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Summary for November 3 - November 7, 2008:

Monday, November 3, 2008

Bush looking for last minute fishing rule change

New federal rules from a variety of agencies are being considered by the Office of Management and Budget.

Last May, the White House chief of staff, Joshua Bolten, sent a memo to regulatory agencies advising them to pull together any proposed rule changes they might wish to pursue by June 1, with an aim toward making them final by Nov. 1.
This, Mr. Bolten explained, was to avoid a mad dash for midnight regulations — those last-minute tweaks to federal rules made in the twilight of a departing administration.

A rule put forward by the National Marine Fisheries Service and now under final review by the OMB would lift a requirement that environmental impact statements be prepared for certain fisheries-management decisions and would give review authority to regional councils dominated by commercial and recreational fishing interests, according to the Washington Post.
An Alaska commercial fishing source, granted anonymity so he could speak candidly about private conversations, said that senior administration officials promised to "get the rule done by the end of this month" and that the outcome would be a big improvement, according to the Post. – New York Times

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Seafood industry supports only two Oregon marine reserves

Just two of the 20 proposed marine reserves along the Oregon coast have found any support from seafood commodity commissions.

And only two of the four commissions in the state say they back those two proposals. The state crab and salmon commissions have voted to support marine reserves at Depoe Bay and Port Orford — but that's it so far.
The Oregonian

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Opinion: Cook Inlet beluga listing won’t help whales

"So tell me what you want, what you really really want? Yeah, tell me what you want, what you really, really want ..."

I rarely summon the Spice Girls, but in this instance, I had to. The listing of the beluga whales in Cook Inlet under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) leaves me wondering just that -- what do they really, really want?. – Jason Brune, executive director of the Resource Development Council for Alaska, Inc., writing in The Anchorage Daily News

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Alaska cod harvest continues as planned

The latest Alaska Department of Fish and Game Pacific cod update reports cod meeting or exceeding expectations in terms of effort and catch rates.

Wayne Donaldson of Fish and Game said he expects the fishery to remain open through the fall and possibly longer, depending on effort, weather conditions and the price of cod.

Donaldson said the state waters fishery closed at the end of August, after which the federal parallel fishery opened and ran through September. The state fishery then re-opened in early October. – Kodiak Daily Mirror

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Spiny dogfish catching eye of East Coast managers

Fisheries management officials are finally listening to fishermen about the abundance and impact of spiny dogfish.
They are not admitting that they have been wrong for 10 years, and that the voracious predators are upsetting their management plans for other species, but they are showing signs of weakening.

Recreational and commercial fishermen have been relentlessly criticizing the National Marine Fisheries Service for its failure to recognize spiny dogfish are a fishing and an ecosystem problem.

The service's own recent trawl surveys revealed spiny dogfish and skates were the two most abundant species in the range.
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission met recently in Rehoboth Beach, Del., and its spiny dogfish and coastal shark management board approved a 12-million-pound quota with a maximum possession limit of 3,000 pounds for the 2009-2010 fishing year. – Asbury Park Press, NJ

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Tuesday, November 4, 2008

New York Times features anti-salmon farm crusader

ECHO BAY, British Columbia — Growing up in Connecticut, Alexandra Hubbard did not want to be Joan of Arc. She wanted to be Jane Goodall. But instead of chimpanzees, her animals would turn out to be killer whales.

In 1984, 26 years old and armed only with a bachelor’s degree and enthusiasm for her task, she moved to the Broughton Archipelago, in the Queen Charlotte Strait of British Columbia, where the whales, or orcas, were abundant.

She and her husband, Robin Morton, a Canadian filmmaker, lived on a 65-foot sailboat and followed the orcas in an inflatable boat with a shelter in the back, stocked with Legos and books for their son, Jarret.

Her husband drowned in 1986, when Jarret was 4, but Ms. Morton stayed on, supporting her work by writing articles and books, designing T-shirts and working as a deckhand on a fishing boat.

Today, she hardly uses her hydrophone. There’s no point, she says, “since my subject is so rare now.”

These days, when Ms. Morton noses her workboat away from her dock here, she is on a crusade, seeking not orcas, but evidence against the salmon farms she believes drove most of the killer whales away, in part by infecting the wild salmon the whales eat with parasites called sea lice. Her work is a challenge to the salmon farm industry and to the Canadian and British Columbia officials who regulate it.

Once dismissed as an outsider and amateur, Ms. Morton has gradually gained the respect of fisheries experts like Ray Hilborn, a researcher at the University of Washington. “She doesn’t come from a science background but she has had a lot of influence in highlighting the issue,” he said. Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Center at the University of British Columbia, calls her “a spunky hero.” – New York Times

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Canada court says commercial license is “property”

The Supreme Court of Canada has held that a commercial fishing license constitutes “property” that falls within the scope of bankruptcy and insolvency law and Nova Scotia’s personal property security legislation.

Nova Scotia fisherman Benoit Saulnier had argued that his commercial fishing licenses merely granted a privilege and were thus not “property” available to a trustee under the federal Bankruptcy and Insolvency Act or to a creditor under Nova Scotia’s Personal Property Security Act (PPSA). The Supreme Court has disagreed, ruling that these valuable assets were available to creditors of Saulnier and his company. – Lawyers Weekly, Canada

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Salmon ‘tossing’ down with weakened Chinook run

As spawning season drew to a close, Chinook salmon numbers are down, according to a final count taken at Kalama Creek Hatchery on the Nisqually Indian Reservation in the state of Washington.

Nisqually enhancement biologist Bill St. Jean estimates 4,000 Chinook salmon spawned this year compared to last year’s 12,000 or so Chinook salmon.

Ocean conditions, or in other words food available to salmon, cause a regular cycle of ups and downs for salmon populations, St. Jean explained.

Fewer salmon at Kalama Creek means fewer salmon can be given away as food and saved for salmon tossing. …

Some salmon carcasses from spawned fish at Kalama Hatchery are saved for salmon tossing because in nature salmon die after spawning and their rotting bodies return nutrients to the rivers. – Nisqually Valley News

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United Fishermen of Alaska stand by Stevens

The UFA sent out this note on Monday:

“United Fishermen of Alaska stands by its endorsement of Senator Ted Stevens. Of UFA’s 37 member groups and four at-large representatives of individual fishermen, not one has come forward to request that UFA’s endorsement for Senator Stevens be reconsidered or withdrawn,” said UFA Executive Director Mark Vinsel.  UFA endorsed Senator Stevens at its August 26 board meeting.
UFA points to its statement this summer recognizing Senator Stevens’ leadership in sustaining fisheries and oceans.

See the endorsement (PDF):

Cost of Pebble mine now more than $6 billion

The estimated cost of building the massive and controversial Pebble copper and gold mine has hit $6 billion -- putting it on the short list of Alaska's most expensive projects, if the project goes forward.
Pebble's cost is still dwarfed by a duo of the state's biggest oil and gas projects -- the $8 billion trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the mid-1970s -- equivalent to about $30 billion today -- and the proposed North Slope gas pipeline, estimated to cost as much as $40 billion.

But it would be far more expensive than any other Alaska mine ever built. – Anchorage Daily News

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

‘Twisted’ rule would classify wild fish as not organic

Wild fish can be labeled organic if they're sold as fish meal, but not if they're sold for human consumption.

That's the standard the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Organic Standards Board is proposing to adopt later this month. The public comment period closed Monday, and those in the Alaskan seafood industry spoke out against the rule.

"This whole organic thing has come around twisted so far," said Sandro Lane in Juneau. "If they can even consider something like that, isn't that completely ridiculous?" – Juneau Empire

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Fish cops track illicit clam gang

Lt. Ed Volz once snuck through the surf at dawn and boarded a boat called the Typhoon to bust a bunch of thieves he had been trailing for two years. Another time he flew to Las Vegas to nab a wanted mobster named Nichols DeCourville. He has stymied shady sushi salesmen and pinched New York businessmen. And he’s done all of the above in the name of geoducks.

Geoducks are massive clams that flourish in Washington State’s Puget Sound and sell for up to $100 apiece at restaurants in Hong Kong and Beijing. This market has spawned a lucrative illicit fishery in Washington that has attracted crooks from across the country and around the world. – Audubon magazine

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Opinion: Money-machine Exxon should pay punitive damages

Every time I think the Exxon Valdez saga is finally behind me, something comes along to reopen that old wound. Like last week's story of another record quarterly profit -- $14.8 billion -- for Exxon Mobil.

I wonder how the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court felt when they read a story like that. Do they realize how ridiculous it was for them to award just $507 million in punitive damages against Exxon Mobil, thereby reducing the amount of damages to 1/10th of the original $5 billion awarded by the jury – Chris Rilling, former Prince William Sound commercial fisherman, writing to the Anchorage Daily News

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Alaska election stuff

At 6:45 a.m. today, with 435 of 438 Alaska precincts reporting, here’s how voting went for three politicians who wield heavy influence on commercial fishing regulations:

Gov. Sara Palin is going home. However, the McCain-Palin ticket received 61 percent of the Alaska vote in Alaska.

Sen. Ted Stevens was leading Democrat Mark Begich 48 percent to 46 percent.

Don Young was leading Democrat Ethan Berkowitz 51% to 43 percent. – Anchorage Daily News



Huge Chinook found in California

It sounds like a typical fish story.

But the state scientists who found an estimated 85-pound, spawned-out, dead Chinook salmon have the photos to support their whopper.

"We see lots of big ones," said Doug Killam, associate fisheries biologist in state Department of Fish and Game's Red Bluff office, "but this one was just bigger than most big ones -- it was just spectacular." -- Record-Searchlight, Redding, Calif.

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Thursday, November 6, 2008

More Alaska cruise ships dumping sewage

Alaska cruise regulators have sent five more notices of violation to cruise ships for discharging unpermitted levels of pollutants into state waters during September.
That brings the total number of such violations to 20 for this year. The most common violation was for ammonia, a component of urine. –  Juneau Empire

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West Coast groundfish quota plan to be set tomorrow

In an almost uncanny mirroring of the nation's heated presidential election campaign, the rhetoric ramped up and allegations flew between two organizations on opposite sides of a fishing quota decision that's up for a vote Friday.

The Pacific Fisheries Management Council (PFMC) opened its meeting in San Diego Monday facing a final decision on which candidate gets the nod in the race to obtain fishing allocations under a proposed Individual Fishing Quota (IFQ) or “catch share” program for the groundfish trawling industry.

In June, the PFMC, which governs fishing in federal waters off the coasts of Oregon, Washington, and California, backed a preferred alternative that would allocate 80 percent of initial quota shares to vessel owners and fishermen (harvesters), 20 percent to processors. – Newport News-Times

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Bristol Bay: The worst place to drill

There are many topics the presidential candidates don’t agree on, but both have expressed support for offshore drilling for oil and gas. Still, not everyone shares their views, and some environmentalists worry that opening areas like Alaska’s Bristol Bay for oil and gas exploration could be ecologically devastating.
“The coastal zone and near-shore areas of Bristol Bay pretty much couldn’t [be] a more sensitive coastline,” says Kelly Harrell, project director for the group Friends of Bristol Bay of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “Mudflats, eelgrass, intertidal vegetation. Cleaning up a spill if it reached the coastline would be impossible.” – Audubon magazine

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Here’s a profile of Naknek

The Anchorage Daily News regularly highlights Alaska communities. Here’s a profile of Naknek:

LOCATION: On the north bank of the Naknek River, at the northeastern end of Bristol Bay, 297 miles southwest of Anchorage.

DESCRIPTION: Seat of the Bristol Bay Borough and a fishing community with a mixed population of non-Natives (who are more than 50 percent of the inhabitants), Aleuts, Yup'ik Eskimos and Indians. Naknek has a seasonal economy as a service hub for the Bristol Bay red salmon fishery; 115 residents hold commercial permits and several thousand people typically flood the area during the fishing season. Millions of pounds of salmon are trucked over the Naknek-King Salmon road each summer to where jets transport the fish to the Lower 48. Several major fish processors operate facilities here. Government employment is also critical. At the time of the April 2000 U.S. Census, nearly a third of the 455 homes were used only seasonally and per capita income was $21,182. Two schools are attended by about 225 students.

HISTORY: The region was first settled more than 6,000 years ago by Yup'ik Eskimos and Athabascan Indians. In 1821, the original Eskimo village of "Naugeik" was noted by a Russian naval officer, and by 1880 it was called Kinuyak and later spelled Naknek. The Russians built a fort near the village, and fur trappers inhabited the area for some time prior to the U.S. purchase of Alaska in 1867. The first salmon cannery opened in 1890. By 1900, about 12 canneries were in Bristol Bay. A post office was established in 1907.


Credit crunch hurting restaurants

In the last few weeks, a lot of people have asked how the current economic meltdown will affect America's restaurants.

The short-term answer is that the crisis is already having an impact. We've recently surveyed 45,000 restaurant-goers nationwide. One-third told us that they're eating out less, 28 percent say they're visiting less expensive places, and roughly 20 percent are cutting back on alcohol, appetizers and dessert. Also, the number of restaurant openings has slowed. This year in New York City, there were 119 openings versus 163 last year. Another grim sign: Companies are limiting entertaining at restaurants. One thing's for sure -- Bear Stearns and Lehman aren't giving any holiday parties. –Wall Street Journal

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Friday, November 7, 2008

One fisherman to receive $400,000 in Exxon money

Caretakers of the $383 million in punitive damages Exxon Mobil Corp. recently paid for the 1989 oil spill are laying the groundwork to distribute a big chunk of the money by year’s end.

They can do it, assuming a federal judge rejects an effort by Terry Bertoson, owner of Sea Hawk Seafoods Inc., to rejigger the distribution plan in an effort to grab a bigger share of the money (The Highliner, Oct. 25).

Federal Judge H. Russel Holland has indicated he intends to rule on the Sea Hawk challenge on or about Nov. 12.

Lawyers representing thousands of commercial fishermen and other plaintiffs say they want to hand out some $150 million before the end of the year.

They’ve chosen 13 of the 51 claim categories to receive the first payments. The 13 include Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak and Chignik salmon fishermen.

Now, here’s the fun part. The lawyers have produced lists of names with the amount each person will receive. Attorney fees will be deducted from these amounts.

I looked over these lists and saw that quite a few guys can expect checks for more than $100,000. I even saw one payment of $400,000-plus.

Here’s the lists, which were filed last Friday in U.S. District Court in Anchorage: -- Pacific Fishing columnist Wesley Loy writing as The Highliner for the Anchorage Daily News

To read the lists, go to:


Can Sarah Palin go home again?

In the 68 days since Alaska's governor began her run for vice president, things have changed on the home front. Some of her former allies are fuming, and former enemies are lying in wait. Public perceptions of the governor have also changed. Has the governor changed as well?

Questions about Palin's future began to circulate at Alaska's Election Central on Tuesday night almost as soon as the national election results came in.

Will she be the old Palin, a populist who worked with Democrats to achieve victories in the state legislature, or the sharp partisan from the national campaign? – SitNews, Ketchikan

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Editorial: Time to make fishing fleet safer

Washington's congressional delegation should prepare to shape a new era of safety for workers in one of the nation's most antiquated, dangerous industries. Congress and President-elect Barack Obama must give 21st-century protections to a vital part of the Northwest and national economy.

The U.S. Coast Guard has been hard at work studying what happened in the deaths of seven people in the sinking of the Katmai, the latest inexcusable disaster to strike a ship owned by a Seattle company. But the underlying problem is that Congress has failed to give the Coast Guard and other agencies the powers to ensure adequate vessels, best practices and workers' rights.

The fishing industry ownership will get less indulgence as Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska disappears from the Senate or loses influence. That is an opening for the Washington delegation to overhaul fishing safety and worker protections.

The Katmai catastrophe and the loss of five people in the March sinking of the Alaska Ranger speak tragically of the need for more than regulatory tweaks and good-faith efforts by busy captains.

This is a larger problem than that of any one segment of the industry or the Seattle-based ships operating Alaska. A study this year showed that the death rate in the industry, one of the most dangerous in America, is worse off in Washington, Oregon and California than in Alaskan waters. Congress must lead on national reform. – Seattle Post-Intelligencer


Rogue waves remain a mystery

Dockworker Marcy Ingall saw a giant wave in the distance last week and stopped in her tracks. It was an hour before low tide in Maine's Boothbay Harbor, yet without warning, the muddy harbor floor suddenly filled with rushing, swirling water.

In 15 minutes, the water rose 12 feet, then receded. And then it happened again. It occurred three times, she said, each time ripping apart docks and splitting wooden pilings.

"It was bizarre," said Ingall, a lifelong resident of the area. "Everybody was like, 'Oh my God, is this the end?'"

"The cause of it is a mystery," said National Weather Service meteorologist John Jensenius, who first reported the waves from a field office in Gray, Maine. "But it's not mysterious that it happened." – Boston Globe

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Halibut commission chief explains new counting system

For commercial halibut fishers there is a correct way to bait to avoid snarls, a correct way to set to avoid entanglements, and a correct way to haul to avoid parting the gear; it’s the determining of their sustainable harvest catching quotas that has fishers scratching their heads.

“It is nothing that you have done wrong,” said IPHC executive director Bruce Leaman. “It’s been a change in our understanding of the stock based on new tagging information. The trick of fishery science is not to take more out of a biomass than is sustainable. The perception that this has all been done right is not correct, and I’ve even heard it from some of you, catch rates in Area 2 have been going down and that’s not an indication of sustainable management. The commission has over-estimated biomass in Area 2 for years.”

Leaman was addressing a Petersburg City Council Chamber crowded with local commercial halibut fishers concerned over the IPHC’s latest methodology to determine the coast wide estimates of exploitable halibut biomass which resulted in different computations than previous closed-area stock assessments had allowed. – Petersburg Pilot