Story last updated at 2:47 p.m. Friday, July 5, 2002

Talks produce pledge to keep farmed salmon locked up
Sepp Jannotta

THE WHEELS OF DIPLOMACY have been turning since Sen. Frank Murkowski received a pledge from Canadian lawmakers during a May conference to prevent escapes of that country's farmed salmon. Murkowski announced last month that the State Department had taken steps toward initiating negotiations, through the U.S. Section of the Pacific Salmon Commission, on an annex to the U.S.-Canada Salmon Treaty aimed at stopping non-native salmon escapements into the wild. "I am extremely pleased that the State Department has acted both expeditiously and appropriately on this important issue," said Murkowski. "Fish farming of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia is creating a grave danger for existing wild Pacific salmon stocks, including Alaska's."

NANWALEK'S SOCKEYE RUN is showing up in encouraging numbers after a dismal showing last year. The enhanced run from English Bay Lake has kept setnetters busy, with a total Port Graham subdistrict sockeye catch of 15,800 sockeye as of Friday. In addition, fishermen have pulled 1,400 kings out of their nets. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game announced last week that a closure of the setnet fishery there is not expected through the remainder of the run. The remarkable turnaround landed Nanwalek's sockeye fishery on the front page of Monday's Anchorage Daily News. The Daily News reported that since a mid-1980s crash, the run has only been this strong on a few occasions. The salmon-enhancement project costs $150,000 to $200,000 a year, program manager Carol Kvasnikoff told the Daily News. Despite the program, concerns in recent years have focused mostly on bringing in a subsistence catch, something that hardly happened last season. This year fishermen from Nanwalek and Port Graham, who operate four setnet permits, have been delivering sockeye to a tender sitting in the bay.

BRISTOL BAY KINGS HIT THE NETS at last as commercial fishermen broke open the Nushagak district season June 21 with a king salmon opener. The Bristol Bay Times reported that fisherman caught 5,000 sockeye, 3,500 kings and 3,500 chum salmon. ADF&G reported that boats that made it out for the opener were averaging 800 to 1,000 pounds of king salmon per delivery, as well as 400 to 500 pounds of mixed sockeye and chum salmon.

HERRING GILLNETTERS STRUCK OUT in Unalaska Bay last week, as fishermen pulled empty nets during the 24-hour gillnet-only opener. According to ADF&G area biologist Matt Ford, the fishery had 12 boats pursuing the allotted quota of 110 tons, with Royal Aleutian Seafoods of Unalaska set to pay $400 a ton for herring. Dutch Harbor gillnet fleet took a couple of weeks to catch its 110-ton quota last year. "So far not very much has happened," said Ford, who manages the Area M fisheries of the Aleutians. "There were no fish." The gillnet fishery reopened Monday and will likely be extended until the fish show. The much larger purse seine fishery opens July 15, with a quota of 1,468 tons. Last year, the opening lasted 10 minutes and was restricted to one small part of Unalaska Bay. The Dutch Harbor Fisherman described the scene as something of a spectator event as the sky filled with the noise of spotter planes directing boats to schools of fish.

IT DIDN'T TAKE LONG for the Bering Sea crabbing debate to find its way to Washington D.C. and into the halls of Congress. Just three weeks after it was adopted by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, the issue of individual processor quotas was brought before the House Resources Committee as one of several controversial amendments to the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the nation's primary comprehensive fisheries legislation. Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.) sparked a heated exchange with the introduction of an amendment that would have removed the part of a package of amendments from Rep. Wayne Gilchrest (R-Md.), authorizing IPQs. In a press release, Alaska Marine Conservation Council, an advocacy group for independent Alaska fishermen, warned that amendments to the fisheries legislation were aimed at rolling back national standards, which were set to prohibit overfishing, rebuild depleted stocks, minimize bycatch and prevent damage to marine habitats from destructive fishing gear. Gilcrest claimed at the time that the Alaska fishing community supports IPQs. But according to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, that doesn't represent the 600-plus Alaskans who have signed a petition opposing IPQs. "Processor quota will concentrate wealth in the seafood industry at the expense of independent fishermen," said Dorothy Childers, executive director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The House Resources Committee did not finish with the Magnuson-Stevens Act amendments and will take the legislation up again July 10.

AMERICAN CONSUMERS are increasingly aware of the environmental impacts of fish farming, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. That trend, the group said, is coinciding with an increased interest in sustainable seafood. Thriftway grocery stores, apparently taking notice of this trend, removed farmed finfish from its product mix. Larry Roberts, director of operations for three of the Seattle-area stores, said the chain was committed to providing consumers with quality seafood. The move toward wild-caught finfish, including Alaska salmon, was prompted by concerns about the environmental impacts of fish farming, he said. Roberts said that marketing aids from ASMI have added prominence to the salmon, halibut and other Alaska-caught products on display at Thriftway. After the summer season, frozen Alaska salmon will help meet the demand for wild fish.

SCHOLARSHIPS ARE BEING OFFERED to halibut fishermen as part of an education assistance program from the International Pacific Halibut Commission. The scholarships are designed to support university and technical college education for those connected to the halibut fishery and its industry. The program, which will annually offer a limited number of $2,000 scholarships, is open to Canadian and U.S. students. The first scholarship will be available for the fall of 2002. For more information, call Christine Carr at 206-634-1838 ext. 201, or Bruce Leaman at ext. 203. Applications must be received by Aug. 15.

NOAA SEIZED $275,000 WORTH OF CHILEAN sea bass recently in Boston, Mass., the Department of Commerce announced last week. Agents from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration picked up 33 tons of illegally imported Chilean sea bass. NOAA was reportedly working off a tip from the Australian government that the fish were harvested illegally from Antarctic waters by an Uruguayan-flagged fishing vessel. The Antarctic sea bass fishery is managed internationally under the Convention for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources.