This spring found a slight shuffle in the PSC seats. SEAS board member Mitch Eide was recommended by the Governor to be seated in the alternate-Northern Panel seat that SEAS Executive Director has sat in for the past decade. SEAS ED then ascended into SEAS member Jim Bacon’s old regular Northern Panel seat and JB is now the newest in a series of exceptional Alternate Commissioners whom have served Alaska in our quest for peace with Canada over the years.
Jev Shelton previously held the Alternate Commissioner seat. Prior to Mr. Shelton, SEAS member Bruce Wallace held the seat. Prior to Mr. Wallace it was SEAS member Gary Slaven who held up the industry jockstrap when the Commission went into Executive Session. SEAS appreciates the exceptional work done over the years and particularly recently with Mr. Jev Shelton, whom SEAS supported when he took over in 1994 and whose leadership brought a new day to the Treaty when we negotiated the decade-long, abundance-based management regime that we are currently living under.
In the PSC arena, Mr. Shelton has always been a dedicated representative for commercial fishermen and he is thought of as perhaps the most brilliant of his generation of Alaskan commercial fishermen.
Yet while we appreciate the great work and sacrifice that Mr. Shelton has made on behalf of all SE sport and commercial fishermen, we are anxiously awaiting the tenure of SEAS member Mr. Bacon. Jim has been with the PSC since 1991 and has been Northern Panel Co-Chair since 1994. This is the ultimate step for JB and a wonderful reward for all the time, energy, commitment and hard work that Mr. Bacon has done on behalf of all the sport and commercial user groups in SE.
Of course, none of this changes this winter’s seating of SEAS member John Carle, who is seated in the subsistence seat on the Northern Panel. So now we find ourselves with 2 new, younger SEAS members on the Northern Panel after a decade of just Bobbyt and JB. Hopefully Mr. Eide and Mr. Carle will get a keen understanding of the PSC process and nuances prior to the major renegotiation that we’ll see in 2008. Prior to this winter there had not been a change in SEAS representation on the PSC since 1991, save for the departure of SEAS member and past Executive Director John Peckham at the end of 1995. (Has it really been that long, John?)
We are entering into negotiation phase and we’re going to do all that we can to avoid the headline-grabbing, association-draining experience that we had in the 1990’s. And while it seems that we cannot afford the time, energy nor the topic grabbing potential of the Treaty, the Canadian commercial guys can afford this even less so. They’re watching their commercial fisheries become totally marginalized. Indeed most of their commercial fisheries already are marginalized by weak stock management, sport conflicts and aboriginal treaties past and still to come. We’re sad to see that day since we are really all brothers in this commercial salmon business and we often see the changes in Canada years and even decades before those changes head up the line to Alaska.Hawk Inlet 2006…. and beyond.
2. SEAS scores with Proposal #170
At the January meeting, SEAS was vindicated in our long-sought-after remedy to the “flooding” of enhanced sockeye along the Hawk Inlet shoreline. Up to 40% of the sockeye we have harvested along that shoreline have been enhanced (hatchery) fish.
So it was a relief that the Alaska state Board of Fisheries voted 5-0 in favor of our proposal to count only the wild sockeye harvested in the July Hawk Inlet fishery. Since a board decision to allow seining in July along the shoreline, which had not occurred since 1973, the board has limited the harvest to a measly 15,000 sockeye in July. Last year the seine fleet harvested 1.7 million pink salmon while achieving the 15,000 cap. That’s almost 120 pinks for every sockeye harvested.
While 2005 was a prolific producer of pinks in upper and lower Lynn Canal, the Taku River and upper Stephens Passage, we have seen similar foregone pink opportunity in recent years, particularly 1999, 2001 and 2004. SEAS lost an identical board proposal at the board in 2003 by a 6-1 vote. While 2005’s season helped to drive the point home, there was also better education this time with the board members and also with the help of the Petersburg and Juneau ADFG Advisory Committees who both voted unanimously 12-0 and 10-0 to support SEAS proposal.
The upshot is that there will not be any additional harvest opportunities for wild stocks but the initial opportunity of 15,000 wild stock sockeyes contstraining the fishery will still be in effect as it has been since 1988. What really happened here was not so much a SEAS win as a “hold the line” approach against further losses. While USAG attempted to make the point that no pinks were surplus to escapement needs in the north in 2005 and while they cried sockeye conservation, there was just plain no evidence to allow the 15,000 wild sockeye number to deteriorate down to 9,000 or 10,000 as it has been doing since the advent of enhanced Snettisham and Taku River sockeye.
This was simply a case of “doing the right thing”.
SEAS does have a huge case for prosecuting a more aggressive fishery not only at Hawk Inlet but along most of the Icy Strait corridor. When the Icy Strait corridor was closed, the entire north end pink salmon run size was averaging in the low single digits, less than 10 million total pinks and as low as 3 million annually for nearly a decade. Now with harvests in the 25-35 million range for 4 of the past 7 years and the total run size exceeding 50 million in the north end for 2 or 3 of those years, we need to adjust to the incredible abundance of northend pink salmon that we have been consistently seeing.
And there is no sockeye conservation or subsistence problem in Lynn Canal or the Taku River. The allegations made by the gillnetters did not hold water. If there were subsistence or conservation problems or if and when they do arise, we are certain that the gillnet fleet will do the right thing and insist that their own fleet be totally closed for the week prior to demanding restrictions in a fishery like Hawk Inlet which has minimal impact on Chilkat, Chilkoot and Taku River sockeye stocks.
3. Optimism is the buzzword for the 2006 season.
Well, as of print time we hadn’t seen that adjustment from last year but hopefully it’s in your bank account as you receive this. The salmon market got a big boost on the higher end species. One of the recent hatchery coho bids went for $1.20 round. Pinks and chums are following but not as vigorously as sockeye, coho and kings. Late in the Lenten season saw the pink case price hiking to levels not seen since this pink price drought began in 2001. Now just because we get an adjustment and/or start out at the highest pink prices in 6 years doesn’t mean we’re going to make any money. Insurance, food, and equipment costs remain high and fuel prices are likely to take an extra $6-12,000 out of this summer’s earnings, on top of an additional average $5-7,000 increase in fuel bills last year. But nonetheless the market for ALL salmon is appreciating and should continue to do so until the summer of 2007 at least.
This is due to the off-cycle in most of the state for pink salmon and the major marketing effort that the state has embarked upon in the past couple of years. Even though our SE pink harvest may come in similarly to last year ( I doubt it, though), it is likely to be a much reduced pink salmon harvest statewide. Even in SE we may have some variables that will be difficult to conquer. One of these was the drought we experienced in 2004. In creeks and watersheds where pinks normally spawn in mid-late August, there were many instances of pink salmon not making it to fresh water until mid-September.
So it is possible that fecundity was a bit low for ’04 pinks and that there may have been more die-off’s than we’d previously thought. One of our friends from Kake recently relayed to me the massive die-off’s he’d seen in the Kuiu Island area.
But enough doom and gloom, back to marketing. The other harbinger of good market news is the entrance of new processing capacity. At least 2 floaters are coming in to operate in addition to last year’s buying capacity and a couple of smaller operators plan on taking a bunch more fish than last year. Certainly the optimism in the salmon world had to play into the thinking behind the mega-merger that almost was this spring between OBSI and Trident. And though it isn’t always with good intentions that Chuck Bundrant is called the “Bill Gates” of the Alaska fishing industry, we at Southeast Alaska Seiners use good intentions when WE call him that. Certainly there is always that issue of fairness in pricing that fishermen deserve to be concerned about when companies get to be so large and so few in the industry. Yet there is something truly amazing about a simple fisherman who, over the course of 40 years, works diligently to amass control of about 25-30% of all Alaskan fisheries. Trident has always been a good partner to work on political, treaty and marketing issues with SEAS.
The sockeyes look to be more promising price wise for the type of quality we produce in Southeast. The abundance looks to be higher in most of the usual and accustomed places that seiners fish for sockeye. The landfall of those Horsefly sockeye in 104 last year saved what was otherwise a very dismal sockeye return in most SE regions. This year should have the Adams return, which is similar but later than the Horsefly. (Both tributaries of the Fraser of course)
4. SEAS Crewmember Membership List.
(The following vessels have their full crews signed up.. Names will be printed in the November newsletter)
Crews of the following vessels are SEAS crewmember members:
FV Cape Reliant
FV Corva May
FV Island Pride
FV Lady Jane
FV Little Lady
FV Marshall Tito
FV Pamela Rae
Thanks to those of you who’ve signed up their crews already this year. Remember, crew memberships have gone up to $50 this year but if you sign up your entire crew at once you can just pay the one time fee of $150 per year and all of your crew will be members.
Just send in their addresses to my email address or fax them to (907)463-5083 and they’ll be added to the mailing list for newsletters. SEAS can use all the help it can get and this is just one more way you can make a difference.