Story last updated at 6:36 p.m. Thursday, December 26, 2002

Protesters vandalize B.C. salmon farm hatchery
Sepp Jannotta

Antifish-farm activists took the battle against new farming outfits in British Columbia to a new level last week when a group of protestors did damage at an Omega Salmon Group hatchery construction site in the remote central-coast community of Ocean Falls. The commercial fishing Web site reported that the protestors were a mix of Canada Natives, non-native environmentalists and commercial fishermen. Authorities had arrested one person, as of last week. Omega Salmon Group Project Manager Kjell Aasen said the protest, which involved an estimated 50 to 60 people, was evidently against the salmon-farming industry in B.C. and the construction of the hatchery in particular. The two tribes, or First Nations, involved have a zero-tolerance policy regarding the salmon farming industry in their claimed traditional territory and have complained they were not consulted about the hatchery. The protest apparently began with some of the protestors lifting the access gate from its hinges. Environmental group Forest Action Network spokesperson Greg Higgs said later that happened because construction personnel at the site broke a promise from the management not to block access. Higgs said work was also continuing on the site while the protestors were there. Roughly half a dozen protestors broke open a wooden form containing concrete poured during the course of the demonstration. About 10 cubic feet of concrete spilled out. Higgs said the protest also involved the Rainforest Conservation Society, commercial fishermen and members of the Heiltsuk and Nuxalk First Nations from the Bella Bella area, who both claim Ocean Falls as part of their traditional territory.

THE ANNOUNCEMENT that Wards Cove Packing would pull out of salmon processing market in Alaska continued to reverberate though the state's coastal communities last week. In Seward, the company announced that after 13 years of operation, the Resurrection Bay Seafoods plant there would, in fact, be on the closure list, despite the fact that the plant now deals primarily in groundfish. The Seward Phoenix Log reported that the closure would lay off five full-time, year-round employees, including plant manager David Brindle, whose family has owned and operated Wards Cove Packing for 75 years. Last year, 45 commercial fishing boats delivered to Resurrection Bay Seafoods, which is located on a wharf on Lowell Point Road in Seward. Seven of those vessels were home-ported in Seward, while others were from elsewhere in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. Still, Brindle told the Log that he believed that the plant would be purchased and reopened. "There's no question somebody will take over the Seward plant," he said. "At least three companies that I know of have expressed an interest. And fish brokers want to participate in some aspect." Brindle was confident that not only would somebody step in and buy the plant, but that it would happen quickly after the new year. The plant historically operates from January to November.

IN HAINES, as many as 40 gillnetters were scrambling to find new buyers for the upcoming salmon season in the wake of the announcement that Wards Cove would cease operations at its Excursion Inlet cannery and would close its facilities at Letnikof Cove. Greg Bigsby told the Chilkat Valley News that the gillnet fleet could face hard times if the cannery stays closed next season. "I think we'll be able to find a market, sometimes they come looking for us," he said. "But the rest is going to be tough. The worst thing about it is the loss of the (Letnikof Cove) ice machine." Bigsby said the only remaining processor in the area capable of producing quantities of ice is Haines Fisheries. But that machine can only handle about 15-20 boats." The Wards Cove closures mean the loss of four full-time seasonal jobs from Letnikof, according to the Valley News.

THE CRAB BUYBACK PLAN for permits held in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands king and tanner crab fisheries is up for a public review period with the National Marine Fisheries Service. The $100 million buyback program for Bering Sea crabbers would be financed by a loan to be repaid over 30 years by catch landing fees of crab fishermen who remain in the fishery. Between 1990 and 1999, the fishery's long-term averaged landings have been worth about $240 million annually. "The buyback can, without cost to taxpayers, reduce this fishery's harvesting effort to a level more consistent with its total allowable catches," said Bill Hogarth, a fisheries director with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. "This buyback is not a grant program, but rather a loan program that can help everyone, including fishery managers." A NMFS news release said the plan was to pay fishermen for withdrawing their vessels from fishing, "and surrendering their fishing licenses and fishing histories. The withdrawn fishing vessels may never fish again anywhere in the world, either recreationally or commercially."

The proposed program will solicit buyback bids from crab harvesters in the fishery. NOAA Fisheries would review the bidder's crab production and state the bid price as a percentage of the bidder's crab production. NOAA Fisheries would then accept the lowest percentage bids until they totaled $100 million. Using this process, the most productive vessels offered by fishermen would be selected first, maximizing capacity reduction for the funds available. NOAA Fisheries would then conduct a permit-holders referendum about the loan-repayment landing fee and would conclude the buyback only if two-thirds of voting permit holders approved the landing fee. The proposed rule will be open for public comment until Jan. 27. Please mail written comments to Michael L. Grable, Chief, Financial Services Division, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282. Comments may also be faxed to Michael L. Grable at (301) 713-1306. The agency does not accept comments sent via the Internet.

THE ALASKA MARITIME WILDLIFE refuge will be sponsoring a noon seminar on Monday at Kachemak Bay Research Reserve. Presented by Robert Gill, U.S. Geological Survey/Alaska Science Center, the seminar will focus on breeding surveys of Pribilof rock sandpipers.