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Summary for May 26 - May 30, 2008:

Monday, May 26, 2008 

No Fish Wrap stories for Monday, Memorial Day

Tuesday, May 27, 2008 

B.C. fishermen steamed over new treaty

(Editor’s note: U.S. fishermen, as well, are not very happy about the treaty announced last week. We’re putting together a summary for the next Pacific Fishing magazine.)

 VICTORIA -- Commercial fishermen in B.C. are being sold out for a pittance under a proposed Canada-U.S. settlement on Pacific salmon, angry trollers say.

 Under the 10-year conservation pact, the United States will pay Canada $30-million in compensation for lost fishing rights, money that will help ease the pain of Vancouver Island fishermen who will lose their livelihood under the deal.

 "It's absolutely shocking," said Kathy Scarfo of the West Coast Trollers Association. "Here we have a Canadian natural resource, the U.S. needs it because, let's face it, they have destroyed their habitat ... so instead of paying the price, they are buying ours. And it's a sweetheart deal."

 The Pacific Salmon Commission proposal, which is not expected to be finalized until the end of the year, covers five species of salmon that range from Alaska down to Oregon. But the most contentious piece is the effort to protect Chinook stocks.

 "The parties agree to share in the burden of conservation," the deal signed last week states. But Alaskan fishermen will see their harvest levels drop by 15 per cent, while off the west coast of Vancouver Island, the cut is 30 per cent. And for B.C.'s commercial fishery, the cut will be more severe once native and sports fishermen get their priority shares.

 "For the fishing communities that are just barely hanging on already, this will be the end of them," predicted Dan Edwards of the United Fishermen and Allied Workers' Union, after a meeting in Port Alberni with native and commercial fishermen. "People here are pretty angry."


He estimated the commercial value of the salmon that will be lost to Canadian fishermen will be closer to $100 million over the life of the deal. There are about 100 active trollers left on the coast now, he said, but predicted the majority will be squeezed out under the terms of this pact. – Globe and Mail, Toronto

News from Scotland: Sound familiar?

THE fishery board of one of Scotland's leading salmon rivers has called for a moratorium on taking water from the river and its tributaries to protect the habitat of vital fish stocks and other threatened species.

An independent report, commissioned by the Spey District Salmon Fishery Board, claims that, at certain times of the year, up to half the upper river's flow is being removed by a variety of users, including distilleries, hydro power stations and public water companies.

The board said yesterday it was time for the "plundering" of the Spey to halt. Roger Knight, director of the fishery board, said: "The scale of water abstraction is far greater than was previously understood." – The Scotsman

Fish processing: No business like show business

(Editor’s note: Perhaps our headline is too flip. A survey out of Northern California a few months back indicated that local tourism leaders felt the mere promise of a seafood industry attracted visitors willing to pay for the privilege of witnessing the fleet and its catch If the market won’t pay for your high fuel prices, perhaps tourists will..)

 ASTORIA – Stroll along the catwalk at the Bornstein Seafoods processing plant and you can see the foundation of the Oregon Fish Factory, a tourist attraction that would give visitors a peek into Oregon's $250 billion seafood industry.

Watch from above as workers crack shells off fresh-cooked Dungeness crab, pack Chinook salmon in ice, slip fillet knives through flounder and sole and arrange product in boxes for shipping.

"This is as clean a fish plant as you're going to find in modern America," said plant project manager Andrew Bornstein during a recent tour.

In 2005, when Bornstein Seafoods started building its new plant at the Port of Astoria, company and Port leaders said one day the facility would sell tours that would allow visitors to watch fish processing in action and learn about the fisheries.

But that day has been a long time coming.

In 2006, a feasibility study projected a cost of $2.8 million to build the tourist attraction known as the Oregon Fish Factory and set a grand opening date of July 2008.

During the past year, turnover in leadership and threadbare finances have caused numerous setbacks at the Port. As the Port fell on hard times, the agency went from being a partner in the Fish Factory's development to a stumbling block along the path to completion.

Last year, the Port withdrew its earlier pledge to help finance the Fish Factory and Port commissioners put off Bornstein's verbal requests for visitor parking space and planning support.

Now, the project has no grand opening date scheduled and projected costs have grown to $4 million.

Bornstein said he needs two Port approvals -- for a lease of visitor parking space on Pier 1 and a sublease for a retail and interpretive center -- before he can qualify for private financing for the Fish Factory project.

Although Port commissioners say they want the project to succeed, they're not all jumping at the chance to provide parking on Pier 1.

Bornstein will be presenting his case at the Port meeting Tuesday in Seaside, and the board will be asked to vote on the parking and sublease issues. – Pacific Fishing columnist Cassandra Marie Profita covers commercial fishing for the Daily Astorian.

French fishermen end fuel price strike

LES SABLES D'OLONNE, France — Fishermen in this French Atlantic port voted to suspend a strike after the government in Paris agreed to compensate loss of income due to fuel price rises.

 The vote indicated an easing of tensions after angry fishermen took action this month, blocking ports including a major refinery operated by the French oil company Total in the Channel port of Dunkirk.

 The vote was the first true sign of detente in the dispute. This town was where the industrial action started on May 10, spreading quickly to northern France and the Mediterranean.

 Fishermen here called off their blockade of the commercial, fishing and yachting harbours.

 But a fisheries spokesman warned: "We're not ending the strike, we're only suspending it." – AFP

Wednesday, May 28, 2008 

Editorial: Seattle Times likes new salmon treaty

Things are so bad for the Pacific Coast salmon fishery, the United States and Canada are cooperating.

 Cuts in harvest and improvements in habitat are part of a proposed revision to the Pacific Salmon Treaty, which should quickly be approved by both governments. The new treaty would reduce the catch off southeast Alaska by 15 percent and Canada would cut its take off the West Coast by 30 percent. The changes would send an estimated one million more Chinook to Puget Sound and the Columbia River. Chinook are the target, but the 10-year agreement also covers coho, chum, pink and sockeye salmon.

 On one level, the agreement is a marvel of process. The Pacific Salmon Commission produced this recommendation, a first. Previous treaty negotiations collapsed and had to be resolved by Ottawa and Washington, D.C. This time, a crisis helped focus all the parties: two countries, one province, one territory, four states and dozens of First Nation and tribal groups. Credit goes to the chair as well, Jeff Koenings, director of the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

 Clearly, the progress is enlightened self-interest.

 Earlier this month, federal officials declared an emergency for West Coast salmon off the California and Oregon coasts. The trouble is traced back to a wholesale collapse of the fishery in California's Sacramento River, but an explanation has been elusive. Habitat, hydro or harvest are the usual suspects.

 Interests on both sides of the border could look south and only see a disaster to be avoided. Under the proposed agreement, both governments will contribute money to improve monitoring of salmon stocks, restore habitat, and reimburse the fishing industry for its economic loss.

 Canada would pay about $7.5 million. and the U.S. tab would be $41.5 million.

Harvest cuts and program investments are the foundation of the agreement. All parties recognize the long-term risks and the consequences of not making these adjustments. – Seattle Times

(Editor’s Note: The Times got it wrong: First, concerning Sacramento stocks, authorities specifically said the culprit wasn’t “harvest.” Secondly, the new treaty makes no requirements concerning habitat improvement.)

Cook Inlet group question ADFG numbers

In its first formal meeting to address dwindling salmon escapements to the Susitna and Yetna rivers, members of the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force questioned the accuracy of counting methods used by biologists of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to manage salmon fisheries across the state.

 "We want to get some idea of how confident you are of your assessment of the number of fish going into the rivers in the Mat-Su valley and whether those numbers are going up or down," said Rep. Mike Doogan, D-Anchorage, at the task force's hearing at the Soldotna Sports Center.

 Doogan was joined by fellow Representatives Kyle Johansen, R-Ketchikan, Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, and Craig Johnson, R-Anchorage, who chairs the task force.

 Senate President Lyda Green and fellow Senators Charlie Huggins, R-Wasilla, Lesil McGuire, R-Anchorage, Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, and Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, also are on the task force.

 Charles Swanton, director of Fish and Game's sportfish division, and John Hilsinger, director of the department's commercial division, gave task force members an overview of fisheries management in Alaska, illustrating the methods and techniques they use to manage fisheries and ranking them in order of most to least accurate from weirs at the top to aerial surveys at the lower end of the scale.

 Swanton also talked about the department's use of sonar as a management technique. Wielechowski asked Swanton how accurate each method was statistically. Swanton said accuracy depends on the system the method is applied to.

 On the Susitna River, he said, Fish and Game uses a mark-recapture program, multiple sonars and weirs to manage the salmon run, but they aren't counting the same group completely.

 Doogan said he understood that weirs are more accurate than aerial surveys but wanted to know just how accurate they are compared to the other methods Fish and Game uses to manage the fishery.

 "You would almost have to have a weir, a (counting) tower, a sonar and a mark-recapture (program) all operating on the same species stock in the same drainage simultaneously in order to be able to say which one is more accurate than the next one," Swanton said, adding that typically Fish and Game doesn't do that.

 On some systems where weirs have been used for several decades, Swanton said Fish and Game can be confident about that data.

 "For example, some of the most powerful data sets have got over 75 years of escapement data on a weir that was by and large operated in the same fashion year in and year out for 75 years," he said. – Kenai Peninsula Clarion

Vancouver Island fishermen fighting death sentence

Commercial fisherman Jeff Mikus is not calling it the final nail in the coffin yet, but a 30 per cent reduction in Chinook salmon fishing for the west coast of Vancouver Island is just one more blow, he says.

“You get to the point where it’s just a slap in the face.”

The Canadian government announced a Pacific Salmon Treaty deal Thursday that would see the U.S. government paying $30 million to Canada — in the form of buyouts for trolling vessels — and both countries paying $7.5 million over five years to improve tagging management programs.

Final approval is still required for the deal which is intended to last 10 years, beginning in 2009.

Mikus said he sees the end coming. “I truly don’t like it,” he said, “but I thing the small guy’s finished.”

Locally he said there has not been a lot of talk about any sort of organized protest. “I don’t think people have got their head around it yet.”

Mikus is a gill net fisher himself, and he felt the great shove in the mid to late 90s. There’s no gill net fishery left on the west coast of Vancouver Island, other than small ones in Barkley Sound and Nootka Sound. His boat has been based on the island’s east coast in recent years, and not getting much use.

“It’s still a waste of time,” he said, “I wish I didn’t have a boat anymore.”

Trollers are the ones feeling the hit this time around.  West Coast Trollers Association president Kathy Scarfo has said that the proposed 30 per cent reduction will affect trollers exclusively, rather than sport of native fishers.

"We take the full hit," she told a national newspaper. "So if there are 100,000 fish [to be caught] off the west coast of Vancouver Island, the recreational fleet will take 50,000, the natives will get 5,000 ... and if they take 30 per cent off the top that leaves 15,000 [for the troll fleet] and that would support about 15 boats."

Scarfo said there are 160 troller vessels operating out of Bamfield, Tofino and Ucluelet.
Mikus said the gill netters are already blown out of the water and the trollers are next.

The blame can’t be placed on any of the groups harvesting the resource, he said. They’re all just people trying to make a living and anxious to take all that they’re allocated.
The problem lies with mismanagement at the top level, said Mikus. –, Tofino, B.C.

Thursday, May 29, 2008 

Canada: Where have all the salmon gone?

Federal scientists are working to solve the mystery of why Canada’s Pacific salmon is disappearing while other species, such as hake, are thriving.

 In a five-year study in the Strait of Georgia, off the east coast of Vancouver Island, a team from the Department of Fisheries and Oceans is trying to determine why it has become so difficult to predict salmon runs.

 According to the scientists, it used to be fairly clear how many salmon would survive and return to rivers a few years later: The prediction was based on the number of salmon that left the river. Now, scientists say the process has become far more complicated, with ocean conditions, temperature and food supply playing a much greater role in the number of salmon that return.

  “We want to understand what's driving the Strait of Georgia — we're not seeing the millions of coho and Chinook that drove very important recreational fisheries,” said Brian Riddle, a DFO research scientist.

 Salmon ecology is a complex puzzle: On the U.S. West Coast many salmon runs have completely collapsed, and in B.C. the situation is only slightly better. But in the North Pacific, including Alaska, Russia and Japan, many salmon runs are at or near all-time highs.

 According to Richard Beamish, a senior scientist at DFO, the explanation for the changing stock may lie in the coastal waters where salmon spend their first few months of life.

 “What we think we're seeing is food production a little earlier in the ocean, and it’s benefitting the salmon that enter the ocean first,” Beamish said. – CBC

Dumb: After years of work, culvert still blocks salmon

Carpenter Creek estuary near Kingston, Wash., is considered an important salmon nursery — a place where young fish can eat, grow and prepare for the long journey to the Pacific Ocean.

 But efforts to restore the estuary have been plagued by years of financial and administrative struggles, as officials try to pull together the money and permits needed to replace a concrete culvert under South Kingston Road.

 Each time the project seemed ready for construction, a new problem would come up, said Joleen Palmer of Stillwaters Environmental Education Center. She has been involved in the restoration effort for eight years.

 Now, after officials have secured 50 percent in state funding, Palmer is concerned that the matching federal dollars may evaporate.

 Funding problems also delayed two other important salmon projects in Kitsap County: replacement of the Barker Creek culvert under Tracyton Boulevard and restoration of Chico Creek near the Kitsap Golf and Country Club.

 As a result of these and other money complications, the state's Salmon Recovery Funding Board has changed its approach to projects requiring a major design effort. Now, separate grants may be offered for design work, with construction grants to follow once precise cost estimates become available. – Kitsap Sun

Testimony: Don't drill in Bristol Bay

From the front of the room, Jeffrey Loman received each wave of criticism for oil and gas exploration and drilling in Bristol Bay with a polite “thank you for your comment.”

Members of environmental and tribal groups stood up and poured out their concerns: that drilling in Bristol Bay could hurt salmon stocks and other species that locals rely on for livelihood and subsistence, damage world perception of the quality of wild Alaska salmon and place threatened and endangered species in greater peril.

The fact that revenue from offshore drilling would not be shared with Alaska stuck in a few craws as well.

Loman is the deputy regional manager for Minerals Management Service, the federal agency that oversees lease sales for offshore drilling.

At its building in Anchorage on May 13, the agency was hosting the first scoping — or gathering of public comment — for its environmental impact statement on possible exploration and drilling in Bristol Bay, where it says it could have a lease sale by the year 2011.

Based on estimates derived from geological surveys, MMS predicts a mean expectation of 2.2 billion barrels, in terms of oil energy equivalent, of technically recoverable undiscovered oil and gas in the proposed lease sale area in Bristol Bay.

The United States consumes 20.7 million barrels per day, according to a 2005 estimate from the Energy Information Administration.

That would put Bristol Bay’s average expected total energy yield at about 108 days of current U.S. energy consumption.

“Generally, most of the giant fields have been discovered,” MMS public information officer Robin Cacy said. “But even if the lease sale went forward and they found anything, production would be 10 or 12 years out.

“We don’t know what’s there. The only way we’ll know is to drill an exploratory well. The process benefits us in that we’ll know what resource we actually have, and we have the production potential for 10 or 12 years down the line.” —Bristol Bay Times

Investigation: Observer very drunk before his death

I’d been meaning for months to call the police to follow up on the death of Jay Alderman, the federal fisheries observer whose body was found in Dutch Harbor last fall (The Highliner, Sept. 24).

 Local police Sgt. Matt Betzen told me at the time that Alderman might have fallen into the water while trying to climb back aboard the docked fishing boat on which he’d been working. And also that he’d been out to bars with fellow observers the stormy night he disappeared.

 Last week, Betzen pulled the case file and gave me the update – Alderman’s blood alcohol content was .287.

 “He was definitely very intoxicated,” Betzen said, and that certainly could have played into his death.

 I don’t mean to dredge up old pain by reporting this. Certainly what happened to the 25-year-old Texan was tragic.

 But as I recall, the mere suggestion last year that drinking might have been a factor in Alderman's death stirred up quite a debate within the observer community. Some demanded proof.

 The lesson is alcohol and work on the water just don’t mix. Take a look back at the federal study showing that 20 percent of fatal falls overboard involve alcohol (The Highliner, Oct. 4). – Pacific Fishing columnist Wesley Loy writing as The Highliner for the Anchorage Daily News.

Friday, May 30, 2008 

Copper River: Run late or small

With spring arriving late in Alaska, the return of salmon to the Copper River is lagging.

 Biologists with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game would have liked to have seen more than 100,000 fish in-river by Wednesday, but there was only about half that.

 Since a sonar near Miles Lake south of Cordova began counting on May 16, the salmon run has been building, but it is more a trickle than a flood.

 The daily count for Tuesday -- the last full day for which numbers were available -- was up significantly from the 84 fish that finned past the sonar on day one. But at 7,435 fish it was still only about half of the day's minimum goal of 14,130.

 The cumulative count was also low -- 49,687 at a time when biologists had a minimum goal of 86,330.

 Because of the weak return, commercial fishing off the mouth of the river has been put on hold until at least June 2. Weak early season catches, especially of kings, indicate the fish are not yet massing off shore. – Anchorage Daily News

Public relations: Whale caught in crab gear

A humpback whale off the west coast of Vancouver Island has a knotty problem.

 The whale, initially spotted by a Remote Passages Marine Excursions guide on a whale watching tour out of Tofino, has a rope and a float from a crab trap tied around its dorsal fin.

 Don Travers of Remote Passages said, from photos, he believes it is a young animal and the crab trap, which weighs about 38 kilograms, is still attached.

 That is debilitating for whales, sometimes killing them, and, especially if the animal is still growing, the rope can cut into skin or cause infection.

 The float is not from the Clayoquot Sound area, Travers said.

 "But, there were no breaks in the skin, so it didn't look as if it had been there for a long time," he said. So far, attempts to help the humpback have failed.

 Rod Palm, principal investigator for Strawberry Isle Research Society, hopes that means the trap may have broken free.

 Strawberry Isle has special tools for cutting fishing gear off entangled whales and has cut lines and crab traps off at least six whales over the last dozen years.

 "I have seen them drag as many as three crab traps with floats," Palm said. – The Vancouver Province, Canada 

(Editor’s note: Whales fouled in lobster pot gear has become a significant image and regulatory problem for fishermen in New England.)

Monopoly? Mid-Coast IFQs examined

As salmon fishery folks batten down the hatches over the loss of their season, those in the groundfish and Pacific whiting (hake) industries are rallying to oppose a proposed change in regulation of those fisheries.

During the week of June 9, the Pacific Fishery Management Council will consider approving an individual quota system for groundfish and whiting that seafood industry leaders say would “essentially create a monopoly of the seas.”

 They have gathered more than 300 supporters -- among them the National Restaurant Association, Oregon Restaurant Association, West Coast Seafood Processors Association (WCSPA), Northwest Seafood Market, and other restaurant owners, local businesses, organizations, and individuals -- to oppose a quota system they say would exclude one of the industry's largest stakeholders, and “leave behind coastal jobs and communities, seafood consumers, and sustainability.”

The individual system would allocate 100 percent of the initial quota to vessel owners and fishermen. A shared system would provide both fishermen and processors with an initial quota allocation.

At issue is a choice between an individual or shared market quota to allocate the take of those species. – Newport (Ore.) News-Times

(Editor’s note: A shared quota system has been tried for the Bering Sea king crab fishery. After hearing thousands of complaints about processors owning a part of the resource, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is re-examining the system. On a more regional note, Frank Ducich’s Pacific Group is a significant opponent to the Mid-Coast IFQ system, saying it’s a “monopoly.”)

Dutch: No more trawling in Unalaska Bay?

UNALASKA –  Unalaska's Fish and Game Advisory Committee wants the City Council to support its efforts to ban pollock trawling in Unalaska Bay during B season.

"The concern, especially during the summertime, is salmon bycatch," said City Natural Resource Analyst Frank Kelty, who chairs the committee.

As pollock have moved to the northwest during the summer months in recent years, more trawlers have been dropping their nets in the bay, which has been a concern for local subsistence and commercial fishermen. Kelty said he'd like to see everything from Eider Point to Priest Rock and back into the bay put off limits.

"You have vessels trawling just adjacent to some of our largest salmon streams at Broad Bay and Nanteekan, and also fish that's coming into Captains Bay and the Iliuliuk Harbor area," he said. – KIA