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Summary for March 3 - March 7, 2008:

Monday, March 3, 2008 

Another hit: Eulachon missing from the Fraser

When former Fraser River commercial fisherman Terry Slack walked in springtime on New Westminster's waterfront in the 1950s, he'd often wear a hat because it was "raining" droppings from huge numbers of seagulls.

 Their feeding frenzy was due to the annual return of a fascinating little fish, the eulachon.

Its scientific name is Thaleichthys pacificus, but it's also known as an "oolichan" or "candlefish."

 The latter name recognizes the fact that eulachons contain so much high-protein oil that they can be dried and, with a wick inserted in the mouth, the 15-to-20-centimetre-long, smelt-like creatures become candles!

 The eulachon was a vital food source for natives, who would render the fish down and use its oil for many purposes. It was also vital in native economies and was traded with Interior tribes on routes known as "grease trails" because of the eulachon's high profile as a commodity. Even today it's highly valued in native communities.

 Most importantly, the eulachon plays a pivotal part in the Fraser River's overall ecosystem health and is often called the river estuary's "climate canary."

 However, where long-time Fraser River observers such as Slack recall days when "mega-tonnes" of eulachon returned to the river each spring, today's stocks are being snuffed out -- much like candles in the wind.

 And this, scientists say, may explain why we're seeing significant declines in salmon stocks and in many other species and estuary plant life on lower river.

 "Based on our current understanding of eulachon biology, these low numbers are cause for alarm," says a new management report on eulachon prepared by Fisheries and Oceans Canada's Pacific Region.

 In fact, eulachon numbers in the river are so low that the federal department cancelled its annual test fishery for the species on 2006 and 2007.

 "The runs of eulachon in the Fraser River appear to have completely collapsed over the last five years," added the Pacific Fisheries Resource Conservation Council in a report last fall.

 Changing conditions in the Pacific Ocean, where eulachon spend two to three years before returning to spawn in rivers such as the Fraser, Skeena, Nass and Klinaklini (it's on the central coast), are one reason for the decline.

 The other -- especially on the Fraser -- is habitat destruction.

 Eulachon eggs attach themselves to sand or pebbles in the Fraser's lower reaches and once hatched they are flushed through the estuary and out to sea. That's why river activities such as channel dredging have to be done carefully and only in non-spawning windows. – Vancouver Province

 Deadliest Catch: How low will they go?

Just when you thought the “Deadliest Catch” franchise already had squeezed out as much hyperbole as possible, comes crabbing for computer gamers. And, yes, it features the ubiquitous Hansen boys. Here’s the press release.

 SEATTLE – 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(R) 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(R)-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. Gamers then recruit and lead their own crew from a roster of twenty real crab fishermen. Selecting the wrong boat or recruiting the wrong crew member can mean the difference between landing a Bering Sea jackpot or disaster. Lead your fatigued, hungry and hardworking crew in the strategic search for King Crab and Opilio Crab, while battling to secure your catch and livelihood before other captains and crews get to the crab first.

 Authenticity and realism were critical to the Hansen brothers. They invited key development team members to Dutch Harbor, Alaska to personally experience life on the Northwestern. The game's realism is enhanced with four real Bering Sea harbors and 34,000 miles of real Bering Sea coastline created from the United States Geological Survey. In addition, "Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm" is the first video game to feature United States Coast Guard vessels and helicopters.

 With waves over 40 feet high, "Deadliest Catch Alaskan Storm" features the best wave effects in a video game to date. In the words of Captain Sig Hansen, "It may not be life or death, but chills went up my spine the first time I saw the Northwestern sink in the game." (There’s more, but that’s enough.)


Coast legislator named to Oregon ocean post

State Rep. Deborah Boone of Cannon Beach has been named by House Speaker Jeff Merkley to one of four Oregon legislative positions on the Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force, which was formed in 1985.

In making the appointment, Merkley had high praise for Boone and her work on ocean issues since 2004.

The Pacific Fisheries Legislative Task Force was founded in 1985 as a mechanism for dealing with Pacific fisheries, marine aquaculture and seafood issues. California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Idaho have passed resolutions through their state legislatures to become formal task force members.

Each state appoints two senators and two representatives or assembly members. -- Daily Astorian


S. Oregon fishermen against marine reserves

As many as 170 people crowded into the Chetco Grange Community Center for a "listen and learn" forum on marine reserves sponsored by the Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC). But most were more interested in giving their opinions, which were overwhelmingly against marine reserves.

 At the end of the 2 1/2 hour presentation, even some members of Oregon Sea Grant, who were conducting the forum, agreed with a majority of the audience that the project pushed by Gov. Ted  Kulongoski is moving too fast.

 "I think one of the comments that needs to come out of this is we need more time on this, time to do more of these," said moderator Ginny Goblirsch of Newport.

 Goblirsch is a longtime Sea Grant extension agent brought out of retirement to coordinate the outreach effort. Patty Burke, marine resources manager for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Selina Heppell, a faculty researcher with the OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, also made presentations.

 "I think this is the 130th marine reserves meeting," said Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, from the audience. "I hope we can get to the portion we can refine what we're trying to do. Why would you want to leave something permanently when it's not meeting an objective?"

 Krieger worked on a marine reserves funding bill in the just-ended Legislature. That measure died in the Ways and Means Committee when no money was found to fund it.

 "The issue of less than 10 marine reserves the governor talked about. ... The governor said he would not sign a bill that limited it to less than 10," Krieger said. "He wants more. He's just not telling you."

 Goblirsch started the meeting saying that OPAC has made no recommendation yet on marine reserves. She said that those who spoke would have their messages passed on to OPAC and those attending the forum were given large cards to give their opinions about OPAC, cards that she assured would be presented to OPAC.

 "Their next meeting is at the end of March," she said. "All comments we are taking will be before OPAC at that time. We have several thousand cards of feedback. They will go directly to OPAC."

 Burke, marine program manager for ODF&W, said she was there to get everyone on the same playing field. She said 95 percent of the territorial sea, the beach out three miles, is unmapped.

 "We're fishing a lot of species we don't know about," Burke said. "What I hope is there are some good things that come out of here."

 Heppell told the forum they did not need to worry about restrictions on beaches.

"Right now, the reserves are to be under water all the time," said the OSU fisheries representative.

 "How can marine reserves benefit, not disrupt, the existing economic and recreational uses of the ocean?" asked Bill Waddle.

 "May main question is who wants these marine reserves. Who are these people," said Bill Fares. "Is it tied to political pressure."

 Ralph Brown said that marine reserves should have a result outside the area but none of the studies appear to show it does.

 "The evidence is not strong at all that you're going to have a good fisheries' management tool," Heppell replied. "But marine reserves isn't necessarily about fisheries management."

 Port of Brookings Harbor Commissioner Jim Relaford said the biggest concern of fishermen is the process the marine reserves are going through.

 "We've got the cart before the horse," Relaford said. "We've got a governor that says it has to be done by November."

 He said a territorial sea plan, an economic impact statement and an environmental impact "are all required before marine reserves.

 "I ask the question, where is the master plan; has the territorial sea plan been considered in this process?" Relaford asked. "How can we as a community trust this process?"

 One member of the crowd said that marine reserves won't have any effect on dead zones in the ocean.

 "We have over 20 large rivers that empty in the ocean. They have more impact on the ocean than all the fishermen. Can we afford marine reserves when we have no social economic impacts? Those should have done before we got to this point."

 A reply from a Sea Grant member agreed. "It should have been done," he said.

 Port Commissioner Roy Davis asked everyone in the room who support marine reserves to raise their hands. Three hands were raised.

 "Out of 170 in this group, three support marine reserves," Davis said.

 Burke was asked if ODF&W failed some way that marine reserves need to be established.

 "Are we protecting enough? I don't know. I think we are," Burke replied "I don't feel this is an indictment of ODF&W. I feel this is another tool."

 Bill Fares asked, "When you are taking one of the largest variable out of the equation, taking fishermen out of the equation, how do we study the ocean? Why do we need marine reserves put in without any input from commercial fishermen or sport fishermen?"

 "We don't get to set policy. We get to recommend policy. The staff doesn't have a recommendation for this. When it comes to ODF&W, we will have a position," Burke replied.

 One sports fisherman said that if there's a problem, "I want ODF&W to cut back on fishing. We don't need marine reserves. This is all political. Who's behind this? It's those rich environmental groups that are against fishing period."

 Goblirsch said as the forum ended that "we have several thousand cards now that are going to make a powerful statement to OPAC." -- Curry (County) Coastal Pilot

Tuesday, March 4, 2008 

Kodiak man files suit over king crab

Citing years of frustration and state statutes, Kodiak crabber Lu Dochtermann said he filed a lawsuit against the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in the Superior Court of Alaska in Kodiak.

 “I have written letters for 25 years to everyone in power,” Dochtermann said. “I have tried many times through the regular process with the board of fish to address this issue and I’ve always been turned town. ‘We’re not responsible; we can’t handle it; we don’t know what you’re talking about,’ (they would say).”

 Dochtermann said 1982 was the last crabbing season in Kodiak, and according to the court papers he filed the crab stocks have shown no measurable improvements since the fishery closed.

 Additionally, the suit contends Fish and Game, whose job it is to “develop and continually maintain a comprehensive, coordinated state plan for the orderly present and long-range rehabilitation, enhancement, and development of all aspects of the state’s fisheries,” has failed to so do.

 In fact, they have done just the opposite according to Dochtermann.

 Fish and Game “has not done everything necessary to ensure uncorrupted habit where Kodiak king crab may live, spawn, or migrate,” the lawsuit reads. “The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has prevented the rehabilitation of Kodiak king crab by allowing bottom trawling in areas where Kodiak king crab may live, spawn or migrate.”

 Dochtermann said Fish and Game has not implemented any type of program designed to enhance crab stocks.

 “When the salmon went on the blink in the ’70s or late ’60s, they built hatcheries all over the place to be sure they would come back and it’s taken care of the problem,” Dochtermann said. “With crab, nothing was done.”

 Dochtermann said the goal of the lawsuit is to force Fish and Game to come up with a comprehensive plan to revitalize crab stocks and implement the program and “do all things necessary to ensure perpetual and increasing production of Kodiak king crab, including but not limited to ordering the immediate cessation any fishery in the Kodiak area that negatively affects king crab or king crab habitat.”

 The lawsuit asks the court to order Fish and Game to restrict bottom trawling in area waters where king crab may live.

 Currently there is no word on whether the courts will hear the case.

 Kodiak acting regional finfish research supervisor Steve Honnold said he could not comment on the case and referred all questions to the state attorney general’s office.

The assistant district attorney handling the case for the state could not be reached for comment. – Kodiak Daily Mirror

B.C. crabbers form new association

Commercial Dungeness crab fishermen in British Columbia now have the opportunity to join a province-wide organization that promises to better represent their interests through a united front.

 In order to effectively deal with major issues that have faced crab fisherman in British Columbia for years, the commercial Dungeness fleet has formed the British Columbia Crab Fisherman's Association, an organization open to commercial Dungeness licence holders from all seven of the province's crab areas.

 The association was incorporated on Jan. 7, with bylaws providing for one director from each of the province's seven crab areas. The first directors meeting was held in Richmond on Feb. 19, where members discussed the association mandate and many of the commercial industry's ongoing issues and concerns were brought forward. – Prince Rupert Daily News

Marine reserves in Oregon: Why?

After years of discussions about establishing marine reserves in Oregon, many North Coast residents still question the need for them.

At a marine reserves "Listening and Learning" forum in Warrenton Friday, about 30 people heard details on what scientists know and don't know about Oregon's territorial sea and the potential benefits of marine reserves.

They also got the state's working definition of marine reserves: Areas within the state's 950 square miles of territorial sea that would be set aside for scientific study and "protected from all extractive activities, including the removal or disturbance of living and non-living marine resources."

The idea is to use the reserves as a tool to help protect and study biodiversity in the nearshore marine ecosystem.

Friday's meeting was part of a two-week tour of the coast by Oregon State University's Oregon Sea Grant program, the official public outreach provider on marine reserves for the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC).

OPAC asked Sea Grant to distribute objective information and collect input on Gov. Ted Kulongoski's proposal to establish a network of marine reserves off Oregon's coast.

"We're not here to talk you into or out of marine reserves," said Ginny Goblirsch, coordinator of the Sea Grant Outreach Project.

Many North Coast fishermen and community leaders worry about the impact of additional ocean closures on the local economy. Existing fishing restrictions have already cut into the size and success of local fishing fleets and fish processing facilities.

Dick Hellberg, a commercial fisherman and Warrenton city commissioner, said the government has broken promises to the fishing fleets as it continues to ratchet up fishing restrictions.

"Every agreement that has been made with people on the coast has been broken," he said. He said the marine reserves together with wave energy parks will leave fishermen without enough grounds to stay in business.

Gary Wintersteen, a Warrenton commercial fisherman, said he's more than "concerned" about the impacts.

"I'm gonna lose a job," he said. "We've got hundreds of square miles shut down already."

But Cannon Beach City Councilor Jerome Arnold said he sees a need for "adaptive management" to protect against a growing population and growing impacts on the ocean.

"We've got to think of not just our great-great grandchildren, but our great great great-grandchildren," he said.

Also in the audience were OPAC members Scott McMullin and Jim Bergeron of Astoria and state Rep. Debbie Boone, D-Cannon Beach.

Boone said she's listening to all the details on marine reserves to decide if they are needed and will do more good than harm.

"I don't want to do anything that would put people out of work or harm our culture on the coast, which has been struggling for so many years," she said.

Sea Grant leaders conceded there is a lot scientists don't know about Oregon's oceans. And, they said, many details of the planned marine reserves haven't been decided, including their size, number, location and the method and money the state will use to monitor and enforce them.

Kulongoski has asked OPAC to make recommendations on less than 10 marine reserves by November so he can ask the state Legislature for money to fund them during the next session. He also said they should be large enough to provide an ecological benefit but small enough to avoid economic and social impacts such as loss of fishing opportunity.

"Because of the governor's instructions, they're going to have to be small," said Selina Heppell, an associate professor from OSU's fisheries and wildlife department.

The reserves could act as "insurance" against species declines in the ocean, said Heppell. In other parts of the world, they have offered refuge for bigger, older female fish that produce exponentially more larvae than younger, smaller fish. But to find the unique attributes of Oregon's reserves, they would need to be monitored over time.

"We've got to acknowledge that we probably can't predict what's going to happen in the reserves off this coast," she said.

Patty Burke, ODFW's marine resources program manager, urged people gathered in Warrenton to think of marine reserves as "ecosystem management" and "research" rather than fisheries management.

Scientists debate whether marine reserves are effective for fishery enhancement.

"It's not a panacea for all species," Burke said. "For most rockfish species it's not going to help them," because they move around so much. The reserves can't overlap with wave energy parks, she said, and they aren't going to solve global warming problems.

Marine reserve site nominations are scheduled to begin in April. While OPAC will take nominations from the public and make recommendations to Kulongoski on how to implement the reserves, Burke said it will be state agencies that will ultimately designate the sites.

A lack of funding for research has left 95 percent of the state's ocean habitats unmapped, she said. State scientists have done stock assessments on just eight out of 43 fish species and found six of them to be healthy (canary and yelloweye rockfish populations have been labeled "overfished").

"Ocean users know more about ocean habitat than we do," she said. "We're operating in a significant information deficit."

Setting fishery restrictions is "really not exciting when you don't have the information you need," she said.

A marine reserve would show scientists "what an undisturbed area looks like," said Burke. And they would be a new "precautionary measure" for ocean protections, which already include conservative fishing area closures and catch limits.

The state has set ocean areas from 700 fathoms to 200 miles off-limits to bottom trawlers, but there aren't any areas where all fishing is banned for habitat protection, she said, with the exception of Whale Cove Habitat Refuge in Depoe Bay. – Pacific Fishing columnist Cassandra Marie Profita reporting in The Daily Astorian

Today's read: A summary of Klamath proposal

A hefty proposal to renew the Klamath River Basin was released that day after stakeholders from 26 diverse groups worked for more than two years to draft the document.

 It calls for the largest dam removal project and river restoration effort in history.

Known as the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement, the draft settlement is hailed by some as a solution to years of distrust, heartache and conflict among the basin's interest groups, which include American Indian tribes, farmers and fishermen.

 But since the confidential negotiations ended and the proposed agreement was made public, people from the rural farms of Southern Oregon to our local ocean port have been talking.

 Some say it's an unfeasible disaster. Others claim it's the best chance for basin-wide restoration. Many are unsure.

 But folks do seem to agree the proposal is unusual, both for its ambitious goals and because it resulted from negotiations among groups that have historically fought.

 "There's been a series of catastrophes for most of the major players in the basin over the past 20 years," said Larry Dunsmoor, a biologist with the Klamath Tribes. "All these different groups have been trying to get what they need."

 People are weary, Dunsmoor said, of using the courts, Endangered Species Act mandates and other tactics to fight for what they need from the Klamath basin. Past attempts at negotiations just haven't worked.

 "This (agreement) had enough of the major ingredients, and after enough pain was suffered by the major groups, it has just sort of made it to the top of the hill," Dunsmoor said.

 But the proposal is also riddled with complexities that cause those involved to admit that even if the settlement is passed, many uncertainties would persist.

 For instance, if given free passage to the entire river, would salmon make it back to the upper basin? Will Congress agree to help fund the costly proposal?

 The settlement, which would cost about $985 million over the next decade, calls for guaranteed amounts of water for wildlife refuges and Klamath Reclamation Project farmers to irrigate near the river's headwaters. It gives salmon a chance to thrive in more miles of habitat. It provides tribes with resources to become more economically sustainable and devotes money to manage fisheries.

 And lastly, the proposed agreement requires Portland-based PacifiCorp to remove four of its hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River.

 The power company has shown no sign of agreeing to that mandate.

 "The only thing we can consider signing is something that is clearly, to us, the best outcome for our customers," said Toby Freeman, PacifiCorp's regional community manager based in Klamath Falls, Ore.

 Separate, confidential talks continue with PacifiCorp to try to come up with a business deal that would get rid of the dams and still satisfy the power company's need to provide the lowest possible rates for customers.

 "Our interests have been super clear from day one and they haven't changed," said Freeman, who is not participating in the current confidential talks about the dams.

 "We're here to make sure that our customers are protected, and that means they get a reasonable outcome here—and a lowest-cost outcome," Freeman said.

 The power company is currently trying to relicense four of its hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff have recommended leaving the dams in place and trucking fish around the structures. But federal wildlife agencies have mandated that fish ladders and other fish passage improvements totaling about $300 million would have to be added to the dams for their continued operation.

 The settlement, if it goes forward, could supercede federal relicensing.

 When the proposed settlement was released in mid-January, two participating groups—the Hoopa Valley Tribe and Klamath Off-Project Water Users—didn't approve the draft.

Stakeholders had hoped to sign the draft with the blessing of their constituents—and secure a promise from PacifiCorp to remove its dams—by February, but that time frame quickly passed.

 Instead, the tribes, counties, irrigators and environmental organizations that began meeting in January with their constituents are getting mixed reactions.

 For instance, Siskiyou County in California and Klamath County in Oregon have both held public meetings that were dominated by citizens who opposed dam removal, and thus, the settlement.

 In contrast, Humboldt County supervisors decided after hearing public comment to approve the draft on the condition that an agreement is reached with PacifiCorp to remove the dams. The Yurok Tribal Council approved the agreement on identical terms. Similarly, members of the Klamath Tribes recently voted to endorse the draft agreement.

"We need a way to take care of our people," said Jeff Mitchell, Klamath Tribes councilman and a settlement negotiator. "We need jobs, we need opportunities, we need resources."

 The draft settlement is already having an impact on the daily lives of people who live and work along the Klamath River.

 It has inspired numerous guest columns in the region's major newspapers, urging support or rejection.

 It has summoned a meeting of nearly 300 concerned Siskiyou County citizens and brought together small groups of farmers—exhausted and caked in dust after a full day's work—to ask questions and work through confusion.

 This agreement, most say, isn't ideal for any one group. The projected in-stream river flows perhaps aren't as fast as some would like for fish, and water guarantees for farmers could be higher, parties said.

 It hasn't been an easy process for stakeholders. Klamath Reclamation Project farmers and ranchers have wrestled with the issues, but most irrigators seem to want to move forward in support of the agreement, said Bob Gasser, who owns a fertilizer company and has spoken with many farmers about the settlement.

 The Klamath Water Users Association that represents on-project farmers and ranchers announced this week that most of its member irrigation districts have decided to support the agreement.

 "It may be the best thing that's ever happened to the project, but we just don't know," said Gasser, also a board member with the water users association. "Everybody's got to hurt a little to make this thing work." – The Triplicate, Crescent City

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

New Zealand catching a lot of albacore

A tuna bonanza is keeping Nelson commercial fishers afloat as rising fuel costs, sinking quotas and the high dollar continue to torpedo the industry's economic viability.

 Albacore tuna is a migratory species that is traditionally caught along the west coast of New Zealand from January to the end of April.

 Nelson-based boats have been heading to the West Coast to troll for albacore for a number of years but exceptional catch rates this season have lured most of the inshore fleet to the fishery.

 "I'd say 70 to 80 percent of the fleet is there at the moment -- that's about 25 to 30 boats," Motueka-based president of the Federation of Commercial Fishermen, Doug Loder, said.

 But he said the big catches were just one reason for the fishery's popularity. Albacore remained a non-quota species which allowed commercial fishers to take an unlimited catch and cash in on the bumper season.

 "It's hugely important that the fishery has not been brought into the quota management system.

"It means that, during relatively lean times for most fishermen, there's an opportunity to enjoy the benefits of a migratory stock like this.

 "The average price is about $2 a kilo and I've spoken to individuals this year who have caught 30, 40 or 50 tonnes. So you are talking about some guys who have harvested $100,000 of fish since January."

 (The price is equivalent of $1,758 U.S. a short ton.)  – The Nelson (New Zealand) Mail.

Australians say they can farm bluefin tuna

Australian company Clean Seas Tuna has become the first in the world to successfully breed southern bluefin tuna in captivity.

 Clean Seas, based in South Australia, believes will lead to a rapid expansion of Australia's multi-million dollar aquaculture industry.

 Chairman Hagen Stehr said the company had been stunned by the discovery on Sunday of the spawning of male and female tuna in a land-based facility at Arno Bay, on South Australia's Eyre Peninsula.

“We have proven what can be done, even with southern bluefin tuna, which is the holy grail (of aquaculture),” Mr Stehr said.

“In the future this will be a staggering industry of immense proportions. It depends on us, the state government, the federal Government, how big we want this to be.

“In years to come this will give us a sustainable bluefin industry, that no one in the world will be able to attack.”

Southern bluefin tuna are especially valuable fish -- the vast majority of the harvest is taken to Japan for sashimi.

The average wholesale price is between $30 and $50 a kilo ($61 to $101 U.S. a pound), with some individual fish fetching thousands of dollars at the market.

Overfishing and low tuna stocks have meant that since 1990 the quota for Australia's wild southern bluefin tuna catch has been capped at 5200 tonnes per annum.

Clean Seas' announcement means the company has been able to raise tuna away from the wild, feeding them up in pens close to shore, then taking them to the purpose-built facility at Arno Bay and fertilising the female adult tuna's eggs.

The breakthrough gives Clean Seas the potential to duplicate Australia's tuna quota artificially, since there are no restrictions on the numbers of non-wild tuna caught.

Clean Seas has already had success artificially farming Yellotail Kingfish and Mulloway, but the Southern Bluefin tuna is considered a more complex and more valuable fish - and more difficult to reproduce on-shore. – The Australian

What the yachties are reading

Dolphins, Albatross and Turtles. The long line fishing boats are killing them all as they indiscriminately fish the Pacific Ocean -- but now if you are on a cruising yacht you can help report the activities of these marauders of the sea.

There's nothing more magnificent for the cruising sailor than the cry of Dolphins. In large pods, or small, they play around the bow of the boat, and, if you're lucky, turn on their side to stare up at you. Then there are the turtles, those great clumsy land creatures who become so graceful in the water. And the albatross, sitting as placidly in rough waters hundreds of mile from land as a duck on a backyard pond.

But the long line fishing boats are killing them, so that the ocean crossing cruising boats are seeing fewer and fewer of the once frequent marine life.

What is a long-liner? Long-line fishing is a commercial fishing technique that uses hundreds or even thousands of baited hooks hanging from a single line.

Swordfish, tuna, halibut, sablefish, Patagonian toothfish and countless other species are commonly targeted by long-liners. Large commercial long-liners in certain fisheries of the Bering Sea and North Pacific generally run over 2500 hand-baited hooks on a single series of connected lines many miles in length. Long-lines can be set to hang near the surface, and is controversial because of the bycatch.

Some gear modifications have been developed on some fishing ships to deter birds. However, gear modifications do not eliminate by-catch of many species, including dolphins and turtles, which are caught and killed but then discarded, and the controversy continues.

In March 2006, the Hawaii long-line swordfish fishing season was closed due to excessive loggerhead sea turtle bycatch. The loggerhead turtle is an endangered species.

Now you have the opportunity to report this fishing activity. If you see suspicious fishing activity you can report it to C2C, a superyacht agent on the west coast of the USA, via their Captain Drewelow, just by filling in a downloadable form, who will forward it to activists who are working in the field. – Sail World Cruising

To the editor: What your neighbors are reading

I would like to correct a couple of errors in a recent letter regarding gillnetting on the Columbia River. First, there seems to be a notion among recreational fishermen that the Columbia River is the last place where gillnetting occurs in North America, which is incorrect.

 On the West Coast alone, gillnets are fished on the Naselle, Chehalis and Humptulips rivers, Willapa Bay, Grays Harbor and Puget Sound in Washington. In British Columbia, in addition to various coastal areas, gillnets are fished on the Nass, Skeena and Fraser rivers.

 In Alaska, they are fished in coastal areas and rivers from the Stikine on the south to the Yukon on the north. These include both tribal and non-tribal fisheries. It is the most widely used salmon harvest technology on this side of the Pacific rim, both in terms of numbers of fishermen and volume of fish caught.

 Gillnets work in these different geographical areas because they are adaptable to a wide variety of situations and are very selective, due to time and area closures and mesh sizes.

 The biggest concern recreational fishers should have is continued funding for hatcheries, which is tied to harvest. Large hatchery surpluses are not acceptable to the federal government, and without a commercial harvest to ensure these fish are utilized to their fullest value, funding is going to continue to decline. -- Kent O. Martin of Skamokawa writing to Longview (Wash.) Daily News

Feds going to war with rats on Rat Island

UNALASKA – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge has a plan to eradicate rats from an island in the western Aleutians.

The FWS is poised to start the project this fall on Rat Island, an island about 200 miles west of Adak that is believed to be the first place in Alaska to become infested with Norway rats, as early as the 1780s.

The plan is to use helicopters to spread a rodenticide across the island, a method that has been used on islands off the coast of California and New Zealand. Refuge Public Programs Supervisor Poppy Benson, who's giving tonight's talk, says that with rats, it's all or nothing.

"You have to get rid of every single rat," she said. "You can't control them--you have to eradicate them, because their birth rate is so fast. So we have to eliminate them all if this island is going to come back."

Rat Island has few birds and virtually no seabirds because of its rat population. Benson said that past experience in the Aleutians suggests that once you get rid of non-native predators, those bird populations return much more quickly than you might expect.

"We've taken fox off so many islands, and we've seen such incredible rebound in the birds," she said, citing the example of the Aleutian Canada goose, which bounced back from near extinction to a population large enough to support a hunting season.

In December, the FWS released its environmental assessment for the Rat Island project, and received 38 public comments. —KIAL

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Editorial: Eastern newspaper wants Tongass left alone

Stymied in efforts to construct new roads in national forests, the Bush administration is now trying to subject Alaska's Tongass National Forest to death by a thousand cuts.

At 17 million acres, the Tongass is America's largest national forest. Strewn among the islands and along the coast of Alaska's Inside Passage, it's also the world's largest intact temperate rain forest; a place of lushness and beauty that is home to ancient Sitka spruce, bald eagles, bears, wolves and five species of wild salmon.

It's a destination for tourists who come from around the world to fish, hunt, hike or just bear witness to one of the world's last wild places.

Under a new management plan for the Tongass, the U.S. Forest Service is proposing to open about 3.4 million acres to logging, mining and road building. Roughly 2.4 million of those acres are now roadless.

The plan also sets aside 90,000 acres to old-growth reserves and protects 47,000 acres considered most vulnerable to development. It also calls for a phased approach to logging as a way to encourage a more stable, long-term supply of timber.

Forestry officials say the plan balances the needs of the timber industry with the requirements for a healthy forest.

We think it grossly undervalues the Tongass' uniqueness as an environmental asset and its economic potential as a destination for the growing eco-tourism industry.

Traditionally, exploiting the Tongass' natural resources for logging and mining has been a bad deal for America's taxpayers. In 2005, for example, the Forest Service spent $48.5 million on road building in the Tongass. That same year, the logging industry paid the government only $500,000 in revenues.

But those aren't logging's only costs. It also means the destruction of rare old-growth trees and habitat, increased erosion into streams and the loss of fish habitat.

Logging accounts for less than 1 percent of the area's economy. By far the largest industries are commercial fishing, tourism and recreation.

The so-called roadless rule championed by the Clinton administration and adopted in 2001 protected millions of acres of the nation's forests from new road construction and logging. The Bush administration has tried various ways to get around the rule, including an unsuccessful attempt to repeal a federal rule limiting new roads in national forests.

In pursuing a policy of greater subsidies and expanded logging in the Tongass, the administration is putting the region's most important economies — and the forest's economic future — at risk. – Hartford (Conn.) Courant

No salmon? Blame the weather

GRANTS PASS, ORE. -- Scientists examining the sudden and widespread collapse of West Coast salmon returns are pointing to the unusual changes in weather patterns that caused the bottom to fall out of the ocean food web in 2005.

NOAA Fisheries Service oceanographer Bill Peterson said Monday the juvenile salmon that left their native rivers and entered the Pacific Ocean in 2005 found little food being transported by the California Current, which flows from the northern Pacific south along the West Coast.

The reason was that the jet stream had shifted to the south, delaying the spring onset of winds out of the north that create a condition known as upwelling, which kickstarts the ocean food web by stirring the water from bottom to top, the agency said.

"If there is no upwelling, there is no phytoplankton growth, no zooplankton growth, and basically you have no food chain that develops, because it all depends on the upwelling," Peterson said from Newport, Ore.

"We are not dismissing other potential causes for this year's low salmon returns," NOAA Fisheries Service Northwest Science Center Director Usha Varanasi said in a statement. "But the widespread pattern of low returns along the West Coast for (both coho and Chinook) salmon indicates an environmental anomaly occurred in the California Current in 2005."

That was the year that countless seabirds, showing signs of starvation, were washing up dead on beaches and nesting colonies were sparse. Off Oregon, water temperatures near shore, where Chinook spend much of their time in the ocean, were 5 to 7 degrees warmer than normal and yielded about one-fourth the usual amount of phytoplankton, the tiny plants that are at the bottom of the food web.

Since then, upwelling has been better, but not much, Peterson said.

However, he is looking forward to this year being very good. This winter has been very unusual, with temperatures colder and winds out of the north and west more prevalent than normal, all of which indicates 2008 could be the best year for upwelling since 2000, Peterson said.

Chinook returns in the Sacramento River in California last year were a third of what biologists expected, and forecasts are for an all-time low this year. Coho salmon returns to streams in Oregon and California were also lower than expected.

Federal fisheries managers will be wrestling with the problem when they meet in Sacramento, Calif., next week to set options for commercial, sport and tribal fishing seasons for the ocean off California, Oregon and Washington. The Pacific Fishery Management Council will set the final seasons when it meets in Seattle in April.

While no decisions have been made, there are likely to be some salmon fishing closures, said Chuck Tracy, salmon staff for the council.

The council has said that even with no ocean fishing allowed, Sacramento Chinook would have a tough time meeting the minimum of 122,000 to 180,000 adults returning to hatcheries and rivers to spawn the next generation.

Sport and commercial salmon fishing off California and most of Oregon was worth an average of $103 million a year from 1979 through 2000, but dropped to $61 million a year from 2001 through 2005, according to council figures.

Salmon fishing cutbacks this year come on the heels of severe limitations in 2006 to protect weak stocks from the Klamath River in Northern California and a poor catch last year despite relatively open seasons. – Los Angeles Times

 For an intriguing theory about the missing Sacramento River Chinook, see the latest Pacific Fishing magazine.

Enviros say Klamath deal not good enough

WASHINGTON – A plan to end fighting over Klamath River water along the California-Oregon border took a hit Monday when the Northcoast Environmental Center said the $1 billion deal doesn't provide enough help for salmon.

 The NEC said it cannot support the agreement, still in flux, which guarantees water for up-river farmers in Oregon but gives no such assurances for endangered salmon trying to make their way up the 260-mile river to spawn.

 Participants touted the January deal as benefiting both fish and farming because it would complement separate negotiations to get Portland-based PacifiCorp to remove a series of dams impeding fish passage.

 "This agreement would lock us into supporting water allocations for agriculture that could result in stream flows so low as to cause extinction," said Greg King, the center's executive director.

 He said his group wants to reopen the water allocation talks, one of the stickiest parts of the deal.

 The Arcata-based NEC's opposition, based on scientific studies it commissioned, will complicate, if not kill, the chances of a deal getting to Congress in time for enactment this year.

 "It's disappointing," said Craig Tucker of California's Karuk Tribe, a leading advocate of the deal. "It's a big deal for congressmen like Mike Thompson."

 Thompson, D-St. Helena, represents the area with most of the river in Northern California, and Tucker said it would be difficult for him to back a deal opposed by his district's leading environmental organization. – Sacramento Bee

New weather reporting station off Oregon coast

ASTORIA -- Three months of near-blind sailing should come to an end for coastal fishermen and crabbers this afternoon when the U.S. Coast Guard is scheduled to slide an 8,500-pound chunk of concrete into the Pacific about 20 miles off the Columbia River Bar.

 Attached will be 700 feet of oversized chain and nylon cable, and a $300,000 floating weather station. With that, a major gap in the nation's weather buoy network -- caused by 70-foot swells and hurricane force winds off the Oregon coast in December -- will begin to close.

 Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said it's crucial to get the weather buoys back in the water because the information they provide "can be a matter of life and death" for members of Oregon's and southwest Washington's crabbing and fishing fleets, among others.

"It provides that extra margin of safety," he said.

 Two of the Oregon's three primary weather buoys were ripped from their moorings during a massive storm Dec. 1. The battered shell of one washed up near the mouth of the Columbia and the other drifted more than 100 miles to the north, where it was eventually spotted floating off the northern Washington coast.

 The buoys provide forecasters with real-time information about wind speed and direction; air temperature, humidity and pressure; wave height, speed and direction; ocean temperatures; and surface currents. They also measure ocean salinity, and some are equipped to detect water pressure changes caused by tsunamis.

 That kind of information is vital for commercial fisheries and crabbers, not to mention shipping and recreational marine forecasts.

 "We check them religiously when we're bringing a ship in or taking one out," Capt. Curt Nehring of the Columbia River Bar Pilots said of the buoy-provided data. "Even in good weather -- but more so when it's potentially rough -- we never forget to look at the data."

 Federal officials originally estimated it would take until May or June to get the buoys back in place, ensuring a wide enough window of relatively calm weather.

Dave Bear, a Coast Guard chief warrant officer who acts as a liaison with the National Data Buoy Center, said standard navigation buoys in the ocean are durable and relatively easy to maintain. Not so the weather buoys, crammed with sensitive equipment.

The weather buoys are much more delicate," Bear said. "We have to baby them."

But Oregon's political delegation wasn't keen on waiting through the winter and spring for a fix to the forecasting problem. Pressed by coastal residents eager for a solution, Wyden said he urged officials to redeploy the buoys more quickly.

"That's when we really went after it and they agreed to move up the redeployment of the replacements," he said. "We said 'You've gotta speed this up.' "

In mid-February, a ship under contract with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration attempted it, but abandoned the effort in bad weather. So the task fell to the Coast Guard, which Monday loaded the two weather buoys onto the Fir, a 225-foot-long cutter, for what it hopes will be a four-day replacement voyage.

The 48-member ship's normal mission is to maintain and service more than 150 navigational aids, including buoys, on the Oregon and Washington coasts. The ship is also equipped to respond to oil spills.

"We don't often get to deploy weather buoys, so we're looking forward to the trip," said the ship's second-in-command, Lt. Steve Walters.

This week, the ship is also scheduled to steam 80 miles offshore to repair a third weather buoy, which survived the December storm but needs repairs.

That buoy will also get a new mooring cable and a new "rock" -- its own 8,500-pound block of concrete to keep it in place.

Tyree Wilde, the warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Portland, said the agency is eager to get its data sources back online.

"We've had other sources we could use, but it's been a little dicey," Wilde said. "It will be nice to have them back." – The Oregonian

Coastal Oregon fishermen don't like marine reserve plan

NEWPORT -- Gov. Ted Kulongoski has tried to assure fishermen that his push for fishing-free marine reserves in Oregon's territorial waters won't hurt them. But when fishermen and their suppliers took the floor at Newport City Hall, their skepticism gushed out:

 How can you possibly set aside close-in fishing grounds without damaging the coast's economy? Where will the money to enforce rules against fishing come from? Are Oceana and other ocean conservation groups really driving this train?

 The push for reserves -- in effect, underwater state parks -- isn't coming from the ground up, recreational fisherman Rick Muir of Toledo insisted. Kulongoski "wants an environmental legacy," Muir said. "This is about his legacy."

 It's also still unclear where the reserves will be. Kulongoski has made concessions that will reduce the reserves' size and value. He's limited them to nine or fewer, vowed to accept only proposals backed by coastal communities and promised no significant economic damage to fisheries.

 But the state's just-concluded hearings in Newport and other fishing towns demonstrated that marine reserves, already established in California and Washington, remain a tough sell on the Oregon coast.

 The hearings each drew more than 100 people, said Ginny Goblirsch, an Oregon Sea Grant extension agent who moderated. "There is a very high level of skepticism and lack of trust in the process."

 Like the long battle over Northwest logging, the push to set up marine reserves presses dozens of hot buttons. Many in the coast's lucrative sport and commercial fishing industries feel under siege. They're subject to complex fishing limits and emerging threats to fishing grounds, including wave-power generation and farmed fish.

Now it's marine reserves.

 At the same time, Oregon is mostly swimming blind when it comes to knowing what's happening in its territorial waters. The 3-mile-wide strip along the 360-mile coast is home to kelp forests, pinnacles and rocky reefs hosting hundreds of species, from rockfish to giant sea anemones to octopus.

 "People tend to think of coral reefs as being the most diverse ecosystems, but in temperate waters, which is what we have, the diversity is highest here," said Jane Lubchenco, an Oregon State University professor of marine biology.

 The idea is to set aside small areas where no fishing, crabbing or any other "extraction" is allowed. At a minimum, that could allow better scientific research, including studies to better gauge the effects of fishing.

 No one is arguing that commercial and sport fishermen have devastated Oregon's near shore. Bottom trawling over reefs is rare, fishermen and conservationists agree. Crab pots and hook-and-line fishing predominate. But given the unknowns about the near shore environment, supporters say the reserves could help ensure that fish populations don't unexpectedly plummet.

 Only eight of the 43 groundfish species found in Oregon's near shore have been assessed. Two -- yelloweye rockfish and canary rockfish -- are considered overfished.

 "It makes sense to protect our way of life and our populations of fish," said Paul Engelmeyer of Yachats, the Audubon Society representative on the governor's Ocean Policy Advisory Council. "If we had done this decades ago, maybe we would still have sea otters, scallops and healthy Pacific Ocean perch."

 It's unclear whether the reserves would provide the benefits conservationists hope for.

Mike Carrier, Kulongoski's natural resources adviser, says the governor isn't interested in reserve proposals "solely from the environmental community." Reserves probably will be "modest" in size and number.

 Given the restrictions, reserves are not going to be near ports or prime fishing areas, says Patricia Burke, marine resources manager for the state Fish and Wildlife Department. "It's going to be a challenge to find spots to even do adequate research in."

 Worldwide, reserves are a median 1.5 square miles. If Oregon adopted nine reserves that size, they would cover 13.5 square miles of the state's nearly 1,200 square miles of territorial sea.

 Small reserves would benefit species that stay near one spot, Lubchenco says, such as mussels, octopus and some adult rockfish. But yelloweye, canary and black rockfish, the near shore's most fished rockfish, all move in an area larger than 1.5 square miles.

 Oceana and other advocacy groups talk of building networks of tightly clustered reserves or adding a halo of "marine protected areas" around the reserves to allow for some fishing -- perhaps for salmon and crab but not for rockfish.

 But any expansion would make it tougher to get coastal communities on board, said Terry Thompson, a fisherman, Lincoln County commissioner and member of the Ocean Policy Advisory Council. "Unless you have some firm limits, we're afraid they'll keep moving the goalposts on us. We've had it happen more than once."

 The ocean policy council will take proposals for reserves beginning April 1. The group has until Nov. 1 to make a recommendation to Kulongoski, which would require approval by the State Land Board and the Fish and Wildlife Commission.

 A fisherman-led group in Port Orford, on the southern coast, the largest commercial fishery in the near shore, is working on potential small reserves. In Depoe Bay, with the most near-shore sportfishing, a group that includes fishermen has proposed a reserve of just over a square mile near Beverly Beach between Newport and Depoe Bay.

 Ben Enticknap, Oceana's Pacific project manager, says the proposed reserve is shallow, hits mostly sandy bottom and misses crucial kelp forests to the north.

 But Loren Goddard, a Depoe Bay charter fisherman, says the area has kelp forests, rocky reefs and bird refuges. It's also not heavily fished, he said, unlike the territory he fears Oceana is eyeing.

 Despite Kulongoski's assurances to the coastal communities, "things are going to happen with us or without us," Goddard said. "We want to mitigate that so the hammer blow hits us on the toe instead of the head." – The Oregonian

Friday, March 7, 2008

Editorial: Salmon are tough

Salmon stocks are prone to wild swings, hinging on water flows, weather and food-rich ocean waters. Right now, California is enduring one of the lowest points in decades with barely half of an already-low estimate returning to the Sacramento River this past fall.

 What's on tap is unthinkable but unfortunately necessary: a full or partial closure of fishing season coming in April. "We're basically in a crisis," said Allen Grover, a biologist with the federal agency that sets rules on sport and commercial fishing.

That means higher prices at the market and hard times for commercial fishermen, party boat skippers and weekend anglers.

 There are a number of factors working against salmon. The chief suspect, biologists believe, is a change in cold-water ocean currents that has disrupted the food chain that fish depend on. Also, fishing groups blame water diversions of the Sacramento, source of an estimated 90 percent of the fish caught off Northern California. There are other factors such as water quality and loss of habitat along the river's 450-mile journey from the Siskiyous to the sea.

 Though the stars seem aligned against salmon, there is also room for hope. Weather patterns and currents can turn, bringing back the right conditions for rearing. Though 88,000 salmon were counted last fall on the Sacramento, a total of 268,000 were tallied the year before and 394,000 in 2005. Given a chance, this iconic fish could stage a rally. – San Francisco Chronicle

In Russia, fishing is strategic industry

The government has drafted legislation to limit foreign investment in publishing houses, the Internet and fishing, expanding the list of industries in which foreigners are forbidden from acquiring companies without state permission.

 The government added the industries after recalling legislation containing the original list from the State Duma last fall.

 It also added subsoil surveys and the extraction of resources at fields designated as having "federal significance," the Duma's Construction and Land Policy Committee said Wednesday in an e-mailed statement.

 Energy and Industry Minister Viktor Khristenko has said the bill was withdrawn specifically to include the sectors dealing with subsoil resources. The bill, which regulates foreign investment into strategic sectors deemed critical to national security, passed a first reading in the Duma before being recalled.

 But the legislation has now grown to cover fishing, television, radio and Internet service providers, the Duma committee said. In addition, printing companies and publishing houses, which include newspapers, would be considered strategic if they dominated the market, it said.

 The bill sets new conditions for foreign investors who want to own more than 50 percent of a company, including new rules on how to seek permission for deals and on how a government commission should rule on the requests, the committee said without elaborating. -- The Moscow Times, Russia

Feds drop plan for logging in Tongass

GRANTS PASS, ORE. -- Going against Bush administration efforts to increase Northwest logging, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on Wednesday dropped plans to slash protections for old growth forests used as nesting trees by a threatened sea bird.

The agency reversed its proposal to cut by 94% the 3.9 million acres of critical habitat set aside in 1996 to help the marbled murrelet, which is protected under the Endangered Species Act. It cited uncertainties over plans to ramp up logging on federal lands in Western Oregon, according to a notice in the Federal Register.

Kristen Boyles, an attorney for the public interest law firm Earthjustice, said the decision marked the continued unraveling of efforts by Bush administration appointees to shrink Endangered Species Act protections for fish and wildlife to help the timber industry and other interest groups.

"I don't know what is going on in the agency, but this is the scientists winning out over the politicos, for sure," Boyles said from Seattle. – Los Angeles Times

Anti-shark device eaten by shark

SYNDEY, Australia -- A device attached to surf boards to repel sharks and protect surfers from getting attacked by the sea predator failed during an actual test off South Africa on Friday when a great white shark ate it.

 The failure of the Shark Shield's emitted electric field to deter sharks from approaching the board caused the sale of the device manufactured by Australian firm Shark Shield Pty. Ltd. to be suspended.

 According to The Australian newspaper, Rod Hartley, director of the Shark Shield Pty. Ltd., said the device did not work because it was not properly configured. Hartley added that it only works when it is stationary, "not when it's surfing in the wave or paddling."

 The firm also manufactures and distributes similar anti-shark devices for snorkeling, scuba diving, free diving, spear fishing, commercial diving, kayaking, ocean swimming and boating or fishing.

Dungeness so-so off N. California

It's been slow, but it could have been slower. It's been okay, but definitely not great.

 And so the story goes for the commercial Dungeness crab season.

 Most boats out of Crescent City have pulled in their pots and stopped fishing for Dungeness, even though the season doesn't officially end until summer.

 "It was a decent season if you worked hard," said David Evanow, who has fished for more than 35 years. "If you sat around and wished there was more (crab), you didn't do too well."

 Preliminary numbers collected by California Department of Fish and Game show that Crescent City's Dungeness catch—so far—is about half of what it was last year.

 Crescent City has landed nearly 2 million pounds of Dungeness this season for a value of more than $4 million. But some crabs are still being unloaded locally, so both figures are likely to rise.

 Last season, the local port collected close to 4 million pounds of Dungeness.

 In comparison, Eureka this season has taken in just over 1 million pounds of Dungeness. Statewide, nearly 5 million pounds have been caught, totaling more than $12 million.

Ken Graves, who has fished for about 30 years out of Crescent City, said this year's Dungeness catch was noticeably lower than usual.

 "I would characterize last year as average," Graves said. "This year was substantially below that."

A couple rounds of high ocean waves from this winter's storms made it difficult to fish, Graves said.

 As consumer demand remains high in these later months of the season and crabs themselves are dwindling, fishermen have gotten a good price for their catch, said Pete Kalvass, a senior marine biologist with the California Department of Fish and Game.

In more abundant years, Kalvass said, rates for fishermen can be lower, causing many to stop fishing earlier. But as long as prices stay up, some fishermen will continue pulling in crabs.

 "It's worth their while to keep fishing in years like this," Kalvass said. – Crescent City Triplicate