Alaska/Pacific Coast

Port Heiden moving forward with ambitious projects

KDLG.ORG by Dave Bendinger, December 26, 2014

Bristol Bay village completing new fish processing plant, and awaiting transfer of 64 reindeer into a new corral.

The plucky village of Port Heiden on the Alaska Peninsula is embarking on a pair of ambitious projects right now. They hope that a new fish processing plant and the purchase of 64 reindeer will create more jobs, more income, and more food security for the village of just over a hundred residents.

Courtesy of a seat on a BBEDC-chartered plane, KDLG’s Dave Bendinger was in the village last week. John Christensen gave a tour, beginning with a drive out to the new processing plant on a new dirt road the village is building for itself. 

Alaska Council members ask NMFS for emergency relief on halibut bycatch

SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Peggy Parker – December 23, 2014

29aThe latest Halibut stock numbers discussed at the IPHC meetings in December represented a potential crisis for halibut in the Bering Sea, as the directed fishery levels were too low to support the small boat fishery and keep plants operating. As a result, at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting last week, there was a motion to ask NMFS to undertake emergency action to adjust Bering Sea Halibut bycatch, so as to allow the directed halibut fishery to economically operate. But the motion failed by a vote of 5-5. This week six members of the 11-member North Pacific Fishery Management Council, who would constitute a majority if the vote were held again, sent a letter to the agency asking for emergency relief.

The sixth Alaskan was Ed Dersham, who was absent from the meeting and the vote, undergoing a critical organ transplant. Mr. Dersham, recovering from surgery, signed the letter along the other five Alaskan Council members.

The dramatic scenario began in early December, when the International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC), released preliminary “harvest advice” for the 2015 season. The bi-lateral group, made up of three Canadian commissioners and three from the U. S., manages halibut stocks from California to Alaska.

Their catch advice is based on data from annual surveys, the commercial and recreational catch, observations on bycatch from the trawler fleets, and other research. It is released for review until late January, when the annual IPHC meeting convenes for a week and the catch limits for each regulatory area between California and western Alaska are assigned.

In general (the exception being small areas throughout the range of this large flatfish), Pacific halibut stocks have been declining in both numbers and weight for several years. There is currently no evidence of strong “recruits” coming into the fishery.

But the preliminary numbers for total exploitable yield in five of the eight halibut regulatory areas increased this year. The increase was slight, but good news for the halibut fleets and commissioners who have cut annual catch limits by 30-70% in the last decade.

In fish management, the total exploitable yield is calculated first to establish what is available to remove. Before catch limits are determined, the amount of “fixed” removals – mortality from halibut bycatch in other fisheries, wastage by the commercial and recreational fleet, removals for subsistence use – are taken off the top.

When those calculations were done in early December, the remaining fisheries exploitable yield changed dramatically in the Bering Sea, where a fixed number of halibut is allowed as bycatch in the process of harvesting much larger amounts of Pacific cod and flatfish.

The bycatch caps for these species were fixed some twenty years ago and, because the P-cod and flatfish fleets are shut down when the cap is reached, efforts to avoid halibut have been employed.

But the difference in volume of each fishery is massive. Some six million pounds of halibut is taken as bycatch in the process of harvesting two billion pounds of groundfish in the Bering Sea. The total catch of halibut by the small boats that are targeting halibut in the Bering Sea was about equal to the bycatch last year.

In the Bering Sea area called Area 4CDE, actual bycatch this year was approximately 4.8 million pounds, a third of which are under 26 inches, which is sublegal size for the halibut fleet. When those removals were applied, the commercial halibut fleet – from mostly small communities that have relied on halibut for generations – stood to receive only 370,000 lbs. in the coming season, a 70% reduction from 2014.

Fisheries management is complicated with many moving parts, but most removal decisions are tied in some way to the general health of the stock. For a few reasons, that has not been the case for halibut in the Bering Sea.

The federal North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission will begin to explore ways to rectify this in February, when a joint meeting will look at sharing data to account more accurately for removals.

Meanwhile, the six Alaskans on the Council are doing all they can to provide some relief for the small boat fleet in the Bering Sea. By their calculations, if an emergency action to reduce the actual halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea by 20% can be implemented, it will justify a larger catch limit for Area 4CDE to be set by the IPHC commissioners at their January meeting.


Direct air route expected to cut time and costs for Alaska’s seafood exports to China

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [SCOM] by Michael Ramsingh, December 29, 2014

Alaska seafood is expected to to reach the Chinese market more directly and at a lower cost with the launch of the first non-stop air route between Anchorage and the Hunan Province.

According to Chinese news agency Xinhua, Dynamic Airways’ Boeing 767 took off from the Hunan Province’s central city of Changsha on Sunday evening. The direct air route from Changsha to Anchorage takes about nine and a half hours according to Liu Zhiren, the general manager of Hunan Airport Management Group.  After the non-stop flight to Anchorage, the trip continues to Los Angeles.

Liu said Dynamic will charter the direct flights through the end of March at which point it will launch a regular twice-a week flight.

“The opening of the route will help Alaska’s salmon, crabs and beef to enter into the Chinese market with a much lower price,” the press release concluded.

Changsha airport also expects to open air routes to Tokyo and Australia in 2015.

Russia forecasts 2015 salmon catch to be up 14% from this year, similar to 2013 haul

SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Esmerk Russian News]  by Michael Ramsingh, December 29, 2014

Russia’s fishery officials expect the country’s salmon catch to increase 14 percent next year, which puts the haul more in line with the 2013 season.

Fishery officials with the Russian agency Rosrybolovstvo, forecast next year’s salmon catch to produce 400,000 to 420, 000 tons, up over 14 percent from this year’s catch that landed 359,000 tons.

This forecast puts the Russian salmon haul more in line with its 2013 landings, which totaled 405,500 tons.

A breakdown of this season’s catch by region had Kamchatka on top with 139,300 tons of fish; Sakhalin at 102,200 tons and the Khabarovsk region at 67,500 tons, with the remaining total split among the rest of the Far East.

Pink salmon led the catch by species in 2014 with 147,600 tons, followed by chum salmon at 136,800 tons. There were also caught 37,600 tons of sockeye, 14,500 tons of silver salmon, and 630 tons of chinook salmon.


Mixing oil and water

National Fisherman by Jerry Fraser, December 18, 2014

29bA shrimp boat festooned for a blessing of the fleet ceremony that was part of the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival photo

There are far worse jobs than serving as publisher of National Fisherman and WorkBoat magazines. After all, as my grandmother liked to say, there’s no heavy lifting

But the job does present challenges, one of which is reconciling for our audiences the sometimes competing interests of those who harvest fish and those who drill for oil and natural gas in the ocean. (Among others, the offshore service component of the U.S. oil and gas industries is a valued constituency of the WorkBoat brand.)

From the perspective of fishermen, particularly mobile gear fishermen, oil rigs can impede or prevent fishing in certain areas. And while the risk of spills may be remote, the specter of disaster looms, with historic precedent.

On the other hand, energy companies have to go where the energy is.

All this is by way of explaining why President Obama’s executive order putting Alaska’s Bristol Bay off limits for oil and gas exploration is a double-edged sword. Sure, I like the idea of ensuring that the waters of Bristol Bay remain pristine. But I liked it a whole lot less when the pristine waters at issue comprised the Pacific Remote Islands Marine National Monument, a creation of President George W. Bush expanded by the current occupant of the White House, in which case U.S. fishermen found themselves on the outside looking in.

Ann Owens
Pacific Seafood Processors Association

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December 29, 2014