Alaska/Pacific Coast

Grim Forecast for West Coast Chinook Seasons; Fishermen Aware of Option of Closure
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Susan Chambers – March 1, 2017
Ocean directed coho salmon season this year on the West Coast? Unlikely. Ocean Chinook season? Possibly, but don’t hold your breath.

Oregon fishery managers briefed Oregon sport and commercial fishermen Monday on the 2016 salmon returns and this year’s forecasts, but many commercial trollers already had an inkling the news wouldn’t be positive.

Instead, it’s much worse.

The Klamath River fall Chinook escapements of natural spawning Chinook for 2016 are much lower than expected, some of the worst on record.

“They’re the lowest returns since the early ‘90s of natural spawners,” Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Biologist Craig Foster said.

The natural fall escapement for fall Chinook was roughly 14,000 salmon in 2016, well below the conservation objective of 40,700 fish. The only time since the late 1970s the escapements were lower was in 1991 and 1992, at about 12,000 fish each year. In 2005 and 2006, when Oregon salmon seasons were shortened or closed completely, the prior years’ returns – on which the 2005 and 2006 seasons were partially based – were higher, at about 24,000 fish in 2004 and 27,000 fish in 2005.

Last year, coho returns to all Washington rivers were well below expectations, leading to the closure of coho seasons off the coast. Commercial coho seasons also were closed in Oregon and resulted in constraints on other fisheries. Scientists blamed abnormal ocean environmental conditions and warm water for the low returns.

“Environmental conditions were really poor the last couple years and we’re seeing that in the Chinook this year,” Foster said.

Sacramento River fall Chinook returns also are down, Foster noted, “but they’re not as poor as the Klamath,” he said.

Escapements are below the 122,000-180,000 goal for the second year in a row. The Sacramento and Klamath rivers are the main drivers for ocean salmon seasons off of Oregon and California south of Cape Falcon on the northern Oregon Coast.

Of the 100-plus fishermen in the room Monday in Newport, a couple trollers spoke up when it came to suggest season options.

“Are we really sitting around here talking about seasons?” one fisherman said from the back of the room. “I don’t see anything up there to make a viable season. … Why would anyone want to go fishing?”

ODFW Deputy Fish Division Administrator Chris Kern said it’s part of the state and federal process, as the Pacific Fishery Management Council begins shaping seasons next week to finalize in April.

“We all know we aren’t going to get rich this season,” processor Jerry Reinholdt said, but “you must keep your foot in the door for future seasons.”

After the industry meeting, the Oregon Salmon Commission met to discuss commercial options. Already, many salmon commissioners were hoping to get the ball rolling on a request for a salmon disaster declaration for 2016. Landings were down last year and fishermen fell short of catching the overall quota available. Most of the landings – 65 percent – were in Newport. Charleston was a far second, at 22 percent, and other ports throughout Oregon landed less than 5 percent apiece. A request for a fishery failure decision for 2017 already seems plausible, given the grim forecasts.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is meeting today to discuss salmon season options with its sport and commercial fishermen.

In Washington, setting seasons will again be challenging as hatchery Chinook and coho returns in Washington are varied and wild salmon returns are low. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife met with its fishermen Tuesday.

Unfavorable environmental conditions, such as warm ocean water or flooding in rivers, have reduced the number of salmon returning to Washington’s waters, especially when compared to some of the more abundant returns of recent years, Kyle Adicks, salmon fisheries policy lead for WDFW, said in a press release.

“Some salmon runs are expected to return in higher numbers over last year, when we forecast historic low numbers for several stocks,” Adicks said. “But, for the most part, forecasts are at about average or lower than average, which means we will once again need to limit fisheries in some areas to protect weak returns of wild fish.”

About 582,600 fall Chinook salmon are expected to return to the Columbia River – the third major river on the West Coast that supplies fish for ocean trollers and also gillnetters — which is similar to last year’s actual return, according to the press release. While that’s significantly lower than the record 1.3 million fish that returned in 2015, this year’s forecast is considered a fairly good run of fall chinook, Adicks said.

Fishermen and tribal, state and federal fishery managers will meet in Vancouver, Wash., next week, to develop options for sport and commercial salmon seasons. They will meet in Sacramento in April to make final season determinations.
http://www.seafoodnews.com/Story/1052605/Grim-Forecast-for-West-Coast-Chinook-Seasons-Fishermen-Aware-of-Option-of-Closure

West Coast Trawlers Receive Permits to Target Rebuilt Rockfish Stocks
SEAFOODNEWS.COM by Susan Chambers – March 2, 2017
West Coast groundfish trawlers are fishing for rockfish again — finally.

Rockfish was once targeted by trawlers and a popular item sold in stores and restaurants, but some species were listed as overfished in the early 2000s. Measures to rebuild the stocks to healthy levels led to constraints on both targeted and non-targeted species. Recent stock assessments show rockfish are abundant and healthy.

That situation helped support the National Marine Fisheries Service approving an exempted fishing permit for trawlers in the catch shares program. The exempted fishing permit, or EFP, could result in significant harvest increases for rockfish species in Oregon and Washington waters, according to the EFP applicants.

The EFP was developed as a workaround to a regulatory backlog at NMFS and will allow fishermen to target a burgeoning biomass of pelagic rockfish: widow, yellowtail and other rockfish species. The overall allocation for canary rockfish, one of the primary constraints to increased landings of widow and yellowtail, increased by more than 1,000 percent, but NMFS was unable to lift certain restrictive gear rules in time for the 2017 season.

Four groups — the Environmental Defense Fund, West Coast Seafood Processors, Oregon Trawl Commission and Pacific Seafood — worked together to craft the EFP that was recently approved. Trawlers received their permits to start fishing Friday.

“We look forward to the agency’s approval of the final gear regulations package – it’s overdue. But in the meantime, this EFP gets us on the water with effective gear and the chance to target some very abundant stocks,” Warrenton, Ore.-based groundfish trawler Paul Kujala said in a press release.

The EFP, for which more than 30 vessels signed up to participate, lifts a requirement implemented in 2005 that mandated West Coast trawlers use a “selective flatfish trawl.” Selective flatfish trawls allow rockfish to escape by swimming upward as they are swept toward the cod-end, while flatfish stay low and are caught.

“Like a lot of these older regulations, the selective gear requirement made sense before we had observers and 100 percent accountability, when managers had to maximize rockfish avoidance,” OTC Director Brad Pettinger said in the release. “Now that rockfish species are largely rebuilt, these antiquated gear restrictions would have impeded fishermen’s ability to actively target the over 60 million pounds of rockfish that is available to them this year.”

Originally the EFP included California waters, but concerns over Klamath River salmon bycatch caused NMFS to scale it back. The southern portion of the EFP may be approved later in the year.

“We felt the bycatch avoidance measures we built into the EFP were sophisticated and sufficient to minimize bycatch to very low levels, but historically poor abundance of Klamath Chinook has them taking an extremely conservative approach,” EDF Pacific Region Director Shems Jud said. “So we’ll keep working on that, to ensure the agency that California trawlers can avoid Chinook while accessing these prolific groundfish stocks.”

The EFP process started in September 2016,, when it became apparent trawlers would not be able to use less restrictive gear at the start of 2017. The applicants also garnered the support of 13 West Coast Congressmen, led by Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., in urging NMFS to move the EFP along quickly.

The original goal was for implementation by the first week of January 2017 so processors could hire, train and prepare for an influx of rockfish in time for Lent. A number of delays led to NMFS issuing the permits almost two months later than originally planned.

Applicants and state and federal fishery managers plan to continue discussions at the March Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting next week in Vancouver, Wash.
http://www.seafoodnews.com/Story/1052775/West-Coast-Trawlers-Receive-Permits-to-Target-Rebuilt-Rockfish-Stocks

Norton Sound Winter Crab Harvest Opens for CDQ Fishery
Fishermen’s News – March 1, 2017
With the winter commercial red king crab winding up, the community development quota fishery for Norton Sound red king crab opened on Feb. 28, with an allocation of 496,800 pounds.
http://fnonlinenews.blogspot.com/2017/03/norton-sound-winter-crab-harvest-opens.html

Board loosens some season restrictions on setnetters
Peninsula Clarion by Elizabeth Earl – February 28, 2017
Upper Cook Inlet’s east side setnetters may get more fishing time next season.
http://peninsulaclarion.com/news/local/2017-02-28/board-loosens-some-season-restrictions-setnetters

Politics

Alaska House Fisheries Comittee holds hearing regarding genetically engineered salmon
KDLG by Avery Lill – March 1, 2017
House Joint Resolution 12 would urge Congress to enact legislation that would require genetically engineered salmon and salmon products to be prominently labeled as “genetically modified.”
http://kdlg.org/post/alaska-house-fisheries-comittee-holds-hearing-regarding-genetically-engineered-salmon

International

Slightly Lower Groundfish Supplies, Weaker Surimi Demand
The Fish Site – March 2, 2017
GLOBAL – The International Council for the Exploration of the Sea (ICES) has recommended a 10 percent decrease in the Barents Sea cod quota for 2017 but a 7 percent increase in the saithe quota, reports FAO GLOBEFISH.
http://www.thefishsite.com/fishnews/28842/slightly-lower-groundfish-supplies-weaker-surimi-demand/

Labeling and Marketing

Grocers Showcase Alaska Pollock for Lent
Demoulas among retailer participants in ASMI promo
Progressive Grocer – March 1, 2017
To coincide with Lent, which many consumers observe by eating seafood in place of beef, pork, chicken and other land-animal proteins, several retailers across the country are spotlighting genuine Alaska pollock through in-store demos.
http://www.progressivegrocer.com/departments/meat-seafood/grocers-showcase-alaska-pollack-lent

FYI’s

Fishermen’s Expo features financing workshop, sablefish summit
KCAW by Emily Russell – February 28, 2017
The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association is hosting a fisherman’s expo in Sitka this Thursday and Friday. ALFA project coordinator Dan Falvey says the two-day event is product of last year’s success.
https://www.kcaw.org/2017/02/28/fishermens-expo-features-financing-workshop-sablefish-summit/

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Pacific Seafood Processors Association
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March 2, 2017