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

‘Deadliest Catch’ bags more viewers than ever

According to today’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution newspaper, the Discovery Channel reality series “Deadliest Catch,” which rides along with Bering Sea crab fishermen, has grown its ratings by 61 percent since its first season. The third season average so far is 3.3 million viewers, “by far the biggest series Discovery has ever had.”

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Young rant targets sea lion biologist

The House Natural Resources Committee held a hearing Wednesday on “Endangered Species Act Implementation: Science or Politics?” And Alaska’s lone congressman, Don Young, had plenty to say on the subject.

Young accused the federal government’s former Steller sea lion recovery coordinator in Alaska of nearly single-handedly sinking the state’s bottom-fishing industry a few years ago by drafting a misguided Biological Opinion laden with fleet restrictions to protect the endangered animal. The scientist, Young said, had “a few personal views” and “ran back to Washington” to give his draft BiOp to “the political people at NOAA.”

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Trawl company keeps fighting

After what appeared to be a sound thumping in federal court (The Highliner, March 20), a Seattle-based trawl company is appealing and has asked the judge to delay a ruling the firm says could needlessly cost it millions of dollars.

Fishing Company of Alaska filed its motion for delay last Friday in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C. The company along with one other, Legacy Fishing Co., had sued federal fishery regulators last year arguing new regulations known as Amendment 79 are unfair and would force them to retrofit their boats to comply. The regulations take effect next January.

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New fish adviser onboard

Here's the official announcement on Gov. Sarah Palin's new fisheries adviser, Cora Crome.


Governor Palin Names Fisheries Policy Advisor

May 9, 2007, Juneau, Alaska – Governor Sarah Palin today welcomed Cora Crome to the position of Fisheries Policy Advisor to the Governor. Crome most recently worked for United Fishermen of Alaska. She also served as Executive Director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association.

Crome will be an advisor and coordinator on Alaska fisheries policy between the Governor’s office and other state agencies, especially the Department of Fish and Game. Crome will also work with the fisheries sub-cabinet, which will include the commissioners from the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Fish and Game and representatives from Governor Palin’s Washington, D.C. office.

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Another crewman gets jail on observer sexual harassment charge

For the second time in two months, a fishing boat crewman has been convicted on a charge of sexually harassing a female fisheries observer.

Eduardo Ornelas-Morales, 44, of Seattle, pleaded guilty Monday in federal court in Anchorage to one count of sexual harassment and was sentenced to 15 days in jail and a year’s probation. He also was fined $1,000 and ordered to complete at least three hours of sexual harassment counseling.

Ornelas, a crewman aboard the Bering Sea trawler Unimak, touched and pressured the observer against her will, according to a federal agent’s affidavit.

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Kerry files Bristol Bay anti-drilling bill

U.S. Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., has introduced the Bristol Bay Protection Act, which would permanently prohibit oil and gas drilling in seafood-blessed Bristol Bay.

The bill is the Senate companion to a similar bill previously filed in the House (The Highliner, April 19).

The Bush administration last month said the government intends to hold an oil and gas lease sale in the bay in 2011.

“This administration looks at every unspoiled landscape in America and wonders how much oil is buried beneath it. We can’t sell off Alaska’s coastline to the big oil companies,” Kerry said in a press release Monday.

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Palin hires $80,000 fish adviser

The state has hired Cora Crome of Petersburg as “fisheries coordinator,” according to Mike Nizich, deputy chief of staff for Gov. Sarah Palin.

“She will be coordinating the fish policy cabinet and the oceans policy cabinet and be the go-to person in the governor’s office on all fish issues,” Nizich said in an e-mail.

The job pays $80,000 a year, he said. Crome starts Wednesday.

Crome is a former executive director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association, a commercial fishing trade group.

Alan Austerman, who was fisheries adviser to Palin’s predecessor, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, has registered as a lobbyist for the North Pacific Scallop Cooperative, according to the Alaska Budget Report, a Juneau political newsletter. The lobbying gig will pay Austerman $5,000 a year, the newsletter reported.

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The salmon are here!

Wrangell gillnetter Keith Anundi with Stikine River chinook on last year's opening day. Wesley Loy photoWrangell gillnetter Keith Anundi with Stikine River chinook on last year's opening day. Wesley Loy photo

Southeast gillnetters got their first crack at this season’s salmon starting at 8 this morning. The fleet will fish 24 hours straight, until 8 a.m. Tuesday. Trollers are fishing, too.

It won’t be a big harvest – only 6,100 large king salmon at the Stikine River, near Wrangell. Last year, the Stikine limit was 14,500 kings, and the fishery opened a week earlier.

The Highliner had the pleasure of tagging along with one of the gillnetters for last season’s opener and it was an amazing day amid snow-dusted forests, frolicking humpback whales and sea lions – and after a few hours of hard fishing, a couple of gorgeous king salmon.

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Senators urge halt to foreign fishing subsidies

Ted Stevens of Alaska and a bunch of other U.S. senators have introduced a resolution calling for an end to foreign government subsidies for international fishing fleets. Such subsidies encourage excessive and illegal fishing, Stevens says.

An activist organization, Oceana, says the three biggest fishing subsidizers are Japan, the European Union and China. An Oceana news release applauds the Senate resolution.

Here’s a press release from Stevens:

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Chignik salmon co-op revisited

An interesting bill is scheduled for a hearing first thing Wednesday before the House Special Committee on Fisheries.

House Bill 188 would authorize the Board of Fisheries to make allocations among “and within” personal use, sport, guided sport and commercial fisheries.

Insiders in Juneau say the intent of the bill is to shore up the board’s authority, which might have been damaged by an Alaska Supreme Court ruling last year that blew up the controversial Chignik salmon seine cooperative.

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Bristol Bay oil and gas lease sale set for 2011

The Bush administration today scheduled an offshore oil and gas lease sale for 2011 in Bristol Bay, home of major salmon, crab and bottom fish harvests.

The sale date appears to be a compromise from the administration’s original proposal last year, which called for two lease sales in 2010 and 2012.

If a sale actually occurs, it will mark an amazing turnaround for the bay, where drilling has always been controversial. The administration plans to offer 5.6 million offshore acres for lease – the same zone where oil companies bid $95 million for acreage in 1988. The government subsequently bought back those leases following the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

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Processors ready for salmon, with notable exceptions

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game today released its annual salmon processor capacity survey, and the news is mostly upbeat. The major processors say they generally can handle forecasted runs of sockeye, pink and other species of salmon due in from the ocean this summer to spawn.

The report does spotlight some worries, however. In Southeast including Yakutat, processors might not be able to handle 1 million chum salmon, and the shortfall could be even bigger if pink salmon returns are large and early.

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Can Pebble, sockeye fishery coexist? Maybe, poll says

Yesterday my friend Kyle Hopkins posted results of a Dittman Research poll on his Alaska politics blog.

“Any fish questions in there?” I asked him.

Sure enough, down on page 13, are two pretty interesting questions regarding the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in the headwaters of Bristol Bay, home of Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery.

The 410 Alaskans polled were evenly split on whether the mine and the fishery can coexist, but if it came down to a choice, fishing should take priority.

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Feds name longliners to be bought out

The National Marine Fisheries Service, in a notice published today in the Federal Register, identified the three cod freezer longliners to be retired from fishing with a $35 million federal loan to the fleet (The Highliner, April 10 and April 4).

The boats are the Northern Aurora, the Horizon and the Western Queen.

Some of the money also will be used to buy out an inactive license held by Ocean Prowler LLC.

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Halibut charter boat capsizes, 13 saved

The U.S. Coast Guard reports 13 people have been rescued from a life raft after a halibut charter boat capsized near Homer.

Here’s the press release:

April 25, 2007


JUNEAU, Alaska – The Coast Guard Auxiliary rescued 13 people from a life raft after the charter vessel Halibut Endeavor capsized near Homer today.

A passenger onboard the Halibut Endeavor called the Homer Police Department who then contacted the Coast Guard Rescue Coordination Center in Juneau at 4:00 p.m. stating that the 38-foot vessel was taking on water.

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Winners and losers at Bristol Bay

Drift gillnetters have elected a board of directors for the new Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, and we note some prominent names among the winners and losers alike.

Winners are:

• Robert Heyano, a Dillingham resident and member of the state Board of Fisheries

• Chris McDowell, a Juneau resident who writes a newsletter, the Seafood Market Bulletin, for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute

• Mark Buckley of Kodiak

• Nick Lee of Seattle

• Michael LaRussa of Seattle

• Warren “Barney” Johnson of Arlington, Wash.

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The salmon (and bear) wins!

Gov. Sarah Palin just announced the winning design for the state’s commemorative quarter.

Wonder if her background as a Bristol Bay commercial salmon gillnetter influenced her choice?

The Highliner notes that Mark Vinsel, chair of the Alaska Commemorative Coin Commission, also is executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska.

Here’s the press release:


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UFA: Sorry for that Pebble ad

In case you missed it, here’s a letter to the editor we published Sunday from United Fishermen of Alaska disowning an anti-Pebble mine ad.

A full-page ad printed April 9 chided former state legislator Gail Phillips, saying she had “smeared” Pebble opponents at a mining convention by calling them – and The Highliner hasn’t confirmed this – “un-American” and “un-Alaskan.”

The ad listed 30 organizations, businesses and individuals purportedly against the proposed gold and copper mine, among them UFA, the state’s largest commercial fishing group.

In the letter below, UFA leaders apologize for having been listed on the ad.

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Congress looks at fishing deaths

Fishing for a living can get you killed.

Congress, the industry, the U.S. Coast Guard and many others have worked for decades to improve safety, and they’ve made a lot of progress. But the work continues.

The House Subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation is holding a hearing on commercial fishing vessel safety beginning at 10 a.m. Wednesday in Washington, D.C. Here’s an agenda.

The industry has seen a string of tragedies in recent months, including the capsizing of the sablefish longliner Ocean Challenger off Sand Point last October, killing three of four crewmen.

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Whose fishwich is best?

McDonald's Filet-O-Fish. Wesley Loy photo

These days it seems nearly all the big fast-food chains, from McDonald’s to Burger King to Arby’s, have a fish sandwich on the menu.

Did you know that, more often than not, the fish on that sandwich comes from Alaska?

Tomorrow's Play magazine will feature a taste test on whose fishwich is best – and worst.

Catch it here.

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