Story last updated at 2:47 p.m. Thursday, September 26, 2002

Knowles casts about for Penney's replacement
Sepp Jannotta

CONTROVERSIAL SPORTFISHING Advocate Bob Penney will resign his membership on the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, effective Oct. 9, according to an announcement from the office of Gov. Tony Knowles. Penney submitted his resignation to U.S. Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, citing personal business obligations that would interfere with his duties as a member on the council. "To continue my presence on the council would not be fair to my peers or my family," Penney said. Knowles, who praised Penney as a "champion for the fishery resource," has already begun to hunt for Penney's successor. Adhering to the process mandated by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, Knowles has been in contact with various fishing groups to discuss the nomination of a new person to the council, said Knowles' spokesman Bob King. As of Wednesday, King said, there were three nominees on the governor's list: Former Board of Fish chairman Dan Coffey, Ben Ellis of Kenai and Bill Foster of Sitka. The governor will accept public input and nominations through Monday, King said. "While this term is set to expire next year, the work of the council is too important for this seat to be left vacant even for a few months," Knowles said in a press release. "Alaska has a slim majority on the council, and we need full representation to ensure that Alaska's interests are properly addressed." While federal rules mandate a minimum of a 45-day consideration period for nominees, King said, the governor would like to see the member confirmed by Evans before the Nov. 5 general election. The 11-member council weighs in on management strategies for federal waters up to 200 miles off Alaska's coastline. As a representative of a public user group on a council dominated by commercial fishing interests, Penney said he thought his role was an important one. "While on the council, I believe I have helped add a new perspective to the decisions and votes," said Penney, who was appointed by Knowles in 2000. "They do pay more heed now to the public's need for harvest opportunities."

COMMERCIAL FISHERMEN, many of whom already find their economic well-being threatened by farmed salmon, got a new reason to rail against the fish-farming industry after 1,000 tons of farmed Atlantic salmon killed by toxic algae were dumped in the ocean off Vancouver Island, B.C. According to the Fish Information and Services Web site, British Columbia officials have offered an assurance that commercial fishermen will be given exact locations of dump sites after fish dumped last week under emergency provisions floated to the surface and were caught in trawl nets. Bruce Turris of the Canadian Groundfish Research and Conservation Society complained to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans that a trawler conducting a broad deep-sea test fishery caught a large quantity of dead salmon off the west coast of Nootka Island, west of Vancouver Island. The unwelcome haul occurred within a day or two of the last fish from Grieg Seafoods' stricken salmon farm being offloaded into deep water off the west coast of Vancouver Island. The farm had been granted the industry's first emergency ocean-disposal permit under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act, when close to 1,000 tons of farmed Atlantic salmon were killed by a toxic algae bloom. FIS reported that Turris, executive director of the Canadian Sablefish Association, wrote that there were fish "as far as the eye could see" over a distance of about three kilometers.

BIOTECH FISH, fish that are genetically engineered to grow faster and bigger than natural fish, got the thumbs-down from more than 200 restaurants, grocers and seafood distributors, according to The Associated Press. The businesses, ranging from Washington, D.C.'s Citronelle to New York's Babbo to the national retail chain Whole Foods Market agreed not to buy, serve or sell fish created by biotechnology. "Scientists and corporations are playing with genetics without knowing the consequences," said Eric Roberts, executive chef at New York restaurant Le Bernadin. Last week's fish pledge was the result of a campaign from three anti-biotechnology groups: Center for Food Safety, Clean Water Action and Friends of the Earth. A dozen Alaska seafood distributors and two dozen organic-food-oriented grocery stores and chains signed the pledge. The move comes as the Food and Drug Administration is considering an application to market Atlantic salmon genetically engineered to grow twice as fast as farm-raised fish. A decision is not expected for more than two years, while the company in question conducts environmental studies. The FDA recently completed a study that concluded that engineered fish pose significant environmental issues if released into the wild. Meanwhile, west coast fisheries advocates and environmental groups unsuccessfully lobbied California regulators for a ban on the introduction of genetically engineered fish in public waterways.

MARINE MAMMAL SCIENTISTS with the National Marine Fisheries Service confirmed the sighting of a northern right whale calf in the eastern North Pacific Ocean, the first credible report in more than a century. The sighting was announced on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Web site. The northern right whale is considered to be the most endangered whale in the world. A reliable estimate of the North Pacific's right whale population does not exist, and scientists have only spotted a dozen or so individuals in recent years. "This is cause for celebration," said Jim Balsiger, regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries in Alaska. "The North Pacific right whale population is in danger of extinction. A mother and calf embody hope for the whales." NOAA Fisheries researchers from Southwest Fisheries Science Center in La Jolla, Calif., and from the National Marine Mammal Laboratory in Seattle, Wash., spotted the calf late on the evening of Aug. 24. They were on the NOAA research vessel McArthur for a dedicated study of right whales in the southeastern Bering Sea.

THE STOLEN KING SALMON, which saddened the Sitka troll fisherman who caught it and temporarily puzzled authorities, will land the two men who allegedly took it in court. The Sitka Sentinel reported that Luke Lowe and Thomas Paine II were charged with second-degree burglary, a class C felony, and misdemeanor theft for allegedly stealing the near-Southeast-record 82-pound king from Seafood Producers Cooperative in June. According to court documents, the two attended a party where they hatched a plan to hijack the fish. Lowe, a seasonal worker with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, had seen the fish when it was brought in. The fish was brought to the party after it was taken from a packing house freezer. Paine then allegedly removed the fish and filleted it to dispose of the remains. A $500 reward for information on the whereabouts of the giant salmon helped authorities in locating it, the Sentinel reported.