The Highliner

Commercial fishing is a bedrock industry in Alaska, and has been for more than a century. Every year scores of fishermen net millions of migrating salmon, challenge the icy Bering Sea to trap king crabs, lay miles and miles of baited hooks for halibut, and scoop up enough pollock for a zillion fish sticks. And when fishermen aren't out fishing, they're usually talking about fishing. That's what this blog by Wesley Loy has been all about for the two years he has written it.

Last set - 4/10/2009 7:36 pm

Seeking a PFD fishermen will actually wear - 4/10/2009 7:28 pm

Advice for mariculture: Grow West - 4/10/2009 7:26 pm

Anti-Pebble pitch to Anglo American - 4/10/2009 7:19 pm

Safety issues send two boats back to Hoonah - 4/9/2009 5:35 pm

Palin’s board pick draws fire - 4/2/2009 10:46 am

Cook Inlet fisherman named to board - 4/1/2009 4:51 pm

Wrangell deal back on? - 3/31/2009 9:56 am

Last set

From Wesley Loy in Anchorage --

Friends, this is my final post to The Highliner, a blog we launched on March 2, 2007, to cover Alaska's commercial fishing scene.

It's been one of the most exciting things I've done in my more than two decades in journalism.

You've surely heard the news business is in tough shape, shedding lots of people.

I was offered a buyout recently and accepted it.

So I'm gone.

But wait! I intend to keep blogging about Alaska commercial fisheries, a subject that truly has me hooked.

Catch my new blog at

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Seeking a PFD fishermen will actually wear

From Laine Welch in Kodiak –

Falling overboard is a leading cause of death in the most dangerous job — commercial fishing.

“It doesn’t make the big headlines, like when a boat goes down with all hands lost. But these ‘one bys’ really add up,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association.

Simply wearing a personal flotation device, or PFD, could save countless lives, but sadly, fishermen resist using them. Safety advocates are trying to change that by having the fishermen field test new models.

“Since 1990 there have been 83 commercial fishermen in Alaska who have died from falls overboard. Many were in minutes of being rescued when they lost strength and drowned. In those cases, it very clearly could have been prevented with a PFD,” said Devon Lucas an epidemiologist for the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Anchorage.

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Advice for mariculture: Grow West

From Laine Welch in Kodiak --

Aquatic farming could give a boost to Western Alaska economies, but no one has ever applied. Every two years the state accepts applications for aquatic farm sites from January through April. Sixty-six farms have permits (not all are active), dotting Southeast and Southcentral waters. Oysters are the main crop, valued at about a half million dollars each year.

“Alaska doesn’t come close to meeting the demand for oysters, both in state and Outside,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, mariculture coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish & Game.

The economic downturn has increased interest in mariculture, and several training programs are helping people get started. The state offers more than 20 pre-approved sites for farmers, or they can opt for their own underwater acreage.

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Anti-Pebble pitch to Anglo American

From Laine Welch in Kodiak --

First Alaskans, Bristol Bay commercial and sport fishermen, and business owners are off to London to meet this week with top Anglo American mining officials at the global conglomerate’s annual meeting.

Anglo American is the developer behind the proposed Pebble Mine in Southwest Alaska. Mining companies claim that the region holds some of the largest deposits of gold and copper in North America. Pebble development would provide badly needed jobs for hundreds of people. However, it is located at the headwaters of the world’s most productive sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay.

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Safety issues send two boats back to Hoonah

The Coast Guard has sent two 37-foot fishing vessels back to port after finding their life rafts hadn't been serviced since 1993, among other safety problems.

Life rafts need to be repacked annually, the Coast Guard said.

The boats had been working in Icy Straight near Hoonah.

Here's the Coast Guard announcement:

Office of Public Affairs
U.S. Coast Guard Seventeenth District

April 9, 2009

Coast Guard crew terminates two fishing vessels for safety violations

JUNEAU, Alaska - The Coast Guard terminated the voyages of two 37-foot commercial fishing vessels within the last two days in Icy Straight near Hoonah, Alaska.

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Palin’s board pick draws fire

Sportfishermen aren’t too keen on Gov. Sarah Palin’s choice of Cook Inlet commercial salmon gillnetter Brent Johnson for a seat on the Board of Fisheries.

He’s a press release from the Kenai River Sportfishing Association:

Kenai River Sportfishing Association

April 2, 2009

Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA) Opposes Johnson’s Appointment to Alaska Board of Fisheries

SOLDOTNA – Members of Alaska’s largest sportfishing advocacy organization in the state, Kenai River Sportfishing Association (KRSA), are opposing the appointment of Brent Johnson to the Alaska Board of Fisheries (BOF). With the appointment of Johnson – an Upper Cook Inlet east side set netter – to replace Bonnie Williams on the BOF, Gov. Sarah Palin removed the only subsistence/personal use and Fairbanks seat from the Board and has tipped the balance toward commercial fishermen.

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Cook Inlet fisherman named to board

This just in from the governor:

Sarah Palin

April 1, 2009

Governor Palin Announces Board Appointments

JUNEAU – Governor Palin appointed Brent G. Johnson, and reappointed Karl S. Johnstone, to the Board of Fisheries.

Johnson, of Clam Gulch, is a lifelong commercial fisherman who has been a salmon setnetter for most of his life. He has worked as a salmon and herring seiner and halibut longliner in Cook Inlet, and as a salmon seiner in Prince William Sound. Johnson has been active in fisheries management issues, having served more than a decade on the Kenai-Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee from the early 1990s to 2002, the last two years as chairman. He was a member of the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association board of directors from 1988-2001, and rejoined the board as president in 2005. Johnson is a past president and board member of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. His appointment represents the first appointment of a Cook Inlet commercial fisherman to the board since 1975.

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Wrangell deal back on?

Looks like Trident Seafoods Corp. has resumed its pursuit of the troubled Wrangell Seafoods Inc. processing plant.

How do I know?

Because a bunch of lawyers were to convene at 9 a.m. today in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Anchorage to consider this amended order approving a $4.35 million sale to Trident.

The order is marked to show changes from the original. The big difference, as far as I can tell, is some tweaking of labor union language that had chilled Trident off the deal (The Highliner, March 24).

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Palin picks Grussendorf for Senate seat

Looks like we're getting another fisherman legislator.

Sarah Palin

March 29, 2009

Governor Names Grussendorf to Senate Seat

JUNEAU, Alaska – Governor Sarah Palin today named Tim Grussendorf as her designee to replace Kim Elton as the state senator from District B, representing the City and Borough of Juneau.

Grussendorf has worked as a commercial fisherman and serves as chief of staff to Alaska State Senator Lyman Hoffman. He is currently president of the Southeast Alaska Fishermen’s Alliance and a board member of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association.

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Herring fishermen next up for Exxon money

Lawyers are preparing to distribute two more chunks of the $383 million in punitive damages Exxon Mobil Corp. has paid so far for the 1989 oil spill.

With a judge’s permission, $31.3 million will go to 2,521 commercial fishermen and others in these 12 claim categories:

• Prince William Sound herring seine
• Prince William Sound roe herring drift
• Prince William Sound roe pound
• Prince William Sound wild kelp harvest
• Prince William Sound food and bait herring
• Cook Inlet herring seine
• Kodiak herring seine
• Kodiak herring gillnet
• Kodiak food and bait herring

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More trouble for Wrangell Seafoods

A Rhode Island bank yesterday sued Wrangell Seafoods Inc. and one of its chief financial backers in connection with a debt of nearly $650,000.

The lawsuit is part of U.S. Bankruptcy Court proceedings for the Wrangell processing plant, which the owners are trying to sell.

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The herring are here!

My thanks to Laine Welch down on Kodiak for an e-mail yesterday waking me up to the fact that the Sitka Sound sac roe herring fishery has begun.

This is a feisty and lucrative fishing event, and someday I hope to see it in person.

According to the latest hotline update from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, seine boats have had two brief cracks at the fish – once on Sunday and again on Tuesday.

Total catch from those two openers was 7,700 tons, leaving 6,800 to go under the catch limit.

Fish and Game says the fleet of 50 seiners is on “standdown” mode today, with the next opener possibly tomorrow depending on how the herring are distributed and how ripe they are with eggs, or roe.

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‘Trident hereby terminates’ Wrangell deal

Here’s a letter confirming where Trident Seafoods Corp. now stands on its proposed $4.35 million purchase of troubled Wrangell Seafoods Inc.

The deal is off.

Trident president Paul Padgett seems to blame WSI representatives for the purchase falling apart.

His letter to WSI chairman Douglas Roberts says certain labor-related allegations weren’t disclosed to Trident at the time the sale agreement was put together.

Hmm. Wonder if this will get messy? A lot of lawyers already are involved.

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Crewman hurt on American Seafoods trawler

This came in late Monday night:

U.S. Coast Guard, 17th District

March 23, 2009

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard is responding after receiving a call that a 23-year-old crew member aboard the 310-foot fishing vessel Northern Eagle, homeported in Seattle, suffered a head injury at 7:11 p.m. Monday northeast of Dutch Harbor, Alaska.

The crew member reportedly fell 15 feet down an elevator shaft and suffered a head injury. Two Coast Guard MH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter crews forward deployed in St. Paul Island, Alaska, launched at 7:42 p.m. and are going to attempt a medevac.

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State House passes cod resolution

Here’s a press release from state Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak.

For background, see my March 11 post titled, “Cod fishing in Juneau.”

House Majority

March 23, 2009


Resolution would keep Pacific cod fisheries open without endorsement

JUNEAU, Alaska – The Alaska State House today passed House Joint Resolution 21, sponsored by Rep. Alan Austerman, R-Kodiak. HJR 21 expresses the Legislature’s belief that the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC) should not adopt an amendment package requiring a Pacific cod endorsement for Gulf of Alaska license limitation program (LLP) license holders.

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Update on the Early Dawn

Just got off the line with the U.S. Coast Guard, and I’m told the crab boat Early Dawn waved off a planned medevac of an ailing crewman this morning.

The crewman was suffering from abdominal pain as the boat was transiting the Gulf of Alaska to Seattle.

His condition improved and the captain decided to divert to Kodiak, a Coast Guard spokesman said. The boat is due into port late tonight.

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‘Deadliest Catch’ crabber needs rescue

The U.S. Coast Guard this morning plans to airlift an ailing crewman off a crab boat crossing the Gulf of Alaska en route to Seattle.

A Coast Guard spokesman tells me the vessel is the Early Dawn, one of the crabbers featured on the popular Discovery Channel show “Deadliest Catch.”

The crewman, whose name wasn’t available, is said to be suffering abdominal pain.

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It's halibut time

The halibut season opened at noon today.

Let's wish everybody good luck out on the water, and a safe return!

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Is Trident's Wrangell deal dead?

Looks like Trident Seafoods Corp. might not be buying Wrangell Seafoods Inc. after all (The Highliner, March 11).

Trident objects to a National Labor Relations Board position that any new owner be subject to a "successor collective bargaining obligation."

The prospect of the plant not running this salmon season has local officials in Wrangell upset over the loss of 130 jobs.

This letter to state legislators seeking help with the NLRB says Trident has “terminated the agreement to buy the assets.”

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Dry ice

Frozen spray partially cloaks the Bering Sea trawler Mar-Gun, stranded on St. George Island since March 5. In preparation for a salvage attempt, responders continue extraordinary efforts to offload diesel and lube oil using a helicopter and drums. U.S. Coast Guard photo, Gerald HolleFrozen spray partially cloaks the Bering Sea trawler Mar-Gun, stranded on St. George Island since March 5. In preparation for a salvage attempt, responders continue extraordinary efforts to offload diesel and lube oil using a helicopter and drums. U.S. Coast Guard photo, Gerald Holle

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