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Summary for February 25 - February 29, 2008:

Monday, February 25, 2008 

To the editor: Rockfish program isn't as good as advertised.

Alaska Groundfish Data Bank recently put out a press release on the Rockfish Pilot Program. This program was successful in slowing the fishery down, but at the expense of excluding most future participants the chance to fish for 95 percent of the rockfish in the Gulf of Alaska.

 It is portrayed as a five-year program that was developed by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, but was only a two-year program enacted without due process in Congress.

 John McCain, chair of the Senate Commerce Committee, and Olympia Snowe, chair of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Fisheries and Coast Guard, pointed out in a letter (Sept. 5, 2003) to Sen. Ted Stevens, all fisheries legislation needs to proceed through these bodies of Congress to be judicially prudent. The RPP did not.

 A three-year extension of the RPP never went through the NPFMC, in fact, it was a secret amendment pushed through by Al Burch of Alaska Draggers Association and Julie Bonney of ADGB with the help of Rep. Don Young and House Resources chair Richard Pombo.

 I traveled to D.C. last summer and spoke with aides from congressmen that served on the House Subcommittee on Fisheries. They were trying to halt Magnusen-Stevens Act reauthorization due to many contentious amendments that needed to be stripped from the bill.

 The majority of the sablefish and cod incidental bycatch quotas were earned illegally. They were caught (directly) on separate tows than their rockfish, as stated by some trawl crewmen.

 The fixed-gear fleet was harmed when they were constrained to only catch 2 percent of the total allowable catch, plus, they were restricted to only deliver to three smaller processors.

 These processors were harmed because they can process only 5 percent of the TAC. Kodiak’s Global Seafoods lost nearly 2 million pounds of rockfish to process, $1 million in revenues and upward of 100 processing jobs.

 Where are the significant benefits to Kodiak?

 Through half-truths, the AGDB has once again played its game acting like a data bank, but in reality it is a major lobbying firm for GOA trawlers and fishery processors. –  Shawn C. Dochtermann, writing to the Kodiak Daily Mirror

Mid-Coast salmon fishermen bracing for the worst

Oregon's commercial salmon fisheries, scarcely recovered from a disastrous 2006 season, are bracing for the worst in 2008.

 Puny salmon runs last fall suggest the state's second commercial fishing crisis in three years is afoot. The small number of returning salmon could precipitate a complete or near-complete shutdown of commercial salmon fishing in Oregon.

 Commercial fishing advocates are taking action to buffer the damage.

 "If agency predictions are correct, we're facing the largest fishery closure in the U.S.," said Glen Spain, Northwest director for the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen's Associations, a trade association for commercial fishermen. "There's no doubt this will affect the entire Northwest."

 Commercial salmon fishermen in Oregon and California got $60.4 million in disaster relief in 2007 after reduced stocks halted commercial fishing in 2006.

 The money came too late for many fishing families, fishing advocates said. This time around they want a disaster declared as soon as the data warrants.

 The Pacific Fisheries Management Council will meet in California March 8 through March 14, and again in April to make sense of fall salmon data. The council makes recommendations to the secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, who has the final say regarding fishing rules.

 Shrimping, crabbing and fishing are an important economic force in Oregon's coastal communities, contributing $421 million to the economy in 2006. However, salmon fishing has declined as salmon stock has dwindled due to dams and other factors. It comprised 1.8 percent, or $7.6 million, of the state's fishing economy in 2006.

State officials have yet to sound the alarm.

 "Our staff are aware of issues associated with the fall run. ... They're talking about ocean conditions and global warming," said Richard Hargrave, information and education manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. "But it's too early to say anything about the spring run."

 California officials, however, are preparing for the worst.

 A February congressional letter addressed to Carlos Gutierrez, secretary for the U.S. Department of Commerce, asks that he "Prepare to quickly declare a fishery failure ... in the event the 2008 salmon season is like or worse than the 2006 season. That will give Congress the authority to seek emergency disaster funds for the affected communities that rely on the salmon season."

 The letter was signed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Rep. Mike Thompson, both Democrats from California.

 Disaster relief money would go to support the fishing industry's infrastructure -- to pay boat payments, maintenance costs and moorage fees -- while salmon fishing families collect no income. Fishery advocates say the disaster relief will buy time to restore damaged river systems.

 Early reports of salmon stocks in California, which feed the commercial fishing industry in Oregon, are not pretty.

 Data from the Pacific Fisheries Management Council suggest Chinook salmon returns in California for fall 2007 will be around 90,000 -- the smallest return in 17 years, and the second-smallest on record.

 Also discouraging for the future, the number of so-called "jacks" or 2-year-old Chinook, set a record low of 2,021, compared with a long-term average of 40,000, the Sacramento Bee reported Jan. 30. Jack counts are a strong predictor for spawning numbers in the next year.

 Experts suggest culprits from poor ocean conditions to degraded environmental health of the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta could be affecting Pacific salmon. Water in the Sacramento delta has been siphoned off in record sums for farming and urban consumption.

 Water quality has also declined and invasive species are competing for resources. A half-dozen other fish species in the delta are also dwindling, the Sacramento Bee reports.

Data about the spring 2008 run is not yet available for Oregon, but data from last spring shows declining runs.

 The Willamette River's 2007 spring Chinook run was down 33 percent compared with the 2006 return of 59,311 adult fish, according to a joint report published by the Washington and Oregon Departments of Fish and Wildlife in January. The species has been listed as threatened since 1999.

 The return of spring Chinook to the Clackamas River in 2007 was just 8,600, 57 percent of the recent five-year average of 15,000. Wild fish comprised about 15 percent of the Clackamas and Willamette runs. The remainder are hatchery-raised.

 "We need to figure out where the majority of the catch is and protect that area, while still allowing some salmon to be caught," said Darus Peake, owner of the Tillamook Bay Boathouse LLC, which houses a commercial crab fishing fleet and a commercial salmon troll fleet. "It's a juggling act."  -- Portland Business Journal

B.C. sport fishermen don't like halibut cuts

VICTORIA — Faced with declining stocks, the federal Fisheries Department will introduce restrictions this month on the West Coast's popular recreational halibut fishery, a move that could "massacre" the fishery and related businesses, a seasoned fisherman says.

 "This has huge ramifications, not just for the day-fishing charters, but cafés, guides, lodges," said Mike Hicks, who operates a lodge and charter fishing business in Port Renfrew. "These regulations will absolutely devastate little coastal communities like Port Renfrew, Ucluelet and Bamfield. It will be the end of recreational halibut fishing."

 The department is proposing to reduce the number of halibut that can be caught in a day to one from two, and to place a maximum weight limit of about 11 kilograms on caught halibut, a fish prized for its heft. The weight limit would be a first, Mr. Hicks said.

"I have guys phoning me in tears. A good Canadian should be able to go out on the weekend and catch two halibut."

 "It's our heritage," said Mr. Hicks, 57, who has guided West Coast anglers since 1966.

When charter clients head to deep waters for a day of halibut fishing at a cost of $1,000, they expect to land at least two fish. Few people would pay $1,000 to catch one fish, Mr. Hicks explained.

 And those with their own boats won't be smiling either.

 "They're addicted to halibut fishing just like some are addicted to golfing," Mr. Hicks said. "This is like a golfer golfing nine holes instead of 18."

 B.C.'s Sport Fishing Institute backs up Mr. Hicks's concerns.

 In a letter to Fisheries and Oceans Minister Loyola Hearn, the organization wrote that anglers travel long distances to land a halibut and allowing only a single halibut would discourage them entirely.

 The Seattle-based International Pacific Halibut Commission in January reduced Canada's share of the 2008 halibut catch to 4.08-million kilograms from 5.2-million kilograms in 2007.

 Canada's share has been decreasing since stocks began to decline in 2005.

 Canada's commercial halibut fishery gets 88 per cent of the annual total. The recreational fishery is allotted 12 per cent, which this year totals 492,000 kilograms, almost a 50-per-cent drop from 2007's allowable catch. The fish are caught in the North Pacific off the B.C. coast.

 The Fisheries Department has delayed the opening of recreational halibut fishing from its long standing Feb. 1 date to March 1.

 But the saving in terms of fish is negligible because few anglers venture out in February when storms are common, said Gary Logan, a Pacific region manager for the Fisheries Department.

 Mr. Hicks and the Sport Fishing Institute welcomed one change the department is considering: limiting access in a fertile halibut area 12 nautical miles off the Vancouver Island coast. -- The Globe and Mail, Canada

Washington Post examines Exxon Valdez case

 When a federal jury in Alaska in 1994 ordered Exxon to pay $5 billion to thousands of people who had their lives disrupted by the massive Exxon Valdez oil spill, an appeal of the nation's largest punitive damages award was inevitable.

 But almost no one could have predicted the incredible round of legal ping-pong that only this month lands at the Supreme Court.

 In the time span of the battle -- 14 years after the verdict, nearly two decades since the spill itself -- claimants' lawyers say there is a new statistic to add to the grim legacy of the disaster in Prince William Sound: Nearly 20 percent of the 33,000 fishermen, Native Alaskans, cannery workers and others who triumphed in court that day are dead.

 "That's the most upsetting thing, that more than 6,000 people have passed and this still isn't finished," said Mike Webber, a Native Alaskan artistic carver and former fisherman in the Prince William Sound community of Cordova. "Our sound is not healthy, and neither are the people. Everything is still on the surface, just as it was."

 "The bottom line,'' said Tim Joyce, the mayor of Cordova, where half of the town's 2,400 full-time residents are parties to the suit, "is that there is still oil on the beaches. And this lawsuit still isn't finished."

 The high court is scheduled to hear arguments on Wednesday on whether punishment is excessive or even permitted under maritime law. The case, Exxon Shipping v. Baker, may turn, in the eyes of the justices, on a nearly 200-year-old precedent set when privateer ships sailed the oceans, or on the more recent provisions of the Clean Water Act.

 But in Alaska, the lawsuit is seen as a test of justice and corporate responsibility, and its resolution is seen as critical to healing the scars left by an epic event that defines the state's modern history, Gov. Sarah Palin (R) said in an interview.

 "Every Alaskan life was affected by this," said Palin, elected in 2006. "When I got in here, that was one of the first orders of business: to find out how in the world can this administration speak on behalf of all Alaskans who have been so adversely affected by this spill."

 Exxon officials contend that such sentiments ignore the facts of the case and note that the company already has spent more than $3.4 billion in compensation for losses, cleanup and fines.

 "This case is about whether further punishment is warranted," Exxon spokesman Tony Cudmore said. "We've spent $3.5 billion, which is a significant sum of money we think is adequate to deter anyone" from future wrongdoing.

 But that figure no longer impresses Palin and others. When the jury awarded $5 billion in 1994, that represented a year of Exxon profits. An appeals court subsequently reduced the damages to $2.5 billion -- "about three weeks of Exxon's current net profits," the plaintiffs told the Supreme Court in their brief.

 "I'm a capitalist, I'm a conservative Republican, I am pro-development and pro-industry," said Palin, who is herself a former commercial fisherman once party to the suit. "But consider what Exxon has made in terms of profits in all these years. The American judicial system came down with this judgment, and they've appealed and they've appealed and they've appealed."

 The award has been reviewed three times by a district judge and twice by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, based in San Francisco, with more than four years elapsing between one appeal and a decision.

 "It's a scandal how long it's gone on," said David Lebedoff, a Minneapolis lawyer and author who wrote a book about the five-month trial that led to the punitive damages award. He blames the 9th Circuit for not moving faster. "It's absolutely inexcusable."

 The passage of time is a worry for claimants, and they have responded with public relations and legal tactics unusual for Supreme Court cases. A newly created Web site details the continuing environmental damage to Prince William Sound and a commercial fishing industry that has not fully recovered.

 News conferences and a vigil are planned before the arguments. The "ridicule pole" Webber carved from yellow cedar, depicting an Exxon executive with oil flowing from his mouth, is crated and on its way to Washington.

 Jeffrey L. Fisher, a Stanford law professor who will argue the case for plaintiffs, has sent the court a DVD containing photos and footage taken at the time of the spill, video of Exxon executives acknowledging fault and an audiotape of the distress call made by what plaintiffs claim to be a clearly drunk Capt. Joseph Hazelwood reporting that the Exxon Valdez had hit Bligh Reef.

 Fisher said it is important to remind the justices of the events of 19 years ago, and that the jury was punishing Exxon for "socially outrageous behavior."

 "One of the dangers for us is that outrage dissipates over time, and it is hard to get back to the place where the country was at that time," he said.

 Justices have extended the allotted time for oral arguments, and the briefs filed on both sides indicate that the events of the grounding might be explored yet again.

 Some things are not in dispute. The Exxon Valdez left port late on the evening of March 23, 1989, loaded with 53 million gallons of crude oil. It strayed out of the shipping lane to avoid ice. Hazelwood instructed the third mate on when to make the turn back into the lane, and then left the bridge of the ship, a violation of regulations. Just after midnight, the crewman ran the nearly 1,000-foot tanker aground on the reef, and 11 million gallons of oil oozed into Prince William Sound.

 The oil eventually spread more than 600 miles, an area plaintiffs contend would stretch from Cape Cod, Mass., to Cape Lookout, N.C.

 They also charge that Hazelwood, an alcoholic, was drunk. They argue that he consumed at least five double-vodkas in waterfront bars before boarding the ship. They say Exxon knew that Hazelwood, once treated for his disease, had resumed drinking.

 Courts have agreed. "Spilling the oil was an accident, but putting a relapsed alcoholic in charge of a supertanker was not," the appeals court ruled in upholding the punitive damages.

 Exxon's lawyer in the case, Walter Dellinger, told the court in his brief that it is "hotly disputed" whether Hazelwood was drunk at the time of the accident, and points out that Hazelwood was acquitted by a state court jury of operating a vessel under the influence.

 Whatever misdeeds were committed by Hazelwood, Dellinger argues, they were not the misdeeds of Exxon. "Imposing vicarious punitive liability on a ship owner, without requiring the jury to find that the ship owner directed, countenanced or participated in the conduct, was in conflict with almost 200 years of unbroken maritime law," the brief argues.

 The reference is to the court's 1818 decision in The Amiable Nancy, in which it held that a ship's owner could not be held responsible for the plundering of its crew when it was miles out at sea.

 Exxon also argues that the punishment for discharges of oil and other hazardous substances is governed by the Clean Water Act, and it does not provide for private punitive damages. Alternately, the company says punitive damages should not be allowed because of what Exxon already has paid, or they should at least be reduced.

 Not surprisingly, the claimants reject all of those arguments. Exxon itself stipulated that Hazelwood was a "managerial agent" of the company, they argue, and that the jury found that both Hazelwood and the company had acted recklessly. They contend that the Clean Water Act claim is baseless, and that the award is justified.

 Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. owns Exxon stock and has recused himself from the case. That leaves eight justices to hear it, and an even split would mean that the award stands.

Around Prince William Sound, residents wait for a final judgment on the $2.5 billion award, which plaintiff lawyers say now stands at about $4.8 billion because of the interest earned while the suit proceeds.

 "I guess it would mean I can relax a little," said Patience Anderson Faulkner, a subsistence Native Alaskan who became a "legal technician" to help people in Cordova with their claims. Her father and brother were claimants who have died.

 "It's painful for people to talk about this," said Jennifer Gibbons, executive director of the environmental group Prince William Soundkeeper, "but they want closure." – Washington Post

Tuesday, February 26, 2008 

Here’s what Canadians are reading

VANCOUVER -- American fishing boats with massive nets dredging the bottom of the Bering Sea for pollock accidentally caught 130,000 thousand prized Chinook salmon last year.

 About half of those salmon would have ended up in Canadian rivers. It came in the same year that fish escapement levels were hardly reached in the Yukon River, well known for its Chinook fishery.

 Canadian commercial fishermen weren't allowed to take any Chinook from the river and First Nations pulled just 5,000 fish for a food fishery.

 The record accidental catch, or bycatch, has alarmed fisheries experts, environmentalists, government officials and even pollock trawlers, who say a bycatch cap would devastate their fishery.

 DNA analysis shows about 20 per cent of the Chinook caught up in the football field-sized nets were bound for the Yukon River, which runs through both Alaska and Yukon Territory.

 Another 40 per cent of those salmon were destined for rivers in British Columbia and the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

 The U.S. North Pacific Fisheries Management Council is looking over several options to prevent such a massive bycatch again, but it will be two years before new rules are implemented.

 "And in the meantime nobody's watching the fish," Gerry Couture said in frustration.

Couture, a Canadian member of the Yukon Salmon Committee in the Yukon River Panel, said the process the save Chinook is moving with glacial speed.

 Chinook, also know as king, are the giants of the salmon world and can reach weights equal to an average seven-year-old child.

 They are the fish you often see in pictures where a beaming sport fisherman is using both hands to hold up his catch, after fighting to get the fish in the boat.

 Pollock are small, sedate and plentiful, and often used in fish sticks or fast-food fish sandwiches.

 The billion-dollar Bering Sea pollock fishery is the largest in the world. The bycatch issue has been a problem for years but never have so many Chinook been caught up in the nets as in 2007.

 Jon Warrenchuk, a marine scientists with the American marine advocacy group Oceana, said the failure to cut the bycatch is a failure in regulation. "Salmon is so important to many people up and down the Pacific Coast," he said from his office in Juneau, Alaska. "It's boggling to me that there's no ceiling limit."

 And while some First Nations aren't even allowed to catch their full Chinook quota for sustenance, pollock fishermen are either throwing away the bycatch or donating the fish to food banks because they aren't allowed to sell it.

 About 90 per cent of the 130,000 Chinook bycatch was picked up by trawlers, while the remainder was captured by all other fisheries in the Bering Sea.

 "I know the numbers look very bad," admitted Stephanie Madsen, executive director of At Sea Processors Association, which represents seven pollock-processing companies. She said the industry agrees the bycatch in 2007 was unacceptable but they're not sure how to avoid the salmon, which seem to be following the pollock or vice versa.

 Madsen said rolling closures haven't worked because they close one spot where the bycatch is high, only to find a high bycatch in the next place they throw their nets.

 "We're struggling right now to figure out how to stay out of their way," she said.

 Each of the four options going to the fishery management council are complicated, but break down into a hard-cap closure that would stop the fishery once a certain number of Chinook are caught, a trigger cap that would set off a time-area closure, fixed closures that stop the fishery at a certain time or keep the status quo.

 The Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans likes the idea of a solid cap and has informed the council it wants that cap set at 37,000 Chinook.

 The figure momentarily left Madsen speechless. She said such a cap on the industry would be devastating.

 "It would be a dramatic impact, dramatic," she repeated "If you made us live with that cap in two years without any new tools, I can't even fathom the impact."

 But the industry did live with a similar cap until 2002, and every year since the cap was lifted the bycatch has jumped.

 Madsen denied the pollock fishery needs to "strain more water" though its nets to catch more pollock, adding science shows the stock isn't in trouble.

 Frank Quinn, with the Department of Fisheries, agreed the industry has been trying to avoid the Chinook.

 "So it isn't as if there's been a blatant disregard," he said.

 While the bycatch doesn't seem to be harming endangered Chinook runs, Quinn said 130,000 salmon is still a drain on the resource.

 "We're seeing results in the river and that's the reason we're taking the steps that we are to have this addressed," he said.

 For Coutour -- who likens managing a salmon run to shovelling smoke with a pitchfork -- the bycatch is an issue that can be solved, unlike disease or warmer water. "It's another cup full, you might say, in the bucket of low returns."

 Warrenchuk agreed the problem must be addressed. "To really bring these salmon back you have to address all sources of mortality including pollock bycatch in the Bering Sea," he said. "That's something you can do something about very easily." – Canadian Press

To the editor: Don't let a bully grab the lower Columbia

We just returned from another liquefied natural gas hearing. A question and answer period was most informative. One answer given was "keep on attending meetings."

When the bully on the block steps in, and every agency in Oregon steps aside and lets him through, one wonders if the process is going to work?

Citizens of this community and Oregon are held to different standards and laws than "the bully." We can be stopped as a commercial fisherman for impacts on fish within 24 hours. This is a simple act and is done frequently.

However, "the bully" walks right on through. His impacts on fish and the environment seem to have no weight when there is a decision to be made on whether or not he is allowed to do business.

Oh yes, there is the promise of "billions of dollars."

How many billions of dollars will be spent on fish recovery and loss to the commercial and recreational fisheries as well as tourism, farming, etc.?

Don't let LNG sell us down the river. The whole state of Oregon depends on water for our survival. Don't let this horrible devastating industry into our river and our community.

Call Gov. Ted Kulongoski. He needs to take on "the bully." – Georgia Marincovich, writing to The Daily Astorian 

Canadian company likes 'closed-system' fish farming

Closed containers are the wave of the future when it comes to farming salmon, according to AgriMarine Industries.

 After successful tryouts in prototype closed containers, Campbell River-based AgriMarine will unveil its first full-size farm in May.

 CEO Richard Buchanan says the containers are made of a laminated fibreglass that's used for Arctic rescue vessels and high-end yachts.

 "It's stronger than steel but lighter than aluminum," he said.

 "We originally thought we'd use aluminum, but there were corrosion issues, and the fibreglass is actually lighter." The closed containers recirculate sea water once per hour, keeping the fish swimming against the man-made current and making for leaner flesh, Buchanan said.

 It takes about 14 months until the Chinook salmon are big enough to harvest. At that point, fish farmers sieve out the most mature fish for harvesting and leave smaller fry to fatten up before sending them to market.

 "It's a seine net, just like you'd have on the ocean," said Buchanan, an engineer who has 26 years' experience in the agriculture, aquaculture and fisheries industries.

 "We've got rollers [that] will take the largest fish, and the others go back in the containers, just like a big sieve." Traditional sea-based fish farms create giant piles of excrement. Sea-lice infestations not only damage farmed fish but can spread to wild salmon stocks.

 Buchanan claims that with closed containers the excrement will drop to the bottom of the containers, where it can be neutralized, composted and treated to minimize environmental effects before the water is recirculated into the ocean.

 According to a confidential information memorandum provided by the company, plans are afoot to test the full-size technology at Middle Bay near Campbell River, then export the technology worldwide.

 "With success from its Middle Bay Project, the company is planning to deploy the instalment of the systems and implementation of the business model worldwide," the document says.

 "The company is working with the Chinese government and has selected sites for its solid-wall containment systems in fresh-water and marine environments, for the production of economically and ecologically sustainable fresh fish in China." Fish farming has been controversial in Canada. Responding to public controversy, a moratorium on new fish farms was instituted in this province.

 AgriMarine clearly looks forward to a less-regulated environment in China.

 "In B.C., there are certain regulatory requirements pertaining to the siting of salmon farms," the company document says.

 "In comparison, there are fewer regulations on fish farming in China, and the government is encouraging environmentally sustainable technologies for rearing fin fish in clean mountain reservoirs.

 "The company's operations in China are expected to result in significantly lower costs as compared to its Middle Bay operations." Closed containers are considered to be one of the most palatable ways to increase fish farming without upsetting natural fish stocks and environmentalists. –  Vancouver Province

Stephanie Madsen files for House District 4

JUNEAU – Mendenhall Valley resident Stephanie Madsen – former chairman of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council – filed last Thursday to run as a Republican in the House District 4 race. She has lived in Alaska for 36 years and in Juneau for about 10 years.

 “Our economy is weak and growing weaker,” said Stephanie. “To make matters worse, we are under constant assault from capitol move proponents. We risk defeating ourselves by failing to come together. I am running because I love Juneau and I am convinced we must have meaningful change if we are going to survive as a viable community. I am a strong leader, and I will be a strong advocate for Juneau. We must do better!”

 Stephanie is a 53-year-old mother of two JDHS graduates. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the At-sea Processors Association and is a member of the board of directors for the Resource Development Council. She formerly served as the Chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the first woman to chair the fishery management council in Alaska. She will bring this valuable experience to the legislature and will build upon the many strong relationships she already has with legislators on both sides of the aisle.

 Stephanie has a tremendous breadth of knowledge on issues critical to Juneau’s economy, including fisheries, tourism and resource development. Her late husband, Tom Madsen, started his flying career here with Southeast Skyways in the early ‘70s. In the decades since, she has seen a steady decline in the strength and diversity of Juneau’s economy. In fact, all of Southeast has suffered. She believes that a healthy community has at its core a strong economy.

 “Juneau is at a crossroads. We can be increasingly isolated or we can join the rest of the Alaska. This year’s capitol move bills are a message to us and one we must hear. We need to build coalitions with the rest of the Alaska. We need to build our economy. We need to build a viable community for our children.”

 Stephanie has lived in other coastal communities such as Cordova, Kodiak and Unalaska which, like Juneau, depend heavily on air and water access, are fishery or resource dependent but seek to develop a diversified, stable economy that supports the desired quality of life.

 Known for taking decisive action when needed and for outstanding leadership skills, Stephanie’s ability to get things done under difficult circumstances is well established. Her passion for Juneau and her “get it done” attitude sets her apart as a leader who can move Juneau forward. – Press release

Alaska Fish Board asks for ideas

Whether you walked away from the recent Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting disappointed or with a new idea about an old problem, you can take action by submitting a proposal.

 The Alaska Board of Fisheries asks that anyone wanting to change existing fishing regulations submit the proposed change by 5 p.m., April 10.

 According to the board’s Web site, the board is accepting proposals to change the subsistence, personal use, sport, guided sport, commercial finfish and groundfish regulations for the Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat management areas.

 They are also accepting proposals to “set apart fish reserve areas, refuges and sanctuaries in the waters over which the board has jurisdiction.”

 According to the Web site, “the Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to all Dungeness, crab, shrimp and miscellaneous shellfish fisheries statewide (including all regional fisheries and statewide regulations).”

 They will accept proposals on changes to the king and Tanner crab regulations for the southeast Alaska and Yakutat management areas only.

 “Proposals that are likely to have substantial economic, social or biological impact or require significant changes to the management of a fishery may be determined by the board to be a restructuring proposal,” the statement on the Web site reads. “Because the board will seek additional information on restructuring proposals, authors of proposals that are likely to be determined restructuring proposals are asked to submit a completed restructuring proposal form.”

 Some things the board may consider are consolidations of fishing efforts, a change in who harvests the fish, changes in fishing methods or in allocations of quotas.

 You can download a proposal form at -- Kodiak Daily Mirror

Wednesday, February 27, 2008 

Pebble Mine boosters inflate the promises

Southwest Alaska's gigantic and controversial Pebble copper and gold prospect keeps growing.

 The value of the minerals discovered so far at Pebble is between $345 billion and $500 billion, based on current metal prices, according to 2007 drill results announced on Monday.

 Last year's drilling at the deposit, north of Iliamna, added billions of pounds of copper and millions of ounces of gold -- an increase valued at $11 billion to $35.4 billion.

 The results indicate that Pebble remains likely the second largest copper-gold deposit of its kind in the world, dwarfed only by the Grasberg mine in Indonesia.

 "It looks like some really nice numbers but the real key is whether it's economic (to develop) or not," said Steve Borell, executive director of the Alaska Miners Association.

 The companies exploring Pebble agree their project is huge, but converting the minerals into dollars at this point is somewhat misleading.

 "It's highly unlikely that we'll seek to develop the entirety of the (deposit)," said Sean Magee, spokesman for the Pebble Partnership, the joint venture exploring Pebble. The partnership includes one of the world's largest mining companies, London-based Anglo American, and the junior mining company, Vancouver, British Columbia-based Northern Dynasty Minerals Ltd.

 The size of a possible Pebble mine could be curtailed by economics and by feedback from Bristol Bay communities, Magee said.

 Developing Pebble is controversial in the region because of the prospect's location in the headwaters of two of the five major river drainages that supply Bristol Bay's world-class salmon runs, which support subsistence, commercial and sport fisheries.

 Monday's new estimate doesn't take into account the cost of building and operating a mine, or future changes in the price of copper or gold, Magee said.

 Building Pebble could cost up to $5 billion and annual operations could cost hundreds of millions, he said.

 The new drilling results show copper is still the dominant metal -- in volume and potential value -- but gold and molybdenum are also major resources.

 The updated estimate shows:

• 51.7 billion to 73.7 billion pounds of copper, worth up to $280 billion.

• 66.1 million to 87 million ounces of gold, worth up to $82 billion.

• 2.6 billion to 4.2 billion pounds of molybdenum, worth up to $139 billion.

 The reason for the range in the volume of metal is the use of different "cut-off values," which set different criteria for the grades at which copper and gold would be mined.

 Mining experts said Monday that they prefer using more conservative "cut-off" values, which correspond to richer grades.

 "If the price of metals went down, you could still mine it," said David Szumigala, a geologist with the state Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys.

 Last year's drilling at Pebble helped develop more confidence for the exploring companies about the amount of metal in the deposit. Drilling planned this year will define it even better, Magee said

 The mining companies will use the drilling results to prepare a pre-feasibility study, an internal document that they will consult when deciding whether to propose building a mine to their boards, he said.

 Anglo American will decide whether to invest more money in Pebble based on the outcome of the study, Magee said.

 If the companies decide to pursue a mine, they would likely apply for permits in 2009, and could start producing metal in 2015, according to Northern Dynasty officials.

 But a broad coalition of groups opposed to developing Pebble are trying to block the project. One of their tools is an ballot initiative, planned for the statewide election this year, that would ban large metallic mines from discharging many pollutants into salmon streams or drinking water sources. – Anchorage Daily News

Queen Charlottes want net pens relocated

A group of Queen Charlottes businesses people and First Nations representatives has met with the B.C. Minister of Agriculture and Lands, Pat Bell, to demand that the province move fish farms away from wild salmon migration routes.

 The group said it was acting on the evidence gathered by recent studies confirming that salmon farms are producing sea lice concentrations that are devastating to migrating juvenile salmon, and they informed Minister Bell that they are prepared to move the smolts themselves if need be.

 "Wilderness Tourism pours $1.6 billion dollars into the B.C. economy annually," said delegation member Brian Gunn of the Wilderness Tourism Association.

 "We believe the B.C. Government is being reckless, risking B.C.'s wild salmon populations and B.C.'s lucrative $1.6 billion-dollar tourism industry. The B.C. tourism industry relies on healthy wild salmon populations to sustain their businesses, whether they are fishing lodges or wildlife viewing operations."

 Broughton-area fishing lodge owner Chris Bennet was one of the first people to notice the sea louse epidemic in the area. He told Minister Bell of the serious decline in salmon populations and the years that he and other stakeholders have been waiting for the situation to improve. Bob Chamberlin, elected chief of Broughton kwicksutaineuk ah-kwa-mish, also told Bell the importance of a sea lice solution.

 "My people need wild salmon to survive. Our fates are intertwined," he said. "We consider tourism an industry with important promise for our economy. What do we think will be left if the wild salmon are killed and disappear? Nothing that people will want to see."

 Salmon researcher Alexandra Morton has studied fish farms for years, and points out that there are 22 fish farm leases that have expired in the Broughton Archipelago area that are up for renewal. She said many of the companies are applying to the B.C. government to increase their farm sizes, which her research confirms will create more lice and fewer wild salmon.

 "We know removing fish farms can save young wild salmon. To date, the only thing that has worked to reduced lice and help wild salmon numbers rebound is when the province ordered the Fife-Tribune migration route cleared of fish farms," she said.

 "The province must take similar action now. We need fewer farms, not bigger farms," said Morton.

 Members of the Broughton community are also preparing to take "run-specific actions," and have already applied to Fisheries and Oceans Canada for permits that would allow them to capture wild salmon fry from the Ahta River and move them beyond the last fish farm. The delegation has also launched a campaign at, asking people to donate $20 and adopt a salmon fry to fund the relocation effort.

 "The time for talk is over, it is time to bring action to this situation," said Morton. "The science is done, we have seen the impacts first-hand. We must not be sidetracked by the Pacific Salmon Forum. A wild salmon cannot compromise or negotiate, they can only live or die. We have just come from asking the minister for assistance. We hope he is with us to help protect the B.C. wild salmon." – Prince Rupert Daily News

Alaskan's salmon going to the dogs -- literally

Brett Gibson’s salmon is going to the dogs — in neat little bite-sized treats. The Arctic Paws owner, and pups across the country, couldn’t be happier.

 This year, Gibson hopes to purchase up to 1.5 million pounds of wild Alaska salmon for production of his high-protein Yummy Chummies canine treats, now selling at supermarkets and pet stores in a growing number of stores throughout North America.

 The bright red packages of Yummy Chummies, in original salmon plus bacon and chicken flavors, are being snapped up by shoppers in Krogers, Albertsons, King Soopers, Petco, Winn Dixie, Costco and other stores. And the list keeps on growing.

 While pet lovers can purchase the product online at, Gibson said his goal is to make it possible for consumers to purchase them without having to order them from Alaska.

 “As we roll out expanded distribution, we will tell folks buying on the Internet where to buy locally,” he said. The product, for which roe-stripped salmon is the main ingredient, is appealing because it is nutritional and palatable, he said.

 Gibson, an attorney turned pet food producer, made his first small batch of Yummy Chummies in his garage in 1997, with a pet dog as the official taster.

 “When I decided to do this, I had to get a supply of fish. I found a place I could get some salmon, and the first year packed out 800 pounds of salmon from Prince William Sound,” he said.

 The salmon that goes into this product is good enough to serve for dinner if one was so inclined, although it is not the salmon that Alaska or industry officials want on dinner tables in the United States or Canada. It doesn’t present visually as a premium product, he said.

 “They are good fish, but not ocean brights,” he said. “They have food quality, but as far as presentation of a premium product, Alaska does not want the fish I take off the market on dinner tables.”

 Gibson was sport fishing on the Russian River on the Kenai Peninsula in the late 1990s, feeding scraps from his sockeye catch to his dog Keela when the idea for creating a pet food product from salmon scraps was spawned.

 At the time, the commercial salmon industry was depressed, and there was a story on television about fish that couldn’t be caught for the roe because there was no value in the fish itself. To avoid violating wanton waste laws, harvesters who were roe-stripping the valuable eggs had to find a market for the fish itself.

 “I thought, ‘I wonder if we could make some sort of product out of fish for a dog,’ ” Gibson said. “That was the moment that it all kind of launched. I started my research and development so I could proceed with making a product.”

 That led to a trip to a dog food plant in Ohio, a rendering facility, and trips to feed and trade shows for a better look into research and development of fish byproducts. Gibson studied food sciences information too, then proceeded to his garage to produce the first of what would become known commercially as Yummy Chummies.

 Having perfected the product itself, along with eye-catching packaging, Gibson continues to wrestle with the challenges of expanding the retail markets for Yummy Chummies and keeping supply, warehousing and shipping costs under control.

 Gibson used his first dollar-for-dollar matched grant from the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board to position Arctic Paws to get into large markets. By the second year of effort, his product was on the shelves of several major retailers.

 “Now I’m sitting here wondering where to get $500,000 to $1 million to capitalize on those efforts,” Gibson said. “The logistics costs and issues we face being a manufacturer in Alaska are almost insurmountable. We are always looking for new efficiencies to offset those costs inherent in being an Alaska manufacturer, so we don’t have to move to Washington state.”

 Gibson calculates that the cost of production in Alaska, where he lives with his wife and three children, is 25 to 30 percent higher than in Washington state. Warehouse space, for example, runs 35 to 60 cents a square foot in Washington, compared to 95 cents to $1.25 a square foot in the Anchorage area, he said.

 This is an area where state officials can play a role, helping Alaska-based manufacturers deal with these problems and leveling the field, he said.

 “For years I have heard we need more manufacturing, more value added,” he said. “But you show me any ongoing long-term program to offset that higher cost of production.”

 The bulk of existing programs that could aid Alaska-based manufacturers are geared to rural development. While Gibson supports such efforts, he can’t participate in them, which is why he finds the grant program available through the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board so helpful.

 “You are seeing a transformation of the (fisheries) industry as a whole: Higher value, better product,” he said. “It applies to me because when that happens, you have a lot of waste and byproduct that can be used by us.”

 Gibson points to a range of firms producing a growing number of value-added seafood products, including Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and Copper River Seafoods, as well as such companies as Taco Loco.

 Copper River Seafoods now has plans to process year-round, and marketing dollars flowed out of the Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board and into the Alaska-based manufacturers, he said.

 “Those funds, and we have Sen. Ted Stevens to thank for it, saved our industry,” he said. “Stevens was the catalyst; those funds were the starting point of the recovery of our industry. Without those funds it would have taken a lot longer to get where we are at. – Alaska Daily News

California sued over logging and coho

SAN FRANCISCO—A coalition of environmental groups sued the state Department of Fish and Game and accused the agency of failing to protect endangered coho salmon by delegating decisions over the effects of logging to a forestry agency.

 The Sierra Club, California Trout, and Environmental Protection Information Center say the agency should be reviewing whether timber-related activities are harming the coho.

 The suit was filed in San Francisco Superior Court.

 The coho is listed as either threatened or endangered from the Oregon border to Monterey County, depending on how the fish is doing in various river segments.

Opinion: We need fishermen protected areas

Many people know that the state established 29 marine protected areas near our Central Coast. MPAs are areas where some or all types of fishing are banned. There will be more than 100 MPAs within state waters when the state's MPA process concludes.

 What people may not realize is how precautionary fishing rules have become. Quotas and catch limits have been severely reduced and seasons drastically shortened. Prime fishing grounds have been made into long-lasting and very large MPAs by fishery managers in state and federal waters.

 In fact, about 64 percent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary has been designated as fishing-restricted MPA, and there is a ban on bottom trawling.

 There are so many restrictions that we can barely fish, and there aren't many of us left. We are small-business people and sport fishermen, fishing with family-owned vessels. There are no "factory fishing ships" operating here.

 The Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary is now considering whether there is a need for even more MPAs along the Central Coast. Of course, many readers will wonder why the sanctuary is potentially regulating fishing. We well remember the clear promise made to fishermen that the new sanctuary would not create fishing regulations.

 Due to many environmental, regulatory and economic factors, commercial fishery landings for Monterey are down by more than 90 percent compared with 10 years ago.

 The public is probably unaware that in 1986 there were about 20,000 commercial fishing licenses in California. In 2006, that number is about 3,000. Fishing activities have been greatly reduced, including charter and recreational fishing. This severely reduces the community's ability to provide fresh seafood. Fresh seafood provides needed tourism jobs. People come here to experience our fishing heritage and to eat local seafood. This is now at risk.

 Over-fishing is no longer occurring along the Central Coast. Headlines you see about a crisis due to fishing in the ocean may be true in other places, but not here. The rockfish populations that were deemed to be over-fished seven years ago are on the rebound. This is not just our opinion; this is the expert opinion of scientists at the National Marine Fisheries Service.

 A scientific assessment of the protection issue has been sponsored by our organization. It is available at our Web site,, under "Reports." This assessment looks at many questions regarding the health of our ecosystem and existing protections, and even models the likely outcome of adding additional MPAs within the sanctuary.

 The conclusion is that the ecosystem is providing its natural services, is not threatened by current or likely future fishing activities, and that no additional MPAs are needed for the sanctuary to realize its conservation goals.

 We hope that the public will look at the online report titled "Scientific Analysis of the need, if any, for additional MPAs within the Sanctuary." We expect this analysis will be confirmed by external peer review.

 The fish have been protected; now your fishermen need to be protected. – Opinion in the Monterey County Herald by Frank Emerson, co-chairman of the Alliance for Communities for Sustainable Fisheries, and alliance member Mike Ricketts.

Thursday, February 28, 2008 

Exxon Valdez disaster

It’s a long read, folks, but good

CORDOVA, ALASKA -- By way of telling his story, and the story of this fishing village, Mike Maxwell -- born, raised and hoping to die here -- wants to talk about what happened to the herring.

They were the little kings of the sea in these parts. They ran so thick in Prince William Sound that some days, it was said, you could walk on the water stepping on their silvery-blue backs. When the Exxon Valdez spilled its oil in March 1989, the world saw images of blackened seabirds and otters and seals, of bloated whale carcasses and once-pristine beaches covered with crude. Hardly anything was said about the herring.

No one at the time understood the fish's central place in the ecosystem, nor did anyone know the herring's demise would lead to years of hardship for the people here.

"It's scary what we didn't know," says Maxwell, 47, a scruffy, balding, big-boned man with a small voice.

The herring disappeared four years after the spill -- long after intense public scrutiny had faded and the story line had devolved into squabbling between lawyers.

Exxon claimed the region recovered quickly. Government scientists, however, said oil remained and was still working its way through the ecosystem in a process that would last decades. At the back of a local tavern, hand-scrawled graffiti expresses a common sentiment here: "Oil spills are forever."

In December, nearly 19 years after the spill, scientists published the most definitive study of its kind linking Exxon oil with the collapse of the herring population. Oil killed adult herring, but more significantly, it damaged eggs and larvae.

Surviving fish developed lesions in their livers. Larvae hatched prematurely and never grew to their full 8 or 9 inches. They showed depressed immune systems, which made them susceptible to disease.

The population, which used to be scooped up by the millions of tons, never recovered and, from indications, may never return.

Countless species, including salmon, depended on the little fish as a food source, said Richard Thorne, a fisheries scientist and coauthor of the study. And Cordova fishermen, like Maxwell, made a living on herring. He fished in the summer and mended nets in the winter.

When the herring vanished in 1993, Maxwell lost the only life he knew how to live. His boat and equipment became worthless. His commercial fishing permit, valued at $300,000 before the spill, amounted to a scrap of paper. Maxwell went into debt and eventually filed for bankruptcy. He withdrew from friends and family. He sank into a deep depression. His life fell apart, and he -- like the herring -- has not recovered.

Except for a small circle of scientists and local taverns of forlorn seamen, few know the fate of the Prince William Sound herring and the fishermen whose story runs parallel. They were collateral damage, a faint ripple long after the fact.

"For the rest of the country, Exxon happened a long time ago," Maxwell says, a plaintive crack in his voice. "For me, for the people I grew up with, the oil is still spilling. We're still waiting for the end."

Cordova, population 2,300, is full of Maxwells -- people living in the long-running wake of a catastrophe. People waiting for resolution.

The legal saga, a bitter back-and-forth spanning 18 years, could finally end this year, after the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether Exxon -- now Exxon Mobil -- should pay $2.5 billion in punitive damages to 32,600 fishermen, cannery workers and Alaskan natives affected by the spill. A ruling is expected this summer.

The verdict is of monumental importance here. It will be history's judgment. And townspeople could use the money.

Cordova, the sound's biggest fishing village, has been called the prettiest dying town most Americans will never see. Glacier-carved peaks loom over what looks by comparison a toy-sized main street, and beyond, a harbor of crayon-colored boats. Only there aren't many boats left.

After the spill, the fishing fleet shrunk by half, three of the town's five canneries went bankrupt, countless fishermen and cannery workers left, a former mayor -- distraught over the town's bad fortune -- committed suicide, and lifers like Maxwell came to haunting the streets and docks like lost souls.

"That's my boat there," Maxwell says. He's leaning out the driver's window of his jalopy pickup. It is a frigid winter afternoon, overcast and darkening by the minute. Cordova gets as little as five hours of sunlight in the cold months. Maxwell's words blow out in white gusts. Between odd jobs, he drives by his boat, a 28-foot bow picker, almost every day on his way to somewhere. It sits on blocks in a ragged lot next to an empty building. He paid almost $60,000 for it in 1989. Now he couldn't give it away.

The town is a graveyard of old boats, dry-docked in junkyards and backyards, as if the tide receded and never came back. Some sit by themselves, many are thrown together, listing every which way. If the plaintiffs win, Maxwell's share wouldn't amount to a fortune. The average payout would be about $76,500 -- just enough, Maxwell figures, to fix up his boat.

"It's not like Exxon can't afford it," he says, driving off. "It's only the richest corporation in the world."

Much of Cordova turned speechless earlier this month when Exxon Mobil announced the highest profits ever recorded by any company in a single year: $40.6 billion in 2007.

"Who's being punished?" Maxwell says, his voice rising as he navigates potholes in the road. "It's not Exxon. It's us."

The executives who spoke on behalf of Exxon just after the Valdez gushed its North Slope crude, 11 million gallons over 1,300 miles of coastline, have retired or moved on, but their words -- "The corporation deeply regrets the accident . . . " -- are repeated verbatim by today's company officials.

Spokesman Tony Cudmore, in an e-mail, said Exxon Mobil had already paid $3.5 billion in cleanup and fines, including compensatory damages to plaintiffs within a year of the spill. Cudmore cited Exxon-financed scientists who had repeatedly given Prince William Sound a clean bill of health. These scientists declared the sound "essentially recovered" within a few years of the accident.

One Exxon attorney, at the start of the civil suit, made the argument that crude oil didn't even qualify as a pollutant, the suggestion being that no permanent harm was done. The idea permeates much of the language of Exxon's defenders.

"The environment in Prince William Sound is healthy, robust and thriving," Cudmore said. The company's view is that it has already paid an enormous price, and "further punishment is unwarranted."

Exxon did compensate victims for actual damages just after the spill, but -- and here is the core of Cordova's complaint -- it wasn't until years later that the herring and pink salmon fisheries collapsed about the same time, setting off the town's decline. "Shouldn't Exxon be punished not just for spilling oil but for ruining lives?" says Kory Blake, 48.

A lifelong Cordovan, Blake grew up with Maxwell, fished the same waters and suffered the same fate. At his lowest point, he contemplated taking his own life, and got as far as pointing a gun to his head before deciding, at the last second, he'd rather fight than die. Blake became a plaintiff in the case.

Maxwell parks his truck in front of a bronze statue across from the Alaska Commercial general store. The statue is of a wind-swept fisherman looking out at the sound. A wood railing, with a wide, flat top, runs along the front of the statue.

Maxwell grabs an ice-scraper and ambles toward it. He has bad hips and wobbles when he walks.

"I want you to meet some people," he says. He begins scraping the top of the railing. Under the snow lie bronze plaques embedded in the wood. Every few swipes of the scraper reveal another plaque, and each reads like a gravestone. Bob McMaster, 1997. Michael Roberts, 1998. Christopher Lee Fulton, 1998. Dan Lowell, 1999. William A. Merritt, 2004. Howard Johnson, 2005. The plaques are in no particular order.

All were fishermen or somehow connected to fishing. They died from accidents and diseases and old age, from all the things that people die from. They all lived in Cordova, and they were all profoundly affected by the spill. Each was a plaintiff.

An estimated 6,000 plaintiffs have died since an Anchorage jury in 1994 awarded punitive damages of $5 billion, later reduced by an appellate court to $2.5 billion. The deceased remain claimants. Exxon has appealed at every stage.

"They died waiting," says Maxwell, who finally lets the scraper fall to his side. His chest heaves from the effort. He gestures to the railing. "There's a bunch more names," he says, catching his breath. "I'm getting tired!"

Maxwell returns to his truck and putters to a warehouse down the street. It is a big wooden building filled with fishing equipment. Nets hang from the walls. Big bearded men stand around and talk. Maxwell grew up with these guys.

In one of the large rooms, a couple of men stand next to a suspended salmon seine net, tying knots along its edge. Their hands move slowly, delicately. This is what Cordova fishermen do in the off-season: make and mend nets. There's been more work lately as pink salmon have slowly recovered. The market still pays only a fraction of what it used to for Prince William Sound salmon -- from a high of more than $1 a pound pre-spill to a low of 6 cents a pound after the spill.

When the local fisheries collapsed, buyers went elsewhere for fish and many never returned. The stigma of oiled fish and competition from foreign and farmed-fish operations contributed to the price drop. A popular hangout for years, the warehouse was a natural place for fishermen to vent. These walls absorbed untold curses. But now the men just seem worn out.

Everyone here is a plaintiff in the Exxon case. Each has a story with a different twist, and yet every story has the same narrative arch. They were all born into fishing. Now who were they?

"If Exxon gets away with it, it's time for civil war," says Mark King, 53, a cup of coffee clasped in his hand.

The men in the room nod.

"Is Cordova dying?" someone asks.

"Are the herring dead?" a voice answers. "Hell, yes."

"This town isn't dead yet," says James Aguiar, 47, the biggest, hairiest, burliest man in the place. The room falls silent. "It's moving sideways. It's part of the living dead."

Later that day, one of the locals, Mike Webber, walks over to the town museum, the Ilanka Cultural Center, which is just down the road. Every place here is just down the road.

Webber, 47, is a full Alaska native, part Alutiiq, part Tlingit. His family had done nothing but fish, according to oral history, since the beginning of time. Webber no longer fishes. After the fish disappeared, "the spirits," he says, moved him in a different direction. Now he carves. One of his pieces stands in the main room of the museum, a cedar totem pole dedicated to Exxon Mobil. It is a "shame pole," a type of totem once used by natives to bring shame to people who've committed dishonorable acts.

"The whole story's there," Webber says, looking up at his creation. He made it, he says later, because it was better than crying.

The Exxon pole is done in a modern style, like an impressionist painting, with bright colors and abstract images. At the top is an upside-down face of a man who symbolizes Exxon. A black river flows from his open mouth down to the rest of the pole. Below: the outline of two little fish without flesh. They are herring, the life of the sound turned skeletal.

Before 1989, few people, even in Cordova, would have called herring pretty. They were useful, abundant. No one knew those skinny little bodies held together such a complicated web.

If the herring ever come back, townspeople like Maxwell and Webber -- and the guys at the warehouse -- might start believing the spill is finally over. The signs aren't good, but even scientists can't know for sure. Otters have rebounded; bald eagles and murres too. Among the optimistic here, the flickering hope is that the natural forces of Prince William Sound will do, over time, what corporations and lawyers and governments can't.

Says Webber: "I just hope to live long enough to see it." – Los Angeles Times

Friday, February 29, 2008 

Pacific Glacier set to return to Seattle

The Pacific Glacier, the Seattle-based fishing vessel that caught fire Tuesday evening north of the Aleutians, could return to Seattle by next week for repairs, its owner said.

 No one was injured in the blaze, which started around 7:30 p.m. and appeared to be confined to the ship's laundry room. It forced the evacuation of about 90 crew members, said John Bundy, president of Seattle-based Glacier Fish Co.

 The fire caused an unknown amount of damage, as well as smoke, hot spots inside walls and steam. "I have to say after 25 years, this is the worst thing that has happened to us," Bundy said. "... Thankfully, the seas were pretty calm."

 The Northern Glacier, which the Seattle company also owns, and the Island Enterprise helped evacuate the crew, who were plucked from emergency rafts. A total of 106 people were on the Pacific Glacier when the fire started.

 Its fire team and officers remained on board to battle the blaze, which was put out by 9 a.m. Wednesday.

 The Coast Guard dispatched the cutter Alex Haley, a C-130 plane and two helicopters to the scene, about 140 miles northeast of Dutch Harbor.

 Lt. Mike Glinski, a Juneau-based Coast Guard spokesman, said the vessel's crew alerted officials quickly after the fire started. "They did all the right things," he said.

 Glacier Fish Co. hopes to have the 276-foot vessel back in operation for the June-to-October fishing season. – Post-Intelligencer, Seattle

Just when you thought the hype had peaked

Battle 40-foot waves, storms, ice and a nearly 100-percent crewmember injury rate in the dangerous hunt for undersea riches on the Bering Sea with the new video game

 "Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm," to be launched on the Xbox 360

video game and entertainment system from Microsoft and PC in April 2008. The game was inspired by Sig, Edgar and Norman Hansen -- three brothers who have made their living crab fishing on the Bering Sea aboard their family's fishing vessel, the Northwestern. The Hansen brothers started game development with Liquid Dragon Studios in October 2005.

 The Hansens and the Northwestern are featured on Discovery Channel's highest rated and Emmy -- nominated series -- "Deadliest Catch." The series that captivated nearly three million viewers each week returns for a fourth season this April.

 Whether the gamer is a die-hard fan or someone who has never seen the Discovery Channel series, "Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm" is an immersive and challenging experience, putting them at the helm of one the world's most dangerous jobs -- that of a crab boat captain in the icy Bering Sea.

 "Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm" lets gamers captain their own boat in the frenzied search for an undersea jackpot. Gamers select one of five real crab boats, including the Northwestern, Cornelia Marie and Sea Star -- all featured on the series, or create and customize their own boat. – Press release

Enviro says marine protected area will help fishermen

Sometimes what lies beneath the surface is what least you would expect. I had been fishing and surfing off Cape Perpetua for years, and besides the fish I caught there, had no clue what it actually looked like underwater.

 Then in 2004, I went out on a research cruise as an assistant to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, looking at underwater video footage from remotely operated vehicles. I didn’t see the sandy bottom that I was expecting, or the dark expansive water and rolling waves that revealed themselves at the surface.

 To my surprise, I saw an amazingly diverse and complex underwater ecosystem of rocky reefs, rich with such marine life as rockfish, anemones and crabs.

 Unfortunately, many Oregonians don’t know what lies beneath the surface. Even lifelong coastal residents, avid sport fishermen and surfers like me haven’t seen the diverse, amazing underwater habitat that is unique to Oregon.

 That may be why protecting these underwater ecosystems is so difficult. On land, people can see when an area is so beautiful it ought to be preserved for future generations. Often it’s right next to where we live. But underwater, it’s a different story.

 As a sport fisherman, surfer and diver, I feel a unique connection to the ocean. But I also know what an impact we can have on our marine environment. Once, when I was fishing in Alaska, I noticed that I was catching a lot of really small rockfish. I found out that this spot was popular with the party boats that hit that area pretty hard repeatedly, resulting in a reduction in the number of big fish in the area.

 I’ve learned that when fish are caught so quickly that they don’t have time to mature and reproduce, a decline of that species can result. And keeping some big fish alive is important, because they are able to carry more eggs, and are thus very fertile. They’re the workhorses of the ocean.

 Now, Gov. Ted Kulongoski is introducing — and the state’s Ocean Policy Advisory Council is discussing — the idea of a network of marine reserves in Oregon’s state waters. I, for one, support this idea as a sport fisherman, surfer, diver and lifelong coastal resident.

 In other states and countries that have marine reserves, fishermen do what’s called “fishing the line.” When fishermen catch record-breaking trophy fish right outside the marine reserve near Merritt Island in Florida, they know it’s no coincidence. In New Zealand, crayfishermen set up lobster traps right outside the reserves, because lobsters are 15 times more abundant inside the reserves than outside. Cashing in on healthy populations has turned the reserves’ biggest skeptics into their staunchest defenders.

 I live in a community where fishermen are struggling to stay afloat. We have no ice machine, we have no buyer, and the ends of our jetty are rapidly eroding. So a lot of fishermen are fishing out of Newport or Charleston. We could use a boost — not just for the fishermen who live here, but for the rest of the residents who rely on a healthy ocean to bring in business.

 Right now in Oregon, commercial fishing contributes 3.6 percent to our state’s economy, according to figures by the Oregon Coast Zone Management Association. With a healthy, productive marine ecosystem at work through a meaningful network of marine reserves, we could make that percentage even larger.

 When I fish, and go home to cook and eat the halibut, salmon, rockfish or tuna I’ve caught, I take pride in the fact that I’m doing what people on the coast have done for many years. It’s part of a healthy lifestyle. That’s why we need to protect our ability to do that into the future. I am convinced that marine reserves are an important tool in getting us to a more sustainable future.

 The goal shouldn’t be to provide just enough protection to prevent collapse and decline. The goal should be to build a healthy marine ecosystem that gives future generations of fishermen, surfers, divers and business owners the stability to pass on the legacy of Oregon’s rich ocean.

 Until we look beneath the surface and realize what we have that’s worth protecting, that future is uncertain. I encourage everyone to learn more about Oregon’s underwater ecosystem, understand the science of marine reserves, and get involved in nominating scientifically worthy sites off the coast of Oregon.— Gus Gates of Florence, who works as the South Coast field organizer with Our Ocean, writing in the Eugene Register-Guard

Five pirate fishing vessels sold by Canadians

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has reported that action has been taken against six Chinese fishing vessels that were busted for using illegal high seas driftnets last year.

 In September 2007, six Chinese vessels were sighted using high seas driftnets in the North Pacific Ocean by aerial patrols conducted by Canadian fishery officers and their U.S. counterparts from the National Marine Fisheries Service as part of 'Operation Driftnet'. After Canadian and U.S. fishery officers reported the violations to the U.S. Coast Guard, all six vessels were apprehended. As a result, China confiscated each vessel and five of the six have since been sold.

 The owners of the vessels had their international fishing licenses cancelled and were fined at least $7,000 each. License cancellations apply to a vessel owner's entire fleet, which can be quite a substantial penalty. One vessel owner did not have an international license and his fine was doubled to $14,000, and the captains of all the vessels were also punished with license suspensions.

 Operation Driftnet is a program between DFO and the Department of National Defence, which uses Canada's Air Force CP-140 Aurora aircraft to scan more than four million square kilometers beyond Canada's 200-mile limit.

 During the patrols, Canadian and U.S. fishery officers identify and record evidence of vessels using high seas driftnets, which are illegal in the North Pacific Ocean because they are highly destructive to Pacific salmon, tuna, marine mammals and seabirds.

 When vessels are sighted using this gear or engaging in other illegal fishing activity, they are reported to the U.S. Coast Guard or other cooperating agencies, including the Russian Federal Border Service, the Japanese Fisheries Agency, the Fisheries Agency of South Korea, and the Chinese Ministry of Public Security. This international cooperation is made possibly through the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission and the North Pacific Heads of Coast Guard Forum.

 "Operation Driftnet patrols play a key role in shutting down destructive illegal fishing activities on the high seas in the North Pacific," said Minister Hearn.

 "Canadians can be proud of our contribution to this important multinational effort. Illegal activities must be dealt with swiftly and harshly so vessel owners and captains think twice before they consider breaking the rules. Canada and its partners in the North Pacific are proving that they are up to this task." – Prince Rupert Daily News

Alaska newspapers cover Exxon arguments

The Anchorage Daily News compiled coverage in other newspapers of the Exxon Valdez presentations before the U.S. Supreme Court:

 From the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, which had a correspondent in the courtroom: Exxon’s appeal hinges on whether the company can be held responsible for punitive damages for the actions of Valdez ship captain Joseph Hazelwood, who had been drinking and left the bridge on the night the nearly 1,000-foot Exxon Valdez oil tanker struck Bligh Reef in Alaska’s Prince William Sound. The justices spent a good deal of the 90-minute hearing questioning whether Hazelwood was a high-enough-ranking executive in the company that it should be held responsible for his actions.

 The Juneau Empire was among Alaska media that went with The Associated Press story (which probably appeared in more newspapers and broadcasts around the country than any other account). The top of the AP story notes that the justices hinted at cutting the $2.5 billion award: The problem for the people, businesses and governments who waged the lengthy legal fight against Exxon is that the Supreme Court in recent years has become more receptive to limiting punitive damages awards. The Exxon Valdez case differs from the others in that it involves issues peculiar to laws governing accidents on the water. But several justices said that limits could be appropriate in this context too.

 The Homer Tribune weighed in with an editorial (which went up on the web Wednesday): If the justices rule against Exxon’s appeal, Alaskans may have finally reached the end of the long, hazardous sheen that left dead birds washing up on local beaches. Even further, more dismal studies announced suspicious links between the spill and environmental incidents from the previous two decades. The final decision will come sometime between now and June. In the meantime, let’s not hold our breath or count on the money.

 The Cordova Times put up a story on Wednesday from Washington, D.C., apparently written by one of Alaska Newspapers’ copy editors who was on the scene. The story features some of the dozen or so Cordovans who were at the nation’s capital for the hearing: “The subsistence culture that our Native people have practiced for thousands of years was totally disrupted,” said Travis Vlasoff of the Native village of Tatitlek, three miles northeast of Bligh Reef. “It is very difficult to summarize the damage to the mental health of our communities. I can tell you how our social structure was tied to the practice of subsistence gathering, how the traditional foods were part of our identity as a people, or how our cultural values were based on the sharing of traditional foods and harvesting techniques.”

 Kodiak residents were also among the Alaskans who showed up at the hearing in “strong numbers,” according to the Kodiak Daily Mirror story, which the paper got from a writer on the scene: Alaskans at the hearing were from Dillingham, Seward, Soldotna, Anchorage, Fairbanks and other towns throughout the state. “I haven’t a clue on what they (the justices) will do,” (Bob) Brodie said. Brodie was mayor of Kodiak when the oil spill occurred. … “We were just small mayors, but we ended in fighting a multinational corporation. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, though, to attend a Supreme Court hearing,” Brodie said.