsey from Washington Sea Grant will lead a session on ways to engage audiences and inspire local action to address ocean acidification.

A second session will address expanding and leveraging the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network.

Contact Alaska Ocean Observing System network coordinator Darcy Dugan at dugan@aoos.org with questions.

New Assessment Shows Abundant Pollock

A new assessment produced by the Alaska Fisheries Science Center shows that the abundance of Alaska Pollock stocks – Alaska’s largest fishery by volume – in the Eastern Bering Sea is quite robust.

According to a draft copy of the assessment prepared for the December meeting of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage next week.

It is at the council’s December meeting each year that the total allowable catch for groundfish in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands, as well as the Gulf of Alaska, are set.

The recommended acceptable biological catch for Bering Sea Pollock for 2017 is 2,800,000 tons and the recommended ABC for 2018 is 2,979,000 tons.

That compares with last year’s estimated ABC of 2,090,000 tons for 2016 and 2,019,000 tons for 2017.

The projections are based on estimated catches assuming 1,350,000 tons used in place of maximum permissible ABC for 2017 and 2018, biologists said.

New data in this assessment suggests that the above average 2008 year-class is slightly higher than before and that the 2012 year-class also appears to be above average, biologists said.

Alaska Pollock is the dominant species in terms of catch in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, accounting for 69 percent of the BSAI’s fishery management plan groundfish harvest and 89 percent of the total Pollock harvest in Alaska.

Retained catch of Pollock increased 2.2 percent to 1.3 million tons in 2015.

BSAI Pollock first-wholesale value was $1.28 billion in 2015, down slightly from $1.3 billion in 2014, but above the 2005-2007 average of $1.25 billion.

Prior to 2008, Pollock catches were high at about 1.4 million tons in the BSAI for an extended period. The complete draft report is online at http://www.afsc.noaa.gov/refm/stocks/plan_team/EBSPollock.pdf

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