Alaska Ranger owner reclusive
The reclusive owner of a fishing boat that sank in the Bering Sea last week, killing the skipper and four other crew members, has not spoken publicly since the ship went down.
Her silence could soon come to an end if she's subpoenaed to testify in an inquiry that began on Friday and continued over the weekend in Dutch Harbor, Alaska.
The Fishing Company of Alaska, which Karena Adler co-founded in the mid-1980s, has been represented at the inquiry by attorneys and company officials. Adler has not appeared, The Seattle Times reported Sunday.
Associates, past employees and industry officials describe Adler as a tough, savvy businesswoman _ a maverick who often clashes with the government and, like many in the industry, is frequently sued over injuries and accidents aboard her vessels.
Friends say she's a warm, caring person who has been devastated by the loss of the Alaska Ranger and five of its crew.
"Karena Adler, she's blaming herself," Mike Szymanski, a former Alaska state senator who is FCA's lobbyist, told The Times. "She can't figure out what she could have done differently. She's beating herself up over it."
Adler bought the Alaska Ranger at an auction in Anchorage 16 years ago, paying $4.5 million. Sweeping in wearing snakeskin boots and a fur coat, she paid the same price for a second ship. Both would become workhorses of her Seattle-based company, known as FCA.
The boats helped Adler become one of the most powerful women in Alaska's male-dominated fishing world. Her fleet of seven boats and Alaskan fishing rights are valued at many millions of dollars.
While shrewdly building her fleet, Adler, 55, has remained enigmatic, a stranger whom some competitors call "the Howard Hughes of fishing."
"This is the most reclusive woman worth ... millions that you never heard of," said Chris Kuebler, a Michigan attorney who has frequently sued FCA on behalf of injured seamen.
Those who know her say Adler rarely appears in her company's offices. She runs the business by phone and fax from the confines of her gated waterfront home on Mercer Island east of Seattle.
Last week, a woman who answered the call box at the home would not say whether Adler was home and told the reporter to go away.
The Alaska Ranger sank about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor on March 22. A harrowing rescue by the Coast Guard and the Ranger's sister ship saved the lives of 42 crew members.
Adler's fleet of ships -- five trawlers counting the Ranger and two long-liners -- are part of the "head and guts," or H&G, fishery, which drags the ocean floor for yellowfin sole, rockfish, cod, mackerel and other species.
The H&G catch is immediately cleaned of the heads, fins and guts, then frozen and shipped to worldwide markets, often Japan.
Under new fisheries rules aimed at reducing the accidental catch of prohibited halibut and crab, most of the H&G fleet formed a cooperative to divvy up the catch. But FCA has refused to join. It has sued fisheries managers, alleging excessive regulation.
In 2006, the federal National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) fined FCA $254,000 for 34 separate violations, including illegally keeping a tank of king crab and halibut, and for not reporting two Northern fur seals killed after being caught in the nets.
The company was also accused of tampering with the records of federal observers, who travel aboard fishing vessels to ensure compliance with fisheries laws. It has appealed the fine, and the case is pending.
Adler's entry into the fishing industry two decades ago came as the Alaska fleet was rapidly expanding, thanks to federal efforts to limit foreign ownership. She became a genius fish broker, George Anderson, a former FCA port captain.
"Karena knew the markets, backwards, forwards and sideways," said Anderson.
Adler has won the loyalty of many of her longtime crew through her generosity, said Rosie Szymanski, Mike Szymanski's sister and one of FCA's first employees.
In the 1990s, Szymanski said, Adler donated about $250,000 to upgrade the medical clinic at Dutch Harbor. She has sent roses every year to the widow of an employee who was killed at sea. At Christmas, she's been known to send her crews at sea stockings stuffed with Playboy magazines and candy.
Fishing can be brutal on workers, with 18-hour days and no days off, in dangerous stormy seas, for about $4,000 a month.
Rick Weaver, an Oregon man who worked in Alaska for FCA last summer and has sued the company for injuries he says he sustained when crates of frozen fish fell on him. He alleges the company kept him aboard the processing ship for three weeks despite injuries that left him bedridden and in pain.
As a privately held company, FCA's financial records are closed, but its portion of the annual H&G catch is estimated at more than $30 million a year at wholesale prices, based on figures from the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Other ships in other fisheries bring in more revenue.
FCA holds valuable harvest rights issued by the government that are potentially worth tens of millions of dollars. The Alaska Ranger alone was estimated at being worth up to $27 million before it sank. Seattle Times
Sinking probe turns to defects on Ranger
Officials investigating the deadly sinking of the Seattle-owned fishing vessel Alaska Ranger on Saturday said they are interviewing survivors as well as looking into reports of blocked passageways possibly impeding escape, incomplete maintenance and the failure of those in the lifeboats to remain together according to standard rescue procedures.
"We're just at the beginning of this," emphasized Capt. Mike Rand, chief of the U.S. Coast Guard's marine safety investigation unit charged with this case. "This is still an open investigation."
Five people, including the skipper Eric Peter Jacobsen of Lynnwood, died when the Alaska Ranger, owned by the Seattle firm Fishing Company of Alaska, foundered and sank off the Aleutian Islands about 120 miles west of Dutch Harbor on Easter Sunday.
Rand and Liam LaRue, chief investigator on this case for the National Transportation Safety Board, spoke from Alaska by telephone with reporters Saturday to provide an update on the inquiry so far.
"Right now, we're focusing on where the water came in and how it flooded the vessel," said Rand. The first crew member to testify, first engineer James Madruga, confirmed earlier reports that water first entered the ship's rudder room and spread from there.
Madruga said he believed the appropriate watertight compartments below deck were secured to hinder rapid flooding, Rand said. Madruga also said some "passageways were blocked" or constricted with gear which may have impeded escape, Rand said. The engineer, the Coast Guard investigator said, denied allegations by others that the rudder room had signs of leaking before the ship left port.
Rand said the Alaska Ranger had been inspected in January and that 31 items were identified as being in need of repair or some kind of maintenance attention. He said he could not be more specific on Saturday because he didn't have the inspection report.
"Nine of those 31 were outstanding and had not been addressed," said Sara Francis, the Coast Guard's petty officer in Dutch Harbor. "We're definitely going to be looking at those."
Francis also said they will be looking into the failure or inability of the crew to perform a standard safety procedure when abandoning ship -- lashing lifeboats together to make it easier for rescuers to rapidly locate and evacuate crew. It's not clear why that didn't happen in this case, she said.
The Coast Guard is also investigating Madruga's report that one crew member, Byron Carrillo, of Los Angeles, was dropped back into the water when being airlifted into a helicopter. Carrillo later died.
The ship began taking on water about 3 a.m., then foundered and sank about two hours later, with winds reportedly at 30-35 knots and seas of 15 to 18 feet.
"It can be a difficult undertaking, these rescues, but we still need to figure out what happened here," Francis said.
Also lost in the tragedy in addition to Carrillo and Capt. Jacobsen were chief engineer Daniel Cook, first mate David Silveira, both from San Diego, and fishing master Satoshi Konno of Japan. The Coast Guard and NTSB officials said the investigation into the sinking of the Alaska Ranger would take weeks.
Francis said it remains a possibility that a submersible will be used to examine the ship, which is now at 6,000 feet beneath the surface on the ocean bed, in an effort to determine how it became flooded and sank. Investigators hope to avoid resorting to this costly, and not always highly informative, tactic by considering the evidence along with a structural examination of the Ranger's near-identical sister ship, the Alaska Warrior. Seattle Times
Sitka herring fishery profitable
SITKA, Alaska, March 29 -- A herring fishery's crew in Sitka, Alaska, caught more than 10,000 tons of the fish in two separate hauls this week.
Thanks to more lenient fishing regulations and the current price of $550 per ton of herring, the Alaskan fishery enjoyed a very profitable day of operation, The Anchorage (Alaska) Daily News said Saturday.
Local fisherman Chip Treinen said the fishery's nets were so full of the fish Wednesday they had to be pumped into the boat while still in the water.
"For those of us who were in the area ... we were like kids in a candy store," he told the Daily News.
Also aiding fishermen was the fact the herring were residing in shallow waters, meaning the fish were unable to swim deeper when the fishing nets hit the water.
Fishing regulations were eased this year after state biologists decided the spawning herring would reach record numbers. UPI
Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Sitka herring fishery: Good work if you can get it
How about a job grossing half a million bucks in 60 minutes?
That's what some commercial seine fishermen in Sitka scooped out of the water -- in the form of fatty, silvery Pacific herring.
The Sitka sac roe herring fishery is already legendary for netting megabucks in minutes, but that day's catch was still a shocker -- for fishermen, regulators and seafood processors.
Expecting healthy numbers of spawning fish, state biologists are allowing seiners to harvest a record-breaking amount of herring in Southeast Alaska's Sitka Sound this year 14,723 tons.
But in just two stunning hauls on Wednesday afternoon, the fishermen netted more than 10,000 tons of fish -- most of their quota.
At a price of $550 per ton of herring, that was at least a $5.5 million day.
Some eight to 10 boats each bulged their nets with 500 or more tons of Pacific herring in the first 30-minute opening, said Chip Treinen of Anchorage, a seine fisherman who participated in the fishery.
That's like hauling up several blue whales or fully-loaded 747s. Ordinary seine boats can't carry that much weight. The fish have to be pumped out of the nets while they are still in the water, he said.
The commercially-caught herring, which are also highly valued by Southeast Natives for their eggs, are exported to Japan for their roe.
About 50 permit holders jockeyed for a sweet spot on the water near Kruzof Island on Wednesday, fishermen and biologists said.
But as usual, the big hauls were made by a few lucky boats. Treinen said he was one of the lucky ones but declined to reveal his total catch.
"For those of us who were in the area ... we were like kids in a candy store," he said.
The huge hauls were mainly due to the unique spot the herring chose to spawn, said Treinen, who has been involved in the Sitka herring fishery for about a dozen years.
Very dense schools of herring appeared in very shallow water next to Kruzof Island right before the fishery opened at 2:25 p.m., he said. Some of the crowded fish seemed to be dying -- they turned belly up in the water before the fishery opened, he said.
Because the fish were in shallow water, about three fathoms deep, they couldn't dive to try to escape the nets. "We could contain bigger sets than we've ever been able to contain before," Treinen said.
The state Department of Fish and Game wouldn't have allowed two fishery openings if managers realized how many fish were getting caught, according to Eric Coonradt, the department's assistant area manager for commercial fisheries in Sitka.
As it turns out, the concern wasn't about violating harvest levels. The main concern was the ability of processors to handle so much fresh herring, Coonradt said.
The massive amount of herring required extra work and coordination among seafood processors over the past few days, but everything worked out OK, said Jon Hickman, general manager for Sitka Sound Seafoods.
Some herring had to be sent to Canada for processing, he said.
In one day, the Sitka Sound herring fishery exceeded last year's gross earnings, garnered over nine days.
Last year, 50 permit holders, the majority of them Alaskans, earned $3.8 million -- an average of $107,709 per permit -- by catching 8,320 tons of herring.
Prices were lower last year -- about $465 per ton.
Participating in the fishery isn't cheap. Permits are worth about $283,000 this year, according to the state's Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission.
A net to catch the herring is a $50,000 investment, according to Treinen. Anchorage Daily News
Cops say Sacramento king smolt used as bait
SACRAMENTOState game wardens have cited 10 people for catching young Chinook salmon in the Sacramento River to use as bait.
The state Department of Fish and Game says the citations were handed out in four separate instances this week in Colusa, Sutter and Yolo counties.
In Sutter County, a man was using a machete and a large piece of cloth to catch salmon at the river's edge .
In Colusa County, a group was found with 50 young salmon in a bucket and an illegal net.
It is illegal to fish for young salmon.
The citations were issued as federal fishery managers prepare to impose strict limits on ocean salmon fishing to protect dwindling stocks in the Sacramento River system. -- San Jose Mercury News
Why the fight against Klamath agreement?
Not long ago my neighbor said he'd seen me on TV discussing the Northcoast Environmental Center's opposition to the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement. He seemed puzzled.
"I thought you guys wanted dam removal," he said.
My heart sank. Of course the NEC wants to tear down four dams on the Klamath River. The NEC is an original proponent of dam removal, as we've long worked to restore populations of fish and other wildlife along one of America's greatest rivers.
We want the dams out to open up more than 300 miles of former salmon and steelhead habitat, and to improve the abysmal water quality currently released by the reservoirs behind the dams. But dam removal is only one step, however significant.
The agreement's most controversial provision allocates to farmers 330,000 to 340,000 acre-feet of water during dry years, and 385,000 acre-feet in wet years. (An acre-foot is literally that: the amount of water it would take to cover an acre of land a foot deep.)
This allocation can be renegotiated only during "extreme drought" years, but this "drought plan" will not be created until after the settlement agreement is completed, one of the many unsettling provisions of the agreement. Also, this allocation is about 10 percent more than farmers currently get during dry years under court-ordered Endangered Species Act protections.
Two species of salmon (chum and pink) are already extinct on the Klamath. Spring Chinook runs are at dangerously low levels. Klamath coho salmon are listed as "threatened" under the federal Endangered Species Act. Dam removal alone is not enough to prevent further declines. Scientists tell us that the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement may not provide enough water for salmon to avoid extinction, owing to significant allocations to farmers.
The NEC supports farmers. They provide our nation with food, and in many places productive farmland can forestall development and preserve open space. So we hope farmers in the upper Klamath basin are able to secure adequate water supplies, but not at the expense of salmon. This occurred in 2002, when farmers received 400,000 acre-feet of water and 68,000 adult salmon died in the lower Klamath. Would the agreement prevent such an excessive allocation? Probably. Would an allocation of 330,000 acre-feet also be excessive even during very dry years? Good question.
Last year, the NEC hired Bill Trush of McBain and Trush, and Greg Kamman of Kamman Hydrology, to examine the complex scientific modeling of flow allocations contained in the agreement. Trush's primary conclusion was that once the dams come out and agricultural interests get their water, there still might not be enough water in the river for fish.
Last month the NEC again hired Trush, this time to create an alternative path that scientists working on the agreement could follow to better ensure fish recovery on the Klamath River. In that paper, Trush wrote, "The Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement relegates salmon and the Klamath River ecosystem to the status of junior water users, while upper basin irrigators become the senior water users. This premise squarely places onto the salmon and the river ecosystem any risk inherent in the conclusion that flows contained in the agreement will actually provide enough water for recovery of the species."
The Trush and Kamman reports are available at www.yournec.org.
At the same time, the NEC's board of directors hosted a phone conference with Thomas Hardy, associate director of the Utah Water Research Laboratory at Utah State University. Hardy's analyses of Klamath River hydrology are considered to be the best available science for evaluating the river's fishery. Hardy confirmed Trush's conclusions:
"Agriculture gets all the guarantees, and everything related to the environment is left to somewhat vague processes and committees." In dry years, said Hardy, agriculture in the upper basin will be "taking too much water from the system." An acceptable agreement, he said, would "guarantee flows for fish first, then other water uses."
The NEC's rejection last month of the Klamath Basin Restoration Agreement was intended to make it better and to aid the recovery of the entire Klamath River ecosystem.
We are still negotiating. Already the NEC has spent about $60,000 to review the science and legalities contained in the 256-page agreement, and we're not done yet. If we agree to support the settlement it will be because dams will come down and fish will get the water they need to thrive. That's our promise to our members and to the fish. Greg King, executive director of the Northcoast Environmental Center based in Arcata.writing to the Sacramento Bee
Alaska fishing: Deadly, but not as it once was
ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Commercial fishing in Alaska is a killer, but it's not as deadly as it used to be.
The recent sinking of the Alaska Ranger fishing boat off the Aleutian Islands killed five people, making it one of the worst accidents in an industry where crew members can fall overboard, get crushed by swinging crab pots or get dragged into the deep after becoming entangled in a line.
Despite the dangers, the industry showcased on the popular Discovery Channel show "Deadliest Catch" appears to be getting safer. Fewer fishers have died in recent years, and experts say it is because of a stepped-up safety program and changes in the way fishing is regulated.
Don Lane, a 55-year-old fisher from Homer, knows the risks of pulling fish and crab from the sea. He's been doing it more than half his life.
"It will kill a certain number of people. It always has," Lane said. "You have to be really careful you are not one of them."
In the 1970s, fishers largely accepted some deaths as part of the business.
"It was kind of part of the game, and fate will have its way," said Jim Herbert, 60, of Seward, who was skipper of the Cape Chacon in 1987 when the boat got hit by large waves and capsized. One crew member was killed.
But that attitude of acceptance is fading, along with the old ways of fishing.
In the 1970s and '80s, boats were permitted to catch as many fish as possible during specific periods lasting anywhere from a few frantic days to two weeks. That pressured skippers to ignore crew fatigue and bad weather, sometimes working around the clock seeking a larger catch.
Now catches are governed by quotas assigned to each vessel, allowing crews to do their fishing over a span of weeks or months.
Lane, who skippers a fishing boat, said the changes helped him make better decisions.
"I don't push it because at the end of the day, I am past the romance part," he said." You can't make money in bad weather."
The other major change came in the form of stricter safety requirements. In the early 1990s, the Coast Guard began requiring vessels to offer safety training, conduct monthly drills and keep emergency equipment on board, including "immersion suits" that protect crew members if they fall into the water.
Several years later, the agency also offered a dockside program to reduce stability problems on some vessels.
An average of 37 fishers died each year in Alaska in the 1980s. After the safety improvements and the regulatory changes, the rate of fishing-related fatalities was cut by more than half between 1990 and 2006. In the last five years, the average number has been about 11 a year.
"It has gotten safer if you look at the big picture. It is probably getting safer all the time," said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association in Sitka.
The "Deadliest Catch" has been a hit with viewers for its chilling depiction of crab fishing in the Bering Sea, but real-life Alaska fishers don't need to be reminded of the dangers they face.
One of the worst fishing disasters in the Bering Sea happened in 2001, when the trawler Arctic Rose sank, taking all 15 hands with it. The Coast Guard's best guess is that a huge wave crashed across the vessel's deck when a rear hatch was tied open, perhaps to allow air to circulate or for the crew to take smoke breaks.
The ship went down in just four to eight minutes.
In 1981, nine people died when the captain of the St. Patrick ordered his crew to abandon ship near Kodiak Island out of fear that rising water in the bilge would cause the boat's battery to explode and sink the vessel.
Two crew members who put on immersion suits were the only survivors. The boat never sank.
Despite the safety reforms, one-third of the 948 work-related deaths in Alaska between 1990 and 2006 were fishers, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.
Each year, 20 to 40 vessels are still lost in accidents, although the survival rate for those onboard has increased from 73 percent in 1991 to 96 percent in 2004.
It took just 15 minutes for the Alaska Ranger to sink after its rudder room began taking on water. The entire crew, including those who died after spending hours in the frigid waters, wore immersion suits. Forty-two of them were rescued.
"That right there is a miracle," said Lane, the veteran skipper. "That means those guys were practicing. A crew that doesn't practice when mayhem sets in, about half of them totally forget what they're doing out of fear." -- San Jose Mercury News
Injunction sought over Columbia River sea lions
PORTLAND The Humane Society of the United States wants a federal judge to head off the capturing or killing of the salmon-eating sea lions at Bonneville Dam in the Columbia River.
The group says in a motion filed in U.S. District Court that without court intervention agents could begin taking the sea lions as soon as next weekend.
It asked Friday for a permanent injunction and said it likely would seek a temporary restraining order to be effective before Friday if the injunction request is denied.
In January, at the request of Oregon and Washington and with support from Idaho, the National Marine Fisheries Service authorized the taking of up to 85 sea lions a year for five years, although it recommended a lower number.
The order encourages capturing the animals if possible and finding homes for them in aquariums and ocean theme parks but said they can be euthanized after 48 hours if no homes are found.
The Humane Society says homes could be found for only a few and contends that sea lions aren't nearly the threat to salmon that dams, birds and environmental damage pose and simply are a politically convenient target for persons worried about the spring Chinook salmon run.
It said a much larger-than-normal run is predicted this year and that the quota for fishermen has been raised by 33 percent.
California sea lions are protected under the 1972 Marine Mammals Protection Act, which has an amendment allowing the “lethal taking” of some animals at the request of states under certain conditions.
The government estimates the sea lions, which congregate each spring at the base of Bonneville Dam to eat migrating spring Chinook salmon, devour up to 4.2 percent of the run and have a “measurable” and “growing” effect on salmon listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The Humane Society, joined by the Wild Fish Conservancy, contends the amendment to the 1972 law allows only the taking of individual and identifiable animals that can be shown to be harming the salmon run, but that the order from NMFS would justify killing any sea lion known to be eating fish.
The NMFS authorization has strong support from Columbia River Indian tribes and from commercial and sports fishing interests.
They contend the federal government spends millions of dollars to protect salmon runs in the Columbia River Basin.
The sea lions, males, begin arriving at the dam beginning in about February to fatten up for their trip south to breeding grounds and usually are gone by early June. Their numbers have increased gradually in recent years.
The amendment to the 1972 act has been invoked only once before, in the 1990s, when sea lions ravaged a steelhead run at the Ballard Locks in Puget Sound. The run has never fully recovered.
Five of the worst offenders were marked for extermination but three were taken in by a marine theme park. The fate of the other two has not been disclosed. San Diego Union Tribune
Wednesday, April 2, 2008
Columbia gillnetters began on Tuesday
The commercial fleet began its spring Chinook salmon season at 1 p.m. Tuesday in the Columbia River between Hayden Island and Beacon Rock.
The Columbia River Compact on Monday adopted 10 hours of fishing for the netters, with sanctuary zones around the mouths of the Sandy and Washougal rivers.
Sport fishing closed on Tuesdays between the Hayden Island west power lines and Bonneville Dam to prevent a conflict with the commercial fleet. Sport fishing downstream of Hayden Island to the river mouth remains open through Friday.
John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife estimated no more than 40 netters would fish on Tuesday and that they'd catch no more than 1,500 spring Chinook.
Historically, commercial fishing in the lower Columbia River has been downstream of Kelley Point at the mouth of the Willamette River to protect spring salmon headed upstream of Bonneville Dam.
But this year, in a flip-flop of normal, a weak run of 34,000 Willamette spring Chinook and a big run of 269,300 upper Columbia Chinook is anticipated.
Many commercial fishermen are expected to not participate in the Hayden Island-to-Beacon Rock season due to the extra expenses of moving from their normal area near the Columbia mouth to the metro area and Columbia Gorge. Vancouver Columbian
Alaska Ranger: Ice might have caused rupture
UNALASKA Two survivors of the Alaska Ranger's sinking say sharp-ice encounters on previous fishing trips might have made the vessel vulnerable to leaks.
The sailors said the worst ice encounters were in February, when the Alaska Ranger with fish master Satoshi Konno pushing for speed plowed through broken ice pans.
"Every time the boat would hit the ice ... there was a hard jerk," Ryan Shuck said of one rough return to port.
"You could feel the whole hull vibrate," said Jeremy Freitag, another crewman.
Ice impacts on winter fishing trips also have gained the attention of the Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation, which is examining the circumstances surrounding the March 23 sinking of the vessel. The ship, operated by Seattle-based Fishing Company of Alaska, lost five of the 47 crew members.
The vessel last fall was in a shipyard, where its hull was worked on and inspected. Still, major flooding enveloped the rudder room and another compartment just above, according to inquiry testimony.
On Monday, Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board officials began to gather information about the ice and the conduct of fish master Konno, who died during the Easter Sunday sinking.
Shuck and Freitag are not in Unalaska this week. They have returned to their home states and are expected to testify later in Seattle.
They said in separate telephone interviews Monday that the relationship between Konno and a previous skipper of the Alaska Ranger was fraught with tension over vessel speeds through ice.
They say that the former skipper, when he was at the helm, went very slowly through the ice. And they say he repeatedly complained to them about the fish master's efforts to ramp up the vessel's speed in areas of floating ice.
"We make our money on a quota by being fast," Shuck said. "So, the fish master wanted to get in, get offloaded, and get back out quickly. The captain wanted to be fast. But he also wanted to be ethical and make us safe."
Shuck said the most jarring ice encounter came as the vessel was rushing back to port to unload fish in mid-February, and the captain was awakened by jarring. Shuck said he heard a yelling match between the skipper and Konno over the ice speed.
After returning to port, the skipper left the vessel, Shuck said. The former skipper could not be reached for comment Monday.
Fish masters from Japan, such as Konno, serve on some factory trawlers, helping to direct the operation of fishing nets and oversee processing.
These foreign fish masters may work in the wheelhouse, but federal law prohibits them from acting as a skipper at the helm, according to Coast Guard officials. But there has been considerable tension over the sway that fish masters might have over the U.S. skippers, an issue pursued Monday at the Coast Guard hearing.
Crewman Evan Holmes testified that the fish master often was in the wheelhouse but directed fishing operations not the overall operation of the vessel.
Holmes, who had served aboard the vessel for two years, said that the Alaska Ranger went slowly through the ice and that he was not aware of any harsh encounters.
Gwen Rains, a federal fishery observer for the past two years, gave a different perspective. She alleged that a captain risked getting fired if he defied a fish master.
"The fish master runs the boat they just do ... on some of the vessels," testified Rains, who also survived the sinking.
Fishing Company of Alaska challenged Rains' competence to weigh such relationships, since she is not a licensed officer of a vessel.
The Alaska Ranger's final voyage began from Unalaska on March 22. There were no reports of ice in the water, and a 30- to 36-hour trip lay ahead to fish for mackerel in the Bering Sea.
"It was a full-bore steam, so it was a rough ... ride on the way out, that's for sure," Freitag said.
About 2 a.m. the next day, the alarm sounded for flooding in the stern.
Several witnesses said that in the half-hour before abandoning ship, they saw Konno with his survival suit partially on, smoking a cigarette and appearing unusually calm for his position in the wheelhouse of a fishing vessel about to sink.
Konno is the one crewman whose body was not recovered. One crewman testified that he probably went down with the ship. Seattle Times
B.C. celebrates partial ban on net pens
All across the province, conservation groups and politicians have been celebrating the recent government announcement of an immediate moratorium on fish farms on the North Coast
The Coastal Alliance for Aquaculture Reform welcomed the decision by Agriculture and Lands Minister Pat Bell, acknowledging that it marks a major turning point in recognizing the need to protect marine ecosystems and wild salmon stocks from the impacts of current salmon-farming practices.
"This a monumental day for Northern B.C.'s salmon and the communities that depend on them," said Des Nobels of the T. Buck Suzuki Foundation in Prince Rupert.
"The people of the North, who hold their wild salmon in high esteem, worked hard to make their wishes clear to government. But this announcement is just the first step in addressing the concerns of all British Columbians about the threats posed by the salmon farming industry to the future of our wild salmon." Prince Rupert Daily News
U.S. House passes marine reserves legislation
The U.S. House of Representatives voted to protect one of the nation's most biologically important stretches of coastal waters. The measure would increase the size of two existing marine sanctuaries along the coast of Northern California to safeguard a unique upwelling marine ecosystem.
The House approved H.R. 1187, which would expand the boundaries of the Gulf of Farallones and Cordell Banks National Marine Sanctuaries northward to Point Arena.
These two marine sanctuaries already encompass almost 1,800 square miles of open ocean and coastal waters west of the Golden Gate Bridge.
After the House vote, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said, "H.R. 1187, introduced by Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey, will expand the sanctuaries by an additional 1,000 square miles off of the Sonoma and Mendocino County coasts to protect additional spawning, nursing and feeding grounds for migrating whales, seals, sharks, fish and seabirds.
Gray whales migrate through these waters twice each year, and blue whales, the largest animals on Earth, are sometimes seen in these sanctuaries.
"These critical marine areas need our protection, and I commend Congresswoman Woolsey for her efforts to preserve these areas and protect the diverse animal populations that reside in them," said Pelosi. "The bipartisan legislation is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, fishermen, business developments groups and environmental advocates."
The bill, which must now pass the Senate, prohibits oil leasing, mineral exploration, and most aquaculture within the two national marine sanctuaries. Environmental News Service
Editorial: Study marine reserves
From dams that wrecked salmon runs to rockfish restrictions that some regard as being unsupported by the facts, government actions have for decades given coastal residents no reason to cheer. It's no wonder Gov. Ted Kulongoski's marine reserve plan has met with reactions ranging from suspicion to outright hostility.
To the governor's credit, he ordered an extensive public outreach effort, resulting in comments from nearly 800 people along the Oregon Coast. Many expressed concern that establishing marine reserves is the result of hidden agendas.
It is easy to speculate what one such agenda might be, since curtailing or eliminating fishing -- especially commercial fishing -- has long been an overt part of political discussions. How much easier life would be for hydropower operators and others if they could operate without needing to maintain sufficient stocks to support fishing seasons.
The governor wants the Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council to recommend up to nine marine reserves by November, sites that will be closed to fishing and other forms of human exploitation. Coastal residents wonder what having such a reserve in their neighborhood will mean in terms of lost opportunities.
These concerns are valid. Coastal communities can't thrive based solely on vacation homes, seasonal tourism and pretty views.
At the same time, marine reserves aren't the product of the governor's wild imagination. Though detailed scientific data concerning their long-term benefits and costs is still being gathered, results so far suggest properly designed and managed reserves are perhaps the best available means of making sure that coastal ecosystems thrive. Only by ensuring the survival of the ocean's complex web of life can we have any real hope of bequeathing healthy fisheries to our children and grandchildren.
In 2003, two blue-ribbon commissions examined the health of America's oceans and found ample reasons for great concern. Over-exploitation of some species, pollution, human population growth and other hazards are seriously impacting these waters. The independent Pew Oceans Commission was particularly enthusiastic about the potential benefits of marine reserves. (See www.pewtrusts.org)
"Networks of fully protected marine reserves are the best-understood tool for managing marine ecosystems," the Pew commission concluded. They protect against generalized over fishing and against over-targeting of specific species in ways that unbalance the food chain, and reduce net-related damage to sensitive natural structures on the ocean bottom. At the same time, rebounding fish stocks spill over into unprotected areas where fishing remains open.
Good ideas though they may be, questions must be answered regarding the state's long-term commitment to running reserves in ways that fairly allocate impacts. One governor's assurances aren't enough: coastal communities deserve a contract that sets forth what we are receiving in return for the sacrifices being demanded.
Marine reserves, like them or not, are an idea whose time has arrived. We need to advocate for ourselves, making sure that the ocean's hereditary stewards here on this coast play a key role in shaping the future. Daily Astorian
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Back east, wave farms take time
It will take $6.6 million and three years to develop a permitting process for offshore wind and wave farms, said scientists from the University of Rhode Island in a presentation to state coastal officials.
The presentation was part of Coastal Resources Management Council’s effort to establish rules for renewable energy projects in state waters. The council is pairing with URI in the process. All offshore projects have been put on hold until the new rules are in place.
Although meteorological towers to collect data will be allowed before the process is complete, under the suggested framework it will still be another year until the state allows them to be placed offshore. The towers would need to collect information on wind and wave action for at least two to three years following that.
The study will take a host of coastal factors into account besides wind and wave strength, including commercial fishing areas, shipping lanes, telecommunications cables and marine protected areas.
Phase one would involve creating a Special Area Management Plan, and the second phase would involve detailed mapping and other studies.
Wind and wave turbines are the only renewable energy plants that make financial sense, says a separate presentation from URI professor Malcolm Spaulding. Two other types of offshore renewable energy generation, ocean thermal energy conversion and tidal technologies, won’t work in Rhode Island’s coastal waters. One requires deep water, the other stronger tidal flows than exist here. Block Island Times, Rhode Island
Bering Chunnel: What about earthquakes?
Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is to raise plans for a tunnel to link his country with America when he meets his US counterpart, George W Bush, next Sunday.
The 64-mile tunnel would run under the Bering Strait between Chukotka, in the Russian far east, and Alaska; the cost is estimated at £33 billion ($65 billion).
Proposals for such a tunnel were approved by Tsar Nicholas II in the early 20th century but were abandoned during the Soviet era. If finally built, the tunnel would allow rail connections between London and New York.
A Kremlin spokesman confirmed last week that Putin seeks to build “a real bridge” between Russia and America when he meets Bush at the Black Sea resort of Sochi. Sunday Times of London, UK
Raising Sacramento smelt in the lab
SACRAMENTOScientists from the University of California, Davis have begun breeding what they call a "refuge" population of the threatened Delta smeltjust in case the tiny fish becomes extinct in the wild.
The university's Fish Conservation and Culture Laboratory has bred Delta smelt for years for research purposes. But with the population of the fish plummeting, scientists have begun expanding the work as a backup plan to try to repopulate the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, if necessary.
Some scientists consider the finger-length fish a bellwether for the health of the delta and have been unable to fully explain its declining population.
Scientists are working to produce a first generation of 5,000 smelt to track for genetic diversity.
The state also has contributed $2.1 million to expand the operation. There are currently no plans to reintroduce the fish into the delta. San Jose Mercury News
An end of a commercial fishing era in Everett
EVERETT, Wash. Since 1947, five commercial fishermen named Borovina have stored their gear in what's called a net shed on the Everett waterfront close to where they moored their boat.
Three of them were named John Michael; the other two were Michael Johns.
"We've used the same names for four generations," said Michael John Borovina. "We are people who don't like change."
Like it or not, change is coming to the Borovinas and to several others who were among the last fishing families still using the sheds.
"It's a sad, sad day," said John Michael Borovina, who goes by his nickname "Jay."
The net sheds aren't much. They're just a group of metal-sided buildings, about 85 feet long and 16 feet wide. They're two stories tall and plenty big enough to store a lot of equipment, hang long nets and refurbish battered gear during the off-season. The sheds are just a few feet from the docks, so it's easy to tie your boat up almost right next door.
"It's the best setup on the West Coast," said Mike Borovina.
The buildings will be razed to make room for a $400 million development that will include include 660 waterfront condos. Instead of their own sheds, the fishermen will have outdoor storage space and the opportunity to lease space to work inside.
"They're putting us on the street with a temporary fence around it," said Jay Borovina.
The port has given the fishermen plenty of warning. From the agency's perspective, there are only a few fishermen left, not enough to justify little-used storage lockers on some pretty expensive real estate.
Mike Borovina, who fishes in Alaska and on Puget Sound, and his neighbor, Jim Leese, who fishes on Puget Sound, both said the port has treated them well during the move. They both, however, wish it wasn't happening.
"We get the impression that commercial fishermen really are not a priority for the port," Leese said.
When you talk to these fishermen about what's happening, you realize that it's more than a move we're that talking about. It's the end of an era. Fishermen used to be an important part of the Everett economy. Now they're an afterthought, considered less economically valuable than a condo.
"A little bit of Everett's history is going away," Mike Borovina said.
For Leese, the net shed was where his grandfather and his father kept their gear and where he continued in their footsteps.
"We're gonna miss it," he said. Everett Herald
Fish farms hurting wild stocks in Scotland
Scotland’s wild fish are increasingly being killed by lice leaking from salmon farms, new government research has revealed. But keeping them a safe distance apart has been deemed too costly and "logistically difficult" a solution.
Reports from the Scottish government's Fisheries Research Services (FRS) in Aberdeen and Pitlochry have found strong evidence that sea lice from caged salmon contaminate wild fish -- and the problem seems to be getting worse.
The lice eat fish flesh, causing badly infested salmon and sea trout to die. But the impact on wild fish has been hotly disputed.
FRS scientists will present the results of an eight-year research project into the impact of salmon farming on wild fish at a conference in Chile this week. Summaries of their studies, released under freedom of information laws, show links between lice from salmon farms and wild fish.
One study, by James Raffell from the FRS field station at Sheildaig in Wester infestations at with line in varied Ross, found levels of lice on wild sea trout nearby fish farms. A study of Loch Torridon and Loch Sheildaig concluded that a "widespread abundance" of lice in early 2007 was "probably linked" to elevated levels at local fish farms.
Another FRS report said research from Norway and Ireland suggested sea lice from fish farms could have "serious effects" on the wild salmon population.
The FRS reports were obtained by the Pure Salmon Campaign, which described them as "deeply disturbing".
"The government appears to have given up without a fight to protect wild Scottish salmon - a national icon - because it might be too difficult or too expensive," alleged the campaign's Don Staniford.
The FRS research reinforces a global study published last month in Canada which said wild salmon passing by fish farms suffered 50% higher mortality rates than salmon which didn't go near them.
"This should be a wake-up call to the global salmon-farming industry," said Staniford.
"The weight of scientific evidence now demands salmon farmers in Scotland, Ireland, Canada and Norway clean up their act before wild salmonids edge closer toward extinction." -- Sunday Herald, UK
Friday, April 4, 2008
NMFS says pollock fishery sustainable
Fisheries in the North Pacific and Bering Sea are healthy and effectively managed through a public process and rigorous monitoring by regulators, the National Marine Fisheries Service stated, responding to inquiries concerning a recent Greenpeace report on federal fishery management that questioned the status of the groundfish resource off Alaska.
The North Pacific Fishery Management Council process provides for full and open review of proposed management measures by the scientific community, industry members, environmental groups, and the general public. The council ensures that fishermen harvest Alaska groundfish in a biologically sensible and environmentally safe manner.
It has never exceeded the recommendations of government and university scientists in setting annual allowable harvest quotas, which are based on the best available scientific information on the status of the stocks.
"Since 1976, the Alaska groundfish resource has been managed by a risk-averse approach of conservative fish quotas and prudent bycatch quotas that has allowed the fishery to stay environmentally and economically viable for the long-term," said Rollie Schmitten, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service.
The North Pacific and Bering Sea fisheries are probably the most closely monitored fisheries in the world. Federally certified observers on every large fishing vessel and a significant percentage of the small vessel fleet report fish catch and the capture of non-targeted species called bycatch. Incidental catch of halibut, crab, salmon and herring is restricted through bycatch limits. When either the groundfish quota or the bycatch quota are reached, the fishery is closed to prevent overfishing.
The fisheries service recognizes concern about bycatch and the discard of fish. However, current discards are about 15 percent of the total five billion pound 1995 groundfish harvest off Alaska. This discard by all gear types is less on average than for most other major fisheries in the world that discard nearly 26 percent of their catch.
More needs to be done to reduce bycatch in the Alaska groundfish fishery and elsewhere in U.S. waters. The fisheries service in 1996 funded more than $2 million in grants to study fishing techniques that would reduce bycatch in the North Pacific. The council and groups fishing off Alaska also are concerned about the amount of bycatch and discards and are seeking ways to reduce it.
The fisheries service acknowledges that an ecosystem approach to the management of the Alaska groundfish fishery resources is desirable. However, its implementation awaits an improved understanding of ecosystem dynamics. To that end, the fisheries service is conducting research to determine whether groundfish operations affect marine habitat, marine mammals or birds. In a continuing effort to improve the stocks, the agency ordered an extra stock assessment research cruise in 1996 for pollock and cod, and will do so again in 1997. Press release
Troll decision disaster for Oregon fishermen
COOS BAY Curry County fishermen and officials went to Coos Bay, most to say whatever limited fishing the Pacific Fishery Management Council allows will still be an economic disaster for coastal Oregon.
Many blamed California poor management of the Sacramento River by the state of California and the California sea lions.
"I'd like to speak about equity," Jim Welter of Brookings told the representatives from PFMC. He said poor management of the Sacramento River will prevent fishing off Oregon shores, yet "today was their last day of sport fishing.
"The Klamath is full of fish. They close them down in the ocean and fish in the rivers," Welter said.
The entire ocean salmon season from northern Oregon to the border of Mexico is at risk of being closed due to last fall's collapse of Chinook salmon on the Sacramento River.
James Day of Brookings, a river guide and commercial fisherman, complained that limited salmon fishing was allowed in California.
"The reason we're not fishing is the Sacramento River," he said. "But in three zones in California, they get 3,000 fish zero from Humbug to the border" in Oregon.
"None of us can make any money," Day said. "We'd be better off getting a job at McDonalds and flip hamburgers."
Regional meetings were called by PFMC before making their final recommendations next week in Seattle. The council had proposed three different fishing options and was gathering testimony before deciding which to choose.
Rod Moore, representing the PFMC, asked for a show of hands on the options. Those representing recreational fishermen and the ports overwhelmingly chose an option that would allow the most fishing only three weekends for recreational fishing and about a month of limited commercial fishing. -- Curry Coastal Pilot
Mid-Coast fishermen lobby Congress
West Coast commercial fishermen are on Capitol Hill this week urging Congressional leaders to investigate the worst salmon fishery collapse in history.
The seven fishermen from California, Oregon and Washington said in a teleconference that government policies on the three major coastal rivers are creating systemic “rolling blackouts” in which fisheries are closed or heavily restricted from year to year.
This year, an extreme shortage of salmon expected to return to the Sacramento River is leading the Pacific Fishery Management Council to recommend a paltry fishery -- or none at all.
Increased water diversions and habitat problems in the Sacramento are damaging the runs, the fishermen said, and are making salmon populations unable to handle other challenges like poor ocean conditions. The Klamath and Columbia rivers also suffer similar ills, they said.
”If those river conditions were corrected we would not have the problem we have now,” said Washington fisherman Ron Richards.
They also drew into question the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's opinion that a lack of food in the ocean was key to the collapse, saying that in the past decade fish have been larger and healthier, indicative of good ocean conditions.
Eureka fisherman Dave Bitts said the group hopes Congress will look into the National Marine Fisheries Service's 2004 report that found increased pumping from the Sacramento River delta for irrigation and cities would not jeopardize salmon. He wanted to know if political meddling may have been behind that opinion.
”We would like Congress to do whatever it can to restore the scientific integrity of the work done by the National Marine Fisheries Service on the Sacramento fisheries,” Bitts said.
The U.S. Department of Commerce Inspector General in July 2005 found that the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the California State Water Project's plans passed muster with the National Marine Fisheries Service -- but that the fisheries agency gave approval without following established processes for ensuring the quality of its work. The Inspector General did not find evidence that the fisheries service changed its opinion of the plan midstream.
Other indicators of the health of the Sacramento River delta include the threatened delta smelt, which have suffered enormous population declines recently. The situation for that fish is so dire that scientists have begun to breed more smelt to backup the natural population in case it goes extinct.
Another interesting twist is that a program by the Fisheries Foundation of California and the state Department of Fish and Game to truck young salmon from upstream of the delta to San Francisco Bay where they can acclimate in pens was effectively shut down in 2005 and 2006. The salmon were instead dumped into the river unprotected, where they were preyed on by birds and striped bass, Bitts said.
The fish released in 2005 would have returned this year, and those from 2006 would have returned next year -- which is also expected to see a poor run. Some have voiced concern that while the previously successful net pen program may have led to a major boom in ocean salmon populations, that it may also have masked the delta's problems by repeatedly turning out abundant runs.
The fishermen visiting Capitol Hill said it's likely there is no one smoking gun behind the fishery collapse, but that the problems need to be examined if people want to preserve an icon of the Northwest. Times Standard, Eureka
Oregon governor has tough sailing over Ocean policy
Concern about dwindling access to the territorial sea off Oregon's shore has made folks quite territorial when expressing their concerns about a topic of considerable controversy.
Gov. Ted Kulongoski has weathered stormy seas since he launched the revived concept of establishing a network of "no take" marine reserves within the state's territorial sea (out to three nautical miles) in 2005.
Public statements, resolutions, letters, e-mails, and more - both pro and con - inundated the process as the governor's Oregon Ocean Policy Advisory Council (OPAC) tried to navigate the shark-infested waters of public opinion on ocean use, especially in terms of marine reserves and using systems of wave energy buoys to generate electricity.
Little by little, Kulongoski's effort to go full speed ahead has ebbed along the way, including a Nov. 1, 2007 statement issued after meeting with coastal legislators representatives from the commercial and recreational fishing industries.
In it, the governor said he would ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to limit wave energy project permits to just five to seven sites, and would encourage OPAC to limit marine reserve recommendations to fewer than 10 sites.
The process still remained too top-down and too quick for many folks vying to save pieces of prime ocean real estate for whatever reason. Questions remained from every direction about scientific evidence, long-term and short-term economic impact, monitoring, assessment, and enforcement, but the most serious concerns centered on timelines and local community involvement in the process.
Kulongoski answered with an executive order.
Issued March 26, it -- among other things -- transfers leadership of the marine reserves recommendation from the governor's office to the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, making ODFW Director Roy Elicker or his designee the governor's representative on OPAC; revises the timeline for marine reserve nomination and approval; and extends the evaluation of nominated sites beyond the State Land Board and Oregon Fish and Wildlife Commission to the Land Conservation and Development Commission and "other appropriate agencies."
The order also directs ODFW to "give priority consideration" to marine reserve nominations developed by local nearshore action teams like the one in Depoe Bay, which has already designated a potential site.
ODFW is to publish a marine reserve nomination form on or before July 1, based on expertise and recommendations from OPAC's Science and Technical Advisory Committee (STAC), and covering site location characteristics; potential biological, social, and economic impacts; potential economic development opportunities; and any research opportunities.
OPAC's new deadline to submit marine reserve site recommendations to the governor's office is Dec. 1 -- a 30-day extension from the original timeline. Newport News-Times