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Summary for March 17 - March 21, 2008:

Monday, March 17, 2008 

Anti-climax: No season for Mid-Coast trollers

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The room at the DoubleTree hotel in Sacramento was relatively empty when the Pacific Fishery Management Council considered the final three options for 2008 salmon seasons.

Most sport and commercial fishermen were anxious to catch their flights or drive home after a week that was filled, for the most part, with bad news.

Council staff packed up boxes and cartons while salmon scientists — the Salmon Technical Team — crunched numbers for the fifth day in a row.

The final push was an effort to predict what and how much impact any kind of sport and commercial season would have on Sacramento River and Central Valley stocks of fall Chinook salmon. Fishermen and state and federal managers met early in the morning to add one more proposal to the mix of three options.

Those three options included no season at all for sport and commercial in Oregon and California, south of Cape Falcon on the northern Oregon Coast; a commercial troll fishery that would take place only for ongoing genetics studies, complemented by a coho-only/non-Chinook-retention season on the sport side; and a limited number of fishing days for trollers and also limited Chinook fishing days for recreational fishermen.

Oregon Sea Grant Agent and salmon troller Jeff Feldner said that due to the limited options, genetic stock studies will be difficult to plan for this year.

“Anyone with any other opportunity is going to take it,” he said.

Still, despite the option of some fishing being proposed, fleets shouldn’t get their hopes up, council members warned.

“People should be aware that the chances of getting any fishery are exceedingly slim,” council member and West Coast Seafood Processors Association Executive Director Rod Moore said. “The National Marine Fisheries Service has made it clear we’re not meeting the necessary escapement goals on the Sacramento River. No matter how we shape our fishery south of Cape Falcon, we can’t do anything to increase the Sacramento escapement.”

Returning spawners to the Sacramento were at an all-time low last year and projected to be less than half the numbers needed to keep the stock sustainable next year.

Public meetings will be held in Washington, Oregon and California at the end of March or beginning of April to take public comment on the proposed options. The council will again meet for a week in Seattle to make a final season approval. Then the National Marine Fisheries Service must also approve it and put together a package of regulations regarding the specific seasons.

That leaves some hope yet — a thin, thin ray of hope — that a season may yet be possible.

“It will be important for fishermen and local communities to document the economic harm that will result from a zero season,” Moore said. “This will be the only way we can convince NMFS to allow a fishery this year.”

The afternoon’s long wait was preceded by an ad hoc group of commercial fishermen, sportsmen, tribal nations and environmental groups in the morning who held a press conference about the plight of the Sacramento salmon and other Central Valley species of fish.

Though federal scientists have said ocean conditions likely are the main culprit for poor returns of not just Sacramento but salmon in other rivers as well, Environmental Water Caucus members said that’s not the only problem.

Poor water conditions aren’t conducive to salmon survival in the Central Valley, coalition members said, and proposed simple solutions.

“There are practical, manageable common-sense ways to reverse the decline,” Dick Nesmith, facilitator for the caucus, said.

The group proposed reducing impacts of export water pumping and diversions; improving water quality on the delta and Central Valley streams; improving access to blocked salmon habitat; improving habitat in Central Valley rivers and streams by enhancing flows, providing cooler temperatures and restoring floodplains; improving hatchery operations; and providing effective governmental leadership. – Coos Bay World

Fish cops search Juneau tavern

A downtown pub and restaurant has been searched by federal fisheries agents.

 National Office of Oceanic Administration law enforcement served a civil search warrant on Wednesday at Doc Water's, in the Merchants Wharf on Egan Drive.

 NOAA agents enforce state and federal fisheries and wildlife laws.

 "Most of our work is done in the water or at the docks," said special agent Matt Brown of the Juneau office.

 The reason for the warrant was sealed by the judge who issued it, according to NOAA special agent Ron Antaya. The matter is an open investigation, he said.

 "To my knowledge, we have not taken any enforcement action against a restaurant in Juneau before," said Susan Auer, an attorney in NOAA's Juneau office.

 The pub is owned by Juneau resident Jason Maroney, who declined to comment on the case.

 During the search, drug investigators were invited to the scene because the agents found an amber-colored liquid they couldn't identify in a bucket, said Trooper Sgt. Tim Birt of the Southeast Alaska Narcotics Enforcement Team. By Friday the liquid was still unidentified, but no longer considered suspicious.

 "I don't know what it was, but we didn't identify any drugs in it," he said.

 Building manager Daniel Glidmann said he suspected it was a kitchen cleaning product.

The Juneau Police Department was on scene as support, said police Sgt. David Campbell. – Juneau Empire

To the editor: Thanks to Gov. Polin

The United Fishermen of Alaska thank Gov. Palin for her continued support of the commercial fishing industry in Alaska. We would like to specifically thank her for two recent actions — the return of the Habitat Division to the Department of Fish and Game and funding for the department to offset reductions in federal spending.

 A top priority, backed by unanimous recommendation of her Fish and Game transition team, was to consider moving the Habitat Division from the Department of Natural Resources back to the Department of Fish and Game. After careful review by her administration, the recent decision to initiate that move is greatly appreciated by fishermen throughout the state.

 Recently, the federal government funding for important research and management programs by the Department of Fish and Game was cut. With cuts over $7 million facing the department next year, Gov. Palin was very quick to respond to this emergency by submitting a funding request in the supplemental budget request that would cover this shortfall for the next fiscal year.

 In the past year, Gov. Palin has demonstrated her commitment to support Alaska’s coastal communities and those who provide the finest seafood to the nation and the world. We appreciate the governor’s attention to these two items of importance to all Alaskans. – Mark Vinsel of the United Fishermen of Alaska, writing to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Wave energy park gets nod for N. California coast

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. has cleared a major hurdle by obtaining a federal permit that will allow it to exclusively study a swath of ocean off Humboldt County for a possible wave energy project.

 The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the preliminary permit and denied one for the same area to Fairhaven OPT Ocean Power, which filed its application one day later than PG&E last year. The utility now needs to study a wide array of factors, such as wave height and consistency, to determine what the project will look like.

 So far, PG&E has submitted only vague plans for eight to 200 energy conversion buoys two to 10 miles offshore, linked by submarine cable to onshore facilities. The buoys would be capable of generating up to 40 megawatts, enough for about 4,000 homes.

 ”This is the first step in allowing us to move forward with this process altogether,” said PG&E spokeswoman Jana Morris.

 The company still needs a permit from the U.S. Minerals Management Service, which governs the projects outside of three miles. It also has to have other state and federal approvals before it can actually build a project.

 The FERC permit is good for three years, and requires that PG&E within 45 days submit a schedule of activities proposed for that period.

 ”They couldn't do anything until they had this one,” said David Boyd of the Redwood Coast Energy Authority about the FERC permit. “Now they can go forward.”

 The county and state and federal agencies have lodged some initial concerns about the project. Humboldt County Board of Supervisors Chairwoman Bonnie Neely in December wrote to PG&E to remind it of the intense winter weather on the coast, and the importance of the fish and wildlife in the area.

 The U.S. Department of the Interior also voiced concerns about species such as the brown pelican and protected species like the marbled murrelet, the short-tailed albatross and the Western snowy plover. It warned that new technologies may require that much more information needs to be collected to determine the potential effects on the environment. – Eureka Times-Standard

B.C. fish plant fire called suspicious

Victoria police are investigating after a suspicious fire gutted part of a James Bay fish plant.

 At one point, flames 12 metres high flashed above Finest At Sea Ocean Products Ltd., on Erie Street.

 Serina Whiteside, next door in the Reef condominium, called 911 at 11:30 p.m. "It didn't take long to spread. ... There were a few good explosions, propane tanks popping and sparks flying."

 The fire was extinguished a few hours later.

 Victoria Fire Department Lt.-Insp. Steve Meikle said the blaze, which the fire department is investigating as possible arson, started at the back of one of the Finest At Sea's buildings.

 A new cinderblock wall between the fish plant and neighbouring Victoria Marine Electric stopped the fire from spreading, Meikle said.

 Bob Fraumeni, owner of Finest At Sea Ocean Products Ltd., said several wooden pallets were piled next to the building, which backs onto Ontario Street.

 Surveying the damage to his processing plant, which had held two fish smokers and refrigerators, Fraumeni said some might have found the building an eyesore but "to me, it was a silk purse.

 "There was probably $1 million worth of equipment in there."

 One bright spot for Fraumeni was the startup of the refrigeration units in another building, also heavily damaged by fire. Those units hold tonnes of frozen seafood, such as valuable black cod, halibut and prawns.

 The city and Finest At Sea have been in a protracted dispute over several matters, including construction without permits and complaints about noise and debris on Ontario Street, said Victoria corporate communications manager Katie Josephson. About a dozen complaints have come in over the years, she said.

The city had previously taken legal steps to seek a consent order to ensure the site's three buildings and use complied with city requirements. Fraumeni said he had successfully sought site-specific rezoning and had agreed on the work to be carried out, which was to be completed by April 1.

Finest At Sea staff are working on plans to continue supplying customers with their wild-caught products. – Victoria (B.C.) Times-Colonist

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 

Salmon: The New York Times takes notice

SACRAMENTO — Where did they go?

 The Chinook salmon that swim upstream to spawn in the fall, the most robust run in the Sacramento River, have disappeared. The almost complete collapse of the richest and most dependable source of Chinook salmon south of Alaska left gloomy fisheries experts struggling for reliable explanations — and coming up dry.

 Whatever the cause, there was widespread agreement among those attending a five-day meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council here last week that the regional $150 million fishery, which usually opens for the four-month season on May 1, is almost certain to remain closed this year from northern Oregon to the Mexican border. A final decision on salmon fishing in the area is expected next month.

 As a result, Chinook, or king salmon, the most prized species of Pacific wild salmon, will be hard to come by until the Alaskan season opens in July. Even then, wild Chinook are likely to be very expensive in markets and restaurants nationwide.

 “It’s unprecedented that this fishery is in this kind of shape,” said Donald McIsaac, executive director of the council, which is organized under the auspices of the Commerce Department.

 Fishermen think the Sacramento River was mismanaged in 2005, when this year’s fish first migrated downriver. Perhaps, they say, federal and state water managers drained too much water or drained at the wrong time to serve the state’s powerful agricultural interests and cities in arid Southern California. The fishermen think the fish were left susceptible to disease, or to predators, or to being sucked into diversion pumps and left to die in irrigation canals.

 But federal and state fishery managers and biologists point to the highly unusual ocean conditions in 2005, which may have left the fingerling salmon with little or none of the rich nourishment provided by the normal upwelling currents near the shore.

 The life cycle of these fall run Chinook salmon takes them from their birth and early weeks in cold river waters through a downstream migration that deposits them in the San Francisco Bay when they are a few inches long, and then as their bodies adapt to saltwater through a migration out into the ocean, where they live until they return to spawn, usually three years later.

 One species of Sacramento salmon, the winter run Chinook, is protected under the Endangered Species Act. But their meager numbers have held steady and appear to be unaffected by whatever ails the fall Chinook.

 So what happened? As Dave Bitts, a fisherman based in Eureka in Northern California, sees it, the variables are simple. “To survive, there are two things a salmon needs,” he said. “To eat. And not to be eaten.”

 Fragmentary evidence about salmon mortality in the Sacramento River in recent years, as well as more robust but still inconclusive data about ocean conditions in 2005, indicates that the fall Chinook smolts, or baby fish, of 2005 may have lost out on both counts. But biologists, fishermen and fishery managers all emphasize that no one yet knows anything for sure.

 Bill Petersen, an oceanographer with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s research center in Newport, Ore., said other stocks of anadromous Pacific fish — those that migrate from freshwater to saltwater and back — had been anemic this year, leading him to suspect ocean changes.

 After studying changes in the once-predictable pattern of the Northern Pacific climate, Mr. Petersen found that in 2005 the currents that rise from the deeper ocean, bringing with them nutrients like phytoplankton and krill, were out of sync. “Upwelling usually starts in April and goes until September,” he said. “In 2005, it didn’t start until July.”

Mr. Petersen’s hypothesis about the salmon is that “the fish that went to sea in 2005 died a few weeks after getting to the ocean” because there was nothing to eat. A couple of years earlier, when the oceans were in a cold-weather cycle, the opposite happened — the upwelling was very rich. The smolts of that year were later part of the largest run of fall Chinook ever recorded.

 But, Mr. Petersen added, many factors may have contributed to the loss of this season’s fish.

 Bruce MacFarlane, another NOAA researcher who is based in Santa Cruz, has started a three-year experiment tagging young salmon — though not from the fall Chinook run — to determine how many of those released from the large Coleman hatchery, 335 miles from the Sacramento River’s mouth, make it to the Golden Gate Bridge. According to the first year’s data, only 4 of 200 reached the bridge.

 Mr. MacFarlane said it was possible that a diversion dam on the upper part of the river, around Redding and Red Bluff, created calm and deep waters that are “a haven for predators,” particularly the pike minnow.

 Farther downstream, he said, young salmon may fall prey to striped bass. There are also tens of thousands of pipes, large and small, attached to pumping stations that divert water.

 Jeff McCracken, a spokesman for the federal Bureau of Reclamation, which is among the major managers of water in the Sacramento River delta, said that in the last 18 years, significant precautions have been taken to keep fish from being taken out of the river through the pipes.

 “We’ve got 90 percent of those diversions now screened,” Mr. McCracken said. He added that two upstream dams had been removed and that the removal of others was planned. At the diversion dam in Red Bluff, he said, “we’ve opened the gates eight months a year to allow unimpeded fish passage.”

 Bureau of Reclamation records show that annual diversions of water in 2005 were about 8 percent above the 12-year average, while diversions in June, the month the young Chinook smolts would have headed downriver, were roughly on par with what they had been in the mid-1990s.

 Peter Dygert, a NOAA representative on the fisheries council, said, “My opinion is that we won’t have a definitive answer that clearly indicates this or that is the cause of the decline.” – New York Times

Northern B.C. saying no to salmon pens

Opposition to salmon farming on the B.C. coast has effectively stalled its expansion in southern waters, and will likely keep salmon farms from being established in the north.

 After dozens of salmon farms have operated for up to 25 years in the waters around Vancouver Island, there remains no scientific consensus on their effects on wild salmon, or the effectiveness of the strategies for curbing sea lice, according to a review of world-wide scientific literature just completed for the B.C. Pacific Salmon Forum.

 Efforts to manage the effects of net-pen fish farms with a pesticide trade-named Slice will continue this spring as another generation of wild pink salmon makes its way to sea. And salmon farms won't be emptied or "fallowed" to make way for the April run of juvenile pinks.

 "We're going to make sure that all of those farms have very low if not zero lice levels during the migration period," said B.C. Agriculture Minister Pat Bell. "Fallowing's not practical at this point. It would involve moving something in the order of three quarters of a million fish in each one of potentially five sites ... but certainly Slice treatments would more than compensate for any risks that are associated with that migration period."

 Bell, who granted two new salmon farm licences last fall in the Broughton Archipelago between northern Vancouver Island and the mainland, hopes to have a new provincial policy out later this year. It depends heavily on consultations with aboriginal communities along the coast, he said.

 "There's a variety of opinions on it, but I would say that the overall body of opinion leans towards a moratorium on the north coast," Bell told Black Press.

 Skeena MLA Robin Austin, who chaired an NDP-controlled committee calling for an end to net-pen salmon farming, said a moratorium for northern waters is "a given." Residents of Kitkatla, a Tsimshian village on an island near Prince Rupert, recently voted in a new council that reversed the community's effort to bring the first salmon farm to the region, Austin said, and now the industry has no local support in the north. – BCLocalNews

Scottish fisherman uses high voltage lines

A labour contractor has been accused of risking lives by illegally trawling the sea bed for shellfish using powerful electric cables.

 Garry MacLeod uses high voltage to stun razorfish out of their burrows so they can be bagged by migrant workers swimming behind his boats.

 MacLeod, 55, makes thousands of pounds exporting his catch to Spain to be used in tapas.

 He has just moved into a £630,000 ($2.7 million U.S.) four-bedroom villa in Carmunnock, near Glasgow, and a Range Rover, Jaguar and BMW sports car sit in the drive.

 He lists his home address as the Garrett Lee -- a 60ft luxury sailing yacht worth more than £200,000.

 MacLeod set up his main firm, Shelldivers, in March 2006. It boasts two boats, Coastal Explorer and Isis, and has operated from Troon and the islands of Lewis, Mull and Tiree.

He uses an industrial generator to send currents through a metal frame sunk to the seabed, which makes the razorfish pop up -- easy prey for the divers following behind.

 But the work is regarded as high risk.

 A diver said: "Water and electricity are a lethal combination."

 His methods also kill everything living on the seabed, infuriating legitimate fisherman.

MacLeod recruits divers from South Africa, Poland and Lithuania with the promise of full training and British standard diving certification.

 But a month is the longest a diver has worked for him.

 MacLeod was caught in the act after a police helicopter spotted divers off the coast of Carradale, Argyll. By the time a launch reached him he had cut the cables. -- Glasgow Sunday Mail, UK

Boat lift going ahead in Kodiak

An excited Ports and Harbor Advisory Board was first to get the news that bids for the boat lift project had finally gotten under way, as planned March 10. Board members were relieved that Marine Travelift, a U.S. manufacturer, had decided to bid and was the lowest bidder.

 That relief and excitement was tempered when they learned Marine Travelift had bid $6.2 million, approximately $2.4 million more than the City of Kodiak budgeted for.

 “At the next council meeting, I plan on recommending Marine Travelift be awarded the contract,” City Manager Linda Freed said.

 Harbormaster Marty Owen was happy that Travelift decided to bid.

 “Marine Travelift is a firm with a good track record and we have three of their machines in town now and all over the state of Alaska,” he said. “They’re an outstanding company and I’m glad they were the low bidder.”

 It wasn’t a sure thing.

 Bidding had been expected to begin in January, but problems with the bid requirements caused Marine Travelift to balk.

 “Specifically, we are not willing to satisfy the current bid requirements in the areas of bonding, penalty clause, payment structure and product acceptance,” Peter Kerwin, chief financial officer for Marine Travelift, wrote in an e-mail.

These requirements were driven by the Economic Development Agency conditions for the city to qualify for a $2.3 million grant toward paying for project.

 Freed postponed bidding until March in order to brief the City Council on the developments. The council agreed that regardless of who bids, the bidding process needed to proceed.

 At that time, two other companies expressed interest, a Chinese and an Italian firm.

Of those, only the Chinese firm China Perfect bid with Marine Travelift. They bid $8.7 million. – Kodiak Daily Mirror

Editorial: Don't forget the lowly smelt

In a year when the scarcity of Willamette and Sacramento river Chinook salmon and Columbia River coho will be big, bad news for at least the next six months, it might be easy to overlook the plight of another noble fish -- the humble smelt.

Migrating inland to freshwater spawning grounds just like the far more famous salmon species that prey upon them in the ocean, smelt are a miracle of nature. In the depths of the winter, coastal rivers and beaches in Oregon and Washington were once alive with countless millions of these silvery, almost translucent fish.

To Pacific Northwest tribes these vast schools of 6- to 8-inch smelt were second in importance only to salmon, providing a rich source of protein and oil that was used both for food and lighting. In more recent times, they have been netted primarily for use as bait and animal feed.

For many local people, smelt were both literally and figuratively a taste of times gone by. As described on an outdated Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Web site, arrival of smelt was "a time of bounty and fun, as whole families converge on the beach with A-frame nets and dip nets to collect the makings of a wonderful meal." Such traditions have become only fading memories for older people on the lower Columbia, where Finns especially enjoyed a side dish of smelt.

This year's smelt run is a near-total bust, and now they are quite likely to be added to the Endangered Species list following a petition by the Cowlitz Indian Tribe that suggests Oregon and California runs face local extinction. This year's returns are the second lowest on record, according to the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. There are no signs of smelt on the Cowlitz River, where Kelso, Wash., describes itself as "Smelt Capital of the World." There have been meager returns to the Sandy, Elochoman and Grays rivers. It's been years since the last significant return to the Naselle River.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has accepted the tribe's assertion and will begin the listing process, correctly characterized as "long overdue" by Cowlitz Chairman John Barnett. There have been some decent returns in the years since Mount St. Helen's 1980 eruption damaged the regional watershed, but a catch of only a few thousand pounds qualifies as a "good year" nowadays. We all knew or should have known smelt were in trouble.

We know pathetically little about how and why salmon fail to thrive in the ocean, and far less about smelt, on which salmon rely. In both cases, however, critical factors are likely to include habitat destruction during the fresh-water phase of their lives, changing ocean productivity and chemistry, and mismanagement.

An online discussion board dedicated to sport fishing contains a 2001 inquiry from someone interested in dipping smelt here, to which this response was posted: "Nobody gives a $hit about the lowly smelt." It's time to start caring: this whole world is hooked together and what's bad for smelt is bad for salmon and ultimately bad for us. – The Daily Astorian

Wednesday, March 20, 2008 

Juneau moorage fees driving out fishermen

Juneau's moorage rates are the highest in Southeast Alaska. Some fishermen say they left town partly because of them, but port directors say the fees are as low as they can go.

 Aldwin Harder moved himself and his fishing boat, the 47-foot Kelcey Michele, to Hoonah three years ago. He said he spends more than $50,000 a year in goods and services in whatever town he fishes from, not including moorage and fuel.

 "If you kick me out, you kick that money out," he said.

 Nine other boats located on his finger in the Hoonah harbor came from Juneau, he said.

 Fees are based on boat length. The annual moorage fee for a 40-foot boat costs $1,687 in Juneau, $1,280 in Petersburg, $1,040 in Ketchikan, $960 in Sitka, $720 in Hoonah, $640 in Haines, $600 in Wrangell, $480 in Skagway and $410 in Pelican.

 Juneau's moorage fees rose seven years ago after the state gave up harbor administration to Alaska municipalities, Juneau Harbormaster Lou McCall said. The Department of Transportation funded the city's harbor operations, but it wasn't enough to deal with harbors that in some cases were more than 40 years old.

 "We had to take the bull by the horns, and instead of making tiny increases, say, 'Here's what it's going to cost to make these harbors usable again,'" McCall said.

 Port director John Stone said the harbors are mandated to break even, and can't be subsidized by the city's general fund. Even so, fees are less than actual cost, he said.

 Capital and operating expenses cost about $3,000 per stall per year, about twice the average money coming in, he said. Those moorage fees don't cover improvements city harbors need, he said.

 Harbor managers said they don't know how many fishermen had left for other towns. A boat may leave for many reasons. Stone said he is aware fishermen leave because of the fees.

 "I know where the fishermen are coming from," he said. "It's not because we want to have higher moorage. We're dealing with constraints."

 Demand for harbor slips is declining, Stone said. Five years ago, multiyear waiting lists were the norm for fishing boats. Now the waits are lower and, for some boat lengths, eliminated. Spaces opened up when boats left, but also because about 80 derelict boats have been removed, according to McCall.

 Sitka Harbormaster Ray Majeski said that unlike Juneau's mandate to break even, local government directed him to keep moorage fees affordable for locals.

 Majeski said he has enough money to run and improve the harbors, aside from major disasters, from moorage fees and taxes paid by fishermen. The fish tax provided a little more than $700,000 last year, he said.

 Majeski said he has noticed boats moving from Juneau to Sitka, though he didn't have exact numbers.

 It's a double loss for Juneau, he said.

 "When they leave your harbor and come to my harbor, I wind up getting the moorage from them, but I also get the fish tax," he said.

 Higher moorage rates are just one increase in the cost of fishing out of Juneau, fishermen said. And they're not necessarily the largest. Other Southeast towns are closer to the best fishing grounds. As fuel costs rose sharply in the last couple of years, that distance became more expensive to cover.

 It is cheaper to fly to Hoonah than to run a boat there, said Ed Hansen, who docks his fishing boat in Hoonah but lives in Juneau.

 Hansen said he moved his boat out of Juneau partly because of the higher fees, and partly because of the principle: He was angry.

 "They're running the fishing fleet out of this town," he said.

He also said the Hoonah harbor's small size makes it easy for the harbormaster to keep an eye on the boats, which means he can trust that his boat will be safe without him. That's not possible in Juneau's harbors, which may see 10 times as many boats, he said.

 "It's not that hard to just leave," Hansen said. "We have a harbormaster over there that's incredible." – Juneau Empire

Blaze damages Warrenton crabber

 The Warrenton Fire Department put out a blaze aboard a crab boat moored at the Warrenton Boat Basin. No one was on board the 59-foot commercial crab boat Majestik when the fire started.

The fire was reported at 6:32 p.m. by a woman who lives at the nearby Port Warren condominiums. She saw smoke and called 9-1-1. The Warrenton Fire Department was dispatched seven minutes later. Chief Ted Ames said 15 Warrenton firefighters responded and had the fire under control by 7:15 p.m. They remained on scene for another 45 minutes to an hour doing cleanup work.

Ames said the fire was probably caused by a loose connection in the shore power adapter that connected the boat to the shore power cord. He estimated the fire caused about $200,000 worth of damage to the steel-hulled boat, whose value he estimated at $900,000 to $950,000.

None of the damage was structural, Ames said, but "the interiors are pretty much toast." The Majestik was built in 1981 and is owned by Majestik Fisheries LLC of Newport, whose principal is Chad Hoefer.

The U.S. Coast Guard also responded to the boat fire, said Mark Dobney, civilian search and rescue controller at Coast Guard Group Astoria. He said a motor lifeboat and 25-foot response boat from Station Cape Disappointment stood by as Warrenton firefighters extinguished the flames. A marine deputy from the Clatsop County Sheriff's Office also responded. – Daily Astorian

Feds OK kill of Bonneville sea lions

Federal fisheries managers are giving the go-ahead for Oregon and Washington officials to trap and, if necessary, kill sea lions that wolf down thousands of salmon at Bonneville Dam every year.

 The order limits lethal removal to sea lions deemed to have a significant effect on federally protected salmon and steelhead stocks. They must have been seen eating such fish between Jan. 1 and May 31 of any year.

 The order says sea lions captured in traps must be held for at least 48 hours to allow a search for a home in captivity before they are euthanized. It identifies about 60 sea lions "authorized for immediate removal."

 The voracious California sea lions have become a hot-button issue on the Columbia as they consume the same fish the federal government is spending billions of dollars to save.

Some of the sea lions have become especially brazen, snatching fish from frustrated fishermen and nearly upsetting boats.

 State officials, anticipating the federal authorization, said Monday that they are preparing to move ahead with control measures that will step up the pressure on the sea lions. The states have tried hazing the sea lions with noisemakers, with mixed success. – The Oregonian

U.S. House says no to Sonoma drilling

WASHINGTON -- Two decades of organized opposition to oil drilling off Sonoma County's rugged coast paid dividends when a House panel endorsed legislation that would permanently bar drilling in the waters. The bill would roughly double the size of the Gulf of the Farallones and Cordell Bank national marine sanctuaries and lock in a ban on oil drilling. The Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary would swell to an area larger than Delaware and cover all of Sonoma County's 76 miles of shoreline. The affected area lies in federal waters, from three miles offshore to as far out as 51 miles from Bodega Head. The unanimous voice vote by the Committee on Natural Resources sends the measure to the full House, which has yet to schedule a vote. -- Santa Rosa Press Democrat

Just how fishy is farmed fish?

Farm-raised salmon are being fed more like a cow than like a fish, at least according to Joe Schwarcz, who is the director of McGill University's Office for Science and Society.

Schwarcz is also a columnist for the Montreal Gazette and this week he pondered the chemical feed and coloring routinely added to make the gray-fleshed, captive fish look more like their brightly hued, robust, wild kin from the Pacific.

The coloring agent is astaxanthin, a naturally occurring pigment found in a variety of algae that serve as food for krill, shrimp and crayfish, favorite food of the ocean-cruising salmon and the source of the natural fish's rich orange color.

But, Schwarcz reports that these days, however, most salmon are raised on fish farms. where they are fed pellets made from other fish. The feed lacks astaxanthin, so the salmon ranchers add it to the feed.

The commercial production of astaxanthin is a huge industry, relying on three distinct processes, he writes. Fermentation of sugar by certain yeasts can produce the compound, as can extraction from specially grown algae.

But the most economical, and therefore the most common process, relies on a 14-step chemical synthesis from raw materials sourced from petroleum. Actually, the name astaxanthin refers to any one of three very closely related compounds with very subtle differences in molecular structure. - Post-Intelligencer, Seattle

Thursday, March 20, 2008 

 Alaska, B.C. fish find market on the Coast

MEDFORD, Ore. -- A potential West Coast ocean fishing ban for the upcoming salmon season is expected to have major economic repercussions.

 One local business hasn't yet raised its own prices despite the fact the price they pay for shipments from Alaska and Canada have increased.

 "They've already raised our price 60 cents-a-pound over the week, just over the news they're going to close the salmon season on the West Coast," says Rogue Valley Fresh Seafood Owner Michael Cooper.

 A salmon fishing ban will not just affect the price of salmon. It will lead to a higher demand for other types of seafood, raising prices across the board.

 This coupled with higher shipping costs due to the rising cost of fuel could create a considerable trickle down effect within the Oregon economy. -- KDRV, Oregon 


Crisis on the Sacramento hurries the state

Plans to build a peripheral canal to divert water around the Sacramento Delta took a key step forward when the Department of Water Resources launched a 30-month study on how to stabilize unreliable water supplies.

 The environmental analysis will examine the effects of building a canal, along with other methods of getting water from the Sacramento River to the East Bay, San Joaquin Valley and Southern California.

 The study comes as state officials search with increasing urgency for a fix to the delta's myriad problems, which include collapsing fish populations, increasingly unreliable water supplies and aging levees that could fail and cause flooding while also jeopardizing water deliveries.

 Since 2006, water agencies, regulators and some environmentalists have been meeting to craft a "Bay-Delta Conservation Plan," which would relieve water agencies of onerous endangered species requirements in exchange for a long-term commitment to help recover dwindling fish populations.

 In a sign of the urgency with which state officials view the delta's problems, the analysis of the plan is being launched even though the plan is not complete and its participants have not agreed on a solution. – San Jose Mercury News


Poacher goes to jail

A Salinas man will pay a steep price for poaching abalone at Sobranes Point in Garrapata State Park in January.

 Jonathan Conner, 21, of Salinas pleaded guilty to unlawfully taking abalone and was sentenced today to 180 days in county jail and four years of probation. He must also pay a $15,000 fine.

 On Jan. 19, Conner and another man were observed by a California Fish and Game warden moving around the shore with bags and pry bars, taking abalone off the rocks. The warden caught them with bags containing 122 abalone, including 119 of the scarce black variety.

 In order to preserve the dwindling supply of abalone, it is illegal to take abalone for commercial or recreational purposes anywhere south of the Golden Gate Bridge. Poachers usually take abalone for purposes of selling them on the black market. -- The Salinas Californian


B.C fishermen don’t like ocean wind farm

A wind farm project proposed for Hecate Strait could impact more than half of Area A's crab grounds by the time it's completed, say the British Columbia Crab Fisherman's Association.

 NaiKun Wind Development sponsored two evening public information meetings on the Queen Charlotte Islands earlier this month, the first held in Skidegate and second the following night in Massett.

 Geoff Gould, Area A Crab Association executive director, attended both meetings on behalf of the British Columbia Crab Fisherman's Association and was not impressed.

 Gould said that while the Skidegate meeting only brought out only around 10 members of the public, the meeting in Massett was much better attended because there are two crab plants in the area and more concern about the impact the wind farm might have.

 With crab fisherman and plant workers in attendance, Gould said the second meeting was much more lively, but, he said, audience members left frustrated after they did not receive adequate answers about environmental issues.

 "There were some hard questions asked, but all they did was deflect or defer the questions to 2009 when the Environmental Assessment will be done, so in my opinion they were evasive," said Gould. – Prince Rupert Daily News

Friday, March 21, 2008 

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