Category Archives: commercial fishing

Southcentral hauls in impact from commercial fishing

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

An economic analysis of the value of commercial fishing in Southcentral Alaska held some surprises, even for the organization contracting the study.

The Alaska Salmon Alliance, with offices in Kenai and Anchorage, worked with the McDowell group to study the impact of commercial fishing in the region and took the results to the Legislature, with executive director Arni Thompson giving a presentation to the House Fisheries Committee on Thursday.

“We knew that there really was a rather cohesive industry in Southcentral but we knew that the public and the Legislature were rather unaware of it. … We found, the results, the numbers, it showed were rather astounding. We, ourselves, were unaware of the total impacts of the seafood industry,” Thompson said.

Commercial seafood is a $1.2 billion industry in Southcentral, Thompson said.

Southcentral is home to 5,730 resident commercial fishermen and crew, with another 4,590 jobs in seafood processing, and 520 jobs in hatcheries, fisheries management and other aspects. Total labor income in the region as of 2013 was estimated at $411 million.

“And we all know how important jobs are particularly now with the decline that’s occurring in the oil and gas industry,” he said.

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View from Out West: All ears to save Alaska media — Funding cut would cut connection in rural areas

Photo courtesy of Aurora (Heames) Galloway. Aurora (Heames) Galloway and Jeff Heames, fishing in Bristol Bay. Galloway, originally from the Kenai Peninsula, says that public radio is vital for fishing families to stay in touch in Alaska.

Photo courtesy of Aurora (Heames) Galloway. Aurora (Heames) Galloway and Jeff Heames, fishing in Bristol Bay. Galloway, originally from the Kenai Peninsula, says that public radio is vital for fishing families to stay in touch in Alaska.

By Clark Fair, for the Redoubt Reporter

Aurora (Heames) Galloway, one of my former Skyview students, recalls a summer long ago when Dillingham’s public radio station, KDLG, assisted with an emergency involving a “family matter.”

Because they had been so busy commercial fishing, Aurora, her father and their crew had missed the announcement on the radio, but they were alerted to the problem when a neighboring fisherman motored over in his skiff to give them the news: Back on the Kenai Peninsula, Aurora’s mom needed to speak to Aurora’s dad as soon as possible. Since fishing families and crews over all Bristol Bay had been listening to the same broadcast, she said, “We were instantly surrounded by supportive community.”

On the trip ashore, Aurora and her father received several more waves and shouts from fishermen wanting to make sure they’d heard the message. At the cannery with the nearest telephone, more concerned folks stopped by to offer assistance and encouragement.

“When he returned with the news (that Aurora’s uncle had died), there were people there waiting,” she said. “Waiting to split off their crews if needed to help us out, or waiting just out of curiosity and friendship.”

“I think just (my mom) being able to do something to contact us was a huge relief,” Aurora said. “She was able to leave a message at the radio station, and my dad was on the phone with her in about an hour — far from the days we normally went between calls home. (But) I think for me the value was really that we all were hearing the same thing at the same time — and the value of that is immeasurable.”

Because KDLG’s signal was strong enough to be heard in King Salmon and Naknek, the whole fishing community there responded.

“We all need to hear the escapements,” Aurora said. “We all need to hear the weather. We all are curious if someone has called in to wish us happy birthday or to tell us that Grandma sent a package. It’s a way of feeling included in a community that often feels like just us — our crew and the tender we are selling fish to. Hearing voices that we know are live and close makes us feel like we aren’t the only ones on that boat at 3 a.m.”

Photo courtesy of Susie Jenkins-Brito. Susie Jenkins-Brito (left) with her daughter, Bea, on the F/V Sea Breeze in 2014. The Brito family says that with cell service limited out on the water, radio stations like KDLG tailoring content to their listenership, like fishery updates and message programs, are greatly appreciated.

Photo courtesy of Susie Jenkins-Brito. Susie Jenkins-Brito (left) with her daughter, Bea, on the F/V Sea Breeze in 2014. The Brito family says that with cell service limited out on the water, radio stations like KDLG tailoring content to their listenership, like fishery updates and message programs, are greatly appreciated.

Susie Jenkins-Brito also understands the important role public radio plays in supporting commercial fishermen and Bristol Bay communities. Susie and her husband, Bronson Brito, fish out of Dillingham and, like the rest of the fleet, use broadcasts from KDLG extensively for fishery updates and openings.

“Despite cell services coming to Bristol Bay, out on the commercial fishing grounds communication is unpredictable, and the source for up-to-date news is public radio,” Susie said. “Fishermen rely on hearing these reports in order to make decisions on which districts they will choose to fish in and make predictions on where their livelihood will be made.”

Beyond the fishing industry, KDLG’s many public services also provide crucial links between the region’s remote and essentially roadless towns and villages.

“While cell reception and Internet social media networks offer alternative means of communication in our region, there is singlehandedly no other resource that reaches as broad a group of people as KDLG,” Susie said.

In Dillingham, the only alternatives for communitywide information are the weekly Bristol Bay Times newspaper, a Facebook page called the Dillingham Trading Post and commercial radio station KRUP, which has a range of less than 20 miles, is produced in Anchorage by Strait Media and, as far as I can tell, offers next to zero local programming. Consequently, Dillingham residents keep up with their neighbors via KDLG’s “Open Line” call-in show each weekday, and with local news and ideas via “The Yup’ik Word of the Day,” “Bristol Bay Field Notes,” “Bristol Bay and Beyond,” “Bristol Bay Fisheries Report” and “Bristol Bay Sports Roundup.”

KDLG also lists local job opportunities, provides weather and marine forecasts, announces a broad array of fishing-related information, broadcasts local basketball games, supplies live feeds from public meetings and furnishes on-air notes to distant friends and family via the daily “Messenger.”

With employees who live in the city and with its offices in the same building as Dillingham High School, KDLG understands its constituency personally and supplies what it wants and needs. And the same personal connection holds true for the staff of KDLL in Kenai, and for the staffs of other public media throughout Alaska.

Even Don Young, Alaska’s prickly, arrogant U.S. rep-resentative, understands and lauds the value of public broadcasting in this state. In September 2012, on the second day of a Washington, D.C., meeting of the board of directors of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Young announced, “I am a Republican and I support public broadcasting.”

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Filed under Bristol Bay, commercial fishing, community, radio, View from Out West

Reckoning with a history at sea — New book recalls coming of age amid commercial fishing

Atcheson book coverBy Joseph Robertia

Redoubt Reporter

Of Alaska’s population — seasonal and year-round — there exists a motley crew of diverse personality types, not the least colorful of which are those drawn to the Last Frontier to fish for a living. Many arrive low on money but high on the promise of an adventure at sea. Though they can be as different as all the variations of creatures in the sea, there is at least one similarity — they don’t forget their maiden fishing season.

Dave Atcheson, of Sterling, spent more than a decade commercial fishing, though he might be better known in the community today as a sportfisherman and the author of numerous fishing-related magazine articles, as well as the angler guide, “Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula.” His early experiences at sea are one’s he’ll never forget, and are translated into his memorable new book, “Dead Reckoning — Navigating Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on the High Seas.”

“I moved up in ’84 and immediately went on the ocean without having ever seen it,” he said.

If this approach sounds a bit foolish, Atcheson, in hindsight, agrees, though now can put his harrowing survival stories, fish-out-of-water moments and other experiences while getting his feet wet in the fishing industry to good use in his book.

“It’s a memoir of my commercial fishing days, but there’s definitely a bit of coming of age to it as well. It culminates to almost losing a boat on the Bering Sea. I was nearly killed. It was a real life-changing experience,” he said.

Because of how personally attached Atcheson is to the stories, it took him awhile to be able to share them with others.

“The time is finally right. I knew the stories were all good, but I just needed some time to distance myself from them before I could write about them,” he said.

The book depicts Atcheson’s first taste of fishing life, at age 19, seining salmon out of Seward. He was working aboard The Lancer with a skipper, named Woody, who Atcheson describes as a vestige of the past with a personality as unpredictable as the sea.

“He was a crusty captain and a renowned screamer. There wasn’t a lot of teaching going on,” he said.

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Halibut quota drops again — Commission tweaks catch allotments for 2014

By Hannah Heimbuch

Homer Tribune

Pacific Northwest halibut fishermen are looking at another year of lower catch limits, according to a recent announcement from the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

In the Alaska Gulf — Area 3A, including Homer, Seward, Kodiak and Valdez — fishermen are allotted a total harvest of 9.43 million pounds — 7.31 million commercial and 1.782 million for the guided sport sector.

The catch limit in 2013 was 11.03 million in Area 3A for commercial alone, but a new management plan combines commercial, recreational and wastage allowances in 2014.

“It does not compare with 2013 directly because the guided recreational and wastage is part of the Catch Sharing Plan implemented by the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council beginning this year,” said local halibut fisherman and commissioner Don Lane. Lane has been fishing halibut out of Homer for more than 30 years, and is the newest commissioner on the IPHC.

“2013 IPHC catch limits only included commercial-directed halibut fishery,” he said.

The total allowable catch for Pacific Northwest fishermen in 2014 is 27.515 million pounds. When the sport and wastage numbers are backed out, Lane said, that represents a 20 percent drop for the commercial sector compared to 2013. In Area 3A, that drop is closer to 33 percent for commercial fishermen. The guided sport sector also will have strict limits, holding them to two fish, only one of which may be longer than 29 inches.

The numbers put up by the commission last week are appropriate, Lane said, given the regionwide decline in biomass and the catch and weight reports coming from commercial logbooks. Policymakers hope that sufficient cuts to harvest volume will help the declining halibut resource turn a corner back toward healthier numbers.

The commission is starting to see signs that this strategy is working in Southeast Alaska.

“There are encouraging signs from Area 2C, which have had substantial cuts in previous years,” Lane said. “The 2C survey (weight per unit effort) and catch (weight per unit effort) are positive in 2013. That uptick was positive enough in a number of indicators that the commission felt additional cuts were not warranted and a slight increase was allowed. However, the 2C catch is still at very low levels compared to the last 20 years.”

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Set net ban rejected — Department of Law finds proposed initiative would constitute inappropriate allocation of resources

Photo by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. With plenty of time on their hands due to the commercial set-net fishing closures imposed by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in July, many set-netters, such as Aaron Kershner, a crewman for a Kasilof set-netter, protested the closure in front of the Fish and Game offices on Kalifornsky Beach Road.

Redoubt Reporter file photos. Aaron Kershner, a crewman for a Kasilof commercial set-netting operation, participates in a protest in front of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office on Kalifornsky Beach Road in July 2012 during a shutdown of the Upper Cook Inlet set-net fisheries. Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell announced Monday he would not allow an initiative petition seeking to ban set netting to proceed.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

A proposed ballot initiative that would ban set-netting in nonsubsistence areas of the state, Cook Inlet chief among them, was snagged from going to the signature-gathering stage by Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who announced Monday that he was rejecting the initiative on the recommendation of the Alaska Department of Law.

The newly formed Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance submitted the measure Nov. 6 as a conservation effort to protect declining king salmon runs, charging that set netting catches too many kings, even though the gear type targets other species of salmon.

Clark Penney, executive director, said in a release Monday that the rejection is “puzzling” and the alliance is considering appealing the decision. It has 30 days from Monday to do so.

Photos by Joseph Robertia, Redoubt Reporter. Sockeye salmon are known for putting up a good fight. All their twisting and wiggling once caught in a gillnet can lead to a big tangle when trying to get them out.“I struggle to see the logic or the legality of this decision,” he said.

The Division of Elections determined that the initiative proposal does have enough valid sponsors to continue to the step of gathering voter signatures statewide, Treadwell notes in a letter to the AFCA. However, he states that the Department of Law recommended rejection because the effect of the proposal would result in an allocation of resources (in this case, king salmon) prohibited by the Alaska Constitution, based on the 1996 Alaska Supreme Court decision in Pullen v. Ulmer, finding that preferential treatment of certain fisheries over others is an appropriation not allowed by initiative.

“Were this type of initiative permissible, voters could continue to reallocate stocks to any fishery simply by eliminating specific gear or particular means and methods of catching fish — for example, the next initiative might propose to eliminate purse seining, trawling, dip-netting or catch-and-release sport fishing in particular areas to increase harvest opportunity for other types of users. This would ‘prevent … real regulation and careful administration’ of Alaska’s salmon stocks, contrary to the purpose of the prohibition on initiative by appropriation,” according to the Department of Law’s opinion.

The AFCA points out that Alaska’s first ballot initiative regarded banning the use of fish traps as a fishing method, as it was seen as outdated and destructive. Penney also states that the terms of the proposed ban would be applied statewide.

The Department of Law opinion takes a different view — that by banning set netting in all areas of the state without a subsistence designation, the ban would still effectively target Southcentral because other urban areas — such as Juneau and Valdez — don’t have set netting. As such, the ban would allocate kings away from the inlet’s east side set-net fishery to in-river sport and personal-use fisheries, making it an appropriation not allowed by initiative, the Department of Law states.

Penney disagrees.

“This effort is but the latest in a long string of initiatives where Alaskans have exercised their rights to protect fish and wildlife by regulating improper methods and means for harvest,” Penney states, pointing to Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, New York, California, Washington and Oregon as other states that have restricted or banned the use of set nets.

“In the 25 years since the first state took this step, no set nets have been allowed to return. Not one fish processor in these states went out of business after set nets were banned,” Penney states.

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Cannery to coffee — Wards Cove warehouse gets new life in restaurant

File photo. The warehouse at Kenai Wards Cove was dismantled in summer 2012. Much of the lumber is being recycled into a new Kaladi Brothers restaurant opening around Thanksgiving in Anchorage.

File photo. The warehouse at Kenai Wards Cove was dismantled in summer 2012. Much of the lumber is being recycled into a new Kaladi Brothers restaurant opening around Thanksgiving in Anchorage.

By Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

When the old Kenai Wards Cove cannery warehouse at the mouth of the Kenai River was torn down in the summer of 2012, fishermen like Pat Dixon bid it a sad farewell, figuring it was like something lost overboard — never to be seen again and only existing in memories.

And he has a lot of them, as the building figured prominently in his, and many others’, fishing history. Kenai Wards Cove was the last of the early 20th-century salmon canneries on the Southcentral road system, starting operation in 1912 as a Libby, McNeil and Libby cannery. It was rebuilt after a fire in 1921, became Columbia Wards in the 1950s and Wards Cove Packing in 1988, continuing operations canning, and later freezing, salmon until 1998.

For all of Dixon’s 20-year career commercial fishing in Cook Inlet, the cannery was his summertime home base. As he writes in his blog, Gillnet Dreams, “Far more so than Indiana, where I spent my childhood, (the cannery) was really where I grew up, and it had always been a second home to me.”

The 40,000-square-foot wood warehouse, in particular, was a regular haunt.

“Where my locker was, where I stored supplies, used the crane to haul shackles of web up and down from the loft, where I’d driven my truck to grab gear, driven forklifts to haul it, where fishermen for decades hung their nets, where I’d walked hundreds of times with my camera,” he wrote.

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Filed under Almanac, commercial fishing, history

Hooked on poetry — Festival celebrates fishing life

Fisher Poets flyer.inddBy Jenny Neyman

Redoubt Reporter

Poetry, the art of Maya Angelou, Robert Frost and William Shakespeare, can be an intimidating thing, especially for a novice presenting one’s compositions aloud to others.

But intimidation is a relative thing. Powering through 30-foot seas, banking on unpredictable seasonal income and working in a world of sharp hooks, slippery metal, tangling nets, constantly swaying footing and a cold, deep, unforgiving ocean isn’t exactly comforting.

It’s dramatic, inspiring, exhilarating, beautiful and idealized, but can just as easily be dull, discouraging, heartbreaking, harsh and vilified. And all of that makes commercial fishing fertile grounds for poetic creativity.

“When you start thinking about commercial fishing — whether you’re a set-netter or you’re a drift-netter or a seiner — whatever type of commercial fishing you do, you’re associated with the water. That presents its own set of challenges but it also presents its own unique beauty. So whether you’re trying to catch fish on a calm sea with an orca surfacing near you or you’re riding up 30-foot breaking waves trying to survive the day, there’s a lot of inspiration to write about there from the struggles that you go through,” said Pat Dixon, keynote presenter at this weekend’s Kenai Fisher Poets gathering.

Fisher Poets began in Astoria, Ore., as a way for fishermen to gather, catch up and share the stories, songs and poems the season inspired, along with, perhaps, a beer or a few. Since the first in February 1998, it’s been an annual tradition in Astoria, and other Fisher Poets gatherings have sprouted up in fishing communities along the West and East coasts, as well as in Alaska. These regional, on-the-road events are a great way to introduce newcomers to the Fisher Poets scene, and even to each other.

It’s this social aspect that Dixon particularly enjoys about the events, as that’s what drew him in the first place. After commercial fishing for 20 years in Cook Inlet in the summers and teaching photography in Kenai in the winters, Dixon took a teaching job at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., in 1997, sold out of his commercial fishing operation and relocated south with his family.

“It didn’t take me very long to realize that I really, really missed being in Alaska and I very much missed commercial fishing,” he said.

A friend introduced him to the second ever Fisher Poets Gathering in Astoria, and he was immediately hooked.

“It felt like going home,” he said, since Astoria was a commercial fishing town. He walked into the bar hosting the Fisher Poets events, “And all of a sudden there’s these folks that have had fishing history who look a lot like fishermen I’ve known, even though I didn’t know many of them. And they’re reading their poems and singing their songs and telling their stories.”

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