Story last updated at 11:57 a.m. Friday, August 2, 2002

Southeast seiner reports unusual catch


Sepp Jannotta
A PENGUIN MADE NEWS after it hopped out of the net of the seiner Chirikof last month, according to an Alaska Public Radio report Monday from Ketchikan. The unusual bird came aboard following what captain Guy Demmert called "a most notable set" off the west coast of Prince of Wales Island on July 18. "When it hit the deck, it stood up and just was wobbling around on deck. The rails are high enough on the boat that it just couldn't hop off," Demmert told KRBD radio news director Deanna Garrison. The crew immediately got out a camera and took photographs of the bird, which stood about 20 inches tall. According to Demmert, word on the fishing grounds of Southeast spread rapidly as he radioed his brother, who was also fishing near Noyes Island. According to Garrison's report, after half an hour, during which the penguin would snap at anybody who got close, the penguin got a little more comfortable and began to move about the Chirikof's deck. At that point, a crew member grabbed the bird and tossed it back into the sea. After looking at photos of the bird taken aboard the Chirikof, Dee Boersma, a zoologist from the University of Washington, confirmed that it was a Humboldt penguin, a species common to the coasts of Peru and Chile. Boersma told KRBD that one possibility is that the bird had been transported north aboard a South American fishing vessel, where penguins have been known to be kept as pets. The other possibility, Boersma said, is that the bird might have originated from a penguin colony that was photographed off the coast of Vancouver Island sometime in the 1980s. No matter how it came to be near Noyes Island, the bird is the first documented case of a penguin in Alaska, according to state Department of Fish and Game ornithologist Kim Titus.

GOV. TONY KNOWLES named three new appointees to serve on the Alaska Board of Fisheries, including one from the central peninsula. The new appointments, announced Friday, are Soldotna fishing guide Andrew Szczesny, Kodiak commercial fisherman Oliver Holm and Sitka resident Eric Jordan, who has worked as both a commercial fisherman and sport fishing guide. Earlier this year, Knowles attempted to fill the fisheries seats with different appointments. However, controversy arose over the nomination of Kenai River Sportfishing Association Executive Director Brett Huber of Soldotna. Then, the Alaska Legislature's Republican majority refused to vote on Knowles' appointees to five different state boards, effectively blocking all of them. Because of that, the governor had to find new people to fill the seats, according to his press secretary, Bob King. The new members could have short terms on the board, depending on what the next governor chooses to do. Whoever is elected to replace Knowles will have the option of replacing Knowles' picks. However, King said, that didn't play into the governor's decision.

EXTRA FISHING TIME has been giving commercial fishermen in upper Cook Inlet a chance to bring more fish to the docks, though according to Fish and Game fisheries biologist Jeff Fox, the run of Kenai River sockeye salmon is beginning to slow down. Managers gave the eastside set- and driftnet fishermen 36 hours of emergency order fishing time this week, which ran through noon Wednesday. Fox said 51,000 sockeyes were reported caught on Monday. The total catch for the fishery is 2.7 million fish. Starting today, managers will only have 24 hours of emergency order fishing time at their disposal until the fishery wraps up Thursday, Aug. 8.

HOMER HALIBUT LANDINGS have gone over 8.7 million pounds, making Homer North America's top fishing port for Pacific halibut. Seward is second with 6.3 million pounds. Homer's halibut fleet has pulled in 22 percent of its allotted catch.

THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT is set to pass out about $3 million in compensatory funds to seven Southeast fishing communities that traditionally participated in the Glacier Bay fisheries. The money is aimed to help towns deal with the phase-out of commercial fishing in federally controlled waters inside Glacier Bay National Park. The Associated Press reported that Elfin Cove, a town 70 miles west of Juneau that has a winter population of 30, will receive more than $500,000, with no stipulations on how it's spent. "That's a goodly wad -- half a million bucks is nothing to sneeze at," said Jim Wild, chairman of the Elfin Cove Community Council. "That'll go a long ways toward something." Also receiving funding will be Gustavus, Haines, Hoonah, Pelican, Petersburg and Sitka. The $3 million is part of a compensation package authorized by Congress to help the affected commercial fishing industry workers, from plant workers to fishermen to the communities themselves.

KODIAK FISHERMEN HAVE SEEN some disastrous sockeye runs in certain streams this season, according to Fish and Game management biologist Dennis Gretsch of Kodiak. The Ayakulik, Frazer, Upper Station and Afognak systems should have contributed 700,000 sockeye to the fleet's total catch, Gretsch said. The actual take was less than 10,000 fish. For instance, the forecasted catch for Frazer was 325,000 sockeye. Because the return was poor, the fishery stayed closed and there were no fish taken from the Frazer system. When the early season test fisheries were under way in June, the Kodiak salmon fishermen were standing down to protest prices. The returns to the four streams are probably some of the worst on record since the early 1970s, Gretsch said. The arrival of late-run sockeye might help matters some, though Gretsch was guessing they might fizzle as well. The total catch for Kodiak sockeyes thus far is 1.3 million fish, which is surprisingly not too far behind Fish and Game projections. Pink salmon catches have been solid, with the fourth opening Tuesday bringing in 600,000 fish in the first half day of fishing. "That's an exceptional catch for this time of year," Gretsch said.

A BRISTOL BAY VILLAGE may be up a creek as the cannery it depends on closes its doors. Trident Seafoods Corp. plans to close its cannery in Clarks Point, a village of 62 year-round residents, according to a report from the Bristol Bay Times. Though the plant hasn't canned any seafood in a half century, the facility provides some $60,000 in operating revenue for the village, which collects taxes on cannery services such as a bunkhouse, general store, stockroom and mess hall. In addition, the cannery usually maintained enough fuel to get the villagers through the winter. But when the Trident-owned facility closes, its fuel tanks will likely be close to empty, leaving residents of Clarks Point to wonder how they will get through the winter.

CONGRESSIONAL APPROPRIATIONS legislation pending in the U.S. Senate could put millions of dollars into fisheries and environmental research in Alaska, as well as into some of the state's coastal communities. The appropriations bill includes $35 million to address the nationwide backlog of marine surveys, 60 percent of which occur in Alaska. Another $3.2 million will go to the Alaska Fisheries Information Network, which maintains an information system allowing fishermen, scientists and resource managers to collect and exchange information. Millions of federal dollars will help fund Alaska research on everything from groundfish to crab to pollock to salmon. The state of Alaska received some $500,000 to study the impacts of fishery management changes. There is also money budgeted for implementation of the Magnuson-Stevens and American Fisheries acts as well as the Pacific Salmon Treaty.

Peninsula Clarion reporter Matt Tunseth contributed to this report.