APRN Alaska News

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Get Alaska statewide news from the stations of the Alaska Public Radio Network (APRN). With a central news room in Anchorage and contributing reporters spread across the state, we capture news in the Voices of Alaska and share it with the world. Tune in to your local APRN station in Alaska, visit us online at APRN.ORG or subscribe to the Alaska News podcast right here. These are individual news stories, most of which appear in Alaska News Nightly (available as a separate podcast).
Updated: 41 min 20 sec ago

Usibelli Submits Coal Bed Methane Plan

Fri, 2014-07-25 17:21

Usibelli Coal has submitted a plan to drill coal bed methane exploration wells on state land near Healy. The company is licensed to look for shallow gas on over 200 thousand acres of state and private land in the area, and this is the first action the company has taken.

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Categories: Alaska News

“State of the Schools” shows progress for Anchorage students and need for innovation

Fri, 2014-07-25 15:20

The superintendent of the Anchorage School District presented his State of the Schools speech to a group of principals and community members Friday morning. New data shows that the schools are improving but still have a ways to go.

Preliminary standardized test scores show that about 83 percent of Anchorage’s students can read well and 79 percent can write well. Those scores are up from last year. Math scores are down slightly — only 71 percent passed– but that may be due to the introduction of a new curriculum. The school district wants 90 percent of all students to pass all three subjects by 2020, but they’re behind on reaching that target.

School attendance is on the rise for all grades, but four year graduation rates are down slightly.

“Yes, we have a lot work ahead of us,” said Superintendent Ed Graff during his speech at the East High Auditorium. “I’m confident we’ll get there.”

Graff introduces members of the Class of 2027 during the State of the Schools speech.

He says one of the key ways to help students is to engage them more with the subjects. ”Great things happen for students when you provide them with interesting, hands-on activities. We know this from our own observations and our own experiences.”

Graff said to help encourage that, student engagement will be a major component of teacher evaluations. The district will also continue its focus on social and emotional learning skills — helping students learn how to interact in healthy ways. Graff said students with those skills perform better academically.

One of the pilot programs for the upcoming year will add more pre-K classrooms to the district and introduce literacy coaches.

Graff said similar programs are already working in Anchorage’s schools. ”Tyson Elementary School has both a Title I coach and a building literacy coach. They’ve seen student test scores jump 12 to 18 percent in reading, writing, and math. When we provide the resources to our schools and our students, they achieve.”

Graff did not address the district-wide staff cuts during his speech. They cut 105 positions for this school year. Speaking to reporters he acknowledged that it does make student success harder, but he said other resources can fill some of the gaps. ”Those resources look like different things. It’s not always about a position. Sometimes it’s about the right materials. Sometimes it’s about the right training. Sometimes it’s about the right community and parent involvement and partnership. So that’s really what we’re focused on.”

The district will also be using federal money to provide more free meals to kids with less paperwork for the school. And they’re adding more cameras, auto-lock doors, and better intercom systems so that students and staff feel safer.

Anchorage schools re-open for most students on August 20.

 

 

Categories: Alaska News

Primary Election: Republican U.S. Senate Candidate Joe Miller

Fri, 2014-07-25 12:00

It will soon be decision time for Alaska voters on which of three Republican should face incumbent U.S. Senator Mark Begich in November. The statewide public radio forum, Talk of Alaska has offered each of the three an hour-long live opportunity to answer phone calls from public radio listeners statewide. Mead Treadwell and Dan Sullivan have had their turn, and next up is Joe Miller.

HOST: Steve Heimel, Alaska Public Radio Network

GUESTS:

  • Joe Miller, U.S. Senate candidate
  • Callers Statewide

PARTICIPATE:

  • Post your comment before, during or after the live broadcast (comments may be read on air).
  • Send e-mail to talk [at] alaskapublic [dot] org (comments may be read on air)
  • Call 550-8422 in Anchorage or 1-800-478-8255 if you’re outside Anchorage during the live broadcast

LIVE Broadcast: Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. on APRN stations statewide.

SUBSCRIBE: Get Talk of Alaska updates automatically by e-mailRSS or podcast.

TALK OF ALASKA ARCHIVE

Categories: Alaska News

Earthquake Felt in Southeast Alaska, No Tsunami Expected

Fri, 2014-07-25 11:50

Update 10:47 a.m.:

An early morning earthquake today is causing widespread communications problems in Southeast Alaska.

Both Alaska Communications and AT&T wireless and internet services were affected.

A recorded message on ACS’s customer services line says the outage is affecting some customers in Southeast.

“This is our highest priority and we are working to restore service as quickly as possible,” the message said.

ACS spokeswoman Hannah Blankenship says crews are still working to determine which networks were affected by the quake.

An AT&T representative could not be reached for comment.

Revised figures from the Alaska Earthquake Information Center put the quake’s magnitude at 5.9. It struck about 97 miles west of Juneau at a depth of about 6 miles. It was followed by several aftershocks. The largest was magnitude 5.7.

Update 9:29 a.m.:

Alaska Communications says the earthquake has caused outages affecting Southeast Alaska wireless and internet services.

In a statement, President and CEO Anand Vadapalli says restoring service quickly is the company’s highest priority.

Original post, 3:19 a.m. Friday:

An earthquake shook Southeast Alaska just before 3 a.m. Friday.

The preliminary magnitude 6.0 temblor was centered about 96 miles west of Juneau, according to the Alaska Earthquake Information Center. It struck at a depth of about 6.2 miles. A 5.7 magnitude aftershock was felt about a minute later. No tsunami was expected, according to the National Tsunami Warning Center.

This is a developing story. Check back for details.

Categories: Alaska News

300 Villages: Thorne Bay

Fri, 2014-07-25 11:22

A view of Thorne Bay from the ocean. (Photo from the City of Thorne Bay website)

This week we’re heading to Thorne Bay, on Prince of Wales Island. Rochelle Huddleston Lorton is the district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in Thorne Bay.

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Categories: Alaska News

AK: Welding

Fri, 2014-07-25 11:16

(Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan)

There are more than 100 people employed at Ketchikan’s Vigor Industrial Shipyard. Out of all of them, Cat Wong might have the most unusual story about how she got there.

The 25-year-old is a pipe fitter and welder. She was born in the U.S., but grew up with her family in Singapore. When she was 21, Cat made an unusual choice, and moved to Ketchikan.

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“That’s a three inch pipe that I’m welding on there,” she said. “It’s gonna be a water main pipe.”

(Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan)

When I talk to Cat, she’s welding a pipe for an Alaska Marine Highway ferry. She’s 5’2” and her thick work jacket and boots look like they were made for someone twice her size. Cat says, back when she was 18, she never would’ve guessed she’d end up here. She was working two part-time jobs at a bar and a restaurant in Singapore, hoping to become a restaurant manager.

“Got to the point where I needed a full time job cause I was working long hours as a part timer,” Cat said. “I sent out resumes to whatever companies would hire me. An industrial training center hired me, I was admin assistant.”

She hated that she was sitting at a desk all day, but that job was actually what put her on the path to shipyard work. She started to get interested in skilled labor, like welding and maritime trades. The more research she did, the more interested she became.

“Conversation with family, yes,” Cat said. “Mom wasn’t too sure about it. Office worker daughter wants to work in a shipyard?”

“They thought I lost my mind. Friends [said], ‘Cat are you serious?’ Yes I am very serious about it.”

Cat decided to sign up for a welding class, but the industrial training center where she worked wouldn’t take her.

“They thought I would get hurt,” she said. “Why? Women….welding…fragile.”

So she went to a different center and they were hesitant to train a 20-year-old woman as well.

“They said you’re a girl you can work in an office,” Cat said. “[It] made me more determined. Here’s the money do you want it or not?”

They took her money and she took the welding class. After that, she tried to apply to skilled labor jobs in Singapore, but realized the chances of a good-paying gig were slim. But she had another option – because she was born in the U.S., Cat was an American citizen.

(Photo by Emily Files, KRBD – Ketchikan)

In Singapore, you’re not allowed to hold dual citizenship. So, if Cat really wanted to, she could choose to give up her Singapore citizenship and move to the US. She gradually realized that was her best option. So, a month after her 21st birthday, she went to the immigration office and gave up her Singapore passport.

“It was sad,” she said. “Then I realized that if you keep staying in your comfort zone you don’t know what you’re capable of.”

Then the U.S. job search began. With the help of Google, Cat decided the Ketchikan shipyard looked promising. And she realized the only way she would get hired is if she went there in person. So she left Singapore, and moved to Alaska, her future riding on the hope of a job at this shipyard. She arrived in late October 2011 on a day where the wind whipped the rain sideways. After she settled in, Cat started showing up to the shipyard nearly every day.

“It was daily process of coming here every day, writing name in log book just to show that I’m here,” she said.

She applied for jobs there and signed up for an advanced welding class at the University of Alaska Southeast. And then about two months later, she got a call from Troy Tackert, a shipyard supervisor.

“Got a call from Troy [and he said], ‘Are you interested in interview?’ Yes, when do you want me to come in? Tomorrow?” Cat said.

“It was very interesting,” Tackert said. “She’s a super intelligent young lady. She was just looking for somebody to give her chance. All she wanted to do was work in a shipyard and I thought why not?”

“He called a week or two later, go to TSS for drug test and then report at 8,” Cat said. “How’d you feel? I’m not unemployed I’m so happy!”

Now Cat has been there for two and half years learning nearly every aspect of ship repair. She’s paid $20 an hour.  Over a year ago, her mother and brother moved here from Singapore and her brother, Felix, also works at the shipyard now. So, in a matter of about 5 years, Cat went from a bartender and office assistant in Singapore to a pipe welder in Alaska.

Files: “Do you ever feel like, ‘how did I even end up here?’”
Cat: “I do feel like that, I’m a churchgoer, I have faith in God, did some praying. I felt prompting that I have to leave my comfort zone. I kind of did that.”

Cat says her story shows that if you just put one foot in front of the other, eventually you’ll climb a mountain –or end up in an Alaska shipyard.

Categories: Alaska News

Fecal Bacteria Contaminates Many Anchorage Waterways

Fri, 2014-07-25 10:58

 

Test results from samples at Cuddy Park pond. The blue dots are E. coli (photo courtesy of Anchorage Waterways Council)

It’s a beautiful day in midtown, and Thom Eley of the Anchorage Waterways Council circles the perimeter of a pond in Cuddy Park with his intern Robert Veeh.

Robert squats at the lakes edge and measures its temperature; it’s about 70 degrees fahrenheit. He then unwraps an eyedropper, sucks up 5 milliliters of water, and drips it into a small vial so it can be tested for fecal coliform, a bacterium found in human and animal feces.

If you find high fecal coliform counts, there’s only one way that’s getting in there,” Eley says, holding back a chuckle. “Some sort of poop is going in the water.”

Eley has monitored the pond in Cuddy Park—which is actually a part of Fish Creek—for thirteen years. He has found high levels of e-coli and other fecal bacteria in the waterway. His advice to park visitors: “Don’t fall in it, don’t get a mouth full of water.”

Fecal pollution has many possible sources, such as leaking septic systems, homeless camps, and duck droppings. But Cherie Northon, executive director of the Anchorage Waterways Council, says the most common vector is probably dogs. “There are about 70,000 dogs in urban Anchorage,” she says. “Every dog is going to poop maybe a half a pound. If you do the math, that’s 20, 30 tons a day, not a year but a day, that ends up on the ground.”

If dog owners don’t pick it up, all of that poop gets washed into the city’s streams and rivers. As of 2010, essentially all of Anchorage’s waterways were on the EPA’s impaired water list for high levels of fecal bacteria. “It’s an invisible problem, it’s not a floating piece of trash or an oil sheen,” Northon says. “The water looks crystal clear, and yet it’s carrying all of this bacteria.”

Fecal pollution isn’t uncommon in urban waterways, and it doesn’t harm fish or other wildlife. It can cause nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea if ingested by humans, though, which is why Northon says Anchorage’s watershed needs to be cleaned up.

“We’ve gone down Campbell Creek, my husband fell off the back of our raft once, and in that situation you grab a mouth full of water….You’re not planning on it but you still get it in your mouth.”

State and local agencies are trying to remove fecal bacteria from Anchorage’s watershed in a number of ways, including erecting “mutt mitt stations” near lakes and streams, which hold plastic bags for dog refuse; regulating septic systems more carefully; and, doing regular street sweeps to reduce the amount of bacteria traveling in storm water.

Over the past few years three Anchorage lakes have been removed from the impaired water list, including Lakes Hood and Spenard.

Categories: Alaska News

Complaint Filed Against Anti-Marijuana Campaign

Thu, 2014-07-24 20:01

Sponsors of a marijuana regulation initiative have filed a complaint against their opposition, alleging that Big Marijuana Big Mistake has violated disclosure rules.

At issue is whether the owners of the anti-marijuana group’s public relations firm are serving in a volunteer capacity and whether the firm’s time is being properly accounted. Kristina Woolston, a majority owner of Northwest Strategies, has identified herself as a volunteer for Big Marijuana Big Mistake when serving as a campaign spokesperson, and her time working against the initiative has not been disclosed in any campaign finance reports.

Chris Rempert, a sponsor of the Campaign To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, believes the anti-marijuana group is using that as a tactic to paint the initiative sponsors as outsiders.

“It’s very clear that they are willfully misrepresenting themselves to the public, to the media, and to election regulators because they think that will benefit them,” says Rempert.

Alaska law requires initiative campaigns to disclose their expenditures within a 10-day time frame, and the Alaska Public Offices Commission requires any sort of commercial services provided by volunteers to be documented as campaign contributions.

Northwest Strategies started working for Big Marijuana Big Mistake in mid-April, and the campaign’s first independent expenditure report was filed on May 27. None of the campaign’s independent expenditure reports make any note of Woolston’s volunteer time.

Woolston believes that the APOC complaint is a “distraction,” and that initiative sponsors are using it to divert attention from the $500,000 in funding they’ve received from the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

Woolston says she identifies herself as a volunteer because she is not a salaried employee of Northwest Strategies.

“Yeah, well, this isn’t my job. I mean the work that I do is volunteer,” says Woolston. “You know, I don’t work for Northwest Strategies. I work for Chenega Corporation. I understand the ownership issue, but it’s a family business. And really, they’re grasping here.”

The connection between Big Marijuana Big Mistake, Northwest Strategies, and the Chenega Corporation is a bit of a tangle.

The Chenega Corporation employs Woolston as their vice president of government relations, and it gave $25,000 to the Big Marijuana Big Mistake campaign using Woolson as a contact. Big Marijuana Big Mistake is also a client of Northwest Strategies, which Woolston and her husband Tim own. According to the expenditure reports that have been filed to date, Northwest Strategies has done $24,150 in work for Big Marijuana Big Mistake, with $19,150 of that amount yet to be paid.

Woolston says that when she identifies herself as a volunteer, she’s representing herself as an executive at the Chenega Corportation not as an owner of Northwest Strategies. She adds that Northwest Strategies has a $7,500 a month contract with Big Marijuana Big Mistake, but the amount covers hard costs only and she is not personally profiting from it. She says she and her husband are actually “losing money on this.”

“My husband and I both volunteer our time,” says Woolston. “Yes, we do have an agency that has a very small contract — really a drop in the bucket if you want to talk about numbers and what the opposition is being paid.”

But the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol takes issue with that logic.

“You can’t say you’re giving something away for free and then charge for it,” says Taylor Bickford, a spokesperson employed by the pro-initiative campaign.

Woolston says she still plans to identify herself as a volunteer when campaigning against the marijuana ballot initiative.

Categories: Alaska News

In U.S. Senate Race, GOP Rivals Lag Far Behind Sullivan

Thu, 2014-07-24 18:01

Campaign finance reports from Alaska’s U.S. Senate race show Republican candidate Dan Sullivan is increasing his financial lead over GOP rivals Mead Treadwell and Joe Miller. Lt. Gov. Treadwell raised just over $160,000 in the second quarter of the year. That puts him slightly ahead Miller, who raised $130,000. Meanwhile, Sullivan raised $1.2 million for the quarter, almost as much as the incumbent senator, Democrat Mark Begich. Unlike the other candidates, Treadwell has loaned his own money to the campaign, and he reports debts of $250,000. Treadwell says in a press release he’s pleased that 60% of his money comes from Alaska. Ninty percent of Sullivan’s contributions have been from out of state. Sullivan’s campaign, though, says he has raised more money within Alaska than his primary opponents. In fact, the nearly $200,000 he raised from Alaskans over the past three months is more than the entire second-quarter haul of either Treadwell or Miller.

Categories: Alaska News

Oil Tax Heavyweights Spar At Packed Debate

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:43

Alaska Common Ground drew an at-capacity audience for a debate on oil taxes at the Wilda Marston Theatre in Anchorage on Wednesday, July 24, 2014. (Alexandra Gutierrez/APRN)

It was standing-room only at an Anchorage debate on whether to keep the new capped oil tax rate or to switch back to a system where the rate goes up along with the profits. It was an unusually large – and even occasionally rowdy – crowd for the subject matter. But with voters deciding how they want to manage the bulk of the state’s revenue in less than a month, the stakes are high.

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Even after turning dozens of people away, the Alaska Common Ground forum on Wednesday night was still close to violating fire code.

The two-hour debate had State Senator Bill Wielechowski (D-Anchorage) and economist Gregg Erickson making the case for repealing Senate Bill 21 on one side. That law was passed last year as a priority of the Parnell administration, and it puts a tax ceiling of 35 percent on oil company profits.

The pair argued that tax rates historically have had little effect on oil production, and that Alaska was a profitable place to operate even when the state had a windfall system that taxed profits as much as 75 percent when prices were high. Erickson also accused the oil companies of using scare tactics by suggesting that the development of a natural gas mega-project depended on the failure of the repeal, and he recalled similar rhetoric used in 2006 when voters considered a gas tax initiative.

“The oil companies, particularly Conoco Phillips, paid millions of dollars for ads that said, ‘You pass this initiative folks, and there’ll never be a gasline,’” said Erickson. “Well, voters of Alaska took that to heart and declined to pass that initiative. Folks, we still don’t have a gasline, and they’ve been telling that same thing every time we proposed a change in the oil tax regime.”

The opposing side was represented by oil and gas consultants Roger Marks and Brad Keithley, who countered that tax incentives can encourage production and in turn bring in more state revenue. Keithley explained that the ACES tax system had a “Robin Hood” effect – redirecting state money from proven oil fields to areas that may not be profitable to produce.

The pair was also asked to explain why the oil companies were spending more than $10 million to defeat the referendum. The audience skewed in favor of the referendum, and Keithley’s response was met with some skepticism from repeal-friendly attendees.

“I don’t think the oil companies are scared. I think the oil companies realize the resource potential of Alaska. I think they realize the potential to develop additional oil in this state. And I think they see SB21 as a way that provides them an incentive to continue to bring investment to this state and continue to produce. They are investing the money in the public campaign to try to educate Alaskans on what the opportunity is,” Keithley said to some laughter. “And I would do the same thing if I were in business.”

Even after an hour and a half of the two sides going back and forth, answering questions from moderator and University of Alaska professor Gunnar Knapp and prodding each other, the audience still wanted to hear more. Knapp was only able to get to a handful of the 174 questions he said were submitted.

The oil tax referendum is one of the marquee issues of this election season. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Byron Mallott and independent candidate Bill Walker were both in the audience. Both have come out in favor of the repeal measure.

It will be put to voters on August 19.

Categories: Alaska News

Effort to Ban Commercial Set Netting Moves Forward

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:42

The push to ban commercial set netting moved another step forward this week. A Superior Court Judge in Anchorage ruled yesterday that the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance can begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, so voters can decide about the value of commercial set net fishing in Cook Inlet.

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Categories: Alaska News

Investigation Continues Into Tourist Train Derailment

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:41

An investigation continues into what caused a tourist train to derail along a mountain pass north of Skagway yesterday, injuring 19 passengers.

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Categories: Alaska News

Tribal Leaders Discuss Ambler Road

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:40

Tribal leaders are gathering interested parties, including state and federal officials, in the village of Allakaket to discuss the state’s proposed road into the Ambler Mining District. Upper Koyukuk River people are concerned about impacts to subsistence resources by the road, and mining development it would bring.

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Categories: Alaska News

Over 11,000 Alaskans Receiving Health Insurance Refunds

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:39

More than 11,000 Alaskans are getting refunds from their health insurance companies.

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As part of the Affordable Care Act, companies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and wellness. If they don’t hit that target, they are required to send refunds to customers. The average refund amount in Alaska is $388 per family.

Premera Alaska has already sent checks to more than 6,000 current and former members. Spokesperson Melanie Coon says customers in Alaska didn’t use as much health care as the company expected last year:

“Our experience in Alaska has been that health care costs trends, especially in the individual market, can vary significantly from year to year,” she said. “So we like to be right on, but it’s always positive when you can say, ‘you know what, people didn’t spend as much so that’s your money and we’re giving it back.’”

Coon says the company also works to keep administrative costs down.

Kristine Kennedy is an Anchorage resident who used to buy an individual health plan from Premera. Earlier this month, she was sifting through her mail when she found a letter from the company. She says thought it was a survey asking her why she canceled her plan.

“I just assumed this was another follow up letter and I opened the envelope and low and behold it’s a refund check,” Kennedy said. “So for the first time in years, after watching our rates go up at least 15 percent per year, it was, ‘holy smokes, wow! Thank you, Affordable Health Care Act.’”

Kennedy’s refund was for $169.

The two other companies issuing refunds in Alaska are the MEGA Life and Health Insurance Company and Time Insurance Company.

Categories: Alaska News

Business leaders and Politicians Meet in Whistler BC for Economic Summit

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:38

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region, or PNWER, summit is happening right now in Whistler British Columbia.

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The annual gathering of business leaders and politicians from Western Canada and the Northwest states alternates between the two countries each year. Last year, meetings were in Anchorage. At least 11 of Alaska’s legislators are attending.

Gas and Arctic issues are a big focus this year. David Ramsey is the Northwest Territories minister of industry, tourism and investment and the newly appointed PNWER president. Ramsey say the Northwest Territories and Alaska have a lot in common: small population in a large area rich in resources – many of them stranded. He says the focus in the Northwest Territories has shifted to oil, because lower gas prices have left their McKenzie gas line proposal sitting on a shelf.

“At some point in time that might change, but for now I think we’ve got to switch gears and put our focus into oil and the prospect of an oil pipeline north from Alberta, which would get close to the Beaufort coast and then through the Yukon and then into Alaska and that’s the discussion that I think really needs to happen,” Ramsey said.

Ramsey says greening the supply chain is an important industry initiative because Alaska and Canada are on the front lines of climate change. He says alternative fuels and hydro development can help mitigate global warming and create jobs. He says a focus of his year-long presidency will be to encourage greater participation by Native communities.

“I’d like to see representatives from each of the 10 jurisdictions in PNWER have aboriginal leaders come to the conference and participate,” Ramsey said. “I think it’s very healthy for the organization to be doing that and also it helps connect the aboriginal leaders to a myriad of business leaders that they’re involved in PNWER and also legislators, decision makers.”

Ramsey says Arctic security and the current concerns with Russia are a big concern, saying it’s frightening that cooperation with Russia in the arctic may not be forthcoming. The PNWER summit wraps up tomorrow.

Categories: Alaska News

Commercial Chum Bustling, But Causing Anger on the Yukon

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:37

With chum salmon surging through much of Western Alaska, commercial openings are having dramatically different effects from a price spike in Kotzebue, to frustration towards managers in the upper Yukon.

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Jim Menard oversees the Kotzebue subdistrict for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Even though it’s still early in the season, he says the commercial forecast for chum is already half-way met. But the high numbers may have more to do with economics than biology: though a decently strong run, the price offered by buyers in Kotzebue is up to 78¢ per pound.

Chum Salmon. (Photo: NOAA)

“The average price last year was 27¢—so we’re almost three times higher, which has resulted in a much greater fishing effort,” Menard said. Not since the price peaked back in the ’80s has he seen this many permits issued for commercial salmon fishing in the waters around Kotzebue.

But it’s a different story along the upper Yukon. During a teleconference arranged by the Yukon River Drainages Fisheries Association, fishery managers reported the first chinook—a healthy female—made her way to White Horse, Canada, yet another sign that the chinook run in Interior Alaska is nearly over.

That should mean openings for subsistence users targeting chums. But many callers, like Andrew from Fort Yukon, explained weather is keeping people from getting the fish they need.

“Water levels have been fluctuating a lot but slowly dropping to normal levels and below. Weather has been real cold and windy.”

Several callers from middle and up river communities, like Galena’s Fred Huntington, also challenged Fish and Game managers on decisions to open commercial fishing on the lower Yukon as upper river fishermen deal with lingering subsistence restrictions and thin chum returns.

“I’m not the only one I’m speaking for,” Huntington said during Tuesday’s phone call. “There’s a whole bunch of people up here pretty frustrated because they’re not able to fish, and right now the water’s so high we’re not getting any fish whatsoever. We’re already through the whole summer and I harvested three chums.”

Managers responded by explaining their decisions for commercial openings aren’t ignoring subsistence needs, but are making an effort to use different strategies along thousands of miles of river. Jeff Estensen with Fish and Game says the department is canceling a commercial opening planned in the lower Yukon because strong southwest winds over the last week-and-a-half pushed an early group of fall chum to the mouth of the river.

“We wanna be able to look at spreading the harvest out a little bit. And as we’ve been saying all along that we really are looking at trying to get some of these early fall chum upriver for subsistence. Just by skipping a couple periods in both districts,” said of the commercial closures, “this is gonna allow us to spread the harvest out a little bit.”

Those fall chum are genetically distinct from Summer chum: they’re bigger, more oily, and head further upriver to spawn, filling fishracks in the upper river all the way into Canada.

Summer chum, by contrast, don’t travel as far from the ocean to reproduce. And so far their returns in the Norton Sound have been strong enough for managers to extend commercial openings.

“The plan was to have like a super-period to try to mitigate for a lot of the foregone harvest opportunity on chum salmon at the start of the season when they’re co-mingling with king salmon,” explained area biologist Scott Kent with ADF&G. “We were trying to protect them at the front-end of the run. Now we don’t have to protect them so it’s like ok we can provide some more opportunities to make up for that.”

Recent high water and bad weather not only stopped most of Fish and Game’s counting project in the Norton Sound, Kent said, but it effectively halted the commercial harvest. So managers have shifted a 48 hour commercial harvest to this Thursday evening at 6 o’clock until Saturday for the entire Nome subdsitrict.

For more information on the commercial opening in the Nome subdistrict you can check here.

Categories: Alaska News

Japanese Fishermen Visit Alaska for Ideas on Sustainability

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:36

Visiting Japanese fishermen photograph salmon returning to the hatchery. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

A group of Japanese fishermen is touring the Northwest United States to get an education in fisheries. The group’s first stop was Juneau where they toured the hatchery at DIPAC Monday morning.

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37-year-old Fumihiro Sugawara is a chum salmon fisherman in Rausu, which is located in the northeast of Hokkaido Island in Japan. He’s been fishing for 16 years.

He and 12 other Japanese fishermen are visiting Alaska for the first time.

“In the last few years, amount of their salmon and trout is declining, so they want to learn some of the idea from Alaska salmon fish industry and to enhance their business in Japan,” says Yoshimi Sato interpreting for Sugawara.

Sugawara says he learned a lot after touring DIPAC’s Macaulay hatchery Monday morning.

“He was impressed by the way they catch directly from their ocean and then release directly into ocean,” Sato says.

In Japan, hatcheries release juvenile chum salmon in rivers. In Alaska, they’re released in the open ocean.

The group also heard presentations by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Sam Rabung is the state’s hatchery program coordinator.

“Alaska’s hatchery program is unique and Alaska’s salmon fisheries are unique. We manage differently than just about anywhere in the world,” Rabung says.

Alaska’s fisheries are managed to maintain the wild stock population.

“It’s a really strange concept to a lot of people from around the world who are more familiar with just harvesting quotas. We don’t want to forego harvest opportunity and conversely, if there are unanticipated weak runs, we can rein things in,” Rabung says.

The more people from around the world know about Alaska fisheries, the better, he says.

“We think it’s important that other countries realize that our fisheries are managed sustainably. They always have been. It’s not new to us. It’s in our constitution and it’s one of the reasons we’re a state, and we think it’s important to spread that message,” Rabung says.

Shunji Murakami is traveling with the fishermen as the group’s main interpreter. He’s based in Japan and is a consultant for the Wild Salmon Center, a Portland-based nonprofit that works to protect wild salmon and the ecosystems they depend on.

“Alaska is such a rich country in terms of environment for salmon, but in Japan, 98 percent of our rivers are dammed and we have scarcity of wild salmon population,” Murakami says.

He says the group of young fishermen came to Alaska to learn from the best. The hope is they will spread the message of sustainability to others back home.

“We cannot apply Alaskan way of resources management a hundred percent to Japan but, to some extent, we can kind of learn from the resource management that’s going on here and apply that in Japan, where environmentally [it's] a little bit poor, to rehabilitate the wild populations,” Murakami says.

The Japanese fishermen want to expand their international market. One of the ways of doing that is getting their fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council. Murakami says that’s another incentive to make their fisheries more sustainable.

“So then they can make money and, at the same time, do the right thing,” he says.

The group travels to Sitka next to meet with the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. They’ll also go to Portland and visit the Bonneville Hatchery which is run by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 24, 2014

Thu, 2014-07-24 17:26

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Download Audio

Oil Tax Heavyweights Spar At Packed Debate

Alexandra Gutierrez, APRN – Anchorage

It was standing-room only at an Anchorage debate on whether to keep the new capped oil tax rate or to switch back to a system where the rate goes up along with the profits. It was an unusually large – and even occasionally rowdy – crowd for the subject matter. But with voters deciding how they want to manage the bulk of the state’s revenue in less than a month, the stakes are high.

Effort to Ban Commercial Set Netting Moves Forward

Shaylon Cochran, KDLL – Kenai

The push to ban commercial set netting moved another step forward this week. A Superior Court Judge in Anchorage ruled yesterday that the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance can begin collecting signatures for a ballot initiative, so voters can decide about the value of commercial set net fishing in Cook Inlet.

Investigation Continues Into Tourist Train Derailment

Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS – Gaines

An investigation continues into what caused a tourist train to derail along a mountain pass north of Skagway yesterday, injuring 19 passengers.

Tribal Leaders Discuss Ambler Road

Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

Tribal leaders are gathering interested parties, including state and federal officials, in the village of Allakaket to discuss the state’s proposed road into the Ambler Mining District.  Upper Koyukuk River people are concerned about impacts to subsistence resources by the road, and mining development it would bring.

Over 11,000 Alaskans Receiving Health Insurance Refunds

Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

More than 11,000 Alaskans are getting refunds from their health insurance company. As part of the Affordable Care Act, companies have to spend at least 80 percent of premium dollars on medical care and wellness.  If they don’t hit that target, they are required to send refunds to customers. The average refund amount in Alaska is nearly $388 per family.

Business leaders and Politicians Meet in Whistler BC for Economic Summit

Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

The Pacific Northwest Economic Region or PNWER summit is happening right now in Whistler British Columbia. The annual gathering of business leaders and politicians from Western Canada and the Northwest states alternates between the two countries each year. Last year, meetings were in Anchorage. At least 11 of Alaska’s legislators are attending.

Commercial Chum Bustling, But Causing Anger on the Yukon

Zachariah Hughes, KNOM – Nome

With chum salmon surging through much of Western Alaska, commercial openings are having dramatically different effects from a price spike in Kotzebue, to frustration towards managers in the upper Yukon.

Japanese Fishermen Visit Alaska for Ideas on Sustainability

Lisa Phu, KTOO – Juneau

A group of Japanese fishermen is touring the Northwest United States to get an education in fisheries. The group’s first stop was Juneau where they toured the hatchery at DIPAC Monday morning.

Categories: Alaska News

North Slope Moves to Create Port Authority

Thu, 2014-07-24 13:01

Barrow, AK during spring ice break-up. (Photo by Steven Kazlowsk)

With Arctic activity escalating, the North Slope Arctic Borough is taking steps to protect its resources while developing its economy.

The Borough passed an ordinance to create a North Slope Port Authority on July 1, 2014. The Port Authority would create, fund, and operate port facilities and related activities along the North Slope coast.

“What’s driving [the project] is there’s a lot more activity in the Arctic now,” Paul Fuhs, a consultant on the project, explained. “So there’s concern that emergency response capability be in place but also that as development takes place, we want to make sure that the local people can economically benefit from the activity that’s going on.”

That development is an increase in Arctic marine traffic and resource extraction.

Fuhs said no port exists in the North Slope. He said docking facilities exist at Prudhoe Bay and Barrow, but most communities rely on crude means for unloading vessels.

“In terms of the other communities, it’s pretty much, you pull up with a barge, and you land on the beach, you put a ramp down,” Fuhs said, describing the docking methods for most of the Borough.

Fuhs said the Port Authority would create more efficient port facilities in coastal communities along the Slope, reducing living costs along the way.

“Some might be bigger than others,” Fuhs said. “It depends upon the circumstances. It depends on the vicinity, the water depth, how protected they are, how exposed they are to ice. And the idea is to really optimize the facilities for each community.”

According to the ordinance, the Port Authority would also protect subsistence resources, create local jobs, and provide emergency response.

The Authority would operate as a public corporation with a seven-member board with representatives spread across tribal, local, and regional entities. Fuhs said this inclusion consolidates ownership while creating flexible financial capabilities.

“It really helps provide unified approach for entities want to come to the North Slope and do business,” Fuhs said.

The initiative is being lead by North Slope Mayor Charlotte Brower. Advisor to the Mayor, David Fauske, said decisions governing Arctic development are being made remotely in Juneau or Washington D.C. Brower pushed the ordinance to bring these decisions to the people whose backyards the development is affecting.

Explaining Mayor Brower’s decision, Fauske said, “So many times we’re told what’s going to happen for the next phase of Arctic development, and this would just kind of give us a bigger seat at the table, a more permanent one.”

The decision to create a North Slope Port Authority goes to public vote this October.

Categories: Alaska News

Alaska News Nightly: July 23, 2014

Wed, 2014-07-23 18:08

Individual news stories are posted on the APRN news page. You can subscribe to APRN’s newsfeeds via emailpodcast and RSS. Follow us on Facebook at alaskapublic.org and on Twitter @aprn

Download Audio

Kuskokwim Fishers: Stop Commercial Openings, Call in Feds

Daysha Eaton, KYUK-Bethel

The Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group wants the state to end to all commercial openings for the remainder of the summer.  The say despite unmet subsistence needs the state has allowed commercial salmon openings. Some upriver fishermen are fed up with the state, and want the Federal Subsistence Board to manage the river from here on out.

Community Protests Enstar Rate Volatility

Anne Hillman, KSKA-Anchorage

Community members packed the hearing room of the Regulatory Commission of Alaska Wednesday morning in Anchorage. They pushed for consistent gas pricing from Enstar in response to a recent big jump in rates.

Judge Rules In Favor of Commercial Set Netting Ban

Alexander Gutierrez, APRN-Juneau

A superior court judge has ruled in favor of an initiative to ban commercial set netting for salmon in urban areas. Earlier this year, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell blocked the initiative sponsors from collecting signatures to appear on the ballot, based on a recommendation from the Department of Law that the measure would qualify as an unconstitutional appropriation. The state also argued that such an initiative would count as an allocation to sport fishermen and that it would erode the power of the Board of Fisheries.

State Releases New Guidelines for Mercury and Fish

Joaquin Palomino, KSKA-Anchorage

The state Epidemiology office has released a new mercury contamination risk determination for Alaska fish. The new guideline basically increases the number of Alaskan fish that they say can be eaten safely and without restriction. Ali Hamade, Environmental Public Health Manager for the state, says Alaska fish has a lot going for it.

Arctic Birds Show More Signs of Mercury

Thea Card, KDLG-Dillingham

A new study from the journal Waterbirds shows there’s an increasing amount of mercury occurring in birds in Alaska’s Arctic coast.

Canadian Environmental Officials Give OK to Mine NE of Ketchikan

Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska-Juneau

Canadian environmental officials just gave provisional approval to a controversial mine planned for an area northeast of Ketchikan. Their counterparts in British Columbia have done the same.

New App Out for Cup’ik Language

Charles Enoch, KYUK-Bethel

The Cup’ik language is about to get its biggest audience yet. A new app has been developed to help Cup’ik students learn their language and show it off to the world.

Dee Daniels Teaching Jazz to Fine Arts Campers

Robert Woolsey, KCAW-Sitka

The Dee Daniels Vocal Jazz Workshop is underway this week in Sitka.  For the last two years, Daniels has interrupted her touring and teaching schedule to live at the Sitka Fine Arts Camp, and coach a half-dozen students of widely-ranging ages and ability.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Categories: Alaska News
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