Alaska/Pacific Coast

Test of AK State Waters Pollock Seine Fishery Shows Mixed Results
SEAFOODNEWS.COM [Homer News]  By Cristy Fry March 5, 2015
The experimental fishery to determine the feasibility of a seine fishery for pollock in state waters has finished up with mixed results.

The Gulf of Alaska pollock workgroup held its final meeting last month to discuss adding a limited entry state pollock fishery to Alaska waters for both trawl and non-trawl vessels and go over the results of the experimental fishery.

The fishery was formed as a result of a proposal from Kodiak fisherman Matt Hegge who expressed concern about plans for rationalizing pollock in federal waters, and wanted to see about carving out a portion of the quota for state waters, much like the cod fishery.

A commissioner’s permit was granted to seine for pollock in Kodiak, but no one signed up. Fishermen in Homer expressed an interest, and the permit was moved to Cook Inlet.

Hegge and other fishermen have also asked that the state try to provide some additional entry-level fishing opportunity in state waters in addition to the current open access state waters fisheries, because rationalization typically makes it more difficult for new participants to enter the federal fishery.

The fishery may have created more questions than it answered, according to Jan Rumble, area management biologist for the Alaska Deparment of Fish and Game.

“There are still questions looming out there about ‘are we going to have a (Board of Fisheries) meeting dedicated to pollock…? ’” she said. “State funding is in a really bad place, so I’d be surprised if they did. ”

She said there could be proposals brought forward as agenda change requests if fishermen felt there was an imminent need to address things.

Rumble noted that the seine fishery in Cook Inlet only caught about 32,000 pounds, so there is limited information about how effective that gear type would be.

Homer fisherman Beaver Nelson, whose son Rob ran one of the two boats that participated in the fishery, was optimistic about the possibilities.

“I think it has definite promise, ” he said.

However, in order to have any kind of market it is necessary to have reliable and substantial quantities of fish, he said.

“You can’t just bring in dibs and dabs. ”

Nelson said that in the fall, the fish are closer to the surface and easier to catch, but they need deeper nets to fish during the winter.

They found that the pollock are down around 200 feet from about December through February, and the net they used reached around 160 feet.

They are trying to find a deeper herring seine from British Columbia that would reach down to the volume of fish and try again next fall.

“I think Rob could have loaded his boat in a couple of sets with deeper gear, ” Nelson said.

He said the other thing they learned was that there was very limited bycatch of king salmon, and those that they did catch were quite small and were able to be turned loose alive.

Nelson said he agreed with the concept behind the fishery, which is getting access to the resource before rationalization.

“What we’re really primed for is (Hegge’s proposal), that’s what this thing is really all about, and that’s getting state-water control of our fisheries. A big chunk of that (federal) pollock quota is caught in state waters, and if rationalization goes through like the feds are trying to do, the State of Alaska is going to lose out totally on it. ”

Meeting documents from the pollock workgroup can be found at:

Final Action Slated on Bering Sea Salmon Bycatch
Fishermen’s News – March 11, 2015
Federal fisheries managers are slated to take final action in early April on the incidental harvest of Chinook and chum salmon in the Bering Sea pollock fishery.

2014 Alaska Seafood Exports Exceeded $2.26 Billion
Fishermen’s News – March 11, 2015
Alaska’s direct seafood exports rose 2.1 percent in 2014 over the previous year, to $2.26 billion in sales, according to US Census Bureau data, and may be significantly higher when including products first transferred to other states, and fish meal.

Two Bristol Bay related proposals at Board of Fish next week by Hannah Colton – March 11, 2015
The Alaska Board of Fisheries will meet next week (March 17-20) in Anchorage for the last meeting of the 2014-2015 Board cycle. Among issues for discussion are two proposals that may affect Bristol Bay fisheries.



IPHC Says They Expect NMFS to Enact 2016 Halibut Bycatch Reductions if Council Fails to Act
SEAFOODNEWS.COM  By Peggy Parker  –  March 11, 2015
In a letter sent March 10 to NMFS Assistant Administrator Eileen Sobeck, the International Pacific Halibut Commission said they will rely on NMFS to reduce halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea if the Council “fail(s) to submit a plan for implementation in 2016.”

The letter, signed by Commissioners Jim Balsiger, who is the Regional Administrator for NMFS in Alaska, and Paul Ryall, Director of Resource Management for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans in Canada, also explained their reason for setting TACs in the Bering Sea higher than recommended by the IPHC staff. The names of all six commissioners followed the two government representatives.

“As you may know, the directed fishery harvest opportunities in [Area 4CDE or most of the Bering Sea] are substantially reduced each year to account for the halibut mortality in bycatch fisheries, which [we] have initially estimated at 4.82 million pounds for 2015,” the commissioners said.

Given that level of bycatch, and the size of the biomass in that area, IPHC staff recommended a TAC of 520,000 pounds for the directed fishery, less than half what the area has received in the past few years, which have been the lowest TACs in the area in the last decade.

At the IPHC’s annual meeting, Bering Sea groundfish fishermen who take halibut as an incidental bycatch, testified that they could reduce bycatch in 2015 through various voluntary efforts to avoid halibut and to release them with less injuries, thus reducing mortality.

“Several of these organizations committed to achieving specific bycatch reduction targets in 2015 that were calculated to save approximately 280,000 pounds of bycatch mortality that could be reallocated to the directed fishery,” the IPHC letter stated.

“After considering the socioeconomic concerns of directed harvesters in Area 4CDE, the bycatch reductions promised by several of the trawl fishery organizations, and the risks posed to the resource by various catch limit options, Commissioners agreed to increase the directed fishery catch limit in Area 4CDE to 1,285,000 pounds (net weight).

“NMFS’ commitment to reducing bycatch,” the letter added, “was critical to the Commission’s support for this increased catch limit. The impact of bycatch on directed harvest opportunities in 2015 for Area 4CDE was particularly acute; however, bycatch in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska (Areas 3 and 4) has been a longstanding issue with impacts on the halibut resource and available harvest in all Regulatory Areas.

“Areas 3 and 4 account for approximately 95% of the coastwide halibut bycatch and these areas have also made less progress in reducing bycatch in comparison to other Regulatory Areas,” the commissioners wrote.
Halibut biomass appears to have stabilized, IPHC scientists say, after a long-term declining trend that was most pronounced in Areas 3 and 4. In response to this, TACS were lowered 52% coastwide in the last five years.

“By contrast,” Balsiger and Ryall wrote, “bycatch mortality has declined by only 10% over the same period and now accounts for over 20% of the coastwide annual halibut removals.

“For these reasons, Commissioners were encourage that your letter spoke to making bycatch reductions in both the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands and the Gulf of Alaska, and reassured by your statement that NMFS will develop measures to achieve these reductions should the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (the “Council”) fail to submit a plan for implementation in 2016.”

The Council met a week after the IPHC’s annual meeting to review an economic analysis and hear more public testimony on the subject. They also hosted a full-day joint meeting with the IPHC to discuss bycatch issues, including ways to manage it during times of low and high abundance of halibut biomass.

Currently, halibut bycatch caps are not tied to halibut abundance.

Balsiger and Ryall’s letter listed four of the lessons learned from the experience of other areas:

• Methods to reduce bycatch have a hierarchical effectiveness, that is, limits on individual harvesters or vessels are most effective, followed by limits on pools or coops of vessels. Least effective are when global limits are set on entire fisheries or fleets.
• Bycatch limits should be based on mortality rather than catch.
• Comprehensive catch monitoring is critical.
• The experience and knowledge of harvesters should be tapped to find most effective ways of reducing bycatch.

The Council will meet in June for final action on halibut bycatch caps in the Bering Sea.


Cutting edge technique makes fish waste valuable
FIS.COM – March 12, 2015
A team of researchers has developed a new system that makes it possible to extract valuable proteins, antioxidants and oils from salmon and rapeseed waste to be used in health foods, nutritional supplements and skin care products.

Geologist study of worldwide salmon history offers insight for Alaska
Homer Tribune by Carey Restino – March 10, 2015
Populations around the world have long understood the basics of what it takes to keep salmon populations healthy. In fact, one early ruling in Europe noted that no one is to obstruct a salmon stream so that a well-fed, 3-year-old pig could not stand sideways in it.


As U.S. Steps up IUU Enforcement NOAA Isn’t Getting Any More Enforcers
SEAFOODNEWS.COM [E&E Greenwire] By Emily Yehle – March 12, 2015 –
On a recent afternoon, Gregg Houghaboom pointed to a photo of a fish fillet and asked a room full of ocean experts to identify it.

They couldn’t. Absent a head, tail and scales, it looked like a hunk of grouper — but it was actually Lake Victoria perch.

Houghaboom’s point was simple: It’s hard to uncover seafood fraud, even when you’re looking for it. The perch was sold to grocery stores and restaurants as grouper, for a premium price, until Houghaboom, a special agent at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, helped expose the fraud.

“It’s extremely nuanced. It’s not like if you’re catching a vehicle with a trunk full of heroin and cocaine,” Houghaboom said at a recent panel discussion on illegal fishing at the World Wildlife Fund in Washington, D.C. “If you catch a boat with a load of lobster in it, you have to find out … where it was harvested from, if it’s in season, if it’s undersized, if it’s egg bearing. There’s a lot more to it.”

Houghaboom is now retired. But he and some of his former colleagues are concerned that NOAA doesn’t have enough investigators to tackle such cases, even as the Obama administration makes illegal fishing and seafood fraud a priority.

In December, a presidential task force released a set of recommendations to tackle illegal, underreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing. Notably absent was any mention of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement.

“There’s one presidential mandate that says, ‘Hey, you should do IUU fishing’ … but then the folks who are experts at it aren’t mentioned,” Scott Doyle, another retired agent, told a WWF audience numbering about 30. He later added: “There are more people in this room right now thinking about IUU than doing IUU.”

The recommendations — still in draft form — don’t ignore enforcement. But they focus on beefing up collaboration, rather than feet on the ground. For example, one suggests the development of a strategy for agencies to better share data and resources to prevent IUU. Another focuses on broadening agency enforcement authorities through congressional action.

Meanwhile, the number of NOAA’s investigators is in decline. The Office of Law Enforcement has 92 special agents, tasked with investigating both domestic and international cases for the entire country. In 2012, that number was 114; in 2006, it was 157.

A Baltimore Sun article last year linked that decline with a 75 percent drop in the number of cases sent to NOAA’s general counsel since 2008. In 2014, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service opened 94 criminal cases and sent 164 cases to NOAA’s general counsel, according to the agency.

Some of that was expected. In 2010, the Commerce Department inspector general released a report after Northeastern fishermen complained of overly punitive action from NOAA. The IG questioned what it called a “criminal-enforcement-oriented structure,” wherein NOAA had too many special agents who were too aggressive for regulatory infractions.

In response, NOAA cut back on investigators and beefed up patrol officers. But now it is faced with a renewed focus on tackling international seafood fraud and the complex cases that go along with it.

In its fiscal 2016 budget request, the agency asks for 15 additional positions to combat IUU. The breakdown follows the current workforce plan, with more officers hired than special agents. Of a total 20 potential hires (to add 15 positions and fill five vacancies), 14 would be officers and three would be special agents. The remaining two positions would be for a policy analyst and an investigative analyst.

Todd Dubois, assistant director of NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement, acknowledged that his office needs more special agents. But he said it’s not as simple as going back to 2010, when NOAA had 15 enforcement officers. The agency now has 29 officers.

Officers can act as liaisons with customs agents and other agency officials to help spot potential fraud, he said. NOAA needs both.

“It’s not fair to say, ‘Gee, we don’t need officers and we only need agents.’ I think that’s too simplistic,” Dubois said, later adding: “I think over time we will find the right answer. More enforcement officers will give agents the time to do the investigations.”

Needle in a haystack

At the WWF panel, Houghaboom, Doyle and a third former special agent, Paul Raymond, used a decade-old case to emphasize how daunting such investigations can become.

In 1999, David McNab owned the largest lobster fleet in Honduras. When NOAA investigators seized one of his U.S. shipments, they found more than 11,000 pounds of undersized lobster and more than 5,000 pounds of egg-bearing females.

It took the agency years to build a case. First, officials had to persuade a U.S. attorney to take a “fish case.” Then they had to follow a convoluted paper trail. When they stopped McNab’s attempts to smuggle the lobster by ship, he started to smuggle it through commercial airlines.

In the end, evidence at trial showed 40 illegal shipments worth more than $17 million.

“It took us literally over three years to do this case,” Raymond said. But he acknowledged that traceability — a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s IUU plan — would change that math. “From a traceability standpoint, this case could have been done in maybe six months.”

Environmental groups have emphasized the need for traceability, or documenting a fish from boat to plate. In its IUU recommendations, the presidential task force laid out an 18-month deadline to establish the first phase of a program.

Michele Kuruc, vice president for ocean policy at WWF, emphasized in an email that enforcement and traceability are intertwined.

While WWF has no plan to call for more special agents at NOAA, the advocacy group “does support strong enforcement as part of the solution to combat IUU, including the appropriate number of skilled special agents who can work the complex, large-scale cases,” Kuruc said. “Without a new system of traceability and proof of legality, enforcement will not be enough, though.”

NOAA has so far focused on partnerships in an effort to spot illegal activity more effectively. It now works with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to “enhance targeting efforts” on commercial imports; that aims to alleviate the “needle in a haystack” problem of finding the illegal fish amid container ships full of legitimate catch.

The agency also provides training to developing countries on how to spot IUU fishing. And it aims to work with other countries. In 2011, for example, the Russian government helped in an investigation that resulted in the seizure of 112 metric tons of illegally harvested Russian king crab.

Dubois called it a “multi-layered approach to law enforcement” and pointed to several successful international cases in the last couple of years.

In one, NOAA helped dismantle a smuggling ring for narwhal tusks. In another, a U.S. Coast Guard ship apprehended a Chinese driftnet vessel in the north Pacific Ocean, as part of a partnership that puts fishery enforcement officers from China on Coast Guard ships. And in 2013, three convicted smugglers of South African rock lobster were ordered to pay $22.5 million in restitution to the South African government.

“We would certainly always be better suited with more resources. That’s not always possible,” Dubois said. The approach for now: better data, more partnerships and leveraging what resources already exist.
Ann Owens
Pacific Seafood Processors Association
Office Manager
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Phone: 206.281.1667
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March 12, 2015