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Summary for April 28 - May 2, 2008:

Monday, April 28, 2008 

Spotting polluting fishing boat from the air

JUNEAU – Discharging oil into the ocean is a violation of federal law, that doesn't stop some people from polluting when they think no one is looking.  As one fisherman recently discovered, the Coast Guard can spot pollution violations from the air, even in remote areas of Southeast Alaska.

 The crew of an HH-60 helicopter from Air Station Sitka was on a routine training flight on April 8, 2008 when they noticed an oily sheen trailing from a fishing vessel underway in the Gulf of Esquibel near Prince of Wales Island. 

 The air crew radioed the fishing vessel operator, who admitted to pumping oily bilge water overboard.  The air crew relayed the information to Marine Safety Detachment Ketchikan personnel, who initiated a pollution investigation.  The investigation, which is still on-going, will likely result in a fine.

 Fines for oil pollution can range from $50 to $10,000 per offense, depending on the amount spilled, the perpetrator's prior history of violations, whether the perpetrator is a commercial or non-commercial entity, and whether or not the spill was deliberate. –

Giving Sacramento salmon a lift

Mare Island may seem an unlikely spot for a major wildlife rehabilitation project, but it happens to be the epicenter of an effort to rejuvenate an imperiled salmon population.

Several times a week from April to July, Department of Fish & Game tanker trucks deliver fingerling Chinook salmon from inland river hatcheries for release in the Carquinez Strait. On Mare Island, they're met by a boat crew towing a large holding pen to protect the stunned salmon from predators while they acclimate to the warmer, saltier water.

 "It's really been a team effort," said Kari Burr of the Fishery Foundation of California, who manages the acclimation project.

 On Friday, Fish & Game technicians left the Feather River hatchery near Oroville before sunrise, driving four trucks full of the small fish. Once at Mare Island, they hooked up large plastic tubes to the back of the trucks and sent about 400,000 baby salmon, each 3 to 4 inches long, into the net pen waiting in the water below.

 "I never get tired of seeing them hit the water," Fish & Game technician Steve Brightwell said.

 Trucking salmon from river hatcheries to the Bay is nothing new, but this year marks the largest protected acclimation effort to date — 20 million fish transitioned this year, twice as many as in 2007. Crews switch things up between Mare Island and nearby unincorporated Selby, to take advantage of tides and confuse predators.

 When the fish hit the water, they go into thermal and osmotic shock and hover on the water's surface, making them easy pickings for bass and seagulls. Protecting the fish in net pens while they acclimate increases the survival rate 500 percent, Fishery Foundation Director Trevor Kennedy said.

 "I'm glad we're finally doing it to potential. That's a lot of extra fish," Kennedy said. – San Jose Mercury News

New fishing-safety rules passed by U.S. House

A major overhaul of commercial-fishing safety rules is tucked inside a bill that last week sailed through the U.S. House of Representatives.

 "It's still going to remain a very dangerous job," said Peter Kovar, spokesman for Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., of commercial fishing. "We are just trying to make changes that will make it less so."

 Commercial fishing has the nation's highest occupational-fatality rate, more than 20 times the average fatality rate for all U.S. occupations. The provisions would be the biggest changes in federal regulation of the industry since 1988, when Congress required survival suits in cold water, life rafts, firefighting equipment and other gear.

 The new provisions were inserted into a Coast Guard Reauthorization Bill that overwhelmingly passed the House by a 395-7 vote on Thursday. But the provisions are not in a companion Coast Guard bill in the Senate, so their final fate is uncertain.

The bill's provisions include:

 • Required dockside safety examinations for vessels that operate more than three miles offshore, which include most of the Pacific Coast and Alaska fleets. Two of those inspections would be required in a five-year period.

 Currently, such inspections are voluntary and fewer than 10 percent of the U.S. fleet has these safety checks each year, though Alaska last year had 20 percent of the fleet inspected, according to Coast Guard officials.

 • The bill would require new fishing boats, if they are at least 50 feet long, to meet tougher construction standards to improve seaworthiness. Older vessels would have to meet an alternate set of Coast Guard safety standards by 2018.

 Some fishermen say the provisions impose too much expensive and cumbersome regulations that the Coast Guard, already struggling to shoulder its current responsibilities, would be hard-pressed to carry out.

 "While some of these amendments are worthwhile, others are extremely costly with no net benefit in increased safety to the commercial-fishing industry," wrote Mark Vinsel, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, in a Nov. 5, 2007, letter to Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

 The group is an umbrella organization for 38 fishing groups, including eight based in Washington, and represents some 5,000 fishermen.

 Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., is chairwoman of a Senate subcommittee that oversees Coast Guard reauthorization legislation, and thus would help to forge final legislation that would emerge from a joint Senate and House conference.

 She wants fishing-vessel safety improved in a way that makes sense and is still reviewing the House provisions, said spokeswoman Kathie Rothenberger.

 Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., is supportive of new safety provisions, but says there needs to be a focus on how the new standards can be met, according to spokeswoman Alex Glass.

 Since the passage of the 1988 legislation, U.S. commercial-fishing death rates have declined, especially off Alaska. But the 2007 fatality rate — 1.15 per 10,000 — was still more than 20 times the average fatality rate for all U.S. occupations. -- The Seattle Times

Coast Guard investigating death at sea

JUNEAU – The Coast Guard is currently investigating a fatality at sea, which occurred onboard the fishing vessel (F/V) Zenith approximately 72 miles southeast of False Pass.

 A 39-year-old man was repairing an apparent gas leak when fellow crew members found him unconscious. After finding the man unconscious the vessel contacted the Coast Guard at approximately 8 p.m. yesterday evening.

 Attempts to resuscitate the man failed and he was pronounced deceased by Coast Guard flight surgeon sometime after notification.

 The F/V Zenith is owned by Jubilee Fisheries Inc. and is based out of Seattle. The vessel planned on arriving in Sand Point today where members from Coast Guard Sector Anchorage will begin an investigation.

 The man's name is has not been released pending next of kin notification. – Press release

Tuesday, April 29, 2008 

Letter to the editor: I'm wrong and that's great

Great news — I’m wrong! Sort of. It seems news of the death of the Seafood Harvesting Labor Data Project was highly exaggerated. Although it was dropped from the Alaska Senate budget, it was resurrected in the capital budget. Through which dumbwaiters and hidden passageways it passed, I don’t know, but I hereby pick up the squid I prematurely flung at Juneau.

 In fact, for all the people who have worked to represent the interests of working Alaska fishermen — a blazing fanfare! I wish I could line your path with rose petals and Bazooka Joe bubble gum. Specifically the underappreciated staffers who do the actual work, especially Denby Lloyd and his staff, like Stephanie (who had to listen to my Eeyore imitation), the governor and staff, like Cora and Frank, and all the others who get left out of the Oscar speech — LeDoux’s Sonya, Gary’s Doug — well, you know who you are. Thanks.

 The North Pacific Fishery Management Council has changed much since the inception of crab ratz. Led by Alaska’s Lloyd, it voted to continue to analyze the imperfections of the program. With so much money and lobbying effort focused on stopping the analysis this is a victory indeed. In addition to Lloyd, council members Cotton, Fields and chair Olsen have shown an exemplary lack of bias in their work with the council. Council staff, led by Dr. Fina, has been accessible and professional. I tip my ball cap to you all.

 It makes me nervous to say it, but perhaps the tide has turned. Much paddling still needs to be done, but the shore is in sight. Let’s not drift.

 The next council meeting will be in Kodiak in early June. There will be fireworks. I encourage the press to attend. –  Terry Haines, writing in the Kodiak Daily Mirror

New England fishermen to get direct subsidies

NEW BEDFORD -- Massachusetts ground fishing crewmen and their families may soon receive $500,000 in direct subsidies.

The funds are part of a $13.4 million congressional aid package to help the struggling Commonwealth's ground fishing industry.

 The grants were allocated to the Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries to alleviate economic impacts associated with Framework 42 regulations -- the fishery management plan's most recent revision - on the Massachusetts ground fish fishery.

Originally, the 2008 Congressional Appropriations Conference Report only allocated $12.2 million in direct subsidies for permit holders, boat owners and captains, but not for crewmen.

New Bedford Shore Support organization -- which has worked in the interest of fishermen, their families, and communities since 1996 -- will distribute the subsidies directly to the crewmen and their families, according to the revised draft. – O Journal, Massachusetts 

Farmers see sea lice help from feed makers

Major feed company Skretting announced it has entered into a contract with Norwegian company Calanus for the development and documentation of a product based on the marine zooplankton Calanus finmarchicus to counteract sea-lice infestations in salmon and trout.

 Commercial scale field trials by selected farmers in Chile and Norway are now starting.

 Pelagic stages of Calanus finmarchicus and the infective stage of salmon lice are derived from a common ancestor and have many similarities. Therefore they may share what researchers call immunological structures.

 The trials will test whether it is possible to achieve higher protection from salmon lice by stimulating the immune system of the salmon with this new zooplankton product. – Fish Update, UK 

Feds won't list Lynn Canal herring

Herring in Lynn Canal, near Juneau, should not be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act since they are similar to other herring populations in the area which are being considered for listing, according to NOAA's Fisheries Service.

 "It's true that the herring population has declined in Lynn Canal when compared with the 1970s," said Doug Mecum, acting administrator for the Alaska region of NOAA's Fisheries Service. "However, the herring in Lynn Canal are not separate from other herring in southeast Alaska. We need to look at the entire southeast Alaska herring population."

 Mecum explained that biologists have already started a status review of the entire southeast Alaska herring population from Cape Fairweather and Icy Cape in the north, southward to Dixon Entrance, and westward to the open waters of the Gulf of Alaska.

 On April 2, 2007, NOAA's Fisheries Service received a petition from the Juneau chapter of the Sierra Club to list the Lynn Canal stock of Pacific herring, Clupea pallasi, as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. At the time, experts reviewed the petition, the literature cited in the petition, and other literature and information in agency files, and decided that the petitioned action might be warranted.

 Since then, NOAA's Fisheries Service convened a biological review team of scientists from NOAA's Alaska and Northwest fisheries science centers, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service.

 The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provided substantial information and advice such as data on the abundance of the herring population and the trends in population. The biological review team completed the status review of Pacific herring in Lynn Canal and found they are not eligible to be listed separately under the Endangered Species Act. – SitNews, Ketchikan

Wednesday, April 30, 2008P

Mid-Coast troll ban could kill fishery

SAN FRANCISCO -- The one-year ban on fishing for Chinook salmon could kill the commercial salmon fishery in California, officials said.

The number of boats has dropped from 4,000 to 400 in 15 years, The San Francisco Chronicle reported.

"We're looking at the end of it right now," said Hedley Prince, harbormaster at Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.

Most commercial fishing captains in California get about 70 percent of their income from salmon, with the Chinook the backbone of the commercial fishery.

Duncan MacLean, who fishes out of Half Moon Bay on a 43-foot boat named after his daughter, Barbara Faye, said the one-year moratorium will damage marketing efforts and other infrastructure.

The California fishermen generally work off small boats and cannot afford the $60,000 permits required to fish for salmon off Alaska.

Commercial salmon fishing in the San Francisco area dates back to the Gold Rush era. Joe DiMaggio and his brothers are among the celebrated San Franciscans from fishing families. – UPI

Norway salmon farms cut escapes

THE number of farmed fish escaping from Norwegian fish farms has more than halved in one year.

 Norwegian fisheries minister, Helga Pedersen said in a statement that she is very pleased to see that the "concerted efforts" from authorities and fish farmers to reduce the number of fish escapes has given such significant results. The minister added that she has the impression that the industry in general is taking this issue "most seriously."

 In 2007, there were 404,000 salmon and trout that escaped, compared to 935,000 in 2006. The number of escapes so far this year also shows a reduction compared to the same period in 2007. The total number of salmon along the Norwegian cost is estimated to be around 220 million individuals, whereas the number of trout is estimated to be around 25 million

B.C. Salmon Forum publishes Broughton study

NANAIMO, B.C. –  A new study published by the BC Pacific Salmon Forum throws light on environmental and other conditions and events in the Broughton Archipelago over nearly 60 years.

Broughton Archipelago: A State of Knowledge, by Dr. Isobel A. Pearsall, contains more than 600 pages of data on salmon escapements, commercial salmon harvests, farmed salmon production, sea lice counts on wild and farmed salmon, climate and rainfall, river discharges, ocean currents, waste management and marine escapes, forest harvesting and watershed assessments. Dr. Pearsall pulled these data together from a wide variety of government sources as well as from non-profit organizations, forest companies, fish farming companies and private individuals. It is a chronological survey based on available data going back to 1952.

The Broughton is one of the most complex ecosystems in the province -- a turbulent region of fjords, passages and mountains swept by winds, tides and currents, fed by numerous rivers and streams. It hosts the majority of the province's salmon farms and is the epicenter of a multi-year debate around the environmental impact of salmon farms -- in particular, about their impact on wild pink salmon.

"The BC Pacific Salmon Forum commissioned the study," says Chairman John Fraser, "because it will serve public understanding, and help stimulate good research, putting into the public domain as much information as possible on environmental and other forces that have shaped the Broughton. It is also intended to provide a context for the Forum's research program in the Broughton."

Data in the report indicates in some detail the widespread fluctuations in pink salmon populations in the Broughton for generations. Says Mr. Fraser, "We didn't ask the researcher to make a judgment on what has caused these fluctuations. We asked her to gather together data that would help everyone understand the complexities of the region and the multitude of factors that have, or may have, impacted wild salmon over the past five decades." – B.C. Pacific Salmon Forum, To view this report visit

California gives rockfish to sport fishermen

The California Department of Fish and Game has backed away from regulations that would close popular rockfish fishing areas on the North Coast.

 Fish and Game groundfish project supervisor Deb Wilson-Vandenberg said that new department Director Don Koch decided last week to keep areas near Shelter Cove open for fishing. Out of concern over the dire consequences of a complete closure of salmon season on the coast, Wilson Vandenberg said, Koch wanted to keep rock fishing available.

 Fishermen must still fish in depths less than 120 feet to help prevent catching yelloweye and canary rockfish, which are considered overfished by federal fisheries regulators. Wilson-Vandenberg said that the department is committed to closing the season early -- as it did last year -- if catches of the two species exceed limits.

 ”We tried to make it very clear that the department is very interested in fishermen doing as much as they can on their own to minimize their encounters with those fish,” she said. – Eureka Times-Standard

Thursday, May 1, 2008P

Alaska pollock trawler up for sale

The very top of the Alaska commercial fishing food chain is the factory trawl fleet – ships that catch Bering Sea pollock and process them into base goods that ultimately show up in the grocery store as fish sticks or imitation crab meat.

 Under federal law, only 19 factory trawlers can target pollock, the largest U.S. fishery by weight and one of its most valuable.

 We’ve heard for years the fleet was ripe for consolidation, and now comes word of a possible deal for the Alaska Ocean, a 376-foot ship based in Anacortes, Wash.

 John Bundy, president of Seattle-based Glacier Fish Co., said his company is in talks to buy the Alaska Ocean. But no agreement has been reached, he said.

 Glacier, which is half owned by an Alaska company, the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp., already owns two of the vessels in the factory trawl fleet.

 You’ll recall one of Glacier’s ships, the Pacific Glacier, caught fire in February. The outcome for the crew was wonderful – all 106 crew members were rescued safely

 But the Pacific Glacier sustained severe damage from the fire, which began in the laundry room.

 “The good news is the engine room and the factory were not involved,” Bundy said. “But most of the living area was extensively damaged.”

 It’ll cost $15 million to $20 million to repair the damage and have the ship ready to work again by the fall, Bundy said. The vessel is in the Todd Pacific shipyard in Seattle, where the damaged areas are being cleaned up.

 All the ship’s now-suspect cabling and electronics are being ripped out for replacement, Bundy said.

 Glacier Fish has insurance to cover nearly all the work, but it’s a tough time for crewmen displaced from their normal jobs on the ship, he said.

 The fire really wasn’t a factor in Glacier pursuing the Alaska Ocean, regarded as one of the nicest fishing ships in the factory trawl fleet, Bundy said.

 The Alaska Ocean has been featured on the History Channel show “Modern Marvels.” – Pacific Fishing columnist Wesley Loy writing as The Highliner for The Anchorage Daily News

Melting Arctic ice may release toxic chemicals

Over 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle, in the polar dark of a December morning, University of Manitoba Ph.D. student Jesse Carrie is out on the frozen Beaufort Sea, collecting ice samples to measure for mercury and pesticides.

 Lowered by crane from the deck of the icebreaking research vessel the CCGS Amundsen, and accompanied by a rifle bearer who keeps watch for polar bears, Carrie extracts ice cores and vials of frigid water. Carrie is part of a $40 million International Polar Year scientific expedition, the first ever to spend the winter moving through sea ice north of the Arctic Circle. The expedition's labor-intensive work is essential to understanding the impacts of global warming.

 As the Amundsen cuts through ice across the top of the globe, Carrie and his fellow researchers are uncovering evidence of a disturbing fallout of climate change. They are finding toxic contaminants, some at remarkably high levels, accumulating in this remote and visually pristine environment.

 Although there are no industrial sources in the Arctic, residents of the Far North have some of the world's highest levels of mercury exposure, some well above what the World Health Organization considers safe. High levels of mercury are being found in Arctic marine wildlife, including ringed seals and beluga whales, both staples of the traditional Northern diet. Levels in Arctic beluga have increased markedly in recent years.

 When coal is burned in power plants in the U.S., China and elsewhere, mercury is released into the atmosphere. Airborne, mercury can travel great distances before settling to the ground, or into lakes, rivers and oceans. Air and ocean currents, propelled by weather patterns and storm systems, sweep the mercury north.

 But the recent increases in Arctic mercury outpace and cannot be explained by smokestack emissions alone, says Gary A. Stern, a senior scientist with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans, professor at the University of Manitoba and co-leader of the Amundsen expedition. Rather, signs point to global warming and other disruptive impacts of climate change.

 As temperatures rise, causing sea ice, permafrost and snow to melt, the mercury that had been frozen in place is now being released, causing exposure up and down the food web.

 "Climate change alters exposure in the north and increases the system's vulnerability," says Robie Macdonald, a research scientist with Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

 Yet the Arctic researchers are routinely recording a lot more than mercury. They are seeing synthetic chemicals such as the brominated flame retardants known as PBDE's (used in upholstery, textiles and plastics), as well as perfluorinated and chlorine compounds. And while long banned in many countries, lingering amounts of DDT and PCBs continue to turn up in people and animals in the Far North.

 Of concern due to their persistence and ability to accumulate in plant and animal tissue -- particularly the fat prevalent in Arctic animals -- these chemicals are also known to disrupt the endocrine hormones that regulate reproduction and metabolism. Some are considered carcinogens. – Solon

Canadian feds want Fraser tribes to limit catch

VANCOUVER — Sockeye returns to the Fraser River this summer will be so poor that the federal government has asked 94 native bands in the watershed to come up with a catch-sharing plan that, for the first time, may involve “salmon rationing.”

 Native leaders say such meagre catches are forecast that people who have always had sockeye as a staple of their traditional diet might not get any this summer.

 “The salmon that are harvested will need to be rationed between and among the bands. And the individual bands may have to ration salmon inside their communities. They will very likely be forced to create priority lists for salmon,” said Ernie Crey, a director of the Sto:Lo Nation fisheries program.

 “Very likely the able-bodied will do the fishing. But the leaders may be forced to say first priority for who gets the salmon are the elderly, single moms and those on welfare,” said Mr. Crey, whose organization represents about a dozen bands on the lower river.

 “…The government calls it a sharing plan, but that is really a euphemism for the rationing of salmon,” he said.

 Although other species, such as chum and late-summer chinook, are forecast to be numerous enough to support fisheries, the loss of sockeye is a blow, because the oil-rich salmon are considered the mainstay of the native diet on the Fraser.  – Globe and Mail, Toronto

Troll ban threatens salmon research

Commercial fishermen and scientists from Oregon, California, and Washington who agreed to collaborate on a critical coast-wide study to learn more about salmon distribution, migration, and behavior in the ocean ironically find their research in jeopardy due to a dearth of fish.

The study, which sought to extend a two-year pilot program by Oregon State University researchers, aimed to protect weak salmon stocks. Funding is in place, the scientists are ready, and they have "the interest and cooperation of the fishing industry," said Gil Sylvia, director of the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station (COMES) at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

"We just need some salmon," he noted.

 During the pilot project, OSU scientists discovered they could trace the genetic markers of salmon caught in the ocean through small samples of fin or tissue, and -- within 24 hours -- pinpoint an individual salmon's river basin of origin.

 Sylvia said an expanded study could help scientists learn more about fish behavior in the ocean, and whether salmon from the Sacramento or Klamath rivers travel in clusters and feed in certain areas. He called it "ground-breaking research that could allow resource managers to keep much of the ocean open for fishing, yet protect weakened runs of fish." – Crescent City Triplicate

Friday, May 2, 2008P

Port of Toledo hopes to acquire Fred Wahl site

Calling it far from merely the future of a shipyard, Port of Toledo officials, area residents and a feasibility group studying the sale of Fred Wahl Marine Construction concurred that a defining moment hangs in the balance for the region's commercial shipping industry.

"This is a pivotal time," Port Commission Vice President Chuck Gertulla said. "If we don't come up with a way to do this, the fleets are going to leave, and they're not going to come back."

Fred Wahl Marine has announced it will close operations on its repair and haul-out (dry dock) facility and is being targeted for purchase by the port as a means to retain a service and repair site for commercial, private and recreational shipping needs.

 "What we've been hearing is boat construction and maintenance is part of this community's fabric," said Kevin Snyder, principal planner for Maul Foster Alongi, Inc., the firm conducting a feasibility study on the purchase of the boat repair and maintenance facility on the Yaquina River. "When you rip out part of that fabric, it's very difficult to stitch it back in."

In keeping with its mission of developing, promoting and sustaining the area's economic base and supporting the maritime industry, Port Manager Bud Shoemake is using a $37,500 grant from the Oregon Economic and Community Development Department (OECDD) to study and make a comprehensive analysis of the acquisition and operation of the shipyard.

"It's not just the jobs at Fred Wahl. That's just the tip of the iceberg as far as I'm concerned," Shoemake said of the port's interest in maintaining use of the facility for West Coast and Alaska fleets. "This is a region-wide issue. It's not just a matter of what happens if we do it. It's what happens if we don't." – Newport News-Times

Editorial: Two Bushes fail Sacramento salmon

With the stroke of a pen, President Bush provided hope for the survival of threatened Sacramento River salmon.

 Not today's President Bush. We're talking about his father, more than 15 years ago.

 In a White House ceremony on Oct. 30, 1992, George Herbert Walker Bush signed federal legislation that loosened agriculture's iron grip on water in California's Central Valley. The new water policy gave priority allotments to fish and wildlife, prompting one jubilant conservation leader to hail it as "the falling of the Berlin Wall."

 Pessimists, however, said the action was too little, too late, and they unfortunately appear to have been right.

 This year’s ban on troll harvests along much of the West Coast is the most restrictive ever and will devastate a cornerstone of the coastal economy and culture. Stretching from Cape Falcon on the northern Oregon coast to the Mexico border, the Pacific Ocean closure will hurt not just the commercial fleet but also charter operators, recreational fishers and just about every motel, restaurant, food store and bait shop on the coast.

 So here we go again with yet another disastrous West Coast fishing closure. And this one promises to be at least as costly as the shutdown two years ago following the collapse of the Klamath River salmon fishery.

 Yes, there'll be another congressional push for millions of dollars of aid to West Coast fishermen.

 Yes, there'll be the familiar pleas for help to economically battered coastal communities.

 Yes, there'll be more tiresome debate over what's to blame for the sharp declines in Sacramento River salmon.

 Biologists think poor ocean conditions, possibly caused by global warming, are partly to blame. But there's no question that another part of the blame goes to massive diversion of water for irrigation and urban household use in California.

 There may be nothing this nation can do to help improve ocean conditions in time to help these endangered fish, but we can improve their habitat in the rivers where they spawn.

 That, however, requires not just a great deal of money but also some hard decisions.

 Fifteen years ago, California reformers claimed that such hard decisions were inherent in the much-ballyhooed water bill signed by the first President Bush.

 Events this spring suggest the celebration was premature. – The Oregonian

Let us pause for an Exxon moment

HOUSTON -- Exxon Mobil Corp., the world's largest publicly traded oil company, said that record crude prices helped its first-quarter profit climb 17 percent to $10.9 billion, the second-biggest U.S. quarterly corporate profit ever.  – Anchorage Daily News

Scientist in a brawl over sea lice studies

 The sea lice brawl erupted again this week.

 Five scientists who predict the extinction of pink salmon in the Broughton archipelago if sea lice associated with fish farms are not controlled have published a withering rebuttal of counterclaims by two other scientists who challenged their case.

 And the debate has moved from starchy academic journals to website sparring at the University of Alberta and the B.C. Salmon Farmers Association.

 The scholarly dustup began in late 2007 when Martin Krkosek, Subhash Lele and Mark Lewis of the University of Alberta's Centre for Mathematical Biology, Jennifer Ford of Dalhousie University's biology department and field research biologist Alexandra Morton predicted extinction for wild salmon runs exposed to fish farm sea lice.

 Industry countered on the salmon farmer's website, citing an unpublished paper by Kenneth Brooks, an aquaculture scientist from Washington State who monitors B.C. fish farms and Simon Jones, a scientist with Canada's department of fisheries and oceans.

 The website claimed -- citing Brooks and Jones -- that the sea lice researchers had cherry-picked data and "the dire predictions made by Krkosek are completely unfounded."

 Then a paper co-authored by Ford and the late Ransom Myers, an esteemed fisheries scientist at Dalhousie, concluded from a meta-analysis of existing research that fish farms and their locations are indeed associated with plummeting wild fish populations. Next the Pacific Salmon Forum -- a group organized by the province to nail down sea lice science -- decided Krkosek's paper did have scientific merit.

 Brooks and Jones then had their paper critiquing Krkosek accepted by the journal Reviews in Fisheries Science. Their paper charged that additional research over the past five years analyzing pink salmon escapements was not consistent with Krkosek's findings and that "scientific evidence fails to support the extinction hypothesis."

 "Contrary to the conclusions reached by Krkosek et al., Broughton pink salmon returns have steadily increased since then with no indication that they are threatened with extinction," Brooks and Jones asserted. They accused Krkosek of "selective use of data, questionable analytical procedures and several unsubstantiated assumptions presented as fact."

 For example, rather than experiencing mortalities of 80 per cent, they said, recent research shows even tiny pink salmon fry mount an effective immune response resulting in the shedding of sea lice within two weeks.

 Krkosek and his colleagues responded with their own critique of the critique in the same journal and it's a humdinger.

 Now, I make no pretense at knowing who is winning an exchange that goes:

 Brooks -- "A linear model such as used in Krkosek et al is included in Figure 7. Note that the non-linear polynomial has a coefficient of determination of 0.55. Krkosek et all did not provide details describing their regression analyses . . . ."

 Krkosek -- "It is not clear to us what can be learned about the effects of sea lice on pink salmon population dynamics by fitting a cubic function to seven data points on log-transformed summed escapement and log-transformed year axes . . . ."

 However, I've read enough polite academic exchanges to know that "We show that the assessment by Brooks and Jones is thoroughly mistaken and that their conclusions are based on a combination of obfuscation, misrepresentation, and fundamental misunderstandings," is take-no-prisoners talk in the Ivory Tower.

 Krkosek unloads his own jabs on his website at the U of A, surgically dismantling the critique in lay language.

 Where the critics think there were no controls in certain of his experiments, Krkosek cites the place where his paper presents the control data. Where the critics thought the paper did not identify species of sea lice infecting juvenile salmon, Krkosek refers to the supporting information in his paper that did so.

 Where the critics thought farm lice data were inconsistent with results, Krkosek observes that his critics had examined data from the wrong year. Where the critics thought only a multi-disciplinary approach could work, Krkosek says his team involved physicists, mathematicians, fisheries scientists and marine field ecologists.

 "I believe there is sufficient evidence pointing to a severe potential threat of aquaculture to wild salmon stocks," Krkosek concludes.

 So far in this heavyweight bout, I'd say Krkosek is ahead on points for counterpunching. -- Stephen Hume, writing in the Vancouver Sun