Bristol Bay forecast indicates solid run with majority big fish
National Fisherman by Brian Hagenbuch - December 15, 2022
Bristol Bay last season was complete madness. The final count on sockeye, including numbers from Area M on the South Peninsula, came in at over 82 million fish. And even more impressive, said University of Washington fisheries biologist and Bristol Bay savant Daniel Schindler, was the harvest.
NOAA announces historic funding for fish habitats across U.S.
Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help recover endangered fish; prioritize tribal communities
NOAA Fisheries - December 14, 2022
Today, NOAA Fisheries announced nearly $105 million in funding for 36 new fish passage projects under the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, including significant funding to implement fish passage projects that meet tribal priorities and build tribal organizational capacity to support their role as stewards of tribal resources. This historic level of funding will reopen migratory pathways and restore access to habitat for fish and other species across the country.
Labeling and Marketing
Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute: Monthly Update
ASMI - December 2022
Strong Finish to 2022, Upcoming Events, Alaska Seafood in the News, New Resources, ASMI Activities, Media Library Highlights...
Exercise of Time-Limited Authority To Increase the Numerical Limitation for FY 2023 for the H-2B Temporary Nonagricultural Worker Program and Portability Flexibility for H-2B Workers Seeking To Change Employers
A Rule by the Homeland Security Department and the Employment and Training Administration on 12/15/2022
The Secretary of Homeland Security, in consultation with the Secretary of Labor, is exercising his time-limited Fiscal Year (FY) 2023 authority and increasing the total number of noncitizens who may receive an H-2B nonimmigrant visa by up to, but no more than, a total of 64,716 for the entirety of FY 2023. To assist U.S. businesses that need workers to begin work on different start dates, the Departments have decided to distribute the supplemental visas in several allocations, including two separate allocations for the second half of fiscal year 2023. Out of the total 64,716 visas made available in this rule, the Departments have decided to reserve 20,000 visas for nationals of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, or Haiti. The Departments will make all 64,716 visas available only to those businesses that are suffering irreparable harm or will suffer impending irreparable harm, as attested by the employer on a new attestation form. In addition to making the additional 64,716 visas available under the FY 2023 time-limited authority, DHS is exercising its general H-2B regulatory authority to again provide temporary portability flexibility by allowing H-2B workers who are already in the United States to begin work immediately after an H-2B petition (supported by a valid temporary labor certification) is received by USCIS, and before it is approved.
Magnuson-Stevens Act Provisions; Fisheries Off West Coast States; Pacific Whiting Utilization in the At-Sea Sectors
A Rule by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on 12/16/2022
This final rule implements regulatory amendments that apply to the Pacific Coast Groundfish Trawl Rationalization Program participants that operate in the non-tribal Pacific whiting fishery. This rulemaking adjusts the primary Pacific whiting season start date for all sectors of the Pacific whiting fishery north of 40°30′ N latitude (lat.) from May 15 to May 1, removes from regulation the mothership catcher vessel (MSCV) processor obligation deadline of November 30, removes from regulation the Mothership (MS) processor cap of 45 percent, and provides the ability to operate as a Catcher/Processor (CP) and an MS in the same year. This action is necessary to provide MS sector participants with greater operational flexibility by modifying specific regulations that have been identified as potentially contributing to lower attainment of the Pacific whiting allocation compared to the CP and shoreside Pacific whiting sectors. This final rule is intended to promote the goals and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Pacific Coast Groundfish Fishery Management Plan, and other applicable laws.
Join the National Fish Habitat Board
The National Fish Habitat Partnership is seeking to fill five positions on its board by early 2023.
NOAA Fisheries - December 15, 2022
The National Fish Habitat Partnership (NFHP) unites a diverse group of partners and expertise to achieve a nationwide impact for fish habitat, aquatic communities, and recreational anglers. NOAA is a founding member and serves on the National Fish Habitat Board. NFHP is currently seeking applications for five Board member positions by January 13, 2023.
Here’s How You Can Dine On Omega-3 Rich Wild Salmon Year-Round
Forbes by Leslie Kelly - December 12, 2022
Let’s hear from salmon-loving chef Tom Douglas about easy tips and tricks for making this fish extra special even when it’s not in season.
Eat it to save it
The Winding Glass: What’s Up in the North Pacific?
SeafoodNews by John Sackton Founder - December 15, 2022
[The Winding Glass is the commentary and opinion column by John Sackton, Founder of SeafoodNews]
Many communities in Alaska are up in arms over trawling. With closures of snow crab, king crab, and the collapse of chum fisheries on the Yukon, and Chinook fisheries statewide, desperate community leaders are demanding action against trawling.
They are fighting the wrong battle. The goal of fishery management is not to save every fish. It is to build and sustain populations of fish. The simple fact is that effort in Alaska’s trawl fisheries has not changed dramatically over the period when crab populations, chinook and chum populations have crashed. In fact, trawl effort in the 1990’s was much greater than in the past decade, with far more bottom contact trawling. Yet 2017 statewide chum returns were among the highest ever.
For red king crab, the period from 2005 to 2010 had some of the highest volume landings.
For chinook, the decline has been going on for a long time, with the last year of robust statewide harvest being 2004 and 2005.
If trawl bycatch was a significant issue, it was not affecting entire populations. In fishery management, mortality for all reasons is one driver of population health. In each of these fisheries, bycatch other than trawl and other factors, possibly hatchery fish competition, have been more impactful.
Directed crab pot fisheries have huge levels of discards. In the Bairdi crab fishery for example, the volume of discards regularly exceeds the volume of what is kept. Observer data shows that in 2021, for every 100 crabs kept on board, 140 were discarded. Snow crab and King crab also have high levels of discards due to small crabs entering the pots. ADF&G estimates around 30% of crab rejected and returned overboard dies, with a higher percentage in cold weather.
It is infuriating for Alaskan salmon dependent communities where harvests are measured in the numbers of fish in each river to see thousands of salmon allocated as bycatch to trawl fleets when they are allocated none. But at the same time, genetic studies of salmon bycatch have shown very small percentages from Western Alaska. For example, Stephanie Madsen, representing the At Sea Processors association, said that genetic studies estimated that only 37% of all chinook bycatch originated in Western Alaska rivers meaning the pollock industry killed 2344 fish, while the statewide harvest in 2021 was 2,673,411 fish.
If 100% of the bycatch was destined for Alaska waters, the pollock fleet killed 1/100 thousandth of the total, or 0.00001 percent.
This is not a population level event for any of Alaska’s river systems.
The elephant in the room is the warming of Alaskan waters. It takes years for a larval crab or salmon to reach harvest size. So the fish and crab caught in 2015-2017 came from populations that had begun to mature between 2009 and 2013 when the Bering sea was significantly colder than today.
Starting in 2014 the Bering Sea was hit with a massive heat wave. That has continued at varying levels of intensity until this year, when indications are for a possible greater extent of sea ice than the past 8 years.
Sea ice is the driver of historic production in the Bering Sea. The phytoplankton community and the cold pool of bottom water generated by sea ice has driven the high-density fisheries ecosystem that has supported coldwater crab and salmon populations. This system is being overturned by climate change. There is evidence that warming ocean conditions are changing the food available to chum and chinook salmon, leading to the loss of runs of these species in the Northern and Eastern Bering Sea.
In addition to potential crab starvation due to higher metabolism in warmer waters the warming pushed pacific cod into the northern Bering Sea where they are potentially strong predators on juvenile crab.
Net primary productivity in the Bering sea is actually increasing. But it is the wrong type of productivity for crab and some salmon populations. Instead, it is causing an explosion of pollock.
The pollock biomass is now the highest ever recorded. The 2022 combined survey data led the groundfish plan team to revise total pollock biomass from 39.1% of total fish biomass in 2022 to 57.4% of the total fishery biomass in 2023.
Pollock Biomass is highest ever:
Source: Report of the Groundfish Plan Team to the N. Pacific Fisheries Management Council
Juvenile pollock are ‘junk food’ for many seabirds, leading to massive die offs as they lose their preferred diets and are forced to eat mostly juvenile pollock.
What does the rapid increase in pollock biomass mean for other fisheries. One note is that pollock eat each other. As these fish grow, they will cannibalize, so we are not seeing a situation where pollock are eating other fish or crabs which we might see if this was the pacific cod population.
But the bottom line is that ecosystem changes are driving the change in fisheries opportunities and value, not actions of individual fleets.
The only way to compensate for this is to increase the science budget within NOAA so that we can find and take advantage of legitimate opportunities to maintain community fishing incomes.
The council took one step in this direction by agreeing to look at the option of maintaining a commercial crab fishery while crab stocks are rebuilding, instead of restricting all fishing until the stock reaches a rebuilt threshold.
But other types of compensation, such as creating fishing opportunities on smaller volume fisheries or less well known populations or spatially targeting fisheries more closely is hampered by the uncertainty and unknowns.
In this context, a recent report on NMFS budgeting by the National Academy of Public Administration was critical of the NMFS budget process compared to other federal science agencies such as the Agricultural research Service, NASA, the Dept. of Energy, and others.
The report came from Congressional frustration with NOAA’s fishery budgeting practices. In short, NMFS was too top down and did not have the input from stakeholders and review that other science agencies conducted in their budgeting.
The recommendations highlight the shortfall with fisheries science that is hurting our ability to better address the problems in the Bering Sea.
The report says NOAA fisheries needs to develop a strategic planning process that should drive budgeting, focusing on integrating stakeholder priorities and addressing shifting fish stocks. Currently NOAA Fisheries is mission driven without a clear strategic plan.
A second recommendation is to better address NOAA fisheries capital management: ie cost of Vessels, buildings, and other equipment. These are now funded by an assessment on program funds. It means that in practice maintenance and operational costs either get squeezed or they become imperative and eat up operational costs. Most other agencies operate with a separate strategic capital budget for facilities, at much higher levels than NOAA, and they can make the case to Congress for multi-year plans for these facilities and equipment.
Regarding Fish Surveys and Stock Assessments, the report says NOAA should create and circulate a stock assessment priority list to the regional offices, science centers, NOAA leadership, Dept of Commerce, Congressional Appropriators and importantly, all relevant external stake holders. Basically, the needs for fish surveys are not making it into NOAA Fisheries budget process.
NOAA Fisheries real spending on fish stock assessments has declined by about 16% over the past 10 years.
The report says that NOAA’s budget is too top down, with little opportunity for review at the regional level. They recommend the Fishery Management Councils and stakeholders be formally brought into the budget process so that the budget starts with a needs assessment and flows upwards, instead of a program directive from headquarters.
It is hard to plow through the government speak in this report, but the basic message is that NOAA fisheries is failing its stakeholders by not budgeting for their priorities.
We are seeing this on the ground in Alaska as the North Pacific Council is constantly being pushed to take actions where they don’t have the science or the data to make good decisions. Furthermore, the council needs better real time understanding of the changes occurring in fisheries.
Redefining budget priorities may seem like an irrelevant or small step given the pain of fish closures and failure of salmon runs.
Unfortunately, this is not a one-year problem, but a 20 year problem, and we will be needing solutions that provide equitable fisheries economic opportunity in 2030 as well as next year.
Long term steps such as revising the NOAA fisheries budget process along the lines recommended in this report are part of the necessary response to the changes occurring in the Bering Sea.
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