A state-backed five year, $30 million dollar Initiative is underway to discover why Alaska’s Chinook salmon production has declined since 2007. More than 100 researchers and over three dozen projects are focused on Chinook stocks in 12 major systems from Southeast to the Yukon. Early on, they’ve pinned down some findings -

After an unprecedented two extensions, the summer king salmon season for trollers in Southeast is over.

The Alaska Department of Fish & Game closed the fishery at 11:59 PM Monday, August 18 — two days later than planned.

Pattie Skannes is troll management biologist for the region.

“Yeah. We don’t usually work on Saturday and Sunday. But this was one of those openings that required a little bit of attention every day. We set it for three days thinking, This is going to be easy. But it turned out to be anything but easy.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced this week the approval of the first grant application to assist fishermen affected by the 2012 commercial fisheries failure in the Yukon Chinook, Kuskokwim Chinook and Cook Inlet fisheries.

Golden king crab season is officially open in the Aleutian Islands.

About five vessels had signed up to participate as of the season’s start last Friday. More than six million pounds of golden king crab is available to catch.

That amount is set in federal regulations and divided up among the fleet and community development quota groups.

The Southeastern Alaska summer commercial Dungeness crab season was “among the most successful in recent history,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said last week.

Preliminary information on the season, which closed Aug. 15, indicate that the summer season harvest is likely about four million pounds.

U.S. District Judge H. Russel Holland says a restructured federal fisheries observer program may stay in place for now, but that the National Marine Fisheries Service must reconsider those controversial changes.

For the last week, from Shugnak all the way down to Kotzebue, people are reporting dead fish washed up on the banks of Northwest Alaska's Kobuk River in astonishing numbers. The fish appear to have been healthy and unspawned. Some have mysterious white welts dotting their backs.

Carolyn Ballot, mayor of Ambler, said when she first heard about the fish, she suspected bears were pulling salmon out of the water, which is nothing unusual. But the huge number of fish washing ashore quickly became concerning. She wondered whether warm weather in the region was causing the die-off.

The first installment of disaster relief money will soon be on its way to Alaska fishermen hurt by low Chinook salmon returns to the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions. Disasters were declared by Governor Parnell for those three regions in 2012, opening the door for relief payments from the feds. NOAA Fisheries announced last week that $7.8 million will be distributed in direct payments to fishermen for losses. The payments break out at $3.2 million for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region and $4.6 million for the Cook Inlet Region.

Extreme Seafoods made waves as they entered the Bristol Bay fishery this year. The company, founded in 2013, purchased the Paug-Vik Corp facility in Naknek that most remember as the old Baywatch plant. A company email circulated around the fleet promised $2 per pound for sockeye, long before the season began, as well as a $5,000 signing bonus and up to a $10,000 advance. Payments would be made within weeks of each delivery, and a fleet of tenders, including two new vessels, would service both the Naknek and Egegik River fishermen.

The last pots are being pulled today in Southeast Alaska for the end of the summer Dungeness crab fishery. It’s been the best season ever with a total catch for the year pegged at nearly 6.5 million pounds. That makes for a nice pay day for 150 crabbers who averaged about $3 a pound, up 50 cents from last year.

Hundreds of people turned out in Anchorage to comment on a proposal that would severely restrict development of a massive gold-and-copper mine in the Bristol Bay region.

The proposal, made by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency last month, effectively would bar the type of project the mine’s owner, Northern Dynasty Minerals, has discussed.

The agency is hosting public meetings in Alaska this week, though written comments can be submitted through Sept. 19.

As Bristol Bay wrapped up its 2014 salmon season, with a harvest just shy of 29 million sockeyes, other fisheries in Alaska were picking up speed.

As of Aug. 12, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary salmon harvest added up to a total of 125,271,000 fish, including 72,541,000 humpies, 41,718,000 reds, 8,471,000 chum, 2,128,000 silver, and 413,000 Chinooks.

The final statewide harvest of 272,629,000 fish for the 2013 season included 219,160,000 pink, 29,257,000 sockeye, 18,578,000 chum, 5,353,000 coho and 281,000 Chinooks, according to ADF&G.

In 2002, with no local buyer, Kantner recalls having to pack and ship fish out himself. The total value of the fishery that year was just $7,572.

This year the commercial fleet is expected to pull in about $3 million. That, according to Nate Kotch, vice president of Maniilaq, is partly biology from a good brood year, but also the payoff from a five year branding campaign at food expos in Asia, Europe, and on the East Coast:

“These fish are being marketed. And the brand that we have, of course, is Arctic Circle Wild Salmon.”

oday, U.S. Senator Mark Begich joined Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) to call for a national strategy to address ocean acidification and prevent harm to Alaska and our nation’s commercial fishing industry. The announcement came during a stop at a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) laboratory to see high-tech buoys that detect changes in ocean conditions.

A federal judge has ordered the National Marine Fisheries Service to prepare a supplemental environmental assessment for the revised marine observer program that was implemented in 2013.

No immediate changes to the program will be made, but Judge Russel Holland found that NMFS did not account for whether it would lose data quality after learning that higher costs would reduce the amount of observer days at sea by more than half compared to what was originally planned.

Breached mine tailings dams be damned! As millions of Fraser River sockeye salmon head for spawning beds polluted by a brew of metal toxins oozing from the Mount Polley gold/copper mine disaster in British Columbia, Republican candidates vying for US Senate want environmental regulators to butt out of Alaska's mining development decisions.
The three men hoping to unseat Mark Begich faced off last week for a Rural Alaska Republican Candidates forum hosted by KYUK-FM in Bethel.

As Bristol Bay wrapped up its 2014 salmon season, with a harvest just shy of 29 million sockeyes, other fisheries in Alaska were picking up speed.

As of Aug. 12, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preliminary salmon harvest added up to a total of 125,271,000 fish, including 72,541,000 humpies, 41,718,000 reds, 8,471,000 chum, 2,128,000 silver, and 413,000 Chinooks.

The final statewide harvest of 272,629,000 fish for the 2013 season included 219,160,000 pink, 29,257,000 sockeye, 18,578,000 chum, 5,353,000 coho and 281,000 Chinooks, according to ADF&G.

In the pre-industrial past salmon used to swim happily upriver to their spawning grounds, unhindered by nothing more than a few grizzly bears and an occasionally voracious beaver.

Now, in this age of hyproelectric dams and environmental damage, it can be trickier.

Well thanks to Whooshh Innovations, their struggles may be over. Whooshh has come up with a literal fish cannon, which enables salmon to swim into a tube and be shot more than 500 feet into the air, before landing safely in the water upstream.

Southeast Alaska’s commercial salmon purse seine fleet is on track to hit or exceed pre-season forecasts for the region’s pink salmon harvest. Meanwhile, some hatchery chum salmon returns have been a disappointment.

This year’s pink salmon catch is only a fraction of last year’s record setting harvest of 89 million. As of the first week in August, the Southeast harvest was an estimated 15-16 million pinks.

Russia last week banned imports of food for one year from the US, Canada, Europe, Norway and Australia due to sanctions they imposed due to its aggressive actions in Ukraine. That makes for a direct hit to Alaska seafood which last year exported nearly 20 million pounds of seafood to Russia, valued at more than $60 million.

Alexa Tonkovich is International Program Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The biggest impact, she says, will be on salmon roe.

A huge mine waste spill in one of Canada's most productive salmon-producing rivers has Alaska fishermen fearing for their livelihoods and sympathizing with their counterparts in Canada.

"This is just heartbreaking," said Katherine Carscallen, who grew up in Dillingham and gillnets in Bristol Bay.

"This is what we've been afraid of happening here, and just seeing it play out in someone else's life the way it could happen here is terrible," she said.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has stopped reporting the number of Kenai River red salmon going past its sonar counter 19 miles upriver from the mouth. The reason? Tens of thousands of pink salmon, also known as humpies, have flooded the river, making it difficult for biologists to differentiate between the two species.

A federal court judge has questioned whether the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is doing enough to protect salmon and halibut from trawlers whose massive nets strip mine the ocean off the Gulf of Alaska coast.

The State of Alaska will appeal a Superior Court decision to allow a ballot initiative that would ban setnets in urban areas of the state.

The Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance, or AFCA, filed a ballot initiative petition last November seeking to ask voters whether to ban setnets in urban parts of the state, which would primarily impact Upper Cook Inlet setnetters.

Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell rejected the initiative in January, based on a state Department of Law opinion asserting that it would be a prohibited resource appropriation not allowed under the Alaska Constitution.

A tailings dam at a central British Columbia mine site has breached, sending an estimated 14.5 million cubic meters of mine waste into the salmon-rich Fraser River watershed.
Bill Bennett, British Columbia's Minister of Energy and Mines, said in a statement issued Aug. 5 that potential environmental impact from the tailings reservoir water on the local watershed is unknown at this time, but efforts are being made to make a determination as soon as possible.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has opened a second round of public consultation on its proposals for improving its Chain of Custody (CoC) programme for seafood traceability.

This programme ensures that the MSC ecolabel is only displayed on seafood from an MSC certified sustainable fishery. It means that consumers and seafood buyers can have confidence that the fish they are buying comes from a fishery that meets MSC's stringent standards for sustainability.

he U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is asking a federal judge to dismiss as premature a lawsuit by the group behind the proposed Pebble Mine.

In a court filing, attorneys for the EPA say the agency has not made a final determination yet on potential restrictions on development on the Pebble deposit.

Commercial fishermen appear to be having success in harvesting pink salmon in the Nushagak District. KDLG’s Mike Mason has the details.