Homer Alaska - Seawatch

Story last updated at 4:00 PM on Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Weather buoy at Barrens replaced

Homer mariners now have another tool in their weather box after the replacement of the weather buoy this week at the Barren Islands.

"It's the replacement of an existing platform that malfunctioned some time back," said Aimee Fish, with the National Weather Service office in Anchorage.

The old buoy was very short-lived, having been deployed in August of 2008, and succumbing to the elements by Christmas of that year. The new buoy has been redesigned by the National Data Buoy Center in Mississippi to be "more robust," according to Fish.

Like the 2008 buoy, this one will only record wave height and direction.

Prior to the 2008 buoy, there was a full-service buoy deployed early in the last decade that recorded not only wave height and direction, but also air and water temperatures, barometric pressure, and wind speed and direction. It was also short-lived.

"It iced up and did not survive very long," Fish said.

Because of the harsh conditions and failure rate in the area, NWS replaced it with an on-shore mechanism on East Amatuli in the Barren Islands, called a Seaman site, that has everything except the wave height, direction and water temperature data supplied by the new buoy.

"We knew we could not have a fully instrumented buoy in this area because it is just too harsh," Fish said. "So in order to still get the information that we needed, we put ...platforms on land on the islands, and then the wave buoy to supplement what the Seamans cannot give us. On the whole, it's supposed to be a more robust network."

The other wave buoy in Cook Inlet, located about 7 miles off Anchor Point, broke its mooring about a month ago and is in the process of being replaced, although it is maintained by the Alaska Ocean Observing System, not NWS, Fish said.

She did not know what the replacement schedule was, but said AOOS was trying to determine what caused the mooring to break, presumably to prevent a recurrence.

Another on-shore Seaman weather station that can be useful to Cook Inlet mariners is the one at Pilot Rock, on the outer Kenai Peninsula south of Seward. That site has been down since May.

Fish said that maintaining the Pilot Rock station presents unique challenges. It is located in a protected nesting area for seabirds, which limits the times of year that technicians can land via helicopter, the only transportation mode available for the site.

"Of course, the typical time when you'd like to be able to go out and fix these (sites) is when the birds are there," she said.

Because of that restriction, NWS is exploring options for other nearby sites to replace the Pilot Rock Seaman station. However, since most surrounding sites are either also protected nesting areas or protected sea lion rookeries, it remains to be seen what alternatives may be available.

"We may not have another option," Fish said. "But we owe it to ourselves and to the people who rely on that data to at least see what we can do."

Information from the wave buoy at the Barren Islands is currently available at http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/maps/Alaska.shtml and should be included in the broadcast on NOAA Weather Radio, WX2, by this week.

Two recent reports released by Consumer Reports and the Boston Globe reveal an astonishing number of retail seafood outlets and restaurants are selling or serving mislabeled fish.

Consumer Reports, the world's largest independent product testing organization, sampled seafood from 190 restaurants and retail outlets in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, and found that over 20 percent were either mislabeled as different species, incompletely labeled or misidentified by employees. To make the determination, samples were sent to two independent labs for DNA testing.

The Boston Globe investigation was confined to the Boston area, but found that nearly half of the 183 samples taken from restaurants and supermarkets were not the species advertised. The worst offenders were sushi restaurants.

Some of the mislabeled fish were completely different species, such as tilapia being sold as red snapper, and others were farmed varieties sold as wild.

Closer to home, University of Washington Tacoma assistant professor Erica Cline wanted to give her students some real-life experience with DNA testing, and sent them out to area restaurants and supermarkets to test the truth in labeling of salmon.

Cline's students found that 38 percent of restaurants tested were either selling farmed Atlantic salmon as "wild Pacific salmon," or were swapping species, selling less-expensive coho as king salmon, for example.

Tacoma grocery stores fared better, with only 7 percent mislabeled fish.

The Food and Drug Administration is the primary agency responsible for ensuring that food sold in interstate commerce is properly labeled, but they have put a low priority on such activity in favor of food safety issues in the face of huge budget cuts, perhaps as much as $285 million next year if the House budget passes.

Even before such budget cuts there were only a handful of agents nationwide doing the policing, and critics point out that fines for such violations, $200 for a first offense, are far from a deterrent, especially for large companies. There is a push to ask Congress to increase fines.

Consumer Reports has the following recommendations for consumers when ordering or buying fish: Before deciding what fish to buy, ask the person behind the counter (or the server in a restaurant) which fish, if any, is in season, and where and how the fish was caught or farmed. Ask for the manager (or chef) if you aren't satisfied with the answers or want to learn more. They note that just letting the seller know that customers are interested might raise his or her consciousness about the seafood being sold.

Cristy Fry has commercial fished out of Homer and King Cove since 1978. She can be reached at realist468@gmail.com.