Alaska Fisheries Report September 09, 2021

On This Week’s Alaska Fisheries Report with Terry Haines: Big Fines Over a Tiny Railroad, Fisherman Nominated to Board of Fish, Chignik Struggles with Poor Runs

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Big Fines for Pollock Producer-    Nat Herz

A high-seas legal fight is causing havoc for one of Alaska’s biggest commercial fisheries, the pollock  harvest out of Dutch Harbor. The quickly escalating saga involves hundreds of millions of dollars in fines, a miniature Canadian railway and Donald Trump’s personal lawyer.

The legal dispute centers on the Jones Act, a century-old piece of legislation that requires companies to use American ships when moving freight between American ports.

But! There’s an exemption: Companies can use foreign-flagged ships if the route uses Canadian rail lines, and if the route is certified by an obscure federal agency called the Surface Transportation Board.

One of the pollock industry’s powerhouses, Seattle-based American Seafoods, has come up with a creative way to satisfy those provisions and still get its products from the Aleutians to the Eastern U.S. Its shipping subsidiary, working with an affiliate called Kloosterboer, hires ships flagged in countries like the Bahamas and Singapore.

Those ships pick up American’s and other companies’ seafood in Dutch Harbor and land in New Brunswick, just across the border from Maine. Then, the seafood is loaded on to trucks, which are driven onto a train and moved by rail for….100 feet. Then, the train moves a hundred feet back to its original position, the trucks drive off and cross the border in the United States.

The companies have been doing this for about a decade, and they argue that they made Customs officials aware of the program. But in the past two weeks, Customs and Border Protection has issued more than 350 million dollars in fines against American Seafoods, Kloosterboer, and other fishing industry players.

Much of Dutch Harbor’s seafood catch is shipped to Asia, and only a fraction is moved to the Eastern U.S. this way. But the companies say the threatened fines are causing major gridlock to their operations and to American seafood markets.

On Thursday, the companies filed a federal lawsuit against Customs, with the help of attorney Marc Kasowitz, who represented former President Donald Trump in the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Aside from a mountain of legal filings and a press release, the companies declined to comment. So did Customs and Border Protection.

Nat Herz Reporter  Alaska Public Media/Alaska Public Radio Network

 

 

                                                                                                                           Board of Fish Nominee-    Sage Smiley

 

 

Governor Mike Dunleavy on Friday announced the appointment of a Soldotna man to fill a vacancy on the state Board of Fisheries.

 

The governor’s statement says Indy Walton has almost four decades of experience as a commercial fisherman, mostly in Bristol Bay, and owns a fishing lodge in the region. That gives him experience in both the commercial and sport fishing sectors, which often compete for allocations and resources.

 

The seat has been empty since the state legislature rejected Abe Williams from the position. The governor apparently flouted the 30-day deadline for submitting a new nominee, announcing Walton’s nomination 115 days after Williams was rejected for the seat [on May 11].

 

Indy Walton had applied in early June — less than a month after lawmakers rejected Williams by an 18-41 vote.

 

United Fishermen of Alaska, a commercial fishing industry group, says it didn’t put forward any preferences for the nomination. But Executive Director Frances Leach says UFA members from Bristol Bay she’s spoken to are excited about Walton’s appointment.

 

03walton1            :09              He is a commercial fisherman — has commercial fished for many years. That right there will be very beneficial to add to that board.

 

Reached on Friday afternoon, Walton said he’d found out earlier in the day he was selected and is excited to serve Alaska as a board member, but didn’t have time for an interview.

 

Walton works as a financial advisor with Edward Jones on the Kenai Peninsula. He owns a fishing lodge in Igiugig [igg-ee-AW-gig] on the Kvichak [kwee-JACK] River in Bristol Bay — Last Cast Lodge. And he’s a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. Two, 32-foot Bristol Bay drift net boats are registered in his name: Sniper and Turbo, state records show.

 

Court records show that he’s been charged with two closed waters violations in 2005 and 2012 while commercial fishing; the fines paid weren’t immediately available.

 

Walton’s application to the Board of Fish states that many of his family members fish commercially as well.

 

Walton has previously held commercial set net permits in Kodiak and Bristol Bay, records show.

 

Walton has repeatedly spoken out against the proposed Pebble Mine project. That was a contentious issue with Dunleavy’s previous nominee. Abe Williams’ day job made waves — he’s the director of regional affairs for the controversial Pebble Mine project.

 

Social media posts on December 6, 2020, indicated Walton supports scrapping the rule that limits Bristol Bay to 32-foot vessels which are some of the smallest in the commercial fleet.

 

Dillingham state representative Bryce Edgmon says that could be controversial when he’s up for legislative confirmation next year.

 

03walton2            :23              If that’s the case, he’s going to encounter a lot of resistance from Bristol Bay — year-round residents of the Bristol Bay region. As you know, we’ve fought long and hard to keep the 32-foot limit in place. Because otherwise, local fishermen, particularly our village fishermen, would be disenfranchised and wouldn’t be able to compete. 

 

Walton attended Lathrop High School in Fairbanks and received a degree in education from Brigham Young University in Utah. He taught in the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District for five years, before starting work in the financial industry in 2002.

 

Walton’s first Board of Fish meeting will be in October when it meets for a work session in Anchorage to discuss salmon escapement goals and stocks of concern in Southeast and Prince William Sound.

 

 

 

Sage Smiley

Reporter, KSTK | Wrangell AK

I live and work on Tlingit land.

 

 

 

 

Chignik Subsistence Salmon-    Izzy Ross

 

The Chignik (CHIG-nik) River’s salmon runs have sustained generations in small fishing communities along the Alaska Peninsula.

 

But, for the fourth year in a row, the runs were low. People are struggling to earn a living fishing — and to put up enough fish for the winter.

 

For Alaska’s Energy Desk, Izzy Ross has more from those who worry that they’re losing a fishing tradition that connects their children to home.

 

08ChignikSubsist LONG —– 7:12 —– “Ross”

 

Gene Carlson drives through the narrow, winding streets of Chignik Bay, between quiet wooden houses.

 

ChignikFish 1 —- :10 —– “used to fish”

0:55 drive “That used to be a restaurant there. That’s a web loft over there, which is shut down now. Here’s another one of my cousin’s houses. He’s not living there anymore because he used to fish.”

 

The Aleut fishing community is nestled among green mountains overlooking turquoise water. The area has been home to Native people for millennia. [WEB: The village of Kalwak was previously located there, but it was destroyed when Russians came to the area during the fur boom in the late 1700s, according to the Lake and Peninsula Borough.] Chignik Bay was established as a fishing community in the late 1800s, and more people of Alutiiq, Aleut, Russian and Scandinavian descent moved to the area. Now, about 90 people live here year-round.

 

Ambi of getting into the smokehouse, climbing ladder.

 

ChignikFish 2 —- :10 —– “smokehouse”

1:53“We have gorgeous weather for doing this. It’s kind of messy, but that’s the smokehouse.” Fade down

 

Up a steep ladder to the second floor of the smokehouse, strips of red salmon glow in the sun.

 

It’s mid-July, and people would normally be out fishing commercially or filling smokehouses with subsistence catch. But for four years now, the sockeye and chinook returns to Chignik have been almost nonexistent.

 

Carlson was born in Chignik Bay and has fished commercially since he was a kid in 1961. Now, he lives in Washington state, and usually returns for the summer. Driving through the quiet village, he says this may be his last summer.

 

ChignikFish 3 —- :17 —– “anymore”

6:25 “If we have another prediction like this year, I don’t think I can come back. It’s expensive. ‘Cause you know, we come back, we bring food for the whole summer, ‘cause we’ve got to feed our crews, which you can’t find anymore.”

 

Some people think climate change is causing the decline. Others point to fishermen in other places catching Chignik-bound fish. But, regardless of the cause, people are anxious that without the runs, the communities will die.

 

Boat ride ambi 

 

The village of Chignik Lagoon is about an hour’s boat ride along the bay’s shoreline. About 70 people live here.

 

George Anderson fishes commercially and for subsistence. He’s also the president of the Chignik Intertribal Coalition, which was formed after the run collapsed in 2018.

 

Earlier this summer, the run was so low that some people chose not to put out nets for subsistence fish. They were worried about harming the fragile run.

 

ChignikFish 4 —- :22 —– “subsisting”

“We had something that we took for granted in the past — that the fish were just always going to be there for, you know, smoking, salting, freezer, whatever. And to have that not be there for you is just something we’re never prepared for. Never imagined even not subsisting.”

 

[WEB: The low runs prompted federal managers to restrict subsistence fishing for sockeye to all but rural residents. King salmon fishing was closed completely in state and federal waters. ]

 

Since the Chignik run collapsed, much of the debate has centered on another state-run fishery to the south, called Area M. Critics see it as an intercept fishery, where sockeye traveling through are harvested before they can reach fisheries closer to spawning grounds, like Chignik.

 

[WEB:This year’s early sockeye run didn’t meet its goals — the minimum number of fish that managers want to see make it up the river. The late run did, and some people *were* able to fish. But the commercial fleet was just a fraction of its normal size — 15-20 boats, instead of a fleet of around 60].

 

[WEB: The next Board of Fish meeting, which was supposed to take place this year, has been delayed until 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.]

 

Anderson says it feels like the Chignik villages are shouldering the burden of conservation. [WEB: He points to Area M, where fishermen landed more than 3.8 million sockeye this summer. He wonders whether some of those fish were headed for the Chignik River.]

 

They haven’t yet received the disaster relief money they were promised after the 2018 failure, either.

 

Some scientists have connected fisheries failures in the Gulf of Alaska to marine heat waves since 2013. But state research biologists also say it could be because of habitat changes in the salmons’ spawning grounds.

 

[WEB: Salmon are notoriously difficult to research because part of their lives are spent in the ocean — a vast expanse that is mostly inaccessible to biologists. Along with warmer waters, a loss of spawning habitat might increase competition for habitat between Chignik’s two sockeye runs.]

 

Kevin Shaberg (SHAY-berg) is a finfish research coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game [WEB: based in Kodiak.]

 

ChignikFish 5 —- :14 —– “the past”

“It’s hard to understand that, you know, everybody else gets to go fishing, but you got to sit home next to the river and watch no fish go by. And that’s, that’s tough. And it’s something that we’ve, we’ve tried to handle in the past.”

 

In previous years, he says, the department has limited fishing in nearby areas when Chignik was low. But, Shaberg says the burden of conserving a run usually falls on the areas closest to where those fish should be returning to spawn.

 

A lot of people are asking for genetic sampling of harvests further south, in Area M, to figure out where Chignik fish are being caught.

 

But Shaberg says they haven’t done that in the area in years, mostly because the state doesn’t have the budget for it.

 

ChignikFish 6 —- :16 —– “answer”

And one of the big issues for myself is that, you know, how long are we going to do this? What’s the design for this? What are we really trying to answer?” 

 

[WEB: He says a snapshot of genetics from one year in one area doesn’t help understanding of what’s happening — or how to address the issue.]

 

He says the department does plan to research the watershed — to try and figure out if something in the freshwater environment is affecting fish.

 

The Chignik Intertribal Coalition also has plans to research the river’s dwindling king salmon. But all that depends on funding approval, which they’ll find out about next year.

 

[WEB: The coalition also received a $65,000 Tribal Resiliency Grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs. They will gather environmental observations from Tribal members into this fall.]

 

Last summer, a commercial processor [WEB: Northline Seafoods] donated thousands of Bristol Bay sockeye to the Chigniks. Lots of people said receiving that fish was amazing. But subsistence isn’t just about food; it is also a connection to place and family, as people work together to harvest.

 

AMBI: 38:01 Kitchen sink running 

 

On a hot evening, Al Anderson shucks clams with his wife. The shades are drawn to keep the heat at bay.

 

ChignikFish 7 —- :20 —– “here”

4:39 “It’s our lifeblood. Chignik’s going to go away — all the Chigniks are going to go away if we can’t get this run back up to where it used to be, you know, the young people are moving away. There’s not much for them here.”

 

Many of those who have moved away return in the summers to fish. That includes one of Anderson’s daughters.

 

ChignikFish 8 —- :14 —– “good”

5:54 “It’s so important that she comes back every year to do it. And typically it doesn’t take her three weeks to get her subsistence fish, you know [laughs]. Of course she comes back to visit too, so that’s good.”

 

Elder Vivian Brandal is 80, and has lived in the Chignik area all her life. Now, she goes to Kodiak in the winter.

 

She says it’s difficult to comprehend what is happening.

 

ChignikFish 9 —- :15 —– “anymore”

12:52: “Subsistence fishing is a lifeline. I mean, we depend on that. That’s something we’ve done all our life. It’s something we really depend on actually, not only fishing, but we used to be able to get caribou. We’d get caribou every year. You can’t even do that anymore. [WEB: They have a Tier 2 license, and not everybody gets one.]”

 

Brandal says the lower sockeye runs have changed the future of the Chignik communities.

 

ChignikFish 10 —- :18 —– “legacy”

5:35 “That’s five villages that depend on this fishery, and you look at it, you think, how can the state let this happen? How can they just let this happen without doing anything about it. I have grandchildren that thought this was their legacy.”

 

Brandal doesn’t think the state has managed the fishery correctly. She, along with many others, wants the state to be more responsive to the drop in the run. She thinks it should conduct studies on why the fish aren’t coming back.

 

[WEB: She suggests genetic testing of the Area M harvest, further down the peninsula, to see where those fish were headed. The state conducted tagging studies in the 1960s, and as late as the 1980s. Then, in the early 2010s it pursued genetic testing in Area M.]

 

Still, Brandal is hopeful. She’s inspired by Katie John, an advocate and defender of Alaska Native subsistence rights who petitioned the state and federal government to allow for traditional fishing in her home.

 

7:03 “She fought for what she believed in, and that’s what I think we should do. We believe in this and we should fight for it. I won’t be able to anymore, but I just think the young people really are too. So I don’t you know, it’s just — it’s just it’s, it’s very emotional for people. You look … I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be crying, this is crazy, but it’s very hard.” 

 

Brandal thinks they should work together to find a way forward, too.

 

For Alaska’s Energy Desk in Chignik Lagoon, I’m Izzy Ross

 

 

On Wed, Sep 8, 2021 at 2:08 PM Isabelle Ross <izzy@kdlg.org> wrote:

Hi all,

 

A story on how subsistence fishing has been difficult in the Chignik communities.

 

I’ll be sending out a longer (~7:10) version for local air later and anyone else who wants it.

 

Audio and clips in the KDLG and AED folder on the ftp.

 

Thank you!

Izzy

 

08ChignikSubsistence STATE

IR/AED

 

The Chignik (CHIG-nik) River’s salmon runs have sustained generations in small fishing communities along the Alaska Peninsula.

 

But, for the fourth year in a row, the runs were extremely low. People are struggling to earn a living fishing — and to put up enough fish for the winter.

 

For Alaska’s Energy Desk, Izzy Ross has more from those who worry that they’re losing a fishing tradition that connects their families to home.

 

08ChignikSubsistence —– 5:51 —– “Ross”

 

Ambi — car door closes.

 

Gene Carlson drives through the narrow, winding streets of Chignik Bay, between quiet wooden houses.

 

ChignikFish 1 —- :10 —– “there anymore”

0:55 drive “That used to be a restaurant there. That’s a web loft over there, which is shut down now. Here’s another one of my cousin’s houses. He’s not living there anymore.”

 

The Aleut fishing community is nestled among green mountains overlooking turquoise water. The area has been home to Native people for millennia. [WEB: Kalwak was a village originally located there, but it was destroyed when Russians came to the area during the fur boom in the late 1700s, according to the Lake and Peninsula Borough.] Chignik Bay was established as a fishing community in the late 1800s, and more people of Alutiiq, Aleut, Russian and Scandinavian descent moved to the area. Now, about 90 people live here year-round.

 

Ambi of getting into the smokehouse, climbing ladder.

 

ChignikFish 2 —- :10 —– “smokehouse”

1:53“We have gorgeous weather for doing this. It’s kind of messy, but that’s the smokehouse.” Fade down

 

Up a steep ladder to the second floor of the smokehouse, strips of red salmon glow in the sun.

 

It’s mid-July, and people would normally be out fishing commercially or filling smokehouses with subsistence catch. But for four years now, the sockeye and chinook returns to Chignik have been extremely low.

 

Carlson was born in Chignik Bay and has fished commercially since he was a kid in 1961. Now, he lives in Washington state, and usually returns for the summer. Driving through the quiet village, he says this may be his last summer.

 

ChignikFish 3 —- :15 —– “anymore”

6:25 “If we have another prediction like this year, I don’t think I can come back. It’s expensive. ‘Cause you know, we come back, we bring food for the whole summer, ‘cause we’ve got to feed our crews, which you can’t find anymore.”

 

Some people think climate change is causing the decline. Others point to fishermen in other places catching Chignik-bound fish. But, regardless of the cause, people are anxious that without the runs, the communities will die.

 

Boat ride ambi / Water ambi

 

The village of Chignik Lagoon is about an hour’s boat ride along the bay’s shoreline. About 70 people live here.

 

Ambi of George talking on the boat

 

George Anderson fishes commercially and for subsistence. He’s also the president of the Chignik Intertribal Coalition, which was formed after the run collapsed in 2018.

 

Earlier this summer, the run was so low that some people chose not to put out nets for subsistence fish. They were worried about harming the fragile run.

 

ChignikFish 4 —- :21 —– “subsisting”

“We had something that we took for granted in the past — that the fish were just always going to be there for, you know, smoking, salting, freezer, whatever. And to have that not be there for you is just something we’re never prepared for. Never imagined even not subsisting.”

 

Some scientists have connected fisheries failures in the Gulf of Alaska to marine heat waves [WEB: since 2013]. But state research biologists also say it could be because of habitat changes in the salmons’ spawning grounds.

 

Since the Chignik run collapsed, much of the debate has also centered on another state-run fishery to the south, called Area M. Critics see it as an intercept fishery, where sockeye traveling through are harvested before they can reach fisheries closer to spawning grounds, like Chignik.

 

Anderson says it feels like the Chignik villages are shouldering the burden of conservation. They haven’t yet received the disaster relief money they were promised after the 2018 failure, either.

 

Kevin Shaberg (SHAY-berg) is a finfish research coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game [WEB: based in Kodiak.]

 

ChignikFish 5 —- :14 —– “the past”

“It’s hard to understand that, you know, everybody else gets to go  fishing, but you got to sit home next to the river and watch no fish go by. And that’s, that’s tough. And it’s something that we’ve, we’ve tried to handle in the past.”

 

In previous years, he says, the department has limited fishing in nearby areas when Chignik was low. But, Shaberg says the burden of conserving a run usually falls on the areas closest to where those fish should be returning to spawn.

 

He says the department does plan to research the watershed — to try to figure out if something in the freshwater environment is contributing to the run’s decline.

 

In the meantime, other organizations have tried to help. Last summer, a commercial processor [WEB: Northline Seafoods] donated thousands of Bristol Bay sockeye to the Chigniks. Lots of people said receiving that fish was amazing. But subsistence isn’t just about food; it is also a connection to place and family, as people work together to harvest. [LONG: It also brings people back in the summers.]

 

Ambi from Chignik Lagoon

 

Elder Vivian Brandal is 80, and has lived in the Chignik area all her life. Now, she goes to Kodiak in the winter.

 

She says it’s difficult to comprehend what is happening.

 

ChignikFish 6 —- :15 —– “anymore”

12:52: “Subsistence fishing is a lifeline. I mean, we depend on that. That’s something we’ve done all our life. It’s something we really depend on actually, not only fishing, but we used to be able to get caribou. We’d get caribou every year. You can’t even do that anymore.” [WEB: They have a Tier 2 license, and not everybody gets one.]

 

Brandal says the lower sockeye runs have changed the future of the Chignik communities.

 

ChignikFish 7 —- :18 —– “legacy”

5:35 “That’s five villages that depend on this fishery, and you look at it, you think, how can the state let this happen? How can they just let this happen without doing anything about it? I have grandchildren that thought this was their legacy.”

 

Still, she says she’s hopeful. She’s inspired by Katie John, an advocate and defender of Alaska Native subsistence rights who petitioned the state and federal government to allow for traditional fishing in her home.

 

ChignikFish 8 —- :18 —– “legacy”

7:03 “She fought for what she believed in, and that’s what I think we should do. We believe in this and we should fight for it. I won’t be able to anymore, but I just think the young people really ought too. So I don’t you know, it’s just — it’s just it’s, it’s very emotional for people. You look — I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be crying, this is crazy, but it’s very hard.”

 

It is hard. But Brandal thinks they should work together to find a way forward, too.

 

For Alaska’s Energy Desk in Chignik Lagoon, I’m Izzy Ross

 

 

Isabelle Ross | News Director, KDLG | Alaska’s Energy Desk

I live and work on Yup’ik, Cup’ik, Alutiiq, and Dena’ina lands.

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