KODIAK — The public is being asked to weigh in on an innovative new catch sharing plan that for the first time would allow transfers of halibut quota between commercial and charter operators in Southeast Alaska and the Central Gulf of Alaska. The plan, under the direction of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, would allocate each year’s halibut catch limits between the two sectors.      

“The council saw it as a way to provide some compensated way of transferring between the two,” said Rachel Baker, a fisheries specialist with NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. “We don’t know how many people will use it or what the lease prices will be. That all remains to be seen. But it will be authorized by the plan if it is approved.”

Currently, the commercial and charter halibut fisheries operate under different management programs. The commercial fishery has been managed under an IFQ program since 1995. Since 2003, the charter sector has been managed using harvest guidelines, which give operators a number of fish they can catch per guided angler per day, but it does not ensure the overall catch stays within a defined limit.

The overriding problem is that annual stock assessments indicate the exploitable biomass of halibut has declined coastwide by approximately 50 percent over the past decade, according to the International Pacific Halibut Commission.

Commercial catches have been on a downward spiral in recent years, especially in Southeast, where the 2011 harvest is a mere 2.3 million pounds, down 47 percent from last year. For the Central Gulf, a harvest of 14 million pounds is a drop of 28 percent.

At the same time, the Southeast charter sector has exceeded the guideline harvest level every year since 2003, and by nearly 60 percent last year. The charter catch in the Central Gulf topped the harvest guideline by an average of about 3 percent from 2004 to 2007; from 2008 through 2010, the harvest has ranged from about 7.5 percent to 24 percent below the guideline.

Baker said under the new plan the commercial IFQ program itself will not change, except that it will authorize temporary transfers of catch shares between the two sectors, dubbed Guided Angler Fish (GAF), for a fishing season.  

“When an IFQ permit holder and a charter halibut permit holder agree to transfer IFQ to GAF, they’d apply to NOAA Fisheries Restricted Access Management for the transfer,” Baker explained. “Once the transfer is approved and the GAF permit is issued to the charter halibut permit holder, the GAF permit would be valid until 15 days prior to the end of the commercial fishing season for that year. The rule proposes restrictions on the amount of IFQ that a holder can transfer as GAF, and on the number of GAF that could be assigned to one GAF permit.”

NPFMC specified four different catch limit levels and the charter harvest restrictions that would apply at those levels. Using Southeast as an example, where the daily bag limit for charters is one fish of a maximum length of 37 inches, Baker said: “If the catch sharing plan were in place, a charter halibut permit holder could lease halibut IFQ to offer their anglers a few different options.”

“The overall goal of the plan is sustainable management of the halibut resource for the economic benefit of both sectors,” said NOAA’s Julie Speegle in Juneau. “I really hope people will find a way to make it work.”

The public can comment on the new catch sharing plan through Sept. 6. If it is approved by the secretary of Commerce, the plan will begin in 2012. Get more info at http://alaskafisheries.noaa.gov/sustainablefisheries/halibut/sport.htm.

Processors put people to work

Seven Alaska seafood companies made the list of Alaska’s top 100 employers for last year. For 25 years the Department of Labor has tallied the largest private sector employers, which last year represented nearly one-third of all jobs and 38 percent of all Alaska paychecks, totaling $4.3 billion. Collectively, the top 100 grew their workforces by 1.5 percent, faster than the overall private sector. 

The July copy of Alaska Economic Trends shows that for the seafood industry, Trident ranked No. 6, with average monthly employment reaching a high of 2,499 workers. Trident’s largest work site is at Akutan. Icicle Seafoods, headquartered at Petersburg, ranked No. 26, with monthly employment from 750 to 999. Unisea at Dutch Harbor was No. 29 with the same number of workers. Peter Pan Seafoods came in at No. 43, employing 500 to 749 workers each month. Its largest facility is at King Cove.

Kodiak is home to three of the top seafood companies, all of which provide 250 to 499 jobs per month: Ocean Beauty at No. 50, North Pacific Seafoods at No. 66, and International Seafoods, which made the list for the first time, ranked at No. 100.      

The report said seafood processing companies are the biggest job providers in coastal Alaska communities. Unisea is the biggest employer for the Aleutians West Borough, Trident for Aleutians East and Bristol Bay Boroughs. International Seafoods is Kodiak’s biggest employer on an average month. Icicle puts the most people to work in the Petersburg census area, Kwik’Pak Fisheries in the Wade Hampton region, and Yakutat Seafoods at Yakutat.

Providence Health and Services holds the top rank for employment in the private sector for 10 years running. The top five Alaska employers, including the public sector, are uniformed military, at nearly 23,000 per month, followed by the State of Alaska, federal civilians, University of Alaska, and the Anchorage School District. 


Pollock bones take the lead out

Hundreds of 1-ton sacks of pollock bone meal are on their way from Dutch Harbor plants to remove toxic lead from California neighborhoods.

The Environmental Protection Agency claims there is more lead contamination in America’s cities than federal or state agencies can ever afford to clean up, and that nearly every urban residential area has a lead problem.

The toxic metal is in the soil, deposited by car exhaust from the decades when gas contained lead, or from lead-based paint residue.

For more than two decades, lead removal has involved digging up and disposing of hundreds of thousands of tons of contaminated soil. The New York Times reports that regulators are now trying a new strategy — neutralizing the toxic metal with fish bones.

Fish bones are full of calcium phosphate, and as they degrade, the phosphates leach into the soil. Lead binds with the phosphate and transforms into a harmless mineral called pyromorphite.

This alchemy has been practiced in university and commercial labs for more than 15 years, and used more recently at acid-mine sites and military bases.

This month the process is being tested in the first residential neighborhood — South Prescott in Oakland, Calif., where some lead contamination levels are six times the federal limit of 400 parts per million. To reduce the toxicity, ground-up pollock bones are being tilled into the soil covering a six-block area.

Pollock bones work especially well, the article said, because all meat remnants are removed during processing. The two-year, $4 million project expects to put 75 people to work.

Find the story “To Nullify Lead, Add a Bunch of Fish Bones” at www.nytimes.com.

Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and web outlets. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 27 stations around the state. Laine lives in Kodiak.

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