KODIAK -- Fishermen and other boaters can rest easier knowing they won't need a federal permit to hose off their decks.
A bill that just passed the Senate extends the moratoria on discharge permit requirements for commercial and charter fishing vessels beyond the July 31 deadline.
"Say you're a sport fishing guide and you've taken your clients out, gotten a few halibut and you come in and hose off the deck. That would be a reportable discharge. They are talking about deck runoff, bilge water, gray water ... and it would affect 9,700 vessels in the state of Alaska alone," said Alaska U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C.
In 2008 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency came out with regulations that would require discharges by vessels of any size to be reported to the EPA under the Clean Water Act.
Murkowski and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., succeeded in getting two-year timeouts for working boats and other vessels under 79 feet. At the same time, the EPA was given 15 months to study the types and effects of discharges from boats of varying sizes, and if the exemptions should be permanent.
"It's estimated that if the moratoria were not put in place, the EPA would be subject to issuing up to 140,000 permits by July 31," Murkowski said. "The EPA is not poised to do this and it is not necessary."
The Senate passed the moratoria extension unanimously. Murkowski said the measure should be wrapped up before Congress adjourns in August.
CRAB LOAN MOVES TOO
Also moving through the lawmaking process is an $8 million Bering Sea crab loan program aimed at helping new entrants buy into the fisheries. It has taken five years for that loan opportunity to move up the priority list of federal policy wonks.
"The money is there and it must go out the door in the 2010 budget appropriations," Murkowski said. "We are working aggressively to make that happen and the loan program should be finalized by this fall."
MURKOWSKI ON PEBBLE
Murkowski also spoke candidly about her "gut feelings" on the proposed Pebble copper and gold mine in Southwest Alaska.
"My gut says we don't balance one resource off another. It can't be an either-or proposition. I do have concerns as to whether or not the project would impact the water, and therefore the salmon. I am not going to prejudge the project, but I put out the very precautionary note that you cannot trade one for the other," she said.
Murkowski said she has had several conversations with Cynthia Carroll, chief executive of Anglo American, co-developer of the Pebble prospect.
"She was very upfront in saying that she also agrees that if they can't do the mine in a manner that ensures the sustainability of the fisheries, then it is not a project that they would pursue," Murkowski said. "I do believe they are studying this very carefully and intently, and we need to err on the side of caution when it comes to the extent of all the studies on the land, and in the watersheds and out in Bristol Bay."
DIRECT TO CONSUMERS
Buying locally produced foods is a trend that's taken off across the nation, and Sitka is making sure that applies to fish.
This summer a group of Sitkans launched Alaska's first Community Supported Fisheries project, which pre-sells shares of local catches directly to local customers under the AlaskansOwn Seafood brand, which claims to combine "the best in business with the best in conservation."
The fish is pre-sold to "subscribers" in either 40-pound or 20-pound packs, said CSF program coordinator Beth Short.
"Every other week customers get something a little different. They've already had a halibut and black cod pick-up, some ling cod and rockfish, and this time around it's king salmon. Then later on in the season we'll have coho," Short said.
The CSF started out small with 18 subscribers who paid $380 plus tax for 40-pound shares and $180 for 20 pounds.
"That averaged out to be $9.50 a pound, which is really good," Short said.
All the fish is delivered to Sitka Sound Seafoods, where set poundage is portioned, vacuum packed and flash frozen. The two dozen participating fishermen get a price bump of about 25 cents a pound.
In July a handful of boats drop dredges to scoop up Alaska weathervane scallops in waters stretching from Yakutat to the Bering Sea; most of the catch comes from around Kodiak Island. Weathervanes are the world's largest scallops, with shell diameters averaging 10 inches.
Three to four boats target scallops by making repeated tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions in a closely monitored fishery.
"All boats must carry observers," said Jim Stone, owner of two scallop boats that will remain at sea until Thanksgiving. "It's a heavy cost of $350 to $400 a day. But we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal."
The yearly statewide harvest has remained steady at about 500,000 pounds of shucked meats, meaning the large adductor muscle that links the two shell halves. Prices to fishermen vary widely by scallop size and market; the statewide average price last year was $8 a pound, for a dockside value of $3.4 million.
Stone is quick to credit state managers for the well-run fishery, and the Alaska Scallop Association he helped form 10 years ago.
Stone and his wife, Mona, are also the biggest ambassadors for Alaska weathervane scallops. Their scallop/rice dish and scallop/bacon/pesto wraps recently won Best of the Fest at the Ballard Seafood Fest. Contact Jim Stone at Jstonecrab@aol.com.
Laine Welch is a Kodiak-based fisheries journalist. Her Fish Radio programs can be heard on stations around the state. Her information column appears every other Sunday. This material is protected by copyright. For information on reprinting or placing on your website or newsletter, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.