SitNews - Stories in the News - Ketchikan, Alaska

Fish Factor

Two-year time out allows fishermen & boaters to rest easier


July 19, 2010

Fishermen and other boaters can rest easier knowing they won't need a federal permit to hose off their decks. A bill that just passed the Senate extends the moratoria on discharge permit requirements for commercial and charter fishing vessels beyond the July 31 deadline.

"Say you're a sport fishing guide and you've taken your clients out, gotten a few halibut and you come in and hose off the deck. That would be a reportable discharge. They are talking about deck run off, bilge water, gray water and it would affect 9,700 vessels in the state of Alaska alone," said Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C.

In 2008 the Environmental Protection Agency came out with regulations that would require discharges by vessels of any size to be reportable to the EPA under the Clean Water Act.

Murkowski and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) succeeded in getting a two-year time out for working boats and other vessels under 79 feet. At the same time, the EPA was given 15 months to study the types and effects of discharges from boats of varying sizes, and if the exemptions should be permanent. The study has not been completed, according to Sen. Murkowski.

"It's estimated that if the moratoria were not put in place, the EPA would be subject to issuing up to 140,000 permits by July 31. The EPA is not poised to do this and it is not necessary," Murkowski said. "Let's clear the decks and allow fishing people to be out working, and not worry if they are violating some reporting requirement."

The measure to extend the moratoria passed the Senate unanimously and Murkowski said it should be wrapped up before Congress adjourns for its August recess.

Also moving through the lawmaking process is an $8 million Bering Sea crab loan program aimed at helping new entrants buy into the fisheries. It has taken five years for that loan opportunity to move up the 'priority' of federal policy wonks.

"The money is there and it must go out the door in the 2010 budget appropriations. We are working aggressively to make that happen and the loan program should be finalized by this fall," she said.

Murkowski spoke candidly about her 'gut feelings' regarding the proposed Pebble Mine, and went beyond the typical response by politicians that "the project must be allowed to go through the process."

"My gut says we don't balance one resource off another. It can't be an either or proposition. I do have concerns as to whether or not the project would impact the water, and therefore the salmon. I am not going to prejudge the project, but I put out the very precautionary note that you cannot trade one for the other," she said.

Murkowski said she has had several conversations with Cynthia Carroll, the CEO of Anglo-American, developer of the Pebble Mine project.

"She was very up front in saying that she also agrees that if they can't do the mine in a manner that ensures the sustainability of the fisheries, then it is not a project that they would pursue," Murkowski said. "I do believe they are studying this very carefully and intently, and we need to err on the side of caution when it comes to the extent of all the studies on the land, and in the watersheds and out in Bristol Bay."

Sitka launches first CSF

Buying locally produced foods is a trend that's taken off across the nation, and Sitka is making sure that applies to fish. This summer a group of Sitkans launched Alaska's first Community Supported Fisheries project which pre-sells shares of local catches directly to local customers. The fish is sold under the "AlaskansOwn Seafood" brand which claims to combine "the best in business with the best in conservation."
The fish is pre-sold to "subscribers" in either 40 pound or 20 pound packs, said CSF program coordinator Beth Short.

"Every other week customers get something a little different. They've already had a halibut and black cod pick up, some ling cod and rock fish, and this time around it's king salmon. Then later on in the season we'll have coho," Short said.

The CSF started out small with 18 subscribers who paid $380 (plus tax) for 40 pound shares and $180 for 20 pounds.

"That averaged out to be $9.50/lb, which is really good," Short said.

All of the fish is delivered to Sitka Sound Seafoods where set poundage is portioned, vacuum packed and flash frozen. That makes it easy for the two dozen participating fishermen, who get a price bump of about 25 cents a pound.

Short said the CSF provides access to fish that most locals can't get for themselves.

"We have this bounty of seafood, but if you don't have a boat or the inclination to fish, or you don't know someone who can go out and get fish for you, your opportunities are very limited," Short said. "I have always felt it was kind of strange and sad that it is so hard for locals to get a hold of seafood that comes from the waters right off their doorsteps."

The CSF is part of a larger mission by Sitka fishermen who are committed to sustainable fishing practices. It is part of the Fishery Conservation Network started by the Alaska Longline Fishermen's Association, with funding by the North Pacific Fisheries Trust and Eco-Trust. Beth Short is hopeful the CSF will serve as a model for other Alaska fishing towns, and she is eager to share information. Find out more at

Weathervanes making waves

In July a handful of boats drop dredges to scoop up Alaska Weathervane scallops in waters stretching from Yakutat to the Bering Sea; most of the catch comes from around Kodiak Island. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches. Three to four boats target scallops by making repeated tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions in a closely monitored fishery.

"All boats must carry observers," said Jim Stone, owner of two scallop boats which will remain at sea until Thanksgiving. "It's a heavy cost of $350-$400 a day. But we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal."

The yearly statewide harvest has remained steady at about 500,000 pounds of shucked meats, meaning the large adductor muscle that pulls the two shell halves together. Prices to fishermen vary widely by scallop size and market; the statewide average price last year was $8/lb for a dockside value of $3.4 million.

Stone is quick to credit state managers for the well run fishery, and the Alaska Scallop Association he helped form 10 years ago.

"The association acts as a co-op and we work together to make sure that we stay off of bycatch and help each other target where the scallops are. And we divide the scallop quota amongst ourselves by our historic catch," Stone explained.

Jim and his wife Mona are also the biggest ambassadors for Alaska Weathervane scallops, cooking them up at festivals and other events throughout the Northwest. Their scallop/rice dish and scallop/bacon/pesto wraps recently won "Best of the Fest" at the Ballard Seafood Fest.

"We are just educating the world that it is an entirely different animal than scallops from elsewhere. Alaska scallops are caught, shucked, sorted, cleaned and frozen all within about four hours of capture."

Questions? Contact Jim Stone at .

This weekly column focusing on Alaska's seafood industry began in 1991, and it now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A spin off - Fish Radio - airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic and social importance of Alaska's fishing industry to our state, the nation and the world. Happy New Year and thanks for your continued support of fishing news!

Laine can be reached at msfish[AT]


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Stories In The News
Ketchikan, Alaska

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