Wednesday, October 11, 2017

“Stand for Salmon” Ballot Measure Moves Forward

Alaska Superior Court Mark Rindner has issued a ruling allowing the “Stand for Salmon” ballot measure to move forward. The measure aimed at updating and strengthening regulations to protect fish habitat.

“The judge agreed with us that Alaskans have a constitutional right to say how fish habitat is protected,” said Valerie Brown, legal director for Trustees for Alaska. Brown argued the case for the plaintiff, Stand for Salmon, a diverse group of Alaska-based individuals, businesses and organizations concerned about protecting fish habitat.

“What this means is that the initiative will get certified and Stand for Salmon can start collecting the signatures it needs to get the initiative on the ballot,” she said.

Last month Alaska Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott declined to certify the “stand for Salmon” initiative after he received a legal opinion that it would limit the ability of the state’s Legislature to allocate state assets.

The Stand for Salmon initiative proposes updates to the state’s 60-year-old law governing development in salmon habitat.

“This ballot measure is an important step back to the levels of protection for salmon that were intended by the authors of the Alaska constitution,” said Gayla Hoseth, an initiative sponsor and subsistence research specialist with the Bristol Bay Native Association in Dillingham. “These are needed updates to an outdated law that will balance responsible development with protecting Alaska’s wild salmon, one of the state’s most vital natural resources from a cultural, economic and recreational perspective.”

“We need to have clear rules for projects proposed in sensitive salmon habitat to ensure they’re being done responsibly – as well as provide more certainty in the permitting process for the industry proposing the project” said Mike Wood, another initiative sponsor and commercial set netter in Upper Cook Inlet.

More information on the initiative is online at www.standforsalmon.org

Bering Sea Snow Crab TAC Set at
18.9M Pounds, Tanner at 2.5M

Harvest limits for Bering Sea snow crab fishery are set at 18,961,000 pounds, with 17,064,900 pounds for holders of individual fishing quota and 1,896,100 pounds for community development quota entities. That’s down from the 2016 TAC of 21,570,000 pounds, which was down dramatically from the previous year’s TAC. The fishery will be open in the Eastern Subdistrict on October 15 and remain continue through May 15, 2018 and through May 31, 2018 in the Western Subdistrict.

The Bering Sea tanner crab fishery, which also starts on October 15, runs through March 31, has a TAC of 2,500,200 pounds for west of 166 degrees, with 2,250,180 pounds for IFQ and 250,020 pounds for CDQs. The fishery is closed east of 166 degrees west longitude.

Last year the entire Bering Sea tanner crab fishery was closed over conservation concerns.

The TACS were announced this past week by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game (ADF&G), in the wake of an announcement that the Bristol Bay red king crab season, which runs through January 15, has a TAC of 6.6 million pounds, down 22 percent from the 2016-2017 quota.

ADF&G has also closed Pribilof district red and blue king crab and Saint Matthew Island section blue king crab fisheries for the season for conservation reasons.

Survey Shows Substantial Drop in Gulf of Alaska Cod Stocks

Results of 2017 surveys and preliminary modeling for the 2018 Pacific cod stock assessment show a 71 percent reduction in the Gulf of Alaska bottom trawl survey Pacific cod biomass estimate from 2015 to 2017. The news came to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee and Advisory Panel on October 3 in a presentation from Steve Barbeaux, a research biologist with the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington, who said the drop was particularly pronounced in the central Gulf of Alaska.

The Science and Statistical Committee (SSC) said Barbeaux also presented additional data that appeared to corroborate the trawl survey results, including a 53 percent drop in the National Marine Fisheries Service 2017 longline survey and low estimates in recent years by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game large mesh trawl survey. Pacific cod fishery data from 2017 indicated slower rates of catch accumulation and lower catch per unit effort over the season, at least in the central Gulf, compared to recent years, as well as a change in depth distribution toward deeper waters.

The survey results, Barbeaux said later in an interview, were not what he expected. “Recruitment in 2011-2012 was strong,” he explained. “We expected that would carry us to 2019. We expected a drop in 2019 because we had low recruitment in 2013-2015.” There are still three levels of review to go, by the stock assessment team, the Groundfish Plan Team, and the SSC before the numbers are finalized.

Evidence indicates that the “blob” is a likely culprit. The blob is the name scientists have given to a large mass of warm water in the Pacific Ocean, which adversely affects marine life.

Temperature records indicate very warm temperatures across a broad range of ocean depths from 2014 through 2016 associated with low forage fish amounts in Pacific cod diets. That likely resulted from low prey availability in 2015 and 2016, which was evident in seabird mortalities due to starvation, as well as other ecosystem indicators. In very warm temperatures the cod would have had to eat quite a bit more to grow and survive, but there was less in the water column for them to eat.

“That was the black swan effect,” said Barbeaux. “It has never happened before as far as we know. We have had warm years before, but this blob went on for three years, and throughout the entire water column across the Gulf of Alaska shelf, even in winter.”

The cod would have needed to keep eating a lot more for three years straight, but in fact “they were in the worst condition we’ve seen, the lowest weight for a given length,” he said. “In the central Gulf, it was the same in the longline and pot survey.”

On a brighter note, cod “are a highly reproductive species, so if conditions are right they can bounce back fairly rapidly,” Barbeaux said. Still it would take at least three years for them to become large enough to harvest.

NOAA Celebrates National Seafood Month

October is National Seafood Month, and Chris Oliver, recently appointed assistant administrator for NOAA Fisheries, is urging everyone to get out there and enjoy some seafood.

“Health experts, say people should double their intake of seafood and the good news is there is plenty to choose from,” said Olive.

The former executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, who spent 27 years in Alaska helping to manage some of the nation’s largest and most valuable fisheries, credits much of the success in the United States being a global leader in sustainability to the regional fishery management councils, interstate fishery commissions and stakeholders who work together to rebuild fisheries.

“This unique collaboration − driven by the Magnuson-Stevens Act − managed to effectively end overfishing and is steadily rebuilding domestic fish stocks,” Oliver said in a letter posted October 1 on NOAA’s website (www.nmfs.noaa.gov). “At the end of 2016, 91 percent of stocks for which we have assessments were not subject to overfishing and 84 percent were not overfished.”

NOAA Fisheries tracks 474 fish stocks managed under 46 fishery management plans. Since 2000, 43 stocks have rebuilt as a result of fishery management, and overfishing and overfished numbers remained near all-time lows in 2016.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

NOAA Fisheries Proposes Authorizing Halibut RQE

NOAA Fisheries is proposing to authorize formation of a recreational quota entity that could purchase and hold commercial halibut quota shares for use by charter anglers in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.

The proposed regulatory amendment would allow one non-profit RQE to obtain a limited amount of commercial halibut quota shares under a willing buyer-willing seller model. The harvest pounds associated with the quota shares would become recreational fishing quota that could be used to augment the amount of halibut available for harvest in the charter halibut fishery annually under the halibut catch sharing plan.

The proposed rule, recommended by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which is meeting this week in Anchorage, was filed on Oct. 2 in the Federal Register. Once published, it opens a 45-day public comment period.

If the RQE obtains enough quota share, restrictions on halibut size and bag limits could be relaxed for charter anglers in years of low abundance, up to a point where charter anglers could potentially retain up to the daily limit for unguided anglers- which is currently two fish of any size each day.

The proposed rule would implement quota share purchase restrictions the by regulatory area.

For Area 2C in Southeast Alaska the RQE would be limited to purchase no more than one percent of the commercial quota shares in any year, and no more than 10 percent of the total commercial quota shares for that area. For area 3A, in Southcentral Alaska, the annual limit of commercial quota share purchases would be 1.2 percent, with an upper limit of 12 percent of the total quota shares in the area.

The RQE would be allowed to hold those quota shares indefinitely, but also allowed to transfer those shares back to the commercial halibut sector – a provision that adds flexibility to the program and contributes to the market-based approach, NOAA officials said.

NOAA also said that the proposed rule is necessary to promote social and economic flexibility in the charter halibut fishery, and intended to promote the goals and objectives of the North Pacific Halibut Act of 1982, and other applicable laws.

Comments may be submitted electronically via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal, at www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail:D=NOAA-NMFS-2016-0158, click the “Comment Now!” icon, complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments. By mail, submit written comments to Glenn Merrill, assistant regional administrator, Sustainable Fisheries Division, Alaska Region NMFS, Attn: Ellen Sebastian, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802-1668.

Bristol Bay Red King Crab TAC is 6.6 Million Pounds, Down 22 Percent

Commercial harvesters of Bristol Bay red king crab have been given a quota of 6.6 million pounds for the fishery that opens at noon on Oct. 15 – down 22 percent from the 2016-2017 quota.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game also announced on Oct. 3 closures this season of the Pribilof district red and blue king crab and Saint Matthew Island section blue king crab fisheries.

An official announcement is still pending on snow and tanner crab, but Mark Stichert, the state’s regional management coordinator for groundfish and shellfish, said there will be a snow crab fishery and also a tanner crab fishery, the latter in the western Bering Sea. There was no bairdi fishery last year, but there will be one this year, and the TAC on the snow crab fishery will be fairly similar to last year, he said.

The red king crab fishery has been a challenging one, Stichert said.

From 2003 through 2010 the fishery had good production and TACs between 15 million and 20 million pounds, but then they started dropping. “here were generally low population levels through the 1980s. We enjoyed pretty good stability in that fishery for a while, but since 2012-2013 there has been a generally declining trend of overall abundance.”

For the 2014/2015 season, the Bristol Bay red king crab TAC was 9.99 million pounds; in 2015/2016, 9.78 million pounds; and for 2016/2017, 8.47 million pounds.

This year’s TAC of 6.6 million pounds is the lowest TAC going back to 1996.

“These TACS are based on abundance of crab,” Stichert noted. “In the late 1970s there was a regime shift, and populations collapsed from the late 1970s and generally low population levels through the 1980s, and (then) they grew in the early 1990s.”

Beginning in the early 2000s there was another increase in overall abundance that led to TACs of 15 million to 20 million pounds, and then there was a downward trend since that time, he said.

5.6 Billion Pounds of Seafood Had $5.2B Impact on Alaska

Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s latest economic value report concludes that the state’s 2016 seafood harvest of 5.6 billion pounds had a $5.2 billion impact on Alaska’s economy.

The commercial harvest itself had a total ex-vessel value of $1.7 billion, ASMI reported in the report prepared by the McDowell Group in Juneau.

The impact came from a total of some 56,800 workers who earned $1.518 million, including 29,200 harvesters earning $842 million, 24,500 processing workers who earned $467 million, and 3,200 workers in management, hatcheries and other areas who earned $228 million.

Processors produced 2.7 billion pounds of Alaska seafood products in 2016, worth a first wholesale value of $4.2 billion, while employing an average of 24,500 workers in 2015/2016, including an estimated 7,200 Alaska residents, the report said. The industry for that period included 169 shore-based plants, 73 catcher-processors, and more than a dozen floating processors.

On the national scale, the Alaska seafood industry creates an estimated 99,000 full time equivalent jobs, $5.2 billion in annual labor income and $12.8 billion in economic output, McDowell Group economists concluded. The national economic impacts of Alaska’s seafood industry include $5.4 billion in direct output associated with fishing, processing, distribution and retail. The impact also includes $7.3 billion in multiplier effects generated as industry income circulates through the national economy. The Alaska seafood industry employed some 29,600 residents of other states who came north to work in the state in 2016.

Alaska exports more than one million metric tons of seafood annually, bringing over $3 billion in new money into the nation’s economy. Since statehood in 1959, Alaska’s abundant fisheries have produced over 169 billion pounds of seafood. The largest harvest to date was 6.1 billion pounds in 2015.

The industry catches and processes enough seafood each year to feed everybody in the world at least one serving of Alaska seafood, or one serving for every American for more than a month, the economists said.

In 2016, Alaska seafood was sold in 105 countries. Export markets typically account for about two-thirds of sales value, while the domestic market buys the remaining one-third, the report said.

The complete report is online at http://www.alaskaseafood.org/industry/seafood-market-info/economic-value-reports/

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