Pacific Fishing Magazine

May 2012

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Page 28 of 47

ALASKA NOTEBOOK Seiner buyback, packer labor shortage, and chum bycatch So long seiners? Years in the planning, the National Marine Fisheries Service on March 30 opened a referendum on a pro- posed buyback of state permits in the Southeast Alaska purse seine salmon fishery. Permit holders eligible to vote had an April 30 deadline for returning their ballots. If a majority of the 379 ballots come back in favor, the govern- ment will proceed with a buyback of 64 permits at a cost of $13.1 million. Seiners remaining in the fishery will then pay up to a 3 percent tax on the ex-vessel value of their catches to repay the federal loan over 40 years. Many of the permits to be bought out are latent, meaning the people and boats associated with the permits are not active in the fishery. Buyback proponents say it's important to eliminate these permits, as high pric- es for pink salmon could entice more boats into the fishery, which would dilute profits across the fleet. It's interesting to note the buyback is designed to retire only permits, not boats. Also, this is the first time NMFS has been involved in a buyout of Alaska permits, as opposed to federal. Looming labor crunch: At press time, Alaska's congressional delegation was fighting to block, or at least slow down, a State Department change that would close off a major source of workers for seafood processors. Some Alaska packers have come to rely heavily on foreign students coming into the country on J-1 visas through the Summer Work Travel Program. The State Department was considering reforms to the program, apparently in reaction to worker exploitation and other complaints. In one high-profile case last August, angry students walked off their jobs at a Pennsylvania chocolate-packing plant. The concern was that seafood processing might be among indus- tries cut off from J-1 student labor. Doing that could hobble canner- ies and lead to delivery limits for fishermen during the upcoming salmon season. In a March 19 letter to the Obama administration, U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, urged a slowdown in rulemaking to give the seafood industry a chance to show why it deserves continued access to J-1 workers. Whose chums? Reducing salmon bycatch in Alaska's pollock fisheries has been a priority of industry and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in recent years. The council already has approved caps on Chinook bycatch, and in March it reviewed possible measures to limit chum bycatch in the Bering Sea. Postcard: Brad Jurries and Jim Monczynski land king salmon at the same time while trolling in Southeast. Stephanie Jurries photo Fewer Chinook: Southeast Alaska commercial trollers have a Chinook salmon harvest allocation this year of 197,272 fish, down 20,788 from the 2011 preseason allocation. Quotas are calculated under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty between Canada and the United States. Deadly month: Alaska's commercial fisheries are notoriously dangerous, and events in March sadly reconfirmed that fact. On March 5, crewman Andrew Fotu, 25, of Seattle, died aboard the factory trawler Alaska Juris after a snapped cable hit him in the head, the U.S. Coast Guard reported. The vessel was more than 150 miles southwest of Dutch Harbor. On March 12, a crewman was lost off the cod boat Glacier Spirit, near Sand Point. Authorities never released the crewman's name, but media reports identified him as Joe Haller, 19, of Western Pennsylvania. Pacific Fishing columnist Wesley Loy, a well-known observer of fisher- ies of the North Pacific, also runs the Deckboss blog: www.deckboss. WWW.PACIFICFISHING.COM £ MAY 2012 £ PACIFICFISHING £ 29 the groundfish industry. Salmon are a vital food and cultural resource for Western Alaska villagers, who often blame trawlers for poor salmon runs. But it's important to note the origins of salmon taken as bycatch. Genetic sampling of salmon from the Bering Sea groundfish trawl fisheries is now being done annually. An analysis of 1,048 chums from the 2010 season showed most of them, 64 percent, were from Asian stocks, with about 21 percent from Western Alaska stocks or the upper and middle Yukon River, a NMFS report said. The rest originated elsewhere, such as the Pacific Northwest. Vessels participating in the Bering Sea pollock fishery took 13,222 chums as bycatch in 2010. Yearly chum bycatch has ranged as high as 704,552 fish over the past decade. Salmon bycatch is a lightning rod issue for mentioned here previ- ously, the North Pacific council has been pushing the Obama administra- tion to pony up $3.8 mil- lion to start expanded observer coverage in 2013. The observer expansion will cover some new fleets, including halibut boats and trawlers less than 60 feet long. In March, the council Observer funding: As received word that the money likely would be included in the NMFS budget. That suggests the expanded observ- er coverage will proceed on schedule. So skippers, better get that spare bunk ready. by Wesley Loy

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