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Summary for March 24 - March 28, 2008:

Monday, March 24, 2008 

Bering Sea trawler sinks, four dead, one missing

Shortly before 3 a.m. Sunday the Coast Guard in Alaska got a chilling call from a Seattle-based fishing vessel out in the Bering Sea. "Mayday! Mayday! Mayday! ... We're flooding. Taking on water in our rudder room," said a crew member on the Alaska Ranger.

 The 189-foot ship — a factory trawler that has withstood decades of tough duty in Alaska waters — was in dire trouble. Though the seas were mild, the ship eventually would go down, claiming the lives of four of the 47-member crew and leaving another missing.

Among the dead was the vessel's skipper, Eric Peter Jacobsen, of Lynnwood, Wash. The others were chief engineer Daniel Cook, mate David Silveira, and crewman Byron Carrillo, according to the Fishing Company of Alaska, owner of the ship.

 Crew members donned survival suits shortly before 5 a.m. to buy time in the frigid Bering Sea, according to the Coast Guard. Some made it into life rafts while others ended up bobbing in the water.

 "When we got on scene there was a spread, at least a mile long, of 13 survivors in Gumby [survival] suits with strobe lights," said Coast Guard Aviation Survival Technician 2nd Class O'Brien Hollow, who was involved in air rescues. "I went down without disconnecting from the helicopter and picked them up one at a time."

 An additional 22 crew members were scooped up by the Alaska Warrior, a sister ship to the Alaska Ranger, which then headed back to Dutch Harbor with the survivors.

 Other crew members remained on a second boat that was searching the area, about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor. The bodies of the four dead crew members had been recovered and were aboard the Alaska Warrior.

 Coast Guard officials said that the joint rescue was an "incredible accomplishment" that prevented more loss of life.

 Few additional details of the events leading up the flooding were available. The swells were only about 6 to 8 feet at the time, although the Bering Sea is known to brew up fierce storms with waves cresting at 30 or even 40 feet.

 "We do not have sufficient information to determine why the vessel foundered. We will do everything possible to find out what occurred, with the hope that something can be learned that will be of value to our fishing community," the company said.

 Jacobsen, the 66-year-old captain, would have done everything possible to get others off the ship, according to his stepson, Scott Jacobsen, 33, who lives in Bothell, Wash.

 "My father has always said that a good captain always makes sure he is the last soul off the boat.

 "He said if there is still a person left on the boat, he would go down with the boat trying to get that person off. He was an honorable captain and would make sure everyone was off. He had no qualms about going down with the boat and making sure everyone was evacuated."

 Jacobsen said his father was a third-generation fisherman who would spend eight or nine months a year at sea. He was meticulous and a dedicated skipper who in his time ashore liked to rebuild cars and walk the family dog.

 Scott Jacobsen said his father urged him to consider a career other than fishing, suggesting instead he should join the carpenters union.

 "I was all set to follow in his footsteps," Scott Jacobsen said, but his dad ultimately won out, convincing him that there wasn't much money in fishing anymore.

 The Alaska Ranger was heading out to catch mackerel, said Mike Szymanski, a company official. Given the time of day, most of the crew probably would have been asleep when trouble started, Szymanski said.

 Jacobsen, Cook and Silveira were the top-tier leaders on the boat and thus would have been responsible for organizing the evacuation and would have been the last to flee, Szymanski said.

 Fishing in Alaska has long been a perilous occupation. But in recent years, the deaths have declined, averaging about 11 a year over the past half-decade compared to more than 35 a year back in the early 1980s.

 The Alaska Ranger was built in 1973. It is one of seven vessels operated by Seattle-based Fishing Company of Alaska. The firm was founded in 1985, Szymanski said, and is owned by Karena Adler, of Mercer Island, Wash.

 The ship is part of the "head-and-gut" fleet that scoops up yellowfin sole, mackerel and other fish in trawl nets, then processes and freezes the catch on board.

 Company officials and others in the tightly knit fishing communities both in Seattle and Alaska are mourning the loss of life.

 "We can replace our boat — but we can't replace the soul, the spirit of those guys that have been working for us for all these years," said Szymanski. "Our main concern now is to take care of the surviving crew and the families that have been impacted by this."

 Szymanski said there was no indication of any problems with the vessel before it left Dutch Harbor. Szymanski said Adler keeps in close contact with crews — talking with skippers at port and emphasizing safety.

 "Every time one of our boats leaves, she assumes responsibility to ensure that they are going to come home," Szymanski said. "This is just tough, tough to figure out."

The Fishing Company of Alaska has had its past problems.

 In 1995, a fire aboard another of its boats, the Alaska Spirit, while the ship was moored in Alaska killed the master of the vessel and caused damage estimated at $3 million. The fire prompted the National Transportation Safety Board to issue a series of safety recommendations to 250 domestic fishing and processing ships.

 In 1998, the company lost another vessel, the 198-foot Alaska-1, which sank after it collided with a freighter about 34 miles north of Dutch Harbor. All 33 members of that vessel abandoned ship and were rescued without injury or loss of life.

 In 2006, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration levied a fine of $254,000 against the fishing vessel, Alaska Juris, and the Fishing Company of Alaska, which managed the vessel. NOAA said the companies had interfered with fishing observers — tampering with or destroying their equipment; failing to provide them a safe work area; and failing to tell them when fish were coming aboard so they could sample the catch.

 Coast Guard documents indicate that since 1992 there have been at least nine injuries reported aboard the Alaska Ranger. Records of all nine incidents were not immediately available, but four involved cut or crushed fingers and hands. In a fifth case, an employee was struck by an object while on deck hauling in a net and ended up with a fractured neck. – Seattle Times

Judge says Puget Sound Chinook conservation OK

Salmon-fishing limits in Puget Sound are adequate to protect threatened Chinook, a federal judge in Seattle ruled Friday, disappointing some conservationists who had sued for more restrictive fisheries.

 "This decision is a devastating blow," said Kurt Beardslee, of the Wild Fish Conservancy of Duvall.

 The organization and other conservation and fishing groups had sued the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) in 2006 in U.S. District Court, arguing that the agency had allowed co-managers of Puget Sound Chinook to set fishing seasons that were too aggressive.

 The fishing-management plan was produced by state Indian tribes, who have fishing rights in Puget Sound, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The plan was approved by the fisheries service as consistent with recovery of Puget Sound Chinook, and it is intended to guide salmon harvest in Puget Sound until 2010.

 Puget Sound Chinook were listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act by the fisheries service 10 years ago this month.

 Friday, Judge Robert S. Lasnik rejected the plaintiff's arguments, ruling that the fisheries service's decision-making process for the fishing limits was sound. The harvest levels should not be tossed out, Lasnik said.

 Peter Dygert, fishery-management biologist for NMFS, said the ruling affirms a broader approach to allow some harvest to continue even though the fish are protected.

 "This win means the overall strategy of trying to achieve recovery in a balanced way that accommodates tribal treaty fishing rights and non-treaty fishing opportunity is a valid and appropriate way to go," Dygert said.

 Harvest isn't the only problem the fish face, said Tony Meyer, spokesman for the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission.

 "This ruling affirms our harvest plan is a good one and it is conservative and protective," he said.

 Further reductions in fishing alone wouldn't bring Chinook back, Meyer said.

 "We've cut harvest, and it hasn't fixed the problem because salmon recovery begins and ends with habitat."

 The conservationists never wanted to end the harvest altogether, but they wanted more protection for native fish, said Svend Brandt-Erichsen, attorney for the Wild Fish Conservancy.

Puget Sound-Chinook fishing seasons are targeted on hatchery stocks. But some native, wild Chinook wind up getting caught too. The more fishing is allowed, the more wild fish are killed, conservationists argued.

 "We are not suggesting that recovery should be on the backs of the fisherman," Brandt-Erichsen said. "But we do believe more native fish have to be allowed to return and spawn."

 The group had not decided whether to appeal. – Seattle Times

Lawsuit filed against Alaska coalmine

ANCHORAGE – A citizens' group has filed a lawsuit over a proposal to develop a large strip coal mine across Cook Inlet from Alaska's largest city.

 The Chuitna Citizens NO-COALition filed an appeal in Superior Court. It challenges a decision by the commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources not to consider their petition to designate the lands within the Chuitna River watershed as unsuitable for the coal mine.

 PacRim Coal LP wants to develop the strip mine on the west side of Cook Inlet. The site is 45 miles west of Anchorage. The company hopes to pull out 300 million metric tons of sub-bituminous coal, roughly equal to the energy of a billion barrels of oil, over 25 years.

But the group said the proposal threatens more than 55 square miles of wildlife and fish, and once it is mined it can't be reclaimed.

 “We're trying to protect our homes, our lifestyles, and the fish and game resources that we depend on,” Judy Heilman, a spokeswoman for the coalition said in a prepared statement. “The vast majority of the residents of Beluga and Tyonek oppose a coal strip mine. It will destroy our way of life.”

 The group is upset with DNR Commissioner Tom Irwin's refusal to consider the petition, which asserts that the proposed mine site can't be successfully reclaimed.

 The group says under the state's mining law the agency must designate an area unsuitable for coal mining if reclamation in the area is not technologically feasible. – Associated Press

Editorial: Our duty to protect salmon runs

California's salmon industry is waiting for the blow to fall: a near-certain ban on fishing this year.

 It's a drastic step that could keep hundreds of commercial skippers and thousands of weekend fishermen ashore. It could also open a debate over the iconic fish's future and its mountains-to-sea life cycle that touches nearly every hot-button conservation topic from climate change to dam demolition.

 The state's salmon mother lode, the Sacramento River, showed a dearth of returning fish last fall. Those are the prime-time months for the river-reared breed that spends its three-year life in ocean waters before coming home to spawn.

 No one disputes the numbers: only 68,000 were counted against a bare-minimum expectation of 122,000. This drop has brought a federal agency, the Pacific Fishery Management Council, to the brink of canceling this summer's salmon season, with a decision due next month.

 It's the nuclear option in the fishing world, but it's met with acceptance by fishing groups, biologists and environmentalists. With stocks so low -- and next year possibly as bad -- no one sees an alternative.

 Salmon challenge California's modern nature like no other creature. The fish live and breed in cold, free-flowing rivers, the same water that farms and cities divert, siphon and store behind dams. Californians drive on roads carved into steep hills that can shower mud that smothers spawning beds.

 Logging, crop spraying, soil tilling, and riverside cattle-grazing are also harmful.

 Fishing groups and environmentalists have long complained about these issues, venting most of their wrath on delta water pumps that suck up young fish and disrupt water flows.

But the newest factor is climate change as shown by a shift in ocean currents. Instead of bringing up nutrients from the deep, the currents have changed as ocean temperatures have risen. Since salmon spend most of their life at sea, the impact is crucial. Will the currents change for good -- or is it a brief disruption? Restoring salmon stocks will be much harder if the ocean's food supply stays scarce.

 The salmon's decline underlines another problem. No one is really in charge of the fish and its fortunes. The Pacific Fishery Management Council was conceived 32 years ago along with other coastal councils around the nation to put fishing experts and industry representatives in charge of their resource. It sets yearly catch limits, but its authority stops where the ocean gives way to fresh water.

 If this mixed-up oversight causes confusion, there's no reason for state leaders to dodge their duties. Logging can't be allowed to destroy fish habitat. Fish populations could revive if dams on the Klamath River came down and other streams were restored. Water diversions must be calculated for minimal damage to fish.

 A changing ocean may be beyond control, but the fish need help elsewhere in their journey to the sea. That should be California's duty in saving the salmon. – San Francisco Chronicle

To the Editor: Not all sea lions' fault

Will a species of our beloved Pacific salmon join the ever growing list of extinct animals? If the threats to these fish are not stopped soon, I think they will.

Commercial fishing and hydroelectric power are important to the Pacific Northwest, and though they may have the most impact on the declining salmon runs, it is much easier to look for quick-fix solutions to save the salmon.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's plan to trap and kill sea lions will not solve the problem of declining salmon in the Northwest for two reasons. Firstly, these sea lions are not the biggest threat to endangered salmon. Yes, they do eat salmon, but they have been doing so for millions of years. What is new to the salmon's fragile ecosystem in the Northwest is people. Loss of habitat, dams, and over-fishing are the real problems. I believe this plan is like a Band-Aid on a deep cut; it will only distract agencies and the public from finding a real solution.

Furthermore, even if I agreed that sea lions were causing a serious threat to the salmon, I would still disagree with the plan to shoot them. This is because I believe the sea lions killed will just be replaced with new sea lions. Sea lions migrate. If we shoot the 85 sea lions a year that the plan allows, more will migrate to the dam. That does not seem like an effective plan to me.

I want to preserve the Northwest's Pacific salmon, and that is why I disagree with this plan. –  Amanda Woodring, writing to The Daily Astorian

Tuesday, March 25, 2008 

Alaska Ranger: Search fruitless of missing crewman

The Coast Guard scanned the icy Bering Sea on Monday for a fisherman who may have been dropped from a rescue basket after the vessel he was on sank, killing four people and leaving survivors bobbing across a mile of ocean.

 The 203-foot Alaska Ranger was on its way to mackerel grounds when it began taking on water Sunday in rough seas. A former captain of the ship recalled the vessel Monday as being "very unstable."

 Forty-two people on board were helped by rescue swimmers and hoisted to helicopters after the Seattle-based ship sank; additional help came from crew on a nearby fishing vessel. The captain and three crew members died; it wasn't immediately clear what caused the ship to sink.

 A preliminary investigation shows the four men did not make it to life rafts and died of hypothermia, said Alaska Wildlife Troopers Sgt. Greg Garcia.

 "It appears they were in the water for about six hours, and as you may know the Bering Sea is phenomenally cold," Garcia said.

 "I don't know if there wasn't enough room in the rafts or not for them, but it sounds to me that the hierarchy wanted to assure everybody else is saved," he said, based upon the troopers' interviews with members of the Rangers' sister vessel, the Alaska Warrior, which assisted in rescue efforts.

 The boat's owner, the Seattle-based Fishing Co. of Alaska, has identified the captain as Eric Peter Jacobsen, 65, of Lynnwood, Wash.

 The missing crew member was identified as Satashi Konno of Japan. The cutter searched for Konno until late Monday, when it left for Dutch Harbor, about 120 miles to the east. Aerial searches continued late Monday, Lane said.

 Konno, whose age was unknown, was wearing a survival suit, but even so, water temperatures are a dangerous 36 degrees, said Chief Petty Officer Barry Lane.

 "It's not a pleasant state," Lane said on Monday. "We are trying to find him as quickly as possible."

 Konno perhaps fell into the water from a rescue basket, and officials were investigating. It was not clear whether that person might have been Konno, officials said.

 When the ship sank, waves up to 20 feet and winds of nearly 30 mph were reported, Lane said, revising earlier estimates of 8-foot waves.

 Coast Guard swimmers plucked several crew members -- most of whom were able to pull on survival suits -- either out of the sea or from life boats onto helicopters during a rescue operation that began about 2½ hours after the mayday call was received.

 At least 13 survivors spread out over a mile were not in life boats, but were in the open water. – Juneau Empire

Alaska Ranger owner seen as aggressive in the fishery

JUNEAU -- The Seattle company that owned the doomed fishing vessel Alaska Ranger has a record as an aggressive and sometimes recalcitrant player in an industry notorious as a widow maker.

 Aside from the 203-foot Ranger, Fishing Company of Alaska Inc. owns at least four other large fishing vessels, all of which were built in the 1970s.

 They are among about two dozen boats that make up the North Pacific head-and-gut factory trawler fleet -- vessels that tow gaping nets on or near the bottom for sole, Pacific cod and Atka mackerel. Dozens of onboard workers remove the heads and guts and freeze the fish, mainly for Asian consumption.

 A reclusive Seattle-area woman, Karena Adler, heads the company.

 The firm is valuable not for the boats it owns but for the catching rights it has established over the years -- rights that potentially could be sold for hundreds of millions of dollars, industry participants say.

 While much of Alaska's fishing industry is moving toward a new cooperative style of fishing in which vessel owners divvy up the catch before the season starts, Fishing Company of Alaska has been a holdout for the old style of fighting for fish on the high seas.

 This sometimes has created friction and animosity among competitors, said Brent Paine, a Seattle fleet representative.

 "They don't engage with the rest of the industry on issues of like concern," he said.

 Fishing Company of Alaska has a history of conflict with federal fishery regulators.

In late 2006, agents and lawyers for the National Marine Fisheries Service hit the company and three of its fishing captains with a $254,500 civil fine for fishing violations aboard the trawler Alaska Juris.

 The charges alleged interference with observers -- federal biologists who ride aboard large fishing vessels to keep track of what's caught, kept and thrown overboard.

 Two years ago, Fishing Company of Alaska sued the government in federal court in Washington, D.C., seeking to defeat new fishing regulations the company said would force it to make multimillion-dollar alterations to the processing decks of its boats.

 The company won an appellate decision in December, forcing the government to back off its catch monitoring and enforcement regulations.

 Disasters have now struck at least three times this decade in the head-and-gut trawl fleet and the factory longline fleet -- boats that also head, gut and freeze fish but use miles-long strings of hooks instead of nets to catch them.

 In 2001, the trawler Arctic Rose capsized and sank in the Bering Sea, killing all 15 men aboard. The next year an explosion and fire aboard the longliner Galaxy killed three.

Those two tragedies prompted the U.S. Coast Guard to require the two fleets to meet higher vessel inspection and safety requirements.

 But because of the advanced age of the most of the boats, the Coast Guard exempted them from the normal regulations and enrolled them in a new "alternative compliance and safety" agreement.

 All the Fishing Company of Alaska boats, including the Alaska Ranger, are in that program, the Coast Guard said. – Anchorage Daily News

Alaska Ranger: Packing them in

When Capt. Craig Lloyd of the Coast Guard cutter Munro first heard the mayday call from the sinking ship 100 miles away in the early hours of Sunday morning, he directed his crew to get to the scene fast.

 Forty-seven lives were at stake on the foundering fishing boat. The water was 35 degrees. Seas were 20 feet. Snow squalls wailed around them. The wind chill factor made the air temperature minus 24 degrees.

 Lloyd set up his ship's mess hall for mass casualties, expecting the worst.

 In the end, the Coast Guard and a nearby ship saved 42 of the 47 people. Four, including the catcher-processor's captain and his top two men, perished. A search for a fifth crewman was called off late Monday night.

 "The range of emotions is pretty vast," Lloyd said of his crew from a satellite phone aboard the Munro. "On the one hand, we saved 42 people. On the other hand, we didn't do it perfectly."

 When the first rescuers arrived by helicopter about three hours after the mayday call, they found a grim scene.

 They saw three strobe lights and figured those were the life rafts. As they got a little closer, there was a fourth light, a fifth, then a sixth, and the numbers kept growing.

 Then they did a quick big-picture scan and saw flashes over a mile-long stretch, with no sign of the vessel. Each light was a person, they quickly realized, floating in the water and fighting for life.

 The chopper crew picked a spot and began slowly hoisting people out of the water, Lloyd said. They started with those not in life rafts, which was the majority of the fishermen.

 The Alaska Warrior, another catcher-processor also owned by Fishing Company of Alaska, which owned the Ranger, showed up about an hour later and mostly picked up the survivors who had made it to the life rafts.

 The four men who died -- captain Eric Peter Jacobsen, 65, of Lynnwood, Wash.; mate David Silveira, 50, of San Diego; chief engineer Daniel Cook, age and hometown unknown; and Byron Carrillo, believed to be from Seattle -- succumbed to hypothermia, Alaska State Troopers said. They were likely in cold water for hours, said Sgt. Greg Garcia. One body was recovered by the Munro. The other three were taken aboard the Alaska Warrior.

 The crew abandoned the ship around 4:45 a.m. after the water coming in hit the generators and cut the power off, and the ship listed 45 degrees to the port side, Lloyd said.

 The first Coast Guard helicopter, an HH-60 Jayhawk, arrived at 6 a.m. The crew aboard the helicopter lowered a rescue swimmer into the water and he began collecting survivors into a basket, which was then hoisted to the hovering chopper.

 "They just started stacking them in," Lloyd said. They squeezed 12 fishermen into the tight space before they had to return to the Munro to unload.

 The 378-foot cutter was still about 75 miles away. By the time the helicopter delivered its first load of fishermen, nine of the 12 were able to walk but three were not, Lloyd said. One man was unresponsive. Medics performed CPR on him for 45 minutes before he was declared dead, Lloyd said.

 Some of the others were given warm IVs, and others were put in warm bags to bring up their dangerously low body temperatures.

 "They were just kind of shivering and shaking, with their eyes wide open," Lloyd said of the survivors.

 One fisherman didn't make it into the helicopter after he slipped from the basket and dropped 30 to 60 feet back into the ocean. The helicopter, though, could not go back for him. It was out of fuel, the Coast Guard said, and had to return to the cutter immediately.

 At one point, one of the two Coast Guard rescue swimmers gave up his seat on the helicopter and stayed on scene in a life raft while the chopper went to refuel.

 Crew member Abe Tsuneo was one of the lucky ones who made it onto a life raft. He estimated he floated on the raft for more than three hours before the Alaska Warrior picked him up, he said when reached in Dutch Harbor on Monday night. The 51-year-old from Japan said, it was "cold, cold."

 The Alaska Warrior arrived around 7 a.m., according to Coast Guard chief petty officer Barry Lane.

 Adm. Gene Brooks told KTUU Channel 2 news, "On a search-and-rescue scale, 1 to 10, this is a high 12."

 Family members of the men who died were working through their loss Monday.

 The captain's daughter, Karen Jacobsen, 43, reached in Massachusetts, described her father, Pete Jacobsen, as a third-generation seaman who liked to wake up early and enjoy the sunrise and a good cup of coffee. She said she's going to honor her father by watching the sunrise on Easter mornings.

 "He always said that if anything ever happened, he would be the last person off. ... He would go down with the ship if necessary."

 About half the survivors remained on the Munro on Monday. Most were still in shock, Lloyd said. They found solace in playing cards and just spending time with one another.

One man was designing a tattoo. It will say he survived the sinking of the Alaska Ranger. – Anchorage Daily News

Federal rules keeping old vessels on Bering Sea

Federal rules designed to make Alaska fisheries safer and more efficient are preventing the replacement of aging boats such as the 35-year-old Alaska Ranger, industry leaders said a day after the Ranger's sinking.

 Since new rules were enacted in 2004, companies harvesting cod, halibut and other species off the Alaska coast have been stopped from replacing boats in their aging fleets, said Lori Swanson of the Groundfish Forum, a Seattle-based industry group representing processors in the fishery.

 Until recently, any captain licensed to fish could land as much fish as he could catch until the year's allotment was exhausted. New rules set a quota for each licensed ship, removing the incentive for fishermen to race toward the catch.

 But a quirk in the rules meant that quotas are now assigned to each ship and can't be transferred, Swanson said. Quotas held by ships that fall out of service can be moved to already licensed boats within the fishery, but not to newly built boats.

 And that, she said, is a problem when the newest boats in the fishery are at least two decades old. Some were built in the 1960s, and many for other uses.

 "Right now, there just isn't any way to replace a vessel," Swanson said.

 Alaska pollock fishermen have faced a similar problem since new rules for that fishery were passed in 1998, said Jim Gilmore, spokesman for the At-Sea Processors Association, a trade association.

 "In a fishery operated on a rational basis, there's no reason for those limitations," Gilmore said. "Nobody is trying to build bigger vessels to win a race for fish -- we've dealt with that." Gilmore's organization has been pushing for a change in the rules.

 Swanson said her organization has spoken with members of Congress about a change, but no legislation was OK'd this year. – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Suit filed to prevent sea lion kill on the Columbia

NORTH BONNEVILLE — A new front opened Monday in the expanding war of sea lions versus salmon.

 The Humane Society of the United States, Wild Fish Conservancy and two citizens filed suit in U.S. District Court in Portland to halt the authorized killing of sea lions at the base of Bonneville Dam.

 The conservationists argue that the National Marine Fisheries Service was wrong in ruling last week that some sea lions can be shot if they won’t stop eating salmon that congregate below the dam. The lawsuit alleges the fisheries service has failed to show the hungry sea lions have a significant impact on salmon runs.

 But Congressmen Brian Baird, D-Vancouver, and Doc Hastings, R-Pasco, both said the killing is necessary to save salmon runs. They spoke in favor of plans to shoot as many as 85 sea lions annually, killing only those animals that can’t be driven away from the rich feeding waters.

 The fisheries service order encourages trapping the animals if possible and relocating them to sea parks, aquariums or similar facilities. Those that can’t be stopped in any other way would be destroyed.

 The congressmen boarded boats below the dam Monday with leaders of the Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission. With news reporters present, they surveyed hazing that’s been going on for three years in an effort drive the sea lions away. The hazing involves chasing the animals with boats and blowing up nonlethal cracker shells around them.

 Hazing just hasn’t been effective enough, said Baird. Charles Hudson and Jaime Pinkham of the tribal fish commission backed him up.

 “It makes us sad to kill these animals,” Baird said. “But we’re spending literally hundreds of millions of dollars in spilling water over dams and upgrading hatcheries to restore salmon runs. And the sea lions are killing at least 4.2 percent of all the fish that arrive at the dam.”

 “Last time we tried spilling water, it cost $50 million to $100 million to save 300 fish,” he said.  “Nobody set out to say, ‘Let’s go kill sea lions.’ There is no desire to do that,” he said. “But these are creatures that have evolved to live in tidal zones.”

 State and federal officials said the California sea lions ate about 3,900 fish at the dam in 2007.

 The sea lions are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act. The lawsuit alleges that the fisheries service decision should be set aside because it violates the act by authorizing the killings without determining whether the predation is having a “significant negative impact on the decline or recovery” of salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.

 “The problem is a lawsuit can take several years to resolve, and meantime you are losing the 4½ percent and that’s just the visible take, and just at Bonneville,” Baird said. “We believe some estimates are substantially higher than that, and every time you lose a female, you’ve lost a couple thousand eggs.” – Vancouver (Wash.) Columbian

Wednesday, March 26, 2008 

Alaska Ranger: Search fruitless of missing crewman

Alaska Ranger: A tough way to go

To hear the Alaska Ranger’s mayday call, go to Pacific Fishing Resources. Then, click on "Alaska Ranger Mayday Call.”          

 Edward Cook heard about the Alaska Ranger's mayday, knowing his brother was aboard the ship taking water in the icy Bering Sea.

 Cook was in the same corner of the Bering Sea on the Alaska Warrior, a sister fishing vessel, which aided in the rescue. The crew worked for hours, pulling survivors huddled in life rafts, or scattered in the water, to safety.

 Upon finding a lifeless body, he knew without having to check that it was his brother Daniel, said Edward Cook's wife, Cindy, who lives in Gold Bar, Wash.

 "When they got down to the point that they were checking for anyone who hadn't survived, he knew by the shape of his brother's body that it was him," she said.

 "He was totally, totally a wreck" when she talked to her husband by phone shortly afterward. "They were as close as you can imagine -- they did the same thing and they loved their family."

 Chief engineer Daniel Cook, 58, a San Diego father of three, Harley-Davidson devotee and fisherman who loved nothing more than stocking up at Costco in anticipation of a stint at sea, was among the four victims of the Easter Sunday sinking.

 Capt. Eric Peter Jacobsen of Lynnwood, Wash.; mate David Silveira of San Diego and crewman Byron Carrillo also were killed. Missing crew member Satoshi Konno of Japan has not been found.

 Forty-two survivors had arrived or were en route to Dutch Harbor, Alaska, said a representative from The Fishing Co. of Alaska, the Seattle-based owner of the ship.

 Most crew members were asleep when they heard alarm bells around 3 a.m., said Douglas Sterner of Pueblo, Colo., who worked on the Ranger last year.

 Some assumed it was a safety drill until they saw water rising in the galley, Sterner, 22, said.

 "Immediately after that, they said you have one minute to get in your survival suits; so everything was pretty much chaos as people realized this was the real deal," said Sterner, who declined to identify his shipmate because crew members were told not to talk to the media.

 By the time his friend made it to the bow of the ship, it was listing badly, Sterner said. People were holding on to the railing, wondering what to do. The waves already were pushing the life rafts with some crew members aboard away and out of sight, the crew member told Sterner.

 He jumped off the bow into 36-degree water. As soon as he hit, he thought he was going to die, Sterner said. Even in a survival suit, the cold was paralyzing.

 His friend somehow made it into one of the life rafts, where men eventually held hands and prayed. Some were blue with cold and were having trouble breathing, Sterner said.

 Jacobsen, the ship's captain, wanted everybody off the vessel before he abandoned ship, Sterner's friend said. By the time that happened, the life rafts had been drifting for some time and were far away.

 Eric Jacobsen's son Scott said his dad imparted life lessons that revolved around honor and integrity.

 Originally from Boston and retaining his thick accent, the elder Jacobsen had worked for Fishing Co. of Alaska for 25 years and might have been its most senior captain, his son said. Before he entered the fishing industry, he was a tugboat operator.

 He was home for hardly three months out of the year, but Eric Jacobsen routinely called home from wherever he was working to keep his family close.

 "He was the spearhead of our family," Scott Jacobsen said. "We coveted our time with him."

 A craftsman who liked to work with wood, Eric Jacobsen was a man who attended to details and to safety, his son said.

 "The most obvious thing about his character was that he paid attention to the smallest thing -- when he mowed the lawn, it would be every last blade," he said.

 Daniel Cook's niece Amy Roman, who lives in the Seattle area, said he learned his trade from his father, who fished all over the world and let his teenage sons work as deckhands on his tuna boat to keep them out of trouble.

 He came from a huge family, with four sisters and three brothers, including Edward Cook, who served as chief engineer of the Alaska Warrior.

 Daniel Cook knew how to enjoy his time off the boat, riding motorcycles and drinking gin -- though not simultaneously, Roman said. But he lived to fish.

 "The model they lived by is, the chief engineer is the first one in and the last one out," she said.

 Richard Canty, a former captain of the Ranger, worked with both Jacobsen and Silveira, an easygoing presence on the ship and an outdoorsman who loved to hunt birds with his lab Maverick and water ski on Lake Powell when he wasn't working.

 "He had a good effect on morale," Canty said of Silveira. "When you're out there, it's a hard place to work and it's important you find someone who's a pleasure to work with. Dave was one of those people."

 Canty said he would have been glad to call either man his shipmate anytime.

 "From a sailor that means you're a stand-up guy and that people are happy to sail with you," he said. "I always slept well with them on watch." – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Major accidents in the Bering Sea

Jan. 15, 2005: The Kodiak-based crab boat Big Valley sinks 70 miles west the Pribilof Islands on the opening day of opilio crab season. Three of the crewmen were never found. Investigators say the boat was carrying too much weight.

 Jan. 8, 2004: The 738-foot freighter Selendang Ayu headed to China loaded with soybeans runs aground just off Unalaska. Six members of the crew die when a U.S. Coast Guard helicopter crashes during a rescue attempt.

 Oct. 20, 2002: Three of 26 crewmen die when the fishing boat Galaxy burns and sinks 20 miles southwest of St. Paul Island. A crewman on a rescue vessel also died when swept overboard in the rough seas.

 April 1, 2001: In the worst commercial fishing accident in 50 years, 15 hands are lost when the Arctic Rose, a 92-foot, Seattle-based fishing trawler, sinks. Only the body of the captain, David Rundall, was found. After a lengthy investigation, investigators conclude that the exact cause of the sinking would never be known.

 March 18, 1999: Five fishermen die when the 96-foot Lin-J rolls while fishing for crab 8 miles northwest of St. Paul Island. The accidents spur a campaign of dockside vessel safety inspections and training.

 Feb. 11, 1998: All 33 people aboard the Seattle-based fish processing vessel Alaska I are rescued after it collides with a containership and sinks.

 Jan. 27, 1996: The 127-foot crab boat Pacesetter, based in Seattle, disappears in high seas and heavy winds with a crew of seven between the Pribilof Islands and the Aleutian chain.

 Jan. 15, 1995: All six members of the crew are lost when the Seattle-based crabber Northwest Mariner rolls in heavy seas on the first day of the opilio tanner crab fishery.

 March 1990: The 162-foot factor trawler Aleutian Enterprise sinks taking nine lives. Twenty-two others are rescued by other fishing boats. The Coast Guard blames the fishing boat company for cutting costs at the expense of safety.

 Feb. 14, 1983: The sister vessels Altair and Americus, based in Anacortes mysteriously capsize and sink near Dutch Harbor. A total of 14 crew members, almost all from Anacortes, are lost. – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Poachers arrested on Sacramento Delta

State wildlife officials arrested nine Sacramento men Friday on charges of poaching salmon and sturgeon in the Sacramento River and Delta, providing another possible clue about why these species are threatened.

 One of the suspects was on probation for similar crimes committed last year.

 Wardens from the California Department of Fish and Game said the suspects illegally netted recently spawned Chinook salmon as the fish attempted to migrate downstream to the sea. These fish were allegedly used as bait to catch oversize sturgeon, which were then processed illegally for the black-market caviar trade.

 State fishing rules allow anglers to keep sturgeon that measure only between 46 and 66 inches long.

 In an investigation, officials observed suspects taking two sturgeon 79 and 86 inches long. At that size, the fish are considered among the Delta's oldest and most prolific breeders. A third sturgeon was discovered during the arrests Friday but was cut into too many pieces to measure accurately.

 "What poachers are doing is damaging our broodstock," said Warden Steven Stiehr, who patrols the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. "So next year we may see even tougher fishing restrictions."

 It was the department's sixth major investigation into sturgeon poaching since 2003. Wardens said the arrests illustrate a problem that is outpacing their enforcement ability. California has only 200 game wardens statewide and the governor's budget for the coming year proposes to eliminate 38 vacant warden positions.

 "We are at our wits' end with groups like this who continue to just poach and poach and poach for personal profit," said Warden Patrick Foy. "It's sturgeon in Sacramento, lobster in San Diego. We have too few wardens to slow them down." – Sacramento Bee

Members named to national marine protected panel

The Department of Commerce, in consultation with the Department of the Interior, has appointed 13 new members to the Marine Protected Areas Federal Advisory Committee. The agency has also reappointed one member to a new two-year term.

 The committee is supported by the National Marine Protected Areas Center, established within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in cooperation with the Department of the Interior. The center is charged with working with states, tribes, and stakeholders to develop a comprehensive and effective national system of marine protected areas (MPA) to conserve the nation’s natural and cultural heritage.

 The following members have been newly appointed to the MPA Federal Advisory Committee:

  • Lori Arguelles, president and CEO, National Marine Sanctuaries Foundation, Silver Spring, Md. (representing conservation)
  • Victor Mastone, director and chief archeologist, Board of Underwater Archeological Resources, Boston, Mass. (representing cultural resources)
  • Melissa Miller-Henson, operations and communications manager, California Marine Life Protection Act Initiative, Sacramento, Calif. (representing coastal states)
  • Russell Moll, Ph.D., director, California Sea Grant College Program, La Jolla, Calif. (representing natural science)
  • Elliott Norse, Ph.D., president, Marine Conservation Biology Institute, Bellevue, Wash. (representing conservation)
  • Alvin Osterback, port director, City of Unalaska/Port of Dutch Harbor; Dutch Harbor, Alaska, (representing rural and native Alaskans)
  • Robert Pomeroy, Ph.D., associate professor and Sea Grant fisheries specialist, Connecticut Sea Grant, Groton, Conn. (representing social science)
  • Eugenio Pinerio Soler, chairman, Caribbean Fishery Management Council, Rincon, Puerto Rico (representing commercial fisheries)
  • Capt. Philip Renaud, USN (Ret.), executive director, Living Oceans Foundation, Landover, Md. (representing conservation)
  • Jesus Ruiz, scuba instructor; San Jose, Calif. (representing scuba divers)
  • Bruce A. Tackett, manager, legislative and regulatory issues, ExxonMobil Biomedical Sciences, Inc, Fairfax, Va. (representing ocean industry)
  • David Wallace, owner, Wallace and Associates, Cambridge, Md. (representing commercial fisheries)
  • Robert Wargo, marine liaison, AT&T, Bedminster, N.J. (representing ocean industry)

The following member has been reappointed to a two-year term:

Ellen Goethel, ocean educator/commercial fishing, Hampton, N.H. (representing commercial fisheries)  – Press release

Tiny fish keep Australian drinking water safe

Tiny fish keep Australian drinking water safe

They are not angel fish, but they are Sydney's guardian angels.

 In a small brick shed in the Southern Highlands, eight tiny fish stand guard, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, over the water flowing to more than 4 million people.

 Like the canaries that once sniffed the air in coal mines, the Australian rainbow fish are living proof that the city's water is safe.

 If they don't like what they are swimming in, they have the power to shut down much of Sydney's supply system.

 Although the Sydney Catchment Authority routinely tests for a wide range of impurities, the checks only guarantee water quality at the moment they are conducted.

 Khanittha Poonbua, a project engineer with the authority, said the the three centimetre fish provided continuous evidence that all is well.

 Their high-tech aquarium looks more like an automatic teller machine, or a space-age oven. Each lives in its own compartment, little bigger than a compact digital camera.

 Every minute a litre of water is pumped into the testing station at Broughtons Pass, near Appin. "We watch how they react, how they behave," Ms Poonbua said.

 Electrodes sense "bioelectronic signals" emitted whenever the fish inhale through their gills. The information is fed into a computer programmed to recognise their normal respiration rates.

 A screen displays the information. If the computer ever detects that at least five fish -- a majority of those on guard -- are breathing abnormally and are in distress, it will automatically trigger an alarm and order gates to close, shutting off the flow in canals carrying water to Sydney.

 "The fish," Carl Broockmann, the authority's projects delivery manager, said, "have a big responsibility. They are our front line of defence. They won't tell us what is wrong, but they will tell us something is wrong."

 So the alarm will also cause a water sample to be collected for engineers to analyse and identify the problem.

 With public roads crossing the catchments and canals, a fuel spill from a road accident, a sewage overflow or even a terrorist attack could contaminate the water.

 Every two weeks the fish, working under the Animal Care and Ethics Committee's approval, are exchanged and given a holiday in a conventional glass aquarium.

 Fortunately, Mr Broockmann said, the only alarms triggered by the fish have been caused by technical glitches, such as electrical faults and pump failures. – Sydney Morning Herald, Australia 

Thursday, March 28, 2008 

Alaska Ranger: "Worse-case scenario"

As the Coast Guard helicopter flew through darkness toward the doomed fishing boat in the Bering Sea, all that could be seen of the 203-foot Alaska Ranger were flashing lights on the ocean.

 "It looked like a poorly, poorly lit airstrip," said Coast Guard rescue swimmer O'Brien Hollow.

 Each strobe was at least one person who needed to be rescued from the icy waters.

 "It was a textbook worse-case scenario," said Lt. Steve Bonn, 39, who piloted the chopper. "There were people just floating everywhere."

 During the next four hours early on Easter morning, two Coast Guard helicopter crews plucked 22 people out of the ocean 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor, and a nearby ship rescued and recovered another 25. Four men, including the fishing boat's captain and his top men, died, and another man was lost at sea.

 What caused the sinking is still under investigation.

 The first Mayday call from the boat, which had been on its way to mackerel fishing grounds, came just before 3 a.m. About an hour and a half later, in his last communication with rescuers, ship's captain Peter Jacobsen, 65, said seven people were still on board, the boat was listing on its side, and it was going to capsize at any moment.

 The first helicopter to arrive was an HH-60 Jayhawk, with Hollow, Bonn and two others as crew. As they approached, driving snow and rain and 30 mph winds sharply reduced visibility, Bonn said. Pounding waves crested to 20 feet, sometimes 30 feet.

 Bobbing in one square mile of the Bering Sea were the 47 fishermen who abandoned the sinking factory-trawler, owned by Seattle-based Fishing Company of Alaska. All were wearing survival suits. Some were on three life rafts deployed from the fishing boat; most were in the water, fighting the waves. Netting, orange buoys and big blue plastic crates used to store fish floated among the debris.

 Hollow was immediately lowered into the choppy, 35-degree water. He wore a mask, snorkel and fins.

 The waves were so high and came so fast, it was difficult to see over the next crest.

 The helicopter went from one fisherman to the next. The chopper hovered, trying to maintain a steady 50-foot clearance above the roiling sea as it hoisted the men. Sometimes moonglow helped rescuers spot them. Sometimes the helicopter's lights were used.

 Other times, when glare from the blowing snow made the chopper's lights a blinding disadvantage, they were shut off and the crew relied on night vision goggles.

 "I could see them waving frantically at us," Bonn said.

 When Hollow would reach one, he'd say: "You're doing great. I'm going to get you out of here."

 Their eyes would light up and they'd reach out to him. "You expect people to be petrified, but they were smiling," Hollow said.

 One man told Hollow, "But I was just promoted to line supervisor."

 Even though they may have been in the water for more than a couple of hours, the first 11 people recovered were in good spirits, Bonn said. In the back of the Jawhawk, "they were kind of cheering and yelling and obviously very happy to be out of the water. They were high-fiving each other," he said.

 "They just kept thanking us over and over again," said flight mechanic Robert Debolt, 28.

 To make room for more men, the Jawhawk crew tossed non-critical equipment into the ocean, including a life raft.

 Six were found with their arms linked together in a human chain. Hollow asked each one how he was doing, and each answered "great" or "fine" until the last, a man with quiet, dull eyes who couldn't answer at all.

 "OK, you're going first," Hollow told him.

 Conditions were getting worse. It took 45 minutes to fill the chopper with 13 cold, soaked fishermen who were growing more hypothermic by the minute.

"They were a little less oriented but still alive and able to move," Bonn said.

 The crew thought about trying to land on a nearby fishing vessel, the Alaska Warrior, but discarded the idea. The complicated rigging on board and the rough seas made it impossible to offload people safely onto the ice-covered ship, Bonn said.

 "There was too much danger in trying. We were much more likely to injure people or damage the helicopter and end the entire rescue," he said.

 Instead, the chopper flew to the Coast Guard cutter Munro, more than a half hour away. The added time made things more dangerous for dozens of fishermen still in the ocean.

"It was difficult to come to the decision," Bonn said.

 The Jayhawk was crowded, steamy with the breath of the crew and 13 rescued fishermen. It was important to keep them awake. When Hollow would see a man start to drift off, maybe in the later stages of hypothermia, he'd punch him in the chest.

 By the time they reached the cutter, three of the fishermen could not walk. CPR was performed on one man for 45 minutes before he was declared dead, said the Munro's captain, Craig Lloyd.

 Hollow said one of the survivors told him he'd kept thinking about a movie, "The Guardian," in which actor Kevin Costner portrays a Coast Guard rescue swimmer. He said, "I knew you guys were going to get here. – Anchorage Daily News

Alaska Ranger: Not yet fully certified

The Sunday sinking of the Alaska Ranger came during a major Coast Guard effort to improve the safety of the head-and-gut fleet, an aging group of more than 50 factory ships that included the Seattle-based vessel now at the bottom of the Bering Sea.

 The program requires vessel operators to patch up corroded hulls and make numerous other improvements to their ships. Much of this work was done on the Alaska Ranger when it was hauled to a dry dock in Japan last fall by its owner, Fishing Company of Alaska. But the vessel still had not gained a full-compliance certification in time for a January deadline, and was seeking an extension, according to Dan Hardin, a Coast Guard fishing-vessel safety coordinator in Seattle.

 "They had been working pretty hard but still had not gotten everything done," Hardin said.

 The Alaska Ranger's sinking claimed four lives and left a fifth crew member missing. It was the latest in a series of accidents among the head-and-gut fleet, which uses longlines and trawl nets to catch sole and other fish that are then frozen onboard. In two other high-profile disasters, the Arctic Rose sank in 2001, killing 15 crew, and the Galaxy caught fire in 2002, killing three crew.

 Those accidents prompted the Coast Guard to take a close look at the head-and-gut fleet, which included many vessels converted from other uses. It found plenty of trouble spots.

"There were very serious stability, watertight integrity, training and firefighting issues," said Seattle Coast Guard Cmdr. Chris Woodley.

 Mike Szymanski, a representative of Fishing Company of Alaska, said the Alaska Ranger, built in 1973, was a stable, well-maintained boat. Szymanski said owner Karena Adler has been a big supporter of the Coast Guard safety program.

 But in years past, some former crew have had concerns about the ship.

 Richard Canty, who briefly skippered the vessel, said it "was a terribly tender boat" that had a tendency to roll. "She was the most unpleasant boat to drive ... ," he said.

 Claude William Sterner, a former Alaska Ranger crew member, said Fishing Company of Alaska had a good safety ethic. But he was concerned about what he saw on a 2005 trip, when he was asked to help pump out a below-deck storage area that had more than 5 feet of water.

 "I thought it was a really old boat," Sterner said Monday. Monday night, he decided to accept a job and head back out to sea on the Alaska Warrior, a sister ship owned by the company.

 Although the Alaska Warrior and others like it are regulated as fishing vessels, Coast Guard officials eventually concluded that the head-and-gut ships were actually factory ships that should be held to a higher standard. But the standard — known as a classed vessel — was so tough that none of the old vessels would have been able to qualify, according to Coast Guard officials.

 So instead, in 2006 they came up with an "alternative compliance," which required a series of investments to improve vessel safety, and industry officials agreed to make the upgrades by January 2008.

 Coast Guard officials said there has been a lot of progress, and that most of the vessel operators did make the January deadline. They were reviewing requests for extensions on a case-by-case basis, Hardin said.

 In the months ahead, the Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board will conduct a joint investigation into the circumstances surrounding the sinking of the Alaska Ranger. – Seattle Times

Alaska Ranger: Unalaska feels the blow

It's reflex, a form of muscle memory applied citywide.

 The city of Unalaska, most often called Dutch Harbor, used it when the Seattle-based fish processor Galaxy exploded in 2002, and two years later, when the Malaysian freighter Selendang Ayu lost power, ran aground and split in two.

 On the continent's remote Aleutian tail, Dutch Harbor is the first and often only option when something goes wrong on the Bering Sea.

 "You're in this position when you are 800 miles from a hospital," said Mayor Shirley Marquardt. "This community is not like your normal Alaskan community. People come out of the woodwork to help."

 And, she noted wryly, locals have had plenty of practice. Last Sunday, Dutch seamlessly absorbed the 42 survivors of another Seattle-based fishing vessel, the Alaska Ranger, when it lost rudder control and sank in the Bering Sea, killing four, probably five, crew members.

 Locals received the call early in the morning after the Coast Guard responded to the trawler's mayday. Marquardt, who has lived in Dutch Harbor 28 years, said volunteers know their jobs.

 "Everybody gets the same call," said Marquardt, who also works for Samson Tug & Barge, which, like much of the fishing fleet, operates between Seattle and Dutch.

 "One person does the housing, another gets the bags of supplies. Some of those people will have lost everything on them so we try to take care of their needs. Warm socks, phone cards, things like that. We go from there."

 Marquardt said locals remain deeply affected by every disaster at sea, even though the link between Dutch and Seattle isn't as strong as it once was. (Rough around the edges, it once was called the worst neighborhood in Ballard because of a shared population of fishermen.)

 Life in Dutch, a town of 4,200 on a nearly treeless, windswept island, still centers on the fishing industry.

 "We take these things like the Ranger to heart," the mayor said. "It hits so close to home. It's terribly, terribly sad, and everyone in some way has a connection to these boats. Some of these people have been coming up here 30 years."

And for some, it's very new.

 United Methodist Pastor Dan Wilcox arrived in Dutch last summer after serving a congregation near York, Pa. Wilcox was familiar with Alaska -- his father was a pastor in Fairbanks when he was a boy -- but he hadn't spent much time in Unalaska before deciding to run the church there.

 As a volunteer Coast Guard chaplain, Wilcox, too, got the call following the rescue. He said he was surprised how quickly the company that owns the Ranger responded to the rescued crew.

 "Often that's the role of the church," he said.

 But he's still new to Dutch, after all. And fishing-boat crews are a pretty independent lot. Wilcox said he was impressed how everyone seemed well practiced in responding to such a tragedy.

 Marquardt said it's the nature of the town and of the people who live there.

 A person new to Dutch asked the other day if it ever gets easier to deal with the loss of another fishing boat. It never gets easy, she said, but it does get familiar. – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Alaska Ranger: Will insurance pick up the tab?

JUNEAU, Alaska—American Steamship Owners Mutual Protection & Indemnity Assn. Inc. provided insurance coverage for a fishing vessel that sank about 120 miles off the coast of Alaska Sunday, but the extent of coverage is unclear.

 The Alaska Ranger, owned by the Seattle-based Fishing Co. of Alaska, began sinking early Sunday morning. The crew notified the U.S. Coast Guard that the ship had lost control of its rudder and was taking on water. Four crew members died and one is missing; 42 crew members were rescued.

 The ship is covered by the New York-based American P&I club, which is a member of the International Group of P&I Clubs. It protects its members against large marine insurance claims by arranging reinsurance contracts for claims between $50 million and $2 billion on any one claim, or up to $1 billion for oil pollution claims, according to the International Group Web site.

 The clubs also reinsure part of their risks though a Bermuda-based captive insurance company, Hydra Insurance Co. Ltd., though individual clubs have $7 million retentions, according to the International Group.

 The Fishing Co. sent an insurance adjuster to evaluate the situation, according to the Coast Guard. The Fishing Co. and the American P&I club did not respond to requests for comment.

 Typically, P&I clubs will cover third-party claims such as personal injury or loss of cargo, depending on terms and conditions, said David Loh, an international insurance attorney with a specialty in marine issues with Cozen O’Connor in New York. Hull and machinery claims are generally not covered by the P&I clubs because the commercial market provides coverage at competitive rates, he said.

 The extent of the environmental impact of the incident is unclear, but 145,000 gallons of diesel fuel were spilled into the water, according to Leslie Pearson, a manager in the division of spill prevention and response in the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. “Anything over 100,000 gallons is a significant spill,” she said.

 Cleanup costs from such spills vary greatly, but in certain situations the response may be limited to monitoring the spill’s impact on the shorelines because rough weather in the area can limit spill response, Ms. Pearson said. Storms in the Bering Sea sometimes can cause the fuel to dissipate, she said.

 “The key right now is finding exactly where it sank and what can be done,” Ms. Pearson said.

 Coverage for any claims related to the spill depends on the cause of the accident, the condition of the vessel and whether the owner was at fault, according to Mr. Loh.

“At this point, we don’t know,” he said.

 The Alaska Ranger was a 200-foot vessel, built in 1989, of 1,577 gross tons, according to reports. – Business Insurance

Alaska Ranger: CG to hold Unalaska meeting

Investigators are holding a public meeting Friday in Dutch Harbor as part of a probe into the sinking of a fishing boat in the Bering Sea. Four people aboard the Alaska Ranger died in the tragedy this weekend and a fifth person's body was never recovered.

 The Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board are pursuing separate investigations of the sinking.

 Coast Guard officials say the meeting with the Marine Board of Investigation tomorrow will be headed by Coast Guard Captain Michael Rand, who is flying up from Washington, D.C.

 Coast Guard Lt. Eric Eggan says the meeting agenda includes a reconstruction of events, the operation and maintenance history of the vessel and how to prevent such incidents in the future. – KIAL

Friday, March 28, 2008 

Oregon panel to view wave energy, reserves

The Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council and subcommittees will consider -- again -- the issue of marine reserves and wave energy when it meets in Newport today (Friday).

These meetings follow a visit by Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski’s Chief of Staff, Chip Terhune, and public outreach meetings sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant in recent months.

The council’s Scientific and Technical Advisory Committee earlier this month made a landmark recommendation to the council.

“The objective of having a set of preferred alternatives by November 2008 is creating an unreasonable timeline for a public process of this magnitude,” the committee wrote in a memo to OPAC on March 6.

 The Coastal Caucus echoed the sentiments of that memo when it sent a letter to Kulongoski on March 13.

 “We have heard from our constituents along the coast that the expectations which have been placed upon the STAC are not realistic if we want this process to be considered as credible science and research-based findings and the speed that has been required in order to meet the tight timetable is not conducive to the desired end,” the caucus wrote in its letter.

 This will be the first full OPAC meeting at which Coos County Commissioner John Griffith will participate since Kulongoski approved his appointment. – Coos Bay World

Plague spreads among floating pens in Chile

PUERTO MONTT, Chile – Looking out over the low green mountains jutting through miles of placid waterways here in southern Chile, it is hard to imagine that anything could be amiss. But beneath the rows of neatly laid netting around the fish farms just off the shore, the salmon are dying.

 A virus called infectious salmon anemia, or ISA, is killing millions of salmon destined for export to Japan, Europe and the United States. The spreading plague has sent shivers through Chile's third-largest industry, which has left local people embittered by laying off more than 1,000 workers.

 It has also opened the companies to fresh charges from biologists and environmentalists who say that the breeding of salmon in crowded underwater pens is contaminating once-pristine waters and producing potentially unhealthy fish.

 Some say the industry is raising its fish in ways that court disaster, and producers are coming under new pressure to change their methods to preserve southern Chile's cobalt blue waters for tourists and other marine life.

 "All these problems are related to an underlying lack of sanitary controls," said Felipe Cabello, a microbiologist at New York Medical College in Valhalla that has studied Chile's fishing industry.

 "Parasitic infections, viral infections, fungal infections are all disseminated when the fish are stressed and the centers are too close together."

 Industry executives acknowledge some of the problems, but they reject the notion that their practices are unsafe for consumers. American officials also say the new virus is not harmful to humans.

 But the latest outbreak comes on top of a rash of non-viral illnesses in recent years that the companies acknowledge have led them to use high levels of antibiotics. Researchers say the practice is widespread in the Chilean industry, which is a mix of international and Chilean producers. Some of those antibiotics, they said, are not allowed for use on animals in the United States.

 Many of those salmon are ending up in American grocery stores anyway, where about 29 percent of Chilean exports are destined. While fish from China have come under special scrutiny in recent months, here in Chile regulators have yet to form a registry that even tracks the use of the drugs, researchers said.

 The new virus is spreading, but it has primarily affected the fish of Marine Harvest, a Norwegian company that is the world's biggest producer of farm-raised salmon, which exports about 20 percent of the salmon that come from Chile.

 Salmon produced in Chile by Marine Harvest end up in Costco and Safeway stores, among other major U.S. grocery retailers, said Torben Petersen, managing director of Marine Harvest here.

 Arne Hjeltnes, the head spokesman in Oslo for Marine Harvest, said his company recognizes that antibiotic use is too high in Chile and that fish pens located too close together have contributed to the problems. He said Marine Harvest welcomes tougher environmental regulations.

 "Some people have advocated that this industry is too good to be true," Hjeltnes said.

 "But as long as everybody has been making lots of money and it has been going very well there has been no reason to take tough measures." He called the current crisis "eye-opening" to the different measures that are needed.

 On a recent visit to a port south of Puerto Montt, a warehouse contained hundreds of bags, some as large as 1,250 kilograms, or 2,750 pounds, filled with salmon food and medication. The bags -- many of which were labeled "Marine Harvest" and "medicated food" for the fish -- contained antibiotics and pigment as well as hormones to make the fish grow faster, said Adolfo Flores, the port director.

 Environmentalists say the salmon are being farmed for export at the expense of almost everything else around. The equivalent of some three to five kilograms of fresh fish are required to produce one kilogram of farmed salmon, according to estimates.

 Salmon feces and food pellets are stripping the water of oxygen, killing off other marine life and spreading disease, biologists and environmentalists say. Escaped salmon are eating other fish species and have begun invading rivers and lakes as far away as neighboring Argentina, researchers say.

 "It is simply not possible to produce fish on an industrial scale in a sustainable way," said Wolfram Heise, director of the marine conservation program at the Pumalin Project, a private conservation initiative in Chile. "You will never get it into ecological balance."

 When companies began breeding non-native Atlantic salmon here some two decades ago, salmon farming was seen as a godsend for this sparsely populated area of sleepy fishing towns and campgrounds.

 The industry has grown eight-fold since 1990. Today it employs some 53,000 people either directly or indirectly. Marine Harvest currently operates the world's largest "closed system" fish-farming facility at Rio Blanco, near Puerto Montt, where 35 million fish a year are raised until they weigh about 10 grams.

 As the industry now abandons the region in search of uncontaminated waters elsewhere, local people are angry and worried about their future.

 The salmon companies "are robbing us of our wealth," said Victor Gutierrez, a fisherman from a town on the Gulf of Reloncavi, which is dotted with salmon farms. "They bring illnesses and then leave us with the problems."

 Since discovering the virus in Chile last July, Marine Harvest has closed 14 of its 60 centers and announced it would lay off 1,200 workers, or one-quarter of its Chilean operation. Since the company announced last month that it would move to a region farther south, the government has said the virus had spread there as well, in two separate outbreaks not involving Marine Harvest.

 Industry officials say Chile is suffering similar growing pains to salmon farming operations in Norway, Scotland and the Faroe Islands, where the ISA virus, in a different form, struck previously.

 Norway, the world's leading salmon producer, eventually decided to spread salmon farms farther apart, reducing the stresses on the fish, and responded to criticism of high antibiotic use with stronger regulations and the development of vaccines.

 Researchers in Chile say salmon farming's problems go well beyond the latest virus. Their concerns mirror those of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, which heavily criticized Chile's farm-fishing industry in a 2005 report.

 The OECD said the industry needed to limit the escape of about one million salmon a year; control the use of fungicides like green malachite, a carcinogen that was prohibited in 2002; and better regulate the colorant used to make salmon more rosy, which has been associated with retina problems in humans. It also noted that Chile's use of antibiotics was "excessive." Officials at Sernapesca, Chile's national fish agency, declined repeated interview requests for this article and did not respond to written questions submitted more than a week before publication.

 But César Barros, president of SalmonChile, the industry association, said, "We are working with the government to improve the situation." He dismissed the broader criticism of sanitary conditions, saying there was no scientific evidence to support the claims. But researchers charge that the industry has been reluctant to fund scientific studies, which Chile sorely needs.

 Residual antibiotics have been detected in Chilean salmon that have been exported to the United States, Canada and Europe, Cabello, the microbiologist, said. He estimated that some 70 to 300 times more antibiotics are used by salmon producers in Chile to produce a ton of salmon than in Norway. – International Herald Tribune

To the editor: What your neighbors read

This month marks the opening of the fishing season on the Columbia River, ironically moving forward against the backdrop of federal regulators likely closing ocean fishing from Oregon's north coast to the Mexico border.

 While a good run of Chinook salmon is expected in the Columbia this year, the sudden collapse of West Coast Chinook salmon underscores the tenuous nature of fish runs. It also raises the question of why the debate on salmon harvest in the Columbia is always about who gets how much, rather than should there be a harvest at all.

 There are 13 runs of salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act moving upstream in the Columbia, but fish conservation doesn't seem to enter the harvest debate – even though these adult fish represent the future of salmon in the Northwest.

 The harvest targets runs of hatchery fish. The hatcheries, first built in the late 19th century, were intended to provide fish for harvest to mitigate human-caused losses of wild fish.

 Today, however, one concern about the harvest is that gill-netting is indiscriminate, capturing and killing all the salmon caught in the net, whether they're wild or from a hatchery. With sports fishing, protected salmon can be identified and must be returned to the river.

 So-called incidental catches of protected wild salmon are authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which allows commercial fishers to take more than 50 percent of some of the returning salmon runs. Wild salmon are few in numbers and simply cannot endure such high rates of harvest.

 Families and business in the region already have invested $8 billion through their electricity bills in two key pieces of a comprehensive approach to salmon recovery: hydrosystem operations and habitat improvements. In 2007 alone, the regional salmon recovery investment was $861 million. In stark contrast, the lower Columbia commercial harvest is valued at $4 million annually.

 The question that needs to be asked is what benefit do we really get from this massive ongoing investment when we continue to ignore the other two crucial pieces -- harvest and hatcheries -- needed for salmon recovery?

 The fact is that we cannot protect the federally listed salmon runs, much less hope to recover them, without meaningful reform of harvest and hatcheries. We can maintain some level of harvest and protect the multibillion dollar investment in salmon recovery being made by Northwest families and businesses by:

 -- Replacing gill-netting with more selective methods such as terminal fisheries, tangle nets or fish wheels.

-- Marking all hatchery fish so selective harvest methods can be used.

-- Improving the quality and reducing the quantity of hatchery fish.

-- Reducing or stopping harvest until protected fish are solidly on the path to recovery.

-- Having the region's electricity consumers buy out the $4 million commercial fishing industry.

 With the closure of the West Coast ocean fishery, it really is time for this region to have an honest debate on the commercial harvest of salmon in the Columbia River -- before it's too late. -- Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, writing to The Oregonian

To the editor: What your neighbors read

This month marks the opening of the fishing season on the Columbia River, ironically moving forward against the backdrop of federal regulators likely closing ocean fishing from Oregon's north coast to the Mexico border.

 While a good run of Chinook salmon is expected in the Columbia this year, the sudden collapse of West Coast Chinook salmon underscores the tenuous nature of fish runs. It also raises the question of why the debate on salmon harvest in the Columbia is always about who gets how much, rather than should there be a harvest at all.

 There are 13 runs of salmon protected under the Endangered Species Act moving upstream in the Columbia, but fish conservation doesn't seem to enter the harvest debate – even though these adult fish represent the future of salmon in the Northwest.

 The harvest targets runs of hatchery fish. The hatcheries, first built in the late 19th century, were intended to provide fish for harvest to mitigate human-caused losses of wild fish.

 Today, however, one concern about the harvest is that gill-netting is indiscriminate, capturing and killing all the salmon caught in the net, whether they're wild or from a hatchery. With sports fishing, protected salmon can be identified and must be returned to the river.

 So-called incidental catches of protected wild salmon are authorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which allows commercial fishers to take more than 50 percent of some of the returning salmon runs. Wild salmon are few in numbers and simply cannot endure such high rates of harvest.

 Families and business in the region already have invested $8 billion through their electricity bills in two key pieces of a comprehensive approach to salmon recovery: hydrosystem operations and habitat improvements. In 2007 alone, the regional salmon recovery investment was $861 million. In stark contrast, the lower Columbia commercial harvest is valued at $4 million annually.

 The question that needs to be asked is what benefit do we really get from this massive ongoing investment when we continue to ignore the other two crucial pieces -- harvest and hatcheries -- needed for salmon recovery?

 The fact is that we cannot protect the federally listed salmon runs, much less hope to recover them, without meaningful reform of harvest and hatcheries. We can maintain some level of harvest and protect the multibillion dollar investment in salmon recovery being made by Northwest families and businesses by:

 -- Replacing gill-netting with more selective methods such as terminal fisheries, tangle nets or fish wheels.

-- Marking all hatchery fish so selective harvest methods can be used.

-- Improving the quality and reducing the quantity of hatchery fish.

-- Reducing or stopping harvest until protected fish are solidly on the path to recovery.

-- Having the region's electricity consumers buy out the $4 million commercial fishing industry.

 With the closure of the West Coast ocean fishery, it really is time for this region to have an honest debate on the commercial harvest of salmon in the Columbia River -- before it's too late. -- Terry Flores, executive director of Northwest RiverPartners, writing to The Oregonian

Proposed fishing palace on floats draws criticism

The proposal to place a luxurious 23-room floating sports-fishing lodge in the Fraser River near Chilliwack next fall has been caught in the policy crossfire of a much larger issue.

 Some local First Nations are voicing strong concerns over the lodge because they feel it could be the "thin edge of the wedge" leading to more lodges.

 The Sto:lo Tribal Council, for example, feels the growth of sports-fishing numbers on the lower Fraser not only places extra pressure on dwindling salmon stocks, but it's also increasing tensions between the two groups.

 Their primary beef, says Sto:lo Tribal Council spokesman Ernie Crey, is that commercial and native fishermen are bound by total allocation limits on sockeye catches, but there's no such group limit for sports fishermen.

 "While they have individual daily bag limits, the angling [sports fishing] community collectively can catch as many salmon as they wish and the number of anglers fishing the Fraser have increased dramatically," Crey says.

 "As salmon stocks decline this has created competition and conflict on the river between the aboriginal and angling communities, which sometimes gets physical.

 "Lots of Sto:lo moms, dads and kids have been pelted with beer bottles and rocks while others have had their nets vandalized or their anchor lines cut," he adds. "There should be a total allotment limit placed on sports anglers as well."

 Crey says lodges like the one being proposed by Delta-based West Coast Resorts will draw more sports fishermen to the Chilliwack region of the Fraser, an area he describes as "already intense" and under pressure. – The Province, Vancouver