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Summary for January 14 - January 18, 2008:

Monday, January 14, 2008 

Alaska sport anglers demand more fish

PALMER -- A routine meeting of the Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee turned into a grill session last week as local fishermen demanded state fisheries managers do more to boost Mat-Su salmon runs.

 About 30 anglers, guides and lodge owners turned out for the late-night meeting in Palmer. Many claimed the state has sacrificed Mat-Su runs in favor of boosting catches for Kenai Peninsula commercial fishermen.

 "I've lived here my whole life in the Valley, born in Palmer, and I've watched the decline in fish the last 15 years," said area guide Howard Riley. "Just general math says when they close commercial fishing, we have fish here, and when they don't, we don't have the same amount of fish."

 News from Jeff Fox, a state fisheries manager who oversees commercial fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet, that anglers would fare little better this year floated like a lead sinker for many in the audience.

 "A lot of the clients that we had don't come back as often as they used to because of the dwindling numbers of fish. What's being done to guarantee us a future in that area?" asked Rhett Nealis, a Talkeetna-area guide.

 The discussion was heated because of a Board of Fisheries meeting scheduled for February. The board typically discusses Upper Cook Inlet issues only every three years. Several proposals to change how fisheries are managed in Upper Cook Inlet are on the table including measures to restrict commercial fisheries.

 Last year was no prize for Valley salmon slayers. Low water and a late rush of fish spelled a poor silver salmon, or coho, season for anglers.

 Of more concern has been a string of poor sockeye salmon, or red, returns over the past five years that led to a $1.6 million state appropriation to get more data on why returns are low.

 Many Valley fishermen believe the commercial drift fleet intercepts too many sockeye returning to the Susitna River drainage.

 A study last year showed about 157,000 of the 1.8 million sockeye caught by the Kenai driftnet fleet were Valley-bound fish. That's less than 10 percent of the total catch and, according to Fox, about what biologists expected to see.

 For Mat-Su fishermen the issue is about getting enough local salmon past the commercial fishery to satisfy Valley spawning needs. Sockeye returns have failed to meet minimum escapement goals for many of the past several years. The state sets those goals to ensure healthy returns in the future.

 Stephen Runyan, a fishing guide and employee at Three Rivers Fly and Tackle in Wasilla, said while northern Cook Inlet stocks are dwindling, Cook Inlet driftnetters are enjoying strong catches.

 "I'm not saying there should be no commercial fishing, but there should not be commercial fishing at the expense of other groups," Runyan said.

 But Fox said the drift fleet is already being restricted, and there's no clear evidence that restricting it further will result in higher Valley salmon returns.

 "The actions we're taking aren't working. Why aren't they working is the question," Fox said.

 Fox said other factors could be to blame for the Mat-Su's poor runs, from pike eating salmon fry to poor water quality in lakes and streams and beaver dams blocking returning fish. Add that sonar counters on some streams are reporting fewer fish than are known to be returning, he said, and it's difficult to put a finger on the exact reason for low salmon counts.

 "There is no magic bullet out there," he said.

 When the board met three years ago, Runyan and other fishermen said the board "gutted the salmon management plan" and neglected the concerns of Mat-Su anglers. This year, the advisory board and other angling groups are planning a full-court press to tip the balance back toward the Valley.

 Jeff Regnart, central region supervisor of the state Commercial Fisheries Division, said the Board of Fisheries meeting is the best place to get Valley salmon concerns resolved.

"Do whatever you can," Regnart said. "That's where it's going to be done." – Anchorage Daily News

Kodiak debates future of Alitak Bay trawling

KODIAK -- Local fisherman Kurt Waters has been a part of the fishing community for about 24 years; he has given a lot to the fishery, including nearly the use of his hand.

 Several years ago, as a crabber in the Bering Sea, he had the bright idea for an improvement to the crab-pot holding system.

 “There are these air-dogs that usually hold the (crab) pot together,” Waters said. “We were breaking the dogs, so we put hydraulic dogs on it, bringing a little trawler mentality to the crab industry.”

 The not-so-workable improvement ended up crushing his hand, costing him two fingers. The incident didn’t deter him from continuing the fishing life or his dream of someday owning his own boat.

 Now he and fellow trawl fishermen are worried and frustrated.

 They are worried that a series of proposals to limit or eliminate trawl fishing in Alitak Bay will be adopted by the Alaska Board of Fisheries.

 If passed, trawl fishermen say the measures will have a tremendous economic impact on the Kodiak 40-vessel trawl fleet and the trawl community.

 “In terms of the volume for the fleet, pollock is probably the biggest moneymaker,” said Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank in Kodiak. “As much as 70 percent of the 620 (fishing area) quota comes out of that bay. It’s a really important fishery area.”

 Waters said that in 2006 he caught 7 million pounds of fish.

 Fish and Game estimates pollock harvested from Alitak Bay in 2007 at 4.9 million pounds and 5.6 million in 2006. The largest harvest was 11.7 million in 2004.

 “It’s not just the trawl fleet that benefits from the trawlers,” local fisherman Alvin Burch said. “Each vessel creates two days work for 140 people every time we deliver.”

 Waters said the closure would represent just another of the dwindling areas where he and other trawlers can’t fish. There are already a number of closures because of the Steller sea lion habitat protection measures, which is one reason trawlers say they can’t relocate as easily as others might think.

 “When they were discussing (the issue) at the meeting (and said), ‘Well, it will be easy for these guys to fish somewhere else,’ I meant what I said,” Waters said. “We wouldn’t be there if it was easy to catch fish somewhere else.”

 Waters said it’s an expensive trip and takes 18 hours to get to the bay at a cost of 30 gallons of fuel per hour.

 “The fleet has already given up a lot,” Bonney said. “There are just not a lot of other places to go.”

 The series of proposals were originally brought before the Kodiak Fish Advisory Committee by Alexus Kwachka and Peter Hannah out of concern for what they believe is the last population of king crab on the island.

 “In the pelagic trawl fishing (fleet) there is a great deal of fishing actually done on the bottom,” Kwachka said in his proposal. “Loss of crab due to contact with the pelagic trawl will continue and crab stocks in the area will be negatively impacted.”

 Hannah believes the trawlers do more than harm king crabs.

 “(There is) a high potential for salmon and herring bycatch by pelagic trawl gear in Deadman’s Bay on Kodiak Island,” Hannah wrote in his proposal. “Salmon escapement and successful directed fisheries in Deadman’s Bay will be hindered due to bycatch associated with pelagic trawling and incidental bycatch of herring will continue to affect these stocks.”

 Waters, Burch and Bonney said they understand the public’s concern, but believe the proposals are based on emotion, not science.

 Conservation groups around the world are nearly unanimous in their condemnation of the large trawlers and have published hundreds of reports condemning their environmental impact. Greenpeace, which has led the charge against trawling vessels for years, says trawlers strip-mine the ocean and demolish ocean’s ecosystem around the world.

 Other environmental groups, such as Oceana and the Marine Conservation Biology Institute, also issued publications critical of trawlers.

 The issue is just as emotional in Kodiak, as evidenced by several recent letters to the editor.

 “I guess the question is going to be, Is the board going to react to emotion and politics or are they going to look at the scientific information in terms of doing the right thing?” Bonney asked. “Pollock fishing is a very clean fishery and it’s sustainable.”

 Burch agreed in his Jan. 8 letter to the editor.

 “It’s important that people know that just because someone says something is true about trawl fishing, doesn’t mean that it is true,” he wrote.

 What is the truth?

 In the last 18 years, two studies have been done on the effects of trawl gear on king crabs, one in 1990 and the other in 1996. The results of the two studies concluded that the effect was minimal.

 In the 1990 study by Fish and Game researcher William Donaldson, Donaldson tethered a group of hard-shell red king crabs on the ocean’s bottom, then proceeded to run over the group with trawl gear six times.

 The study was done to gauge the impact of “trawl gear on injury rates of crab that were in the trawl path but not caught by the gear.”

 According to the study, of the 114 crabs recovered, five of the crabs sustained injuries and only one had injuries estimated as fatal.

 Rose’s study was similar.

 “Unobserved mortality is a significant concern as one of the incidental effects of fishing,” he wrote in his study. “In addition to direct bycatch and habitat effects, unobserved mortality has been one of the justifications used by managers for closing large areas to bottom trawling.”

 In the experiment, Rose studied the rate of injuries to red king crabs after the passage of several different types of trawl gear.

 Injury rates of 5, 7 and 10 percent were estimated for crabs passing under the three commercial trawl footropes.

 The number of crabs captured in each tow varied from 34 to 233. Of these, 82 to 98 percent showed no signs of injury.

 Rose said the two studies are a good beginning, but more research is needed.

 He hopes a study he is currently working on will shed more light on the subject.

 “The difference in this new study is it’s going to be set up to estimate mortality, as opposed to just looking at injuries,” Rose said.

 In the study, to be completed later this year, researchers will hold crabs that have come in contact with trawl gear for up to a week to better determine the effects of the gear on crabs. The study will help gauge longer term effects of trawl gear.

 “Another difference is this will not be just behind the footrope,” Rose said. “It will also be behind the trawl and beside the trawl. Also, we’ll be doing snow king and Tanner crab.”

 The proposals were not just concerned with trawl gear effects on crabs, but also with the effect of bycatch on other fish populations in the area such as halibut, salmon, herring, Pacific cod and Tanner crab.

 According to a report generated by Fish and Game, an average of 22 vessels each year fish inside Alitak Bay.

 “All Pacific salmon, Pacific herring, Tanner crab and king crab are considered prohibitive species in the pelagic trawl fishery,” the report stated. “In the Gulf of Alaska, these species are required to be returned to the water and reported on fish ticket records.”

 From 2004 to 2007 pollock harvests totaled approximately 24.3 million pounds in Alitak Bay. Based on both fish ticket data and observer data, the average bycatch was less than 5 percent.

 Fish ticket data had Pacific herring bycatch estimated at 1.2 percent and observer data estimated the bycatch at 0.9 percent. Fish ticket data showed Pacific herring bycatch at 1.2 percent and observer data recorded the bycatch as 1.5 percent.

 King crab bycatch for the same time was estimated, based on observer data, as 59 pounds and 179 pounds for Tanner crabs.

 The difference in fish ticket data and observer data leads some people to believe that more observers are necessary on trawlers. In the final proposal under consideration by the board, the proposal would require 100 percent observer data on trawl vessels inside the bay.

 Trawlers balk at the idea, saying it’s too expensive, as the trawler fleet will have to pay the bill.

 “I’ve got the bill right here in my hand,” Burch said. “For the month of the October, for (my boat) the Dawn, Oct. 1 and 2 $315 a day. I got credit for one observer day and paid for two because of travel.”

 He did much the same for Oct. 10-12, paying $315 a day and getting credit for only one day.

 “My final bill was $2,095,” Burch said.

 Fish and Game supports the idea of full observer data because it would increase their knowledge base on bycatch, and also because the “Office of Law Enforcement for NMFS indicates that fishing behavior of pelagic trawl fleet is different when vessels have observer coverage.”

 Not so, said NMFS special agent in charge Ken Hanson.

 In fact, he said he has no idea where that statement came from.

 “I don’t know who reportedly made that statement,” Hanson said. “I don’t know how or where that came from. This is totally a state issue; we don’t regulate trawling in Alitak Bay.”

 In the end, Waters and the rest of the Kodiak trawling community just want a fair hearing, one based on facts and not emotion.

 And if the bay is closed?

 “We’ll adapt,” Waters said. “It’ll be hard, it’ll hurt, but we’ll adapt.”  -- Kodiak Daily Mirror

Oregon marine protected areas still talk

In follow-up to a Nov. 1 meeting between Governor Ted Kulongoski and fishermen, crabbers and charter boat operators, the governor scheduled Chief of Staff Chip Terhune to lead discussions regarding marine reserves and wave energy efforts.

Kulongoski indicated during the meeting the "conversation was not over," Kulongoski's Acting Communications Director Patty Wentz said.

Terhune is to visit several cities along the coast.

 "Governor Kulongoski made it very clear no marine reserve will be created without local engagement," Wentz remarked. "Nor will any be created that negatively impact the Oregon coast economy. The conversations we are having now are important to insure those values are upheld."

 Lincoln City recently supported the governor's efforts though a resolution it passed in December. The resolution recognized marine reserves as being a "proven management tool" to protect the ocean's ecosystems; sided with the Ocean Policy Advisory Council's (OPAC) 2002 recommendation to create reserves to determine if conservation objectives can be met; and also sided with OPAC to create no more than 10 reserve sites large enough for scientific study, but limited enough not to endanger the ocean's economic contributions.

Marine reserves have been met with resistance by many in the fishing and charter business due to the potential economic impact on the industry. These discussions are to further dialogue between these industries, local governments and Kulongoski's office. – Newport News-Times

Washington poacher gets jail time

A judge sentenced a former Olympia man to a year in prison Thursday for illegally fishing on Nisqually tribal lands in a case that pitted state law against tribal code.

 It doesn't appear that Larry P. Guidry Jr., 41, will serve additional time because Thurston County Superior Court Judge Chris Pomeroy ordered that the sentence run concurrent with a prison term Guidry has been serving since 2006.

 He will, however, have another felony conviction on a lengthy criminal record and be ordered to pay $10,000 in restitution to the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 On Wednesday, Pomeroy found Guidry guilty of 11 crimes for the illegal fishing and selling of commercial quantities of fish without a license or endorsement from Fish and Wildlife.

 In December 2005, Fish and Wildlife officers saw Guidry, a non-Nisqually tribal member, catching chum salmon during a tribal fishery. At issue was whether his wife, Lorena, an enrolled member of the Nisqually Indian tribe, needed to be present for him to legally participate in the fishery.

 In June 2006, Guidry pleaded guilty in separate criminal cases in Thurston County Superior Court.

 In one case, he was sentenced to 24 months in prison for illegal possession of methamphetamine and two counts of illegal possession of stolen property, which occurred in December 2005. In the other case, he was sentenced to 33 months in prison for first-degree theft, which occurred in May 2006.

 He was transported from the Stafford Creek Corrections Center in Aberdeen to Thurston County Jail to be arraigned on the illegal-fishing charges in early September.

 He has been at the jail since and will return to prison soon. He will receive credit for the time served in jail.

 Guidry was convicted of one count of first-degree engaging in fish-dealing activity without a license; one count of first-degree illegal trafficking in fish, shellfish or wildlife; four counts of participation of a non-Indian in Indian fishery for commercial purpose; four counts of first-degree unlicensed commercial fishing; and one count of obstructing a law enforcement officer.  – The Olympian, Washington

California black abalone nearly extinct

"The scientific review team reported major declines in the population of black abalone, especially in the areas around the Channel Islands off Southern California," said Rod McInnis, Southwest Regional Administrator for NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service.

 "These proposed regulations seek federal protection for black abalone and request input from the public in determining what areas might be included as critical habitat for the species."

 Black abalone were once plentiful in the intertidal waters from Northern Baja California, Mexico, to Monterey, Calif., although there is some scientific debate about how far north the population once extended. The species was utilized by early California natives and peaked as a commercial fishery in the state in 1973 with almost two million pounds harvested.

 Since the 1980s, black abalone abundance has plummeted primarily from a bacterial disease known as withering syndrome. Other causes of the rapid population decline are likely due to historical overfishing, poaching and natural predation.

 NMFS has considered recent preliminary evidence which suggests a small disease resistant population may exist at San Nicolas Island. Even with this possibility, the likelihood that black abalone populations will continue to decline towards extinction (within the next 30 years) is very high. – Science Daily


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Pebble awaiting OK of $100M budget

ANCHORAGE –  Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd. is taking a winter hiatus from core drilling but plans to resume drilling in February, anticipating an overall budget of approximately $100 million for the 2008 season.

 While the budget awaits approval at a board meeting, scheduled for late January, spokesman Sean McGee said that it will most likely be in the range of the 2007 budget, which included upward of $60 million for exploration, plus $35 million for environmental work and community relations.

 To date, approximately $200 million has been invested in what is now known as the Pebble Limited Partnership, a joint investment by Northern Dynasty and Anglo American US (Pebble) LLC, McGee said.

 "We are continuing our work toward the day where we can propose a mine plan," McGee said. "We are still focused on doing the science at this point," he said. "We don't yet have a proposed development plan. Pebble is still a concept." – Peninsula Clarion, Kenai

 NOAA says it’s not just sea lions

VANCOUVER, Wash. -- As NOAA Fisheries officials mull the fate of California sea lions that prey on salmon at the Columbia River's Bonneville Dam, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers biologist last week told of efforts to shoo off thousands of Caspian terns and double-crested cormorants that eat millions of ocean-bound young salmon each year.

 The sea lions, sheltered by the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act, are known to have eaten about 3,800 adult spring Chinook salmon at or near the dam last year, about 4 percent of the run. Their take probably was higher.

 State fisheries officials, commercial and sports fishers and Indian tribes are seeking special permission for "lethal removal" of some of them, especially those who return each year.

 But Jeff Dorsey, a biologist with the Corps of Engineers, told commissioners from the fish and wildlife commissions of Oregon and Washington on Thursday that the terns alone have eaten ocean-bound smolts in numbers ranging from about 5 million to 14 million a year since 1997 and that the cormorants are worse.

 The Corps of Engineers built East Sand Island six miles up from the mouth of the Columbia River in the 1960s to get the birds off of Rice Island upriver, where they also were a problem. The terns were moved there in 1986 through habitat destruction and harassment at their old home.

 It worked, maybe too well.

 Corps figures show there were a few hundred breeding pairs of terns there in 1999. There are about 9,000 now.

There were only about 100 breeding pairs of the double-crested cormorants on the island in 1989, he said. There are about 14,000 today, and in 2006 they ate an estimated 16 million juvenile salmon.

 Commission members asked Dorsey if biological species hostile to the cormorants could be introduced to drive them off.

 He said there are bald eagles there and that he has pictures of one eating a cormorant while thousands of other cormorants stood around watching.

 "It doesn't work," he said.

 The engineers are building alternate nesting sites for the birds in Fern Ridge Reservoir near Eugene, at Summer Lake and Crump Lake in Eastern Oregon and at three sites in the San Francisco Bay area, hoping to get them to move from the Columbia to areas where they won't rely on salmon.

 Virtually all of the salmon runs in the Columbia are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

 Dorsey said the Corps of Engineers' goal is to stabilize the Caspian tern population on East Sand Island at 3,125 to 4,375 pairs. – Contra Costa Times


Coast Guard boat tows fishing boat

A U.S. Coast Guard cutter towed a fishing vessel to safety this weekend after the boat's engine failed.

 The 55-foot Equinox is safe in Seward after becoming disabled 34 nautical miles south of Montague Island in the Gulf of Alaska on Saturday morning, according to the Coast Guard.

 The Coast Guard cutter Mustang was diverted from another mission to tow the dead-in-the-water boat. None of the four people aboard was injured.

 A Coast Guard inspection found no safety discrepancies, the agency said. – Anchorage Daily News


Salmon commission panel funded

Funding for the state's participation in the Pacific Salmon Commission, a key panel in Alaska's commercial fishing relationship with Canada, was included in the passage last month by Congress of the omnibus spending bill.

 The commission, which will receive $3 million, is a panel created by the Pacific Salmon Treaty, according to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, who has spearheaded the state's effort to get operational funding for the country's continued participation.

 The commission manages Fraser River salmon stocks in British Columbia. The program is important to furthering the cooperation of the United States with Canada to protect commercial fisheries for both countries. – Arctic Sounder


Wednesday, January 16, 2008 

Tanner crab opening pushed back

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game Division of Commercial Fisheries announced the once-delayed Tanner crab fishery would open on Wednesday off Kodiak.

 The opening had been pushed back because of gale warnings. Authorities declined to have employees do tank inspections on vessels during gales.

 But by Tuesday, the wind had abated and tank inspections were scheduled.


Disease causes fish farmer to lose money

OSLO -- Norwegian fish farmer Marine Harvest said it is to book an additional charge of 80 mln nkr ($15 million) in the fourth quarter, on top of the 54.1 mln ($10 million)  already announced, due to a continued worsening of the fish sickness situation in Chile.

 “Due to the ISA disease, a cost of 80 mln nkr mainly relating to expected destruction/slaughter in the first quarter will be charged in the fourth quarter accounts,” the firm said.

 Despite the worsening of the health of its fish stocks in Chile, Marine Harvest reiterated that it remains confident in the outlook for its operations in the region in the longer-term.

 In the fourth quarter, Marine Harvest said it harvested a total of 100,800 tonnes of fish from its operations in Norway, Chile, Canada and Scotland.

 Late last year Marine Harvest cut its 2007 harvest estimate to 335,000-345,000 tonnes of gutted weight from the previous figure of 370,000-390,000 tonnes due to ongoing problems with the health of its fish stocks in Chile. – Forbes


Don’t go fishing in the Gulf of Mexico

GALVESTON — Two men described as longtime friends were receiving medical treatment Monday, after a fight on a shrimp boat that led to one man breaking a beer bottle over the head of the other, who responded with a meat cleaver.

The men were on a commercial fishing boat docked at Pier 7 about 8 p.m. Sunday. One of the men, who had been on the boat and at sea for about 60 days, had owed an undisclosed amount of money for about a year to the other, police said.

The men began fighting, and the one who had loaned the money reportedly shattered a beer bottle over the other man’s head.

The other man then hit his foe in the head with a meat cleaver.

Police detective Rick McCullor said the case would likely go to a grand jury, but officials had made no decision on charges Monday.

“It appears the man struck with the cleaver, while he was the more injured, was the one who started the altercation, according to the witnesses we’ve talked to,” McCullor said. “Both men said they were fighting over the weapon, and the man who ended up using the cleaver said he was defending himself.”

  Both men suffered cuts to their heads and were treated and released Monday at a University of Texas Medical Branch hospital. -- Daily News, Galveston County, Texas 


Rain causes death of 400,000 farmed fish

Heavy rain caused the deaths of 400,000 gilthead bream in Turkey’s Güllük Gulf in the Aegean Sea last week.

 Sudden change in natural conditions and the flow of fresh water to the sea caused by heavy rainfall resulted in the deaths of the fish, a group of experts investigating the affair said.

 It seems Mother Nature did what environmentalists have been trying to do for sometime: Getting the fish farms, which are too close to the coast, moved to the open sea.

 Environmentalists have been struggling to get fish farms to relocate offshore citing the coastal pollution they cause. However, it was neither the pressure nor the campaigns by the environmentalists that forced the relocation of the fish farms, but the heavy rain. Six of nearly 15 fish farms located near Güllük Gulf have already relocated offshore, following the rain.

 The group of experts also stressed during a press conference that there was no danger to human health since the fish died due to a lack of oxygen caused by the inflow of fresh water. The sale of gilthead bream had been banned in Mugla province due to claims that some fish farm owners were trying to sell dead fish on the market. – Turkish Daily News


Thursday, January 17, 2008 

Fueling vessel runs aground near Wrangell

WRANGELL --A beached fuel vessel leaked an unknown amount of diesel fuel into the Clarence Strait about 30 miles from Wrangell, Alaska, Wednesday.

U.S. Coast Guard officials said the Dolphin, 174-foot-long coastal tender, was transporting 34,000 gallons of fuel when it ran aground. It was put back afloat and secured, the Anchorage Daily News reported.

A Coast Guard helicopter and cutter reportedly were sent during the day to check the waters for a diesel spill.

The Southeast Alaska Petroleum Resource Organization has agreed to initiate action for controlling the spill and has sent divers to inspect possible damage to the Dolphin, the Coast Guard said.

Coast Guard officials had not reported the cause of the event. – UPI


Deal reached among some Klamath water users

SACRAMENTO -- After more than three years of negotiations, a collection of long-quarreling Klamath Basin farmers, fishermen and tribes announced a breakthrough agreement that they said could lead to the nation's most extensive dam-removal project.

The $1-billion plan proposes to end one of the West's fiercest water wars by reviving the Klamath River's flagging salmon population while ensuring irrigation water and cheap power for farmers in the basin, which straddles the Oregon-California state line.

The company that owns the four dams in the basin -- billionaire Warren Buffett's PacifiCorp -- was excluded from negotiations and did not sign on. But participants heralded the hard-fought agreement as a sprawling, basin-wide solution that united factions long at odds over the fate of the troubled river.

"Never has the basin been so unified around the necessity for removal of those dams," said Glen Spain of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Assns.

Two environmental groups and a Northern California tribe balked at the blueprint, calling it a Bush administration sellout to agribusiness allies. Clifford Lyle Marshall, chairman of the holdout Hoopa Valley Tribe, said the proposal favors farmers over the river's fish and labeled it "an Old West irrigation deal: guarantees for irrigators, empty promises for the Indians."

"The ironic thing is there's not even dam removal in this dam-removal deal," said Bob Hunter of WaterWatch of Oregon, one of the two dissenting environmental groups, both of which were excluded from the negotiations last year. "It seems they released it now because time is running out for the Bush administration to deliver to its political allies in the Klamath farm community."

PacifiCorp officials also took exception to the proposal.

Paul Vogel, a PacifiCorp spokesman, said the company initiated the talks as part of its bid for a new federal operating license for the dams. But he said PacifiCorp was "shut out of the room" for most of the last year as the final plan was cobbled together by more than two dozen state, federal and local government agencies, tribes and other groups.

"You really have to question if there's enough substance there to be worth the paper it's printed on," he said.

The federal government's chief negotiator at the talks, Steve Thompson of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he participated free of political influence from the White House and continues to hold out hope that PacifiCorp will sign on to the proposal in coming weeks.

But critics, including Hunter, suggested that the deal could prompt PacifiCorp to lay its money on winning renewal from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The commission is expected to follow the lead of U.S. wildlife agencies, which have required the company to build fish ladders over the dams. Those ladders could cost up to $300 million and might not work. Several studies suggest it would be cheaper for the company to demolish the dams and find alternative power.

The Klamath River Basin has been an epicenter of the fight over dwindling water in the West for a decade.

In the drought year of 2001, worries about endangered fish prompted the federal government to cut back water to farmers, igniting a heated summerlong protest.

The next year farmers won more water, but environmentalists blamed a cutback in river flows for the death of 70,000 salmon.

By 2006, the river's Chinook salmon population had declined so much that federal officials sharply cut back the commercial fishing season, spreading dismay to coastal communities.

At the same time, those representing the Klamath region's competing interests began trying to settle their differences behind closed doors. Meeting roughly once a month, they quarreled in secret but slowly reached the consensus that yielded the final draft released Tuesday.

Farmers won the three prime concessions they had sought. The agreement establishes water deliveries they can live with: more in wet years, less in dry. It provides $40 million toward subsidized power to run irrigation pumps and develop renewable energy to replace the electricity they now get from PacifiCorp's hydropower dams. And it assuages their concerns that the reappearance of endangered salmon won't end up shutting down farms in the upper basin "if and when the fish get up here," said Greg Addington of the Klamath Water Users Assn.

Steve Rothert of American Rivers, one of several environmental groups that endorsed the deal, said he was confident that even with guaranteed water for farming, the agreement guarantees adequate flows in the river to help salmon rebound.

"We are on the cusp of ending decades-long disputes and charting a better future for farmers, tribes, fishermen and all the communities that depend on a healthy Klamath River," he said.

The dissenting environmental groups disagree, saying the agreement cements promises to farmers that in dry years could rob the river of water needed to sustain the salmon and other fish.

"What began as an effort to help salmon and remove dams has turned into a plan to farm American taxpayers," said Steve Pedery of Oregon Wild, the other dissenting group.

He said the plan also institutionalizes "large-scale commercial agriculture" on 22,000 acres in Klamath wildlife refuges, which his group has fought to see reserved just for birds.

The plan goes far beyond fixing the river. It calls, for instance, for the purchase of a 90,000-acre tract for the Klamath Tribes of Oregon for use as a reservation. – Los Angeles Times


Trawl ban and setnet proposal on Board of Fisheries agenda

A controversial ban on trawlers and a proposal to allow fishermen to use two setnet permits were expected to cause the most heat this week as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game Board of Fisheries meets in Kodiak

 The board opened the meetings with member introductions and by the afternoon, moved into public testimony. More than 100 Kodiak fishermen and residents signed up to testify with the majority addressing proposals covering the possible closure of Alitak Bay (Proposals 38 to 40) and allowing anyone who owns two set net permits to operate both.

 Kodiak Fish and Game Advisory Committee secretary Don Fox opened up the public testimony section with an overview of the advisory committee’s decision on each case, then made personal comments concerning Proposal 58.

 “Fishing two permits will affect my neighbor,” Fox said in opposition to the proposal.

Peter Hannah was more blunt in his opposition to Proposal 58, saying the adoption would create “absentee fishermen.”

 “This proposal does nothing to promote quality,” he said. “It does nothing to reduce gear on the ground. All it does is reduce permit owners.”

 Presently, a fisherman may own two permits, but can only fish one.

 Richard Blanc said his proposal allowing fishermen to fish two permits “would be especially advantageous to a family-owned set net camp with multiple permits held by the family. Blanc said allowing dual permit fishing was imperative to long-term market survival.

 Hannah disagreed. “This proposal has the potential to eliminate 50 percent of set net owners in Kodiak,” he said. “Is that want we want to do — eliminate fishermen? I hope not.”

 Leigh Thomet was also against the proposal.

 “First of all, I am sick to death of consolidation,” she said. “I am resentful having to waste my time again to battle against it. Without any doubt, Proposal 58 will create allocation problems.”

 Also at issue and just as emotional was the proposal to close Alitak Bay to pelagic trawlers and a proposal that would require 100 percent observer coverage on vessels trawling in the bay.

 Fisherman Kurt Waters, who has been battling the proposal since he found out about it, was at the meeting to address board members.

 “We are just as concerned as everyone else about the resources that support this community,” he said. “Many points will be made for and against trawling in Deadman Bay and I urge you to make your decision based on proven facts.”

 Fishermen Jay Stinson and John McCarty were also there to oppose the proposals.

Public comments were scheduled to continue today. – Kodiak Daily Mirror


More battles: Halibut talk in Portland and in the courts

The International Pacific Halibut Commission is meeting all week in Portland, and it could be a feisty meeting. The commissioners are considering a 9 percent cut in the catch limit, with scientists urging a painful 27 percent hit in Area 2C (Southeast Alaska).

 But Portland isn’t the only place the commission is facing fire.

 The IPHC is being sued in state Superior Court in Anchorage.

 The plaintiff, Christopher Lee Price, contends he was working as a port sampler for the IPHC when, in August 2006, he fell on an icy floor in the UniSea Inc. fish plant at Dutch Harbor and suffered back and hip injuries.

 Port samplers collect scientific data on the halibut catch.

 Price argues the IPHC and UniSea, which also was sued, were negligent for failing to provide a safe workplace. His attorney also argues the IPHC broke Alaska law by not providing workers’ compensation insurance coverage for its employees.

 Now here’s where it gets interesting.

 The IPHC contends it “enjoys absolute immunity from suit” as an international organization, and had no obligation to provide workers’ compensation insurance.

 Nonsense, argues Price’s attorney, Marc June of Anchorage.

 “The IPHC hiring of employees without disclosing its belief that it is absolutely immune from suit is an inherently fraudulent course of conduct,” June writes in court papers.

 Such a disclosure might make it tough for the IPHC to hire people, June says.

“Workout port samplers, the IPHC would lack the basic data necessary to regulate the fishery,” he says.

 Hmm. Sounds like halibut hullabaloo in Portland and Anchorage too. – Pacific Fishing columnist Wesley Loy writing as The Highliner for the Anchorage Daily News


Warming seas bad for fish food, study finds

Certain fish could disappear from restaurant menus and our plates at home by 2100, as global warming changes ocean food webs, a new study suggests.

 Climate change has the potential to threaten ecosystems all over the world, and those in the ocean are no exception.

 Two marine ecologists led a study of the effects of climate change on the food web of the Bering Sea, which currently provides about half of the fish caught in U.S. waters each year and nearly a third caught worldwide.

 "All the fish that ends up in McDonald's, fish sandwiches — that's all Bering Sea fish," said Dave Hutchins of the University of Southern California, whose former student at the University of Delaware, Clinton Hare, led the study.

 The Bering Sea has already shown signs of warming, Hutchins says, which could affect the productivity of its ecosystem.

 "Its warmer, marine mammals and birds are having massive die-offs, there are invasive species — in general, it’s changing to a more temperate ecosystem that’s not going to be as productive," he said.

 Hare and Hutchins studied how climate change affected communities of phytoplankton, which are food for smaller fishes. The Bering Sea is so highly productive because of a large type of phytoplankton found in its waters, known as diatoms.

 The researchers collected phytoplankton samples from the sea and incubated them, simulating sea surface temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations predicted for 2100. Their work is detailed in a recent issue of the journal Marine Ecology Progress Series.

 They found that these conditions favored smaller types of phytoplankton at the expense of the diatoms.

 As diatoms become more scarce, animals that eat them, including the fish caught in the Bering Sea, will also die off the researchers say.

 "The experiments we did up there definitely suggest that the changing ecosystem may support less of what we’re harvesting, things like pollock and hake," Hutchins said.

 A decrease in the number of diatoms could also intensify global warming. Because they are bigger than other phytoplankton, diatoms store more carbon when they die and fall to the sea floor. If they disappear, their smaller brethren will leave more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  – LiveScience


Zebra mussel found in California

The zebra mussel that has wreaked havoc in waterways around the nation has been found in California, dismaying state and federal water officials who hoped to prevent the fast-spreading mollusk from reaching the West Coast.

State officials do not know how the mussel traveled west of the Rockies, although they suspect it may have hitched a ride on a recreational boat transported by trailer.

Dozens of zebra mussels – a notorious alien invader, each smaller than a dime – turned up in the last 10 days in a Hollister-area reservoir that serves growers and residents in San Benito County, known for its walnut and apricot orchards. County officials there worry that the mussel will clog irrigation lines and pumps in a region that has already been hit hard by state water shortages.

The zebra mussel, like its close relative the quagga mussel, is a European native that infested the Great Lakes and other waterways in the last two decades, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage. Both types of mussels can alter the food chain dramatically and cause steep declines in fish populations, according to government and academic scientists who have studied their spread.

The quagga mussel, which made its first western appearance in Lake Mead last January, has already spread through the Colorado River Aqueduct to reach several Southern California reservoirs.

"It's not good news. If they're as invasive as they say, it could be a nightmare for our infrastructure," said Arman Nazemi, assistant San Benito County public works director, who heard last week that a fisherman found a zebra mussel in San Justo Reservoir.

There is no definitive way to eradicate the zebra or quagga mussel, state officials said.

"Once they're in a waterway, there's not much we can do," said Alexia Retallack, spokeswoman for the California Department of Fish and Game, which announced the zebra mussel's discovery Tuesday. "They're prolific breeders. A female can produce 40,000 eggs in a single spawning, and over a season about a million. That's a lot."

Myriad questions surround the zebra mussel's discovery in San Justo Reservoir, which is normally open to recreational boaters but has been closed to them since the mussel was found.

"We want to know how widespread are they. Is this an isolated occurrence, or is the reservoir full of them?" Retallack said.

State, federal and county officials are investigating the finding because the reservoir is the terminus of a gravity-flow pipeline from San Luis Reservoir, used jointly by the federal Central Valley Project and the California State Water Project, state officials said. Water flows into the terminal reservoir, making it unlikely that the mussels could gravitate upstream into the projects, said Pete Weisser, spokesman for the California Department of Water Resources.

Neither type of mussel has been found in the California Aqueduct or other State Water Project facilities that deliver water throughout California. But the discovery of the zebra mussel comes at a difficult time for San Benito County farmers, who have seen water deliveries cut 10% to 15% since late December because of a judicial ruling limiting pumping from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta.

The zebra mussel is a Russian native that is believed to have traveled to the United States in 1988 in the ballast water of a ship, landing first in Lake St. Clair and spreading throughout the Great Lakes in the next 10 years. The mussels have invaded large areas of the Northeast, Midwest and South, competing with fish for food and causing sweeping changes in the ecosystems. – Los Angeles Times


Friday, January 18, 2008 

Alitak Bay, setnets continue to dominate Kodiak hearing

For the second day of a weeklong meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries, most of the heat was focused on proposals offering changes to set-net permitting and the closure of Alitak Bay to pelagic trawlers.

 For the most part, all that the public brought to the table was emotion and opinion, but board chairman Mel Morris called those important.  

 “(Public testimony) is only part of the process,” Morris said. “The process begins with the staff reports. Staff reports give us some of the scientific data.”

 He said some of the proposals are allocative and it’s important to hear from the public how it will affect them if the proposals are adopted.

 “Sometimes it is only perceptive because there is nothing scientific about what you can attach to allocation,” Morris said. “So you try to get as much information from the public as you can at that point.”

 He said that is the whole idea.  

 Having people sit down to exchange ideas is the point behind the committees and Morris was happy with the day’s results.

 “This is probably the most open public process in the entire United States,” Morris said. “After we have an opportunity to hear what the public has to offer we go into the deliberations.”

 Even though the public testimony portion of the board meeting is over, public input into the process is not.

 After the testimony, the board adjourned and formed separate committees. Some people formed a subcommittee and the debate continued.

 The groundfish committee met at the Kodiak National Wildlife Refuge Visitors Center. People forming the public subcommittee were generally those interested in the proposals under consideration: Steve Drage, Jay Stinson, Al Burch, Leonard Carpenter, Julie Bonney, Jeff Scott, Harold Magnusson, Theresa Peterson, Alexus Kwachka and Ken Hansen.

 The goal was to deliberate Proposals 35-40 and reach an agreement on each proposal.

 The committee was only able to reach an agreement on Proposal 37, which revised the hook limit for jig fisheries from 250 to 500 hooks.

 As expected, Alitak Bay closure was the most heavily debated proposals and Kwachka, the author of Proposal 38, which would close the bay year round, was on hand to clarify some of his issues.

 “I wanted to explain how this proposal came about,” he said. “This proposal came with my concern when I learned that (NOAA) had almost no idea how federal fisheries interacted with state-managed fisheries.”

 Kwachka said the lack of data made him concerned about how boats could potentially interact with the last group of king crabs in Kodiak Island waters.

 “In my line of thinking, I was like, ‘We can either close the bay down or we can ask for more observers,’” Kwachka said.

 Kwachka said that before he wrote this proposal, he interacted with NOAA officials on several occasions on what the pollock stock might be doing to the crab stock.

 “I didn’t just say, ‘Oh, hey, let’s just close this thing down,’” he said. “I realize that it’s of economic importance to the community.”

 He hoped that during the discussion, the community could come to a compromise on the issue.

 No compromise was forthcoming and at the end of the meeting, they had to agree to disagree.

 The board will either officially adopt or reject proposals this afternoon or Thursday morning. – Kodiak Daily Mirror


Sport group protest treaty steelhead fishery

LEWISTON, Idaho -- Sport anglers have started a protest campaign against the Nez Perce Tribe's gillnetting season on the Snake and Clearwater rivers.

 Members of Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife Idaho have started collecting signatures on a petition they plan to send to Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter. The group also plans to flood state and federal officials with e-mails from people concerned about tribal gillnetting.

 "We are getting signatures like crazy," Steve Alder, a member of the group in Waha in northern Idaho, told the Lewiston Tribune. "I don't know if it is going to do any good, but at least we are trying."

 The tribe announced last month it had opened a commercial steelhead season on the Snake River from Lower Granite Dam in Washington state upstream to Hells Canyon Dam on the Idaho-Oregon border. On the Clearwater, the season would be from the mouth upstream to about Orofino Bridge.

 It is unclear if any tribal members have taken advantage of the season and deployed gillnets.

 The tribe, as part of an 1855 treaty it signed in exchange for giving up lands, has a right to 50 percent of the harvestable fish within the reservation and from off-reservation fishing areas, but has traditionally not taken its share of steelhead.

 This season, that would be 61,000 steelhead, though the tribe says it's unlikely the harvest will come near that.

 Hatchery and wild steelhead swim up the Columbia and Snake rivers in the fall from the Pacific Ocean, then spend the winter in the Clearwater and Snake rivers before moving again in the spring, with hatchery fish going to hatcheries and wild fish to spawning areas.

 The Clearwater and Snake -- favored among sport steelhead anglers -- have a surplus of hatchery steelhead for fishing. But wild Snake River steelhead are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, and sport anglers must release them unharmed.

 Anglers fear the gillnetting will harm wild runs by indiscriminately killing hundreds of the native fish.

 The petition circulated by the group acknowledges the tribe's efforts to restore fish habitat and its right to harvest steelhead. But it calls on officials to "make it a priority to protect endangered wild steelhead" from commercial harvest outside of federally designated areas. – Bellingham Herald


Fishermen have their say about wave buoys

CHARLESTON — “We heard the fleet loud and clear,” Ocean Power Technologies’ spokesman Steve Kopf said to a group of local fishermen Wednesday night.

Kopf was referring to ongoing meetings in Reedsport for a wave energy park proposed off the coast near Gardiner. Commercial fishermen from Winchester Bay and Reedsport told OPT in 2007 that the deeper wave energy-generating buoys could be placed in the ocean, the better. The buoys would have fewer impacts to commercial crabbers who also fish the same area, fishermen said.

 OPT now is considering developing a site off the North Spit. Like Reedsport, the potential site would be small — about 1⁄2-square mile in Reedsport and about 60 acres, or less than 1⁄4-square mile, off the North Spit. Ten buoys are planned for the Reedsport site and 20 planned for the Coos County site.

The Charleston group said buoys placed in 40 fathoms or deeper could have fewer impacts on crabbers, but may have more impacts on salmon trollers or groundfish trawlers. The proposed area will need more scrutiny to determine for sure what impacts it could have to the local fleet.

The 100 or so fishermen in attendance at the Power Squadron building in Charleston had several questions for Kopf.

Why wave energy and not wind?

Can fishermen navigate past on the east side of the area?

Are the buoys movable?

Is the company getting federal funding?

What is OPT’s long-range plan?

Who dictates the electric rates?

Kopf patiently answered as many questions as he could. Oregon International Port of Coos Bay Deputy Director Mike Gaul also answered some, as did Onno Husing, executive director of the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association.

“Basically, this is our first get-together,” Gaul said.

The port organized the meeting and told fishermen Wednesday that it has two dogs in this fight: It counts on — and supports — the commercial fishing fleet, but at the same time is interested in renewable energy technology. Furthermore, the OPT energy line likely would come on land on port property.

Kopf said OPT hopes to have one buoy in the water off Gardiner this fall. The North Spit site progress is about one to two years behind the Gardiner site and wouldn’t see buoy placements for another couple of years.

Many fishermen clearly were concerned that part of their traditional fishing grounds could be used for a private firm’s gain.

“Why not go with equipment that’s proven?” Betty Kay Charters owner Bill Whitmer asked, referring to wind power. “Why mess up our industry?”

OPT’s proposed sites are much smaller than other proposed wave parks and that next generation wave energy technology will be able to produce more power from smaller areas. That’s one reason why OPT needs to consider a second site, Kopf said.

The buoys placed in the Reedsport OPT Wave Park could generate 150 kilowatts each. The ones proposed for the North Spit site would be better, generating 250KW each.

But the Coos County site on the North Spit couldn’t be fully developed until more studies are done, Kopf said.

OPT will have to, as a condition of federal licensing, do a minimum of three years of study on environmental effects, such as buoys’ impacts on salmon migration, Dungeness crab movements and whale migration. Whale studies already have begun off of Newport, Kopf said.

One of fishermen’s biggest fears is that wave parks will be hugely successful, enticing companies to develop more parks. As the number of parks grows, the more fishing grounds that would be lost, fishermen said. The cumulative impacts of increasing fishing regulations, wave energy farms and marine reserves could have a huge effect on the statewide fleet.

“It doesn’t matter where you put it,” salmon troller Rick Goche said. “You’re still taking grounds away from us.”

Kopf said the possibility of increased interest is possible, but first, the state needs to amend its Territorial Sea Plan for better management of its nearshore resources for such things as wave parks and marine reserves. It’s something that would benefit fishermen and also make it easier for companies such as OPT to plan.

Furthermore, Kopf said, those kinds of questions might be better posed to Chip Terhune, Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s chief of staff, who is visiting the coast this week to talk about marine reserves and wave energy.

The Ocean Policy Advisory Council, too, is working on recommended changes to the Territorial Sea Plan. Formal ideas likely won’t be ready for another month or so at the very least.

OPAC, Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association also are working on public outreach meetings to talk about marine reserves and wave energy.

“We’re working on getting objective information out,” OCZMA Director Onno Husing, who also is a member of OPAC, said. Further meetings will be organized and more information will be available on various Web sites in a month or two.

Husing, Gaul and fishermen also said that a local group will be formed to work with wave energy companies as plans move forward. The group’s structure will be based on the successful Fishermen Involved in Natural Energy organization in Lincoln County.

“We need to form a group to have a voice from our community,” Charleston fisherman Jeff Reeves said. – Coos Bay World

Ecotourism to be the next big thing in W. Alaska

Ecotourism is part of what's driving the coming changes in the management plans for Togiak National Wildlife Refuge.

 For instance, the Cape Peirce management direction began to take shape earlier this decade, when a tremendous increase in ecotourism targeted the cape's visiting walruses.

 When commercial operators found there was money to be made in taking people out to see the animals, air and sea traffic grew rapidly.

 Fish and Wildlife became concerned with potential disturbances of seals and walrus from both aircraft and visitor encroachment, and as a result, began drafting guidelines to manage visitation.

 "Walrus are very sensitive, it doesn't take much to disturb them and have them stampede back into the water," Refuge Manager Paul Liedburg said.

 "I can't say we had lots of disturbance and encroachment. We just wanted to make sure the traffic in and out of there was using the appropriate measures. If everything is done correctly there won't be a problem."

 FWS officials soon will decide on these and other issues, in revisions to the refuge comprehensive conservation and public use management plans. Proposed revisions will update the plans in order to reflect changes in laws and policies.

 At 2.3 million acres the Togiak refuge is home to the second largest wilderness area in the United States.

 Today Yup'iks continue to use the refuge for living a subsistence lifestyle. A main purpose of Togiak National Wildlife Refuge is to continue to provide subsistence opportunities for local people. Plan revisions aim to preserve this mission.

 Liedburg said that there are very few actual changes to the comprehensive conservation plan from the existing plan dating from 1985.

 "The guidelines you see in the revised comprehensive conservation plan are a way to outline rules that already exist," Leidburg said.

 Aside from outlining a vision and goals, the revised plan will serve to document many of the refuge's guidelines that are already practiced.

 They will cover issues such as managing non-native species, rules regarding cabins and authorizing geophysical studies within the refuge; all things that are currently allowed, but not specifically mentioned in the original comprehensive plan. – Bristol Bay Times


Chignik trolling? No action

You’ll recall the Board of Fisheries met last week on Chignik and we spotlighted a couple of interesting proposals (The Highliner, Jan. 8). Here’s the upshot, according to a state scoresheet on the meeting:

 • Allow drift gillnet gear in the Chignik area: “no action”

• Allow hand and power trolling in the Chignik area: “no action”

 This means purse seining remains the only legal gear type for taking Chignik salmon.

The Highliner confesses he didn’t attend the meeting and can’t supply more details on the board’s nonaction. – Pacific Fishing columnist Wesley Loy writing for the Anchorage Daily News