Fish News

5 Meetings You Might Have Missed

1. Alaska Hearing on the MSA Reauthorization

Last week, Sen. Sullivan (R-Alaska) hosted a meeting in Soldotna to discuss the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA) reauthorization with prominent Alaskans. The MSA initially passed in 1976 to enhance the sustainability of U.S. marine fisheries. It governs both commercial and recreational fisheries and Congress typically updates it every ten years; the last update happened in 2007.

Reed Morisky, a fishing guide and the sport fishing representative on the Board of Fish, spoke alongside ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, North Pacific Fishery Management Council Chairman Dan Hull, and eleven other business, conservation, and fishery representatives. A common thread between this meeting and earlier MSA hearings is the need for the federal government to invest additional funds and personnel towards collecting accurate fishery data. Without accurate data, there is an annual risk of either overly conservative management or overfishing.

In addition to data needs, Morisky and other sportfishing panelists emphasized the importance of recognizing recreational fishing as distinct from commercial fishing in the MSA’s reauthorization process. Recreational fishing, while sharing conservation goals with the commercial fisheries, is typically perceived as taking a backseat to commercial issues when it comes to budget and catch allocations, as well as management. Without adequate resources, management decisions are made with slim analyses using commercial data. With only commercial data available, managers cannot determine the actual economic impacts of the sport fleet, the health of local fisheries, or the impact of different recreational regulations. Through the MSA reauthorization process, SEAGO is and will work with sportfishing representatives like Reed Morisky and our Congressional Delegation to ensure that these concerns are heard.

To see individual testimony from panelists or watch the hearing yourself, click HERE. Please note that this link has been updated today to correct panelist information and repair audio/visual problems. Due to recording complications, audio begins after eight minutes. Mr. Morisky’s testimony begins at 13:09 of the video clip.

For a synopsis of the meeting from fisheries reporter Elizabeth Earl, click HERE.

2. Early August Meetings on the MSA Reauthorization

Senate Hearing

Sen. Sullivan led a MSA reauthorization meeting in early August where he heard testimony from Chris Oliver, an Alaskan who led our North Pacific Fishery Management Council until his recent hire as the Assistant Administrator of NOAA Fisheries. Mr. Oliver and Dr. John Quinn from the Northeast Council responded to various questions and concerns from the Senators regarding how the MSA operates across the country.

As Mr. Oliver pointed out, and Mr. Morisky emphasized last week, recreational fisheries are managed under catch limits and accountability measures designed for the commercial fleets. According to Mr. Oliver, to successfully manage recreational fisheries, we need to expand our toolbox and increase flexibility in management. Right now, the recreational fishery lacks comprehensive stock assessments and the ability to know what’s going on in real time. If we can get better information today about fish coming out of the water, we absolutely need to do that. These two very different fisheries cannot keep relying on information collection designed for the commercial fleet.

Sen. Sullivan later quoted Oliver, saying that “[fisheries management is] often a strained balancing act that forces tough choices between competing interests.”

To watch the hearing, click HERE.

House Hearing

Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) also held a meeting regarding the successes and challenges of the MSA, with four industry members invited to answer questions for the committee. There was general agreement that the MSA is successful, but can be improved. This success is attributed to MSA requirements for rebuilding and sustaining fishery stocks, which have been successfully implemented since Congress enacted the MSA. The panel also addressed a need for flexibility, as did the Senate meeting above, though the focus here was on flexibility for rebuilding stocks and avoiding duplicative requirements of other Acts, such as the Endangered Species Act or the National Environmental Policy Act. Panelists did not all agree on the need for flexibility, though an overarching agreement lay in the need for more data to make management decisions.

3. NOAA Budget

The National Oceanic and Administrative Agency (NOAA) is the parent agency for the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Ocean Service (NOS), and Ocean and Atmospheric Research (OAR). These divisions are vital to fisheries management, ocean research, weather research, and research and conservation grant programs, to name a few. Funding for NOAA Fisheries starts with the President’s Proposed Budget, which goes to the House of Representatives. After the House comes up with its own budget proposal, it goes to the Senate for consideration. If there is disagreement between the budgets, the proposals go to a joint conference committee to find a compromise budget. The Senate is finishing its hearings this summer and Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) is an important voice in this process.

The proposed cuts to NOAA were originally severe, and the House responded to public outcries at the loss of research funding by adding back in portions of the proposed cuts. The Senate went a step further and reinstated most funding at the same level as last year, slightly cutting some programs and increasing the budgets for a few. NMFS’s programs were among those the Senate proposed to increase, as well as the Sea Grant program within OAR. Sen. Murkowski spoke to the importance of NOAA and its work when she helped make these changes. Murkowski specifically mentioned the importance of the Sea Grant program back in March, writing a letter to the Office of Management and Budget regarding the tens of thousands of jobs, students, and businesses Sea Grant supports annually.

The budget will likely go straight to the conference committee to find a compromise budget.  SEAGO is following the NOAA budget so you don’t have to, but we encourage you to participate!

If this issue is important to you, your business, and your community, we suggest 1) making a phone call, 2) talking about it on social media, 3) attending a Town Hall, 4) writing to your local paper, or 5) posting on your blog page to let your Senators and Representative(s) know why NOAA is important to you. Use #TheMoreYouNOAA to join the nation in protecting our fisheries managers.

4. Mat-Su Fish & Wildlife Commission

Guides, lodge owners, and anglers showed up alongside the Borough Mayor to a Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission meeting last Tuesday with Commissioner Sam Cotton and other top ADFG officials. Speakers expressed significant concerns with this summer’s commercial openings in light of the low number returning to the area rivers. Officials responded that comments should be directed to the Board of Fish, and that the 20-30 anglers who expressed these concerns at the BOF meeting in March were somehow insignificant to decision making. Howard Delo, a retired ADFG biologist and former BOF member, questioned the weight given to commercial interests in discussing summer management.

Sitting quietly in the audience were members of the Mat-Su Legislative delegation. Though the Mat-Su Fish & Wildlife Commission advises the local Assembly and BOF, the Legislature confirms BOF members, establishes BOF authority, and can pass legislation affecting fisheries. Perhaps it’s time to find your legislators and let them know how important sport fishing is to you during their downtime?

5. Kodiak Community Forum

Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Yakutat/Kodiak/Cordova) convened a community forum in Kodiak last week with Speaker of the House Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D-Dillingham), Rep. Dan Ortiz (I-Ketchikan), and other members of the Legislature to discuss, among other things, a bill proposed to protect salmon streams from potentially harmful nearby development. The bill, H.B. 199, would also update other provisions of ADFG’s governing statutes, statutes which the Legislature has not revised for fifty years, and increase public comment opportunities for development projects. Additional public meetings are scheduled around the State to discuss the bill before the House Fisheries Committee reconvenes in January.

SEAGO submitted a Letter of Support when Rep. Stutes initially proposed this Legislation, read the HB199 SEAGO Letter of Support.  Find your legislators if you want to weigh in on this or other fisheries issues the Legislature will address this session.

Supporting the Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition

Salmon are without a doubt making big headlines in Alaska today, from #AKSalmonDay to the sport and troll king salmon closures. Both have raised the topic of the Pacific Salmon Treaty (PST), which most of us don’t think about every day.

The PST is currently in the final few years of the current 10-year agreement and Alaska negotiators are working with their Southern US and Canadian counterparts to hammer out the details of the next 10-year deal. Adherence to the Treaty requires millions of dollars, many spent by the States themselves, to provide stock assessment, technical work, reporting, and administrative oversight. Shortfalls in many state budgets are starting to erode resources necessary to meet our Treaty requirements.

You may have recently received a letter from Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition Executive Director, Deborah Lyons, asking your business to participate in a letter writing campaign asking the federal government to adequately fund Treaty implementation and to relieve the burden currently placed on the individual States for Treaty implementation. The Pacific Salmon Treaty Coalition (PSTC) is an industry group designed to support support Alaska in its negotiations on the PST, and is funded by aquaculture associations, processors, and gear groups, including ATA, USAG, SEAS, and SEAGO. The coalition has six board members: one seiner, one gillnetter, one troller, one sport rep (SEAGO’s own Russell Thomas), one hatchery rep, and a subsistence rep. If you did not receive a letter, read the letter HERE because they need our support.

We know you are busy but are asking you to take just a few minutes to fill out the letter and submit it back to the PSTC. Showing solidarity between all fishing groups in SE Alaska is one way we can send a powerful message to our delegation in Washington, DC. If you have the inclination and time, having a few of your employees and/or guests participate as well would further help their cause.

SEAGO encourages you to take this Second Annual Wild Salmon Day and show your support. Sign on to the letter, then go grill your catch to perfection.

Time For A New Adventure: Saying Good-Bye to Chris Oliver

The administration announced NPFMC’s Executive Director Chris Oliver as the new NOAA Assistant Administrator in May (pending final approval).  In response, the Council organized a heartfelt good-bye to its longest serving Executive Director.  In his roles with the Council, Mr. Oliver staffed 79 meetings with four Council Chairpersons, and spent four months of his life in the air on Council business.  During his presentation, Deputy Director David Witherell recalled Mr. Oliver’s sport fishing skills, hunting prowess, and general overachievement.

The mood was light as NMFS, USCG, and Council staff presented Mr. Oliver with departure gifts, though current Council Chairman Dan Hull teared up discussing Mr. Oliver’s pragmatism, openness to alternative views, and support for all fishing communities.  Echoing Chairman Hull, every speaker emphasized that our region’s loss is a huge gain for the nation.  Oliver stood to speak at the end of the embarrassing stories and heartfelt farewells, looked around, and said, “I sure hope that final approval comes through now.”  He continued on, saying that the reputation of this Council and its staff were the real reason he received this opportunity, and he intends to do them proud.

We’ll reel-y miss you, Chris.  So long, and thanks for all the fish.

2017 Joint Meeting: NPFMC & IPHC

During the June Council meeting, the IPHC met jointly with the Council on halibut issues, like abundance based management for halibut bycatch and observer coverage. As much as these managers enjoy opportunities to work together, this meeting held some underlying tension. Discussing observer coverage of the commercial fleet, a Canadian commissioner noted that the Canadian fleet has 100% observer coverage by humans and electronic monitoring. He said that Canadians objected initially to the costs, but it is now considered a part of doing business because they know behavior changes when someone is watching.

As it stands, observer coverage of trawl vessels is up from 28% in 2016 to 32% in 2017, covering 18% of boats delivering shoreside & 14% of boats delivering to tenders. Hook and line observer coverage is at 36%. These numbers only represent human observers, as electronic monitoring is essentially in its test phase. In response, Council member Andy Mezirow and Chairman Dan Hull made pointed comments about the vast strides the U.S. program has made, largely through grant and interest group funding. Chairman Hull also directed the Commissioner to the long process and thousands of pages explaining current levels of observer coverage and efforts to improve these numbers. Thoughts are that this tension stems from leftover concern expressed about high halibut harvest levels in British Columbia, as compared to Southeast Alaska and the North Pacific United States.

Halibut Bycatch or Groundfish Management?

There’s no question that halibut caught by sportfishermen and the direct commercial fleet are worth more than halibut tossed over the side of a trawl vessel.  What is in question is when this issue is relevant.  For those of us who rely on a healthy halibut stock for our livelihood, the answer is always; for member of the groundfish fleet, the answer is not here, not now.

The Council is well into its process of creating an abundance based management (ABM) for halibut bycatch in the groundfish fleet.  In other words, a tool allowing bycatch to fluctuate based on the overall health of the halibut stock – if there are more fish, the groundfish fleet gets more bycatch; if there are fewer, bycatch goes down.  Figuring out how to do this seems to result in a roomful of people where less than a dozen understand the whole conversation.  Staff is analyzing over a dozen indices and how they would work together to accurately estimate abundance for bycatch rates, while meeting Council aims like protecting spawning stock and providing for the directed fishery.  It’s a heavy conversation considering that the groundfish fleet just reduced bycatch by 25%, to the lowest rates since we began measuring bycatch in the 1960s, at great expense.

At this meeting, the conversation continued to circle around whether ABM is a groundfish management tool or a tool to reduce bycatch.  Members and testifiers also reminded decision makers that any management tool must be careful to avoid creating an incentive to use all bycatch instead of creating an incentive to reduce it.  In sum, the groundfish fleet needs help, and this issue is headed down a long road full of conversations about the value of halibut and where priorities lie.

Fisheries Allocation Review: Don’t Get Too Excited

The Council is required to identify triggers for reviewing fishery allocations by 2019, and it’s gotten some charter operators excited that the Halibut Catch Sharing Plan might be reviewed and changed.  Relax.

The issue here is that the Council needs to decide whether allocation will be reviewed because of the passage of time, public input, or some other indicator.  An indicator would be, for example, a significant change in landings.  Time or indicator triggers would lead to an allocation review, where the Council would decide if a plan needed amending.  A public input trigger would require staff to consider various criteria to determine if the Council needs to conduct a review.  If a review shows that allocations need to be changed, the Council process moves forward to amend the relevant fishery management plan.

At this meeting, staff identified the fisheries and possible triggers for review.  According to staff, the “most simple and straightforward” trigger for the fisheries, which includes the Halibut CSP, is probably the passage of time.  This option is clear-cut and free from political dynamics.  If the Council chooses this option, the trigger would occur based on passage of time since the last allocation review.  In the case of the Halibut CSP, allocation was arguably reviewed during the analysis of the Recreational Quota Entity (RQE).  This means that the next time-based review would probably not occur for another ten years – in 2026.

We have a great opportunity to move forward with the RQE and purchase halibut quota shares.  Let’s focus on making this system successful and showing the nation why we have the most innovative and successful fleet in the nation.

Southeast Habitat Protection

SEAGO is proud to have signed on to two Southeast campaigns to protect our salmon habitat within the Tongass National Forest: T77 and maintaining Forest Service management of Tongass lands.  By supporting these efforts, SEAGO joins individuals, conservation groups, commercial fishing vessels, and businesses across Southeast Alaska working to permanently protect the habitat in these key areas.  We, as part of these efforts, emphasize that:

Guided and unguided sportfishing contributes millions of dollars to the economies of Southeast Alaska, the State, and the country.  The sportfishing tradition relies on public access, multiple use management, and healthy habitats.  For businesses to succeed into the 21st century, we must work together to maintain and restore healthy fish and wildlife habitat and make this a high priority in managing the Tongass National Forest.

T77: American Salmon Forest, with Trout Unlimited, has focused our federal government’s eyes on the areas within the Tongass which are vital to the salmon and trout our businesses rely on.  The over 70 watersheds in Southeast Alaska which are currently open to harmful development must be permanently off-limits to those activities while still allowing existing access and uses, such as sport fishing.  More information and a list of supporters can be found here.

Land Management: Groups are pressing Congress to sell or transfer federal lands into private or State hands for development activities, including logging and mining.  These efforts are in addition to threats to reduce Forest Service funding and access to effective management tools.  If they succeed, we will see cuts to public access, elimination of sustainability measures, harm to habitat, and more. SEAGO has signed this petition to tell Congress and our Alaska delegation that these areas must remain protected.  To sign on with us, click HERE.

Taku & Chilkat River Chinook Salmon Symposium

Last night’s Taku & Chilkat River Chinook Salmon Symposium, hosted by Territorial Sportsmen at the Juneau Arts & Culture Center, was well attended by Juneau locals wondering what’s going on with our kings.

The overarching answer? We have no clue.

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Despite having 24 years of full stock assessment data, some of the only defensible wild king salmon data in existence, the closest answer science can provide is that there has been a significant drop in marine survival in the critical first few months to a year at sea. It might be predators, water temperature changes, fishing, or any number of interactive causes. The complex and highly variable migration patterns of kings once they hit the ocean doesn’t help us much, either.20170413_192505

The final forecast: it’s going to be a grim couple of years for all of us. We need to band together and look at creative management, research opportunities, and other ways to get over the hump.

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Thanks to Alaska Department of Fish and Game – Official, DIPAC’s Macaulay Salmon Hatchery, & NOAA Fisheries Alaska for speaking and spending their evening answering everyone’s tough questions!

2017 Halibut Catch Limits

U44:O80, NO Annual Limit

The news you have all been waiting for is this season’s catch allocation.  At the December Council meeting, we suggested that Southeast management measures at the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR) or higher not have an annual limit, and have a reverse slot limit of O80 and a lower limit of U40 or higher.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission (IPHC) held its Annual Meeting this week in Vancouver, British Columbia, to determine catch for 2017.  The amount allocated for guided sportfishing is 915,000lbs, resulting in the above described suggested management measure taking effect.  Based on the ADFG analysis, the IPHC-approved final measure is a reverse slot limit of U44:O80 and no annual limit.  The overall catch for 2C, divided between commercial and guided sportfishing, is 5,250,000.  This is after unguided sport, subsistence, and bycatch are removed from the equation.

This is great news, as the two harvest policy suggestions implied that 2C catch would be reduced slightly for 2017.  This implied reduction confused many people in 2C, where the charter sector came in 13% under its allocation in 2016.  The IPHC staff explained during the Annual Meeting that while the overall stock has remained steady, area 2C decisions must also take into account stock distribution.  The percentage of the halibut stock in Area 2 has decreased slightly this year to 2015 levels, creating the implied reduction at the earlier IPHC meeting.

Area 3A management measures for 2017 are as follows:

  • 2 fish daily bag limit, with one fish less than or equal to 28″
  • 3 closed Tuesdays between July 18-Aug 1
  • Closed Wednesdays
  • Status quo trip limits of 1 per day
  • 4 fish annual limit

“The Blue Line is a tool that has outlived its usefulness.” -Paul Ryall, Canadian IPHC Commissioner

For those of you who have followed the IPHC decision process, the term “blue line” might be a familiar, and frustrating, one.  Tuesday’s meeting began with a review of the existing Harvest Policy and Blue Line numbers, calling the policy outdated, overly complicated, inconsistent, and frequently misunderstood.  Staff and Advisory Boards are reviewing alternative policy approaches, including one based on the Spawning Potential Ratio (SPR).  During the comments section, Commissioner Ryall received a round of applause when he said he would be fine with never referring to the blue line again.

This overhaul is in addition to positive advancements in surveys and stock assessments, resulting in more accurate survey results and weighing of various stock modeling methods.  We are excited to see where the IPHC will go from here, and what other improvements they are making for the future!

2017 Legislative Session

SEAGO is following fisheries and budget bills to keep you informed.  As of this week, there are no bills proposed which directly affect the charter sector.  Other Fisheries bills are described below.

The Alaska Board of Fisheries has requested that the Legislature review the permitting process for activities affecting streams determined to be fish habitat.  These activities are projects that use, divert, obstruct, or change the natural flow of a body of water.  Right now, permits are typically granted within four days, and can be issued unless the activity fails to provide sufficient, proper protection for fish and game.  This means that residents may be unaware when permits are granted in their area and are unable to comment before a permit is granted.

The request for the Legislature is to update standards for proper protection of fish and game, public notice requirements, and the public comment process.  The Legislature has not yet taken this request under consideration.

Proposed Fisheries Bills:

Bill Number Description Sponsor Status
HB 14 Requiring specific findings before Legislative approval of large scale Bristol Bay sulfide mines Rep. Josephson (H)FSH
HB 17 Establishing a Fish & Game Conservation Program and Fund Rep. Josephson (H)RES
HB 29 Banning the sale of genetically modified fish Rep. Tarr (H)FSH
HB 32 Requiring the labeling of genetically modified food Rep. Tarr (H)RES
HB 46 Increasing state and local procurement preference for locally harvested agricultural and fisheries products and allowing for sale of non-pasteurized milk products Rep. Tarr (H)STA
HB 56 Increasing the total balance of borrower limitation on certain commercial fishing loans from $300k to $400k Rep. Ortiz (H)FSH
HB 63 Transferring the duties of the fisheries revolving loan funds, processing license bonds, and others from the Department of Commerce, Community, and Economic Development to Department of Revenue Rep. Pruitt (H)STA

HB = House Bill

Sponsor = Legislator who proposed the bill

Status = Committee the bill would be heard in next

(H) = House committee

FSH = Fisheries Committee

RES = Resources Committee

STA = State Affairs Committee