Fishermen won't need special permits to hose off their decks thanks to a bill moving through the U.S. Senate. That's garnered a big sigh of relief from harvesters across the nation and kudos to a rare show of bipartisanship by coastal lawmakers, notably Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska and Marco Rubio of Florida.
"The Vessel Incidental Discharge Act extends a moratorium that was already granted to the commercial fishing industry from 2008, and it's been up every couple of years. It would extend this moratorium indefinitely so commercial fishing vessels don't have to apply for a ridiculous discharge permit every time rain falls onto your deck and flows overboard. That's incidental discharge to the normal operation of a vessel. So it just cuts the red tape that fishermen would have to incur," explained Brett Veerhusen, executive director of Seafood Harvesters of America, who has been watchdogging the discharge bill.
The incidental discharge requirement is part of the Clean Boating Act passed by Congress in 2008. It provided a permanent exemption for roughly 13 million recreational vessels, even 400-foot yachts, but not for commercial fishing boats or other vessels in the maritime industries. The measure affects nearly 10,000 fishing vessels in Alaska alone, and harvesters believe the permanent exclusion should also apply to them.
Veerhusen said it is imperative that the discharge dodge is passed before the temporary exemption expires Dec. 18.
"After that, commercial fishing vessels will be subject to permit requirements to test the water that runs off their deck from deck wash or even rainwater," he said. "That is completely onerous and ridiculous and burdensome."
The measure still has to get final approval from Congress, but Veerhusen is confident it will make it through.
"We really appreciate the support that Sens. Begich and Rubio have been able to garner for this. It's quite remarkable, and it just shows that whether you're in the Gulf of Mexico, the Gulf of Maine or the Gulf of Alaska, fishermen nationwide feel very strongly about this," he added.
Seafood Harvesters of America formed in June and so far includes 14 regional fishing groups. Veerhusen, who hails from a Homer fishing family, said the new group has been well received in D.C.
"It is welcome news to folks on the Hill to have a succinct national voice regarding these issues. Traditionally, fishermen have gone about trying to effect federal law from a regional standpoint, and we are able to synthesize all of these voices into some common goals and concerns."
Hooray for Coasties
Aug. 4 marks the 224th birthday of our nation's oldest seagoing service -- the U.S. Coast Guard. It was launched in 1790 as the U.S. Lighthouse Service when the first Congress gave orders to build 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws under the newly formed Treasury Department. At the time, that was the only source of revenue for the federal government. It was called the Revenue Cutter Service until 1915, when it was merged with the Life-Saving Service and received its present name from Congress.
In the Coast Guard's Top 10 list of most memorable missions, the response to Hurricane Katrina ranks as No. 1. The Coast Guard is credited with saving more than 33,000 people after it took charge there. Two Alaska events made the list:
• The rescue of 520 people after a fire broke out and sank the cruise ship Prinsendam 130 miles off Ketchikan in 1980.
• In 1897, six Coast Guardsmen set off from a cutter near Point Barrow to save the crews of eight whaling ships trapped in ice. Using dogsleds, they took 400 reindeer to the whalers in a 1,500-mile journey that took more than two months.
The single largest rescue effort in Coast Guard history was in 1937, when a flood on the Mississippi River led to the rescue of 44,000 people -- and more than 100,000 head of livestock.
Today, roughly 40,000 men and women serve in the U.S. Coast Guard. They are credited for saving more than 1 million lives and counting.
Kelp is the latest crop that fish farmers are cashing in on, and Alaska could follow Canada's innovation and success. That country's largest salmon grower, Cooke Aquaculture, recently launched its own line of certified organically grown seaweeds of two different kinds -- winged and sugar kelp. They are being sold under Cooke's True North Salmon brand and both can be served fresh or cooked.
The sea plants are grown in New Brunswick's Bay of Fundy in a so-called integrated multitrophic aquaculture farm, along with blue mussels and Atlantic salmon. The floating farms are designed to mimic the natural ocean ecosystem and combine species that require manual feeding (i.e. salmon) with species that derive nutrients from the wastes of the "fed" species.
Kelp and other aquatic plants sustain a multibillion-dollar industry throughout Asia, and more Americans are adding the sea veggies to their diets. Kelp also is widely used in foods and beverages, animal feeds, cosmetics and coming soon -- biofuels.
Alaska seaweeds got a shout out this year when researchers at North Carolina State University found that common plants found in waters and beaches near Sitka are super packed with compounds that fight obesity, diabetes and heart diseases.
Growing more sea plants in Alaska is a focus of a new mariculture initiative that is building support for that industry's expansion and enhancement.
"We are broadening the concept of mariculture," said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and mariculture project leader. An area of special interest, she said, is Western Alaska, where no mariculture ventures have ever been attempted.
"I believe there are things that can be grown out there, whether it's an enhancement program or private shellfish or sea plant farming. There are things that can be done," Decker said.
With a few exceptions, most of Alaska's salmon fisheries are rather lackluster. By Friday the statewide salmon catch had topped 90 million, and more than 40 million were sockeye salmon. Nearly 29 million of the reds were from Bristol Bay, 17 million over the preseason forecast. The statewide pink catch was nearing 41 million, with more than 28 million humpies coming from Prince William Sound. The glut of holdover pinks from last year's record run has pushed down prices to about 25 cents a pound statewide, with a few cents more for chilled and delivered pinks. The Lower Yukon is enjoying its highest chum catch since 1989 at nearly half a million fish.
In other fisheries, jig boats continue fishing for cod and black rockfish around Kodiak and at Cook Inlet. Jiggers also are fishing for ling cod at Prince William Sound, and trawlers there also are still targeting sidestripe shrimp.
For halibut, 62 percent of the catch has been taken with less than 6 million pounds remaining out of the 16 million pound catch limit. For sablefish, 68 percent of the nearly 24 million pound quota was taken with 7.5 million pounds remaining.
Pollock fishing continues in the Bering Sea, along with cod and numerous flounder fisheries. Red king crab was set to close at Norton Sound on Aug. 3 with a 354,090-pound catch, and the Aleutians golden king crab season opens in mid-August with a harvest topping 6 million pounds. Pollock reopens in the Gulf on August 25.
The biggest fish story this week is the Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast, which is seeing its best season ever. The total catch this year is pegged at nearly 6.5 million pounds for 150 crabbers who are getting about $3 a pound, up 50 cents from last year. The summer dungie fishery closes Aug. 15 and reopens Oct. 1.