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Summary for August 11 - August 15, 2008:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Alaska mountain erupts, flights cancelled

Volcanic ash stranded several thousand travelers Sunday when a shift in the wind moved a giant ash plume into flight routes, causing Alaska Airlines to cancel 41 flights into and out of Alaska.

The plume came from Kasatochi, a volcano island in the central Aleutians that erupted Thursday.

Alaska Airlines made the decision to halt flights after the National Weather Service issued a SIGMET (Significant Meteorological Information) warning Sunday afternoon for an area in Southeast Alaska near the Panhandle, Boren said.

Kristi Wallace, a research geologist for the Alaska Volcano Observatory, said the wind sheared off part of a 40,000-foot ash plume and carried it northeast from the North Pacific to the middle of the Panhandle.

Kasatochi is one of three volcanoes currently simmering in the Aleutians, along with Mount Cleveland and Okmok.

Seismic activity at Okmok picked up notably on Sunday, the observatory said, but it was the days-old ash plume created by Kasatochi's initial eruption that created headaches for travelers.

"The flight levels are going right through that SIGMET area, and that area is full of ash," Wallace said. – Anchorage Daily News

Fishing harbors attract tourism dollars

They provide safe passage to open waters and refuge from angry seas. They attract fishermen, poets, educators, researchers, sailors and the curious. Harbors are the doors to our ocean backyard.

Visitors and the boating community have made harbors an economic force on California's Central Coast. The Monterey, Moss Landing and Santa Cruz ports together generate more than $65 million annually.

In Monterey, the marina generates $2.3 million a year and the waterfront -- including two wharves -- generates another $30 to $40 million. Up to $10 million of that is the gross value of fish landed.

"Like most other California harbors, our fish landings have been declining greatly over the past 10 years," says Harbormaster Steve Scheiblauer. "Keeping Monterey's culture and history of fishing is a big challenge. It is also related to our successful tourism economy, as we know people come here to see this and eat fresh, local seafood." -- San Jose Mercury News

Venture capitalists drawn to fishing industry

Sea Change Investment Fund is a San Francisco venture fund focused on companies selling sustainable seafood -- the only such fund in the country.

Started as an initiative of the David & Lucile Packard Foundation, Sea Change screens potential investments both for their profit potential and for their environmental benefits.
It concentrates on the middle of the seafood chain -- the processors and distributors who get fish from the docks to the grocery store.

"Even if people create greater supplies of environmentally preferable fish and even if there is more demand for it from consumers, the seafood supply chain doesn't always cooperate," said Jason Winship, a former investment banker who is managing principal of Sea Change.

Sea Change is a relatively small fund of $20 million. Half of its initial capital came as a loan from the Packard Foundation; the rest has come from individual investors. Since it started in 2005, Sea Change has invested in six companies, including:

-- Ecofish, a New Hampshire firm that sells sustainable fish to restaurants and offers frozen consumer products called Henry & Lisa's Natural Seafood.

-- Look's Gourmet Food Co. of Maine, which uses sustainable ingredients in its premium seafood chowders.

-- Advanced BioNutrition, a Maryland biotech firm developing protein-rich algae that can replace fish oil as a food source for farm-raised fish.

Just last week, Sea Change said it is investing an undisclosed amount in Wild Planet, a McKinleyville (Humboldt County) company that processes and sells canned crab and tuna that is caught in an environmentally preferable manner. – San Francisco Chronicle

SE Alaska: Seine pink harvest, escapement improve
For the last July opening on July 30 the only wild stock fisheries were in Districts 1 and 4. Thirty boats in District 1 harvested 136,000 pinks and 13,000 chum, and 50 boats in District 4 harvested 130,000 pinks and 8,000 chum.

Per boat averages were 4,500 pinks in District 1 and 2,600 pinks in District 4. An additional 74 boats fished in the Deep Inlet and Hidden Falls with a harvests of 80,000 chum salmon combined for the two areas.

On Sunday, August 3 the fishery expanded to include areas in Districts 1,2,3,4,7,12 and 13. Effort increased from 154 on July 30 to 175 boats. Total pink salmon harvest increased from 294,000 pink to 783,000 pink salmon. Pink salmon harvest rates were 4,600/boat in District 1, 10,700/boat in District 2, 5,400/boat in District 4, 2,600/boat in District 7 and 3,900/boat in District 13. Peak efforts included 56 boats in District 4 and 50 boats in District 13.

Based on results of aerial and skiff surveys, harvests and escapements are generally improving in the middle and late run areas. – Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Fuel prices cut sport fishing pressure

A Kenai River campground operator says summer bookings are down dramatically, in large part a reaction to the rapidly rising cost of gasoline and diesel.

Hers is not the only business within the Kenai Peninsula and wider Southcentral Alaska tourism market to experience a downturn.

"We are down, oh gosh, 40 percent or better," said Mel Krogseng, who operates Krog's Kamp on Big Eddy Road on the Kenai River.

For several years, Krogseng has booked the entire campground to one group of 40 coming from Outside. This year, they called saying they had to drop 16 of their number.

"I have two-bedroom units, so that's four units," Krogseng said. "That's a big chunk. Once you've told (other) people you have no space, it's hard to fill it back up." – Homer News


Tuesday, August 12, 2008

U.S. vows to enforce fishing claims in Arctic

In the latest sign of the rising international political stakes in the Arctic, the top U.S. Coast Guard official has revealed a planned shift in American foreign policy from scientific research to "sovereignty" and "security presence" in Alaskan waters bordering Canadian and Russian territory.

And to underscore growing U.S. concerns over its aging polar icebreaking fleet and suspect capacity for Arctic surveillance, Homeland Security director Michael Chertoff slipped quietly into Alaska to assess the Coast Guard's northern operations.

A Homeland Security spokesperson told Canwest News Service that Chertoff's unannounced two-day visit does not include any public events.

In a radio interview ahead of Chertoff's arrival, U.S. Coast Guard commander Admiral Thad Allen said rapidly retreating sea ice is forcing abrupt changes to U.S. priorities in the Arctic.

"For about the last 20 years, the conventional view for policy-makers in Washington is that any activity in the Arctic and Antarctic is basically related to science," Allen told the Alaska Public Radio Network.

But citing the ongoing "recession of the multi-year ice" in the Arctic Ocean and the inevitable increase in ship traffic and oil and gas exploration, Allen said: "I expect that sometime in the near future there will be an issuance of what they call a national security presidential directive to lay out new policy in the Arctic.

"This will deal with more issues of sovereignty, security presence and things like that," added  Allen. "The question is: What do we want to project up here?"

U.S. anxiety about the state of Arctic security stems largely from comparisons with Russia's robust force of icebreakers and its recent displays of Arctic military might and economic ambition –  including last summer's controversial flag-planting on the North Pole sea floor by a Russian scientific expedition.

The U.S. is also concerned about the increased presence of foreign fishing fleets in the boundary waters between Alaska and Russia as warming Arctic waters alter the habitats of commercial species.

"The primary mission right now is the maritime boundary line with Russia – keeping foreigners from stealing Alaskan fish," Rear Admiral. Gene Brooks, head of the U.S. Coast Guard's operations in Alaska, told the radio network.

"The way we do that is either put ships or airplanes or both on the boundary line and we do a barking dog routine," warning or citing violators.

"The fleets are further north than ever because the species are moving north," he stated.

Canada has its own high-profile disagreement with the U.S. over the Northwest Passage –  the sea route through Canada's Arctic islands that this country claims as "internal waters" but the U.S. and other nations consider an international strait.

There's also a disputed section of the Beaufort Sea north of the Yukon-Alaska border where both Canada and the U.S. claim ownership. –

Opinion: Sockeye fishing, Part I

Oregon and Washington fisheries managers recently announced that anglers on the Columbia River would have "an unexpected opportunity" to catch and keep a sockeye salmon.

Citing much higher than average counts of sockeye passing Bonneville Dam, biologists agreed to allow anglers to harvest these fish. They project that Columbia-origin sockeye will soar to a record-breaking high of 250,000.

As these circumstances clearly show, an abundant run triggers one thought in the minds of fisheries managers: Harvest. But why is such abundance "bad" news? The answer is that elation over the aggregate numbers masks a persistent and fatal flaw in the management of the Columbia system.

By treating the returning populations of sockeye as a singularity, commercial as well as recreational fishermen get to share the "bounty." This means that instead of using a good year to recover the sockeye runs, fisheries managers have chosen to open all of the sockeye runs to non-Tribal gill net harvest, including ESA-protected runs such as the Redfish Lake sockeye.

Sockeye salmon once gave Redfish Lake its name. The spawning colors of thousands of salmon finishing their epic 900-mile run to the finish line turned a mountain lake near Sun Valley, Idaho to deep red. Sockeye lend no such color now. In 1991 only two returned, sparking the species' listing that year as endangered, the severest level possible under the Endangered Species Act. After 16 years of ESA protection, their prospects remain grim; only four fish returned in 2007, three in 2006. It appears Redfish Lake sockeye are slowly approaching their doom.

Fortunately, fisheries managers expect 700 Redfish Lake sockeye to enter the Columbia this year. Of these 700 Snake origin sockeye, perhaps 50 will make it to the lower Snake River into the Stanley Basin, and with extreme luck, perhaps seven or eight fish will reach Redfish Lake, Idaho. That would be the biggest Redfish Lake Sockeye return in five years.

What if one sockeye caught in a gillnet is the sole female bound for Redfish Lake? Gillnetters have no way of knowing. Even if they did know, they could not return the fish to the water unharmed because gillnets are a lethal, dangerous form of harvest that does not allow for live release. Rather than restoring her species, this sole female sockeye, which could spawn future generations, will contribute a tasty meal for one night.

Fisheries managers say the odds are low that the nets could kill those last eight or four or three sockeye headed for Redfish Lake. So, we are left with the premise that taking a few hundred $20 fish from an abundant run is more important than protecting the last-remaining members of a dying one.

Though the statistical odds favor the managers, the cost of losing their gamble is monumental: the extinction of Redfish Lake sockeye.

Once again, fisheries managers are focusing on how to divide up an increasingly scarce resource rather than making a clear commitment to conservation and recovery. Our Pacific salmon fisheries are collapsing all around us, yet we still have people who are in denial that it is time for real change. The plight of the Redfish Lake sockeye is just one example of the problems facing the Northwest's native salmon runs, and how these problems are interconnected.

It's time to involve all stakeholders — anglers and non-anglers — in the fight for conservation and sustainable harvest practices. We can no longer afford to gamble with the future of our fisheries. – John Stec, president of the Oregon State Chapter of Coastal Conservation Association, writing in the Salem Statesman

Opinion: Sockeye Fishing, Part II

Contrary to John Stec's guest opinion, "When more isn't better — gambling with extinction," this year's return of over 213,000 sockeye salmon to the Columbia Basin is cause for celebration, not disparaged as another failed attempt at salmon recovery.

Singling out commercial fisheries as the single bad actor in the decline of sockeye is myopic. In reality, a matrix of issues caused sockeye to decline. That "one" female sockeye he talks about so vehemently has a greater likelihood of being killed during upstream migration over the dams or dying from stress in warm water.

The Columbia Basin treaty tribes have a deep-rooted commitment to salmon recovery. Our tribes have relied on the salmon as part of culture for many generations and intend to preserve that legacy for generations to come.

The parties to the Columbia Basin Accords are working on a variety of programs to restore habitat, address passage issues, improve hatchery practices and manage fisheries responsibly. This year's sockeye run is just an example of how quickly things can improve when several survival factors line up positively.

By working together, we can make wider improvements to salmon survival, recover fish runs and keep fishing. –  N. Kathryn Brigham, chairwoman Columbia River Inter-Tribal Fish Commission, Portland, writing to the Salem Statesman

Update: Cook Inlet fish spotty

Upper Cook Inlet: The Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishery continues to be dominated by news of the poor Kenai River sockeye salmon run. Upper Subdistrict set gillnetters and Central District drift gillnetters have not fished a regular Monday-Thursday regular period since July 24.

In fact, setnetters in the Kenai and East Forelands Sections only fished five regular periods in 2008. The current cumulative passage of sockeye salmon in the Kenai River has reached 525,000, with a minimum in-river goal of 650,000. It is very unlikely that any commercial fishing in the Upper Subdistrict or the east side of the Central District will take place in the remainder of this season.

However, just a few miles south of the Kenai River you find the Kasilof River. The sockeye salmon run to this system appears to be at or above forecast and has required a lot of additional fishing time in an attempt to keep the escapement within the optimal escapement goal (OEG). The Kasilof River terminal harvest area has been open round the clock to slow the escapement rate into this river.

The estimated total sockeye salmon harvest in the Upper Inlet through Aug. 4 is 2.34 million. Very little additional sockeye salmon will be harvested in 2008. The remaining fisheries in Upper Cook Inlet fish regular Monday-Thursday periods with coho, pink, and chum salmon being the primary species of harvest.

Lower Cook Inlet: Most districts have been opened for pretty much continuous fishing.

Sockeye salmon escapement was reasonably good throughout the management area, with SEG’s achieved or exceeded at six of seven major lake systems. The sustainable escapement goal (SEG) possibly met at the lone remaining system.

Pink salmon returns are somewhat variable so far, but escapement goals appear to be achieved or within reach at most systems. Chum returns appear strong throughout the Lower Inlet, with a minor number of exceptions, and chum escapement to date looks very favorable at a majority of systems. – Alaska Department of Fish and Game

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

State biologists curtail Columbia River fishing

Twelve hours of commercial fishing in the lower Columbia River were cancelled on Tuesday.

The gillnet fleet has landed a projected 7,330 fall Chinook salmon in four nights of fishing since Aug. 3, said John North of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

That’s 91 percent of the amount of Chinook allocated for early and mid-August commercial fishing.
North said there are about 700 Chinook left for mid-August and netting could have caught as many as 2,500 fish, 1,800 more than the guideline.

The commercials also have landed 2,259 sturgeon, 92 percent of their August allotment. State biologists will review the preliminary catch figures and consider if more netting is possible before late August.
The Columbian

Copper River salmon figures indicate later than normal return

Gonadal material from early stock sockeye and Chinook salmon returning to the Copper River appears to be immature for given dates and may indicate a later than normal return trend.

Passage at the sonar, while below anticipated for a given date, has been matching closely the anticipated passage for 2-4 days prior. This, combined with lower than expected harvest numbers, are indicators of a possible later than normal return.

Cumulative commercial harvests from the Copper River District have been significantly lower than expected for this year as well as dramatically lower than historical harvests for this date. – Alaska Department of Fish & Game

Exxon interest payment kicked downstairs

WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court has declined to decide whether Exxon Mobil Corp. must pay interest to victims of the nation's worst oil spill that would roughly double the $507 million judgment the high court approved in June.

In a brief order, the court said the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, based in San Francisco, should decide the matter of interest arising from the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster.

The issue is whether interest has been accruing since 1994, when a federal jury first awarded punitive damages for the supertanker's spill of 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska's Prince William Sound.

The fishermen and other victims of the spill said that if interest is not owed from that date, the value of the award when adjusted for inflation would be cut in half. Exxon has argued that no interest is due.

The jury awarded $5 billion, but that was cut in half by the 9th Circuit. The Supreme Court, by a 5-3 vote, reduced the total to $507 million. – Anchorage Daily News

Alaska wild salmon harvest low

ANCHORAGE — Early harvest figures from wild salmon runs show an overall Alaska catch of 72.8 million fish, well below the overall forecast harvest of 132.5 million.
The figures record estimates of fish caught through Aug. 1.

Fishermen have had a good year for Bristol Bay sockeye, a harvest in excess of 27 million, but preliminary figures show the statewide harvest of pink salmon at just under 23 million fish. The forecast is for 61.5 million pinks.

We have a lot to make up, but we are in the time frame right now where we will be able to tell if the pinks are going to return to Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska," said Mike Plotnick, a state fisheries research analyst in Juneau.

"If this was the end of the season, we would be very short across the board, but we still have another six weeks ahead. With the exception of sockeye and chum salmon, salmon harvests have been lower than forecast," Plotnick said.

Chum salmon fishermen statewide appear to be having a good year. Chinook, coho and pinks numbers are down, he said.

"But the jury is still out on the pink salmon harvest," Plotnick said. "The pink harvest has started to take off in Kodiak, but remains flat in Southeast and Prince William Sound."

John Hilsinger, director of the state Division of Commercial Fisheries, said ocean conditions appear to be a factor in what has been a harvest below numbers in recent years. – The Wenatchee World

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Alaskans prepare to vote on Clean Water Initiative

Alaskans will soon vote in the primary election on an initiative that opponents say will kill large-scale mining in Alaska but supporters say will save Bristol Bay’s wild salmon streams from a potential toxic spill at the Pebble Mine.

Many voters are confused by the rash of opposing messages stemming from the debate over Ballot Measure 4, the Clean Water Initiative.

Supporters of the initiative say it is needed to protect Alaska’s wild salmon streams from the proposed Pebble Mine, a gold and copper deposit in Southwest Alaska.

Opponents claim the initiative poses a serious threat to Alaska’s economy and the mining industry.

On one side of the debate is Alaskans for Clean Water Inc., a group that includes commercial and sport fishermen, Alaska Natives, Native villages, lodge owners, hunters and others.

The group leading the opposition is Alaskans Against the Mining Shutdown, which boasts the Alaska Federation of Natives, the state Chamber of Commerce, Native corporations, the Resource Development Council, the Miner’s Association and industry groups among its supporters.

Aurah Landau, the Southeast Alaska coordinator for Alaskans for Clean Water, presented the argument in favor of the initiative. Jason Brune of the Resource Development Council represented Alaskans against the Mining Shutdown.
“We want to support fish and fisheries. We don’t want to stop mining,” Landau said.

Under the initiative, no existing mines would be shut down, no mine expansion would be stopped, no “mom and pop” mines would be shut down and no recreational activities would be restricted, she said.

“It’s just really common sense,” Landau said. “(The initiative) simply says that new, large metallurgical mines in Alaska cannot release toxic chemicals into salmon spawning areas that will adversely impact those salmon.”

Brune said, “Our mission is the responsible development of Alaska’s natural resources. At no point would we ever take a position that would compromise one resource at the benefit of another.”

Brune emphasized that existing state and EPA guidelines are sufficient to protect fish and that the ballot measure is therefore unnecessary.

“The state sets those standards and works with the EPA to set those standards,” he said. “To say that there wouldn’t be something in place already to protect the salmon in the state is absurd.”

The measure applies only to new mines seeking permits in areas where there is salmon spawning, Landau said. – Kodiak Daily Mirror

Study: Three pesticides threaten salmon populations

From Los Angeles to the Canadian border, three pesticides synthesized in the 1950s and '60s are increasing the chance of extinction for more than two dozen imperiled salmon stocks, says a draft study by federal fisheries experts.

"Overwhelming evidence" suggests the pesticides are interfering with the ability of salmon to swim, find food, reproduce and escape bigger fish trying to eat them, says the evaluation issued by the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The fish in question, all protected under the Endangered Species Act, include threatened Puget Sound chinook.

If the pesticides are used as currently authorized by regulations, "all (threatened salmon) populations will likely show reductions in viability," the 377- page study concludes.

The report came in response to a suit filed by environmentalists in federal court in Seattle, where U.S. District Judge John Coughenour ordered the Fisheries Service to conduct the study.

It is intended as advice to the Environmental Protection Agency, which governs use of pesticides. EPA has long allowed use of the pesticides in what the fisheries service now says are applications dangerous to fish.

In coming months, the Fisheries Service has to say what should be done to control use of the three pesticides,chloripyrifos diazinon, and malathion. The agency could order restrictions on their use, or even halt their application. – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Yukon River chum gains favor in restaurants and markets

Yukon River chum has traditionally been disparaged as cat food, as dog food, a pale, dry "garbage" fish. But, suddenly, this Cinderella chum is getting its moment in the spotlight.

Grocery stores and restaurants are bringing in Alaskan fall chum from the Yukon River, cousins to the king salmon that vie with Copper Rivers for the title of the region's most celebrated fish. There's even talk about classifying it as an entirely different subspecies.

"It's a shame to call a chum out of the Yukon River a chum," said Paula Cassidy of Wild Salmon Seafood Market, one of the few local fishmongers who generally support lesser-appreciated fish such as chum. "It really has a remarkable flavor, and I think it eats as well as coho and sockeye. It's really the king of chums."

Yukon River champions argue that all the wild fish that fight their way up the 2,200-mile river rank vastly above the normal flavor curve, making Yukon River's kings a treasure and even the chum a good bet. Initial laboratory samples this year showed that the Yukon fall chum contained more oil than many king salmon, along with hefty levels of hearty-healthy omega-3s. – Seattle Post-Intelligencer

Groundfish meetings to be held on Oregon coast next week

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife will hold six public meetings on the Oregon coast next week to discuss possible changes to the groundfish open-access fisheries rules that may reduce the number of commercial fishing boats.

The meetings will gather comments and answer questions on a proposed change to convert current open-access commercial groundfish fishery on the West Coast to a federal limited-entry permitted fishery, possibly reducing the size of the fishing fleet.

Find a schedule of the meetings at

This fishery lands primarily sablefish, but also lands rockfish and lingcod. ODFW staff members will gather input from all constituent groups so they can better represent Oregon during the September meeting of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) in Boise.


Transitioning the current open-access groundfish fishery into one where participation is limited by a federal permit is a goal of the PFMC. The council's objective is to bring the current open-access participants into the limited-entry program and reduce the participants to those who are most dependent on and committed to the fishery.  --Newport News-Times

Sardines: The next big thing?

Sardines, relished in many European countries, especially Spain and Portugal, have suffered from a dubious reputation in America.

It was not always this way. Remember John Steinbeck's novel, "Cannery Row," that used the California sardine fishery as its backdrop? In the early 20th century, sardines fed millions of soldiers during both world wars, and countless others during the Depression.
In the 1950s, a cyclical collapse of the Pacific sardine population, the ubiquity of canned tuna and an overall preference for milder whiter fish replaced the popularity of sardines. Today, many people associate sardines with the strong smelly canned fish with skin and bones.

But sardines have had a recent resurgence because of their health properties and environmental friendliness.

Taras Grescoe, author of "Bottomfeeder, How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood," argues in his book that we should eat at the lower end of the oceanic food chain. In a world of mercury-laden tuna, disappearing salmon and contaminated shrimp, Grescoe contends we should avoid big fish that tend to be over-fished and full of contaminants. Instead, seafood eaters should learn to enjoy smaller, but abundant fish like sardines, herring and mackerel.

In addition, sardines, like other fish, are high in Omega-3 fatty acids and other brain and heart healthy nutrients, but because they are smaller and live shorter lives, they accumulate fewer toxins. Furthermore, the small soft bones in sardines add calcium to the diet. – Greenwich Time