Last year, an unprecedented 12-day King salmon fishing closure on the Kuskokwim River devastated the subsistence harvest of the fish. Instead of taking about 75,000 Kings as usual, residents only caught 20,000. However, this year should be different.
The state’s projected King salmon run for the river is about the same as last year at 200,000 fish. The subsistence harvest will also be about the same, around 75,000 fish. The real difference is in escapement numbers. It comes from a change in how fish managers look at past data. It’s technical and has to do with changing their scientific method of tracking.
“We re-evaluated the escapement goals,” says Travis Elison, the State’s Kuskokwim Area Management Biologist.
He says that research over the past decade has culminated into this new method for calculating salmon populations. It was brought forward in the fall by the department and has given managers a more comprehensive look at the history of the run.
“It’s actually a great thing for subsistence users, in particular,” Elison says.
The new data dramatically lowers the amount of King salmon needed for escapement. Last year, state and federal biologists were managing for an escapement of 127,000. This year, it’s nearly half that, at 65,000.
“It means there’s more fish to harvest given the same run size,” Elison says.
Since less fish are needed to spawn, more fish are available for fishermen. It also means that there shouldn’t be as many closures on the Kuskokwim during the upcoming King run, even if the run turns out poor, like last year.
“I don’t think they’d be as severe as the 12 day closure we had,” Elison says.
Even if there is a days-long closure, Elison says they would likely open it up to fishing in the middle of the closure.
Elison stresses one caveat though: this is all just a prediction of how the summer will probably go. The state and federal managers will end up going with what they see during the actual run. If last year’s run is any indication, what actually happens could be a far cry from what was predicted. Last year, the King run came in well below its forecast. Biologists were expecting to see about 197,000 fish, and only about half of that actually showed up.
Still, Elison says they remain cautiously optimistic because so many less fish are needed, according to their new method.
“Even if the run came in at the lower bound of 160,000, there should be enough fish for everyone to meet their needs and to meet the escapement needs,” Elison says.
State and federal managers plan to meet with the local advisory group — the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group –on May 10 about their recommendations for a preseason management strategy.
A five-year-old girl was fatally shot yesterday in Mountain Village after her older brother was handling a .22 caliber rifle.
Alaska State Troopers say the incident happened early Monday afternoon, when an eight-year-old boy was playing with a Ruger 10/22 rifle.
“He had used actually to go hunting the day before. But when he was handling the Ruger he ended up shooting his five year old sister and she died as a result of her injuries,” Trooper Spokesperson Megan Peters said.
Peters said the two children were alone in the house at the time of the shooting.
“The eight-year-old had been left at the residence. And in a span of about fifteen minutes, (his) five-year-old sister came in and it was in that short amount of time that this tragedy occurred.”
No charges have yet been filed in the case. Peters said the Alaska Office of Children’s Services and the Bethel District Attorney’s office has been contacted.
“It just goes to show you how much can go wrong in such a short amount of time. It’s a very big tragedy for the family of course.”
Peters encouraged families and individuals to talk with young people about gun safety.
It pays not to kill crab. Or at least that’s what Unalaska’s smallest fish processor is banking on for a new business venture.
Bering Fisheries started shipping live crab across the globe earlier this month. As KUCB’s Stephanie Joyce reports, initial results have been mixed, but the processor isn’t giving up just yet.
On the dock in front of the Bering Fisheries processing plant, there are four large, open-top tanks full of live golden king crab.
Caldero: “These have been only been in here for about 12 hours, but I think we can hold them in here for about two days before they get to the point where they start needing to be shipped out.”
That’s plant manager Rocky Caldero. The crab are destined for Korea, where they’ll fetch four or five times as much as their frozen counterparts — if they make it there alive.
Caldero: “I think if we can ship it from here, and get it to Korea, and only have 10 percent deadloss, then it’s successful.”
Keeping the crab alive while they travel first to Anchorage, and then across the Pacific isn’t easy. Caldero says the flight logistics can get complicated when Aleutian weather is factored in.
Caldero: “As soon as we know the plane is on its way, and we hope it lands, then we’ll start packing.”
Packing involves putting 40 pounds of pinching, scampering crab into boxes lined with both a plastic bag and an insulating layer, then pumping a bunch of oxygen into the bag and zip-tying it shut.
Caldero: “We messed around with it with opilio crab, and we got crab to last five days.”
The king crab from the holding tanks didn’t fare as well on their journey. By the time they arrived in Korea, 30 percent had died. Caldero says it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong — whether it’s the packing technique, or some error along the way, but he’s working on getting better results in the future. The market for live crab is exploding in Asia, particularly in China, and Caldero wants to make sure Bering Fisheries gets a piece of the market.
Caldero: “We’re going to do it with all the crab [species].”
That’s going to require some experimentation — every crab species reacts differently to intercontinental travel, and some, like the kings, will need more pampering than others.
Veteran’s services and especially long-term veteran’s housing options are scare in rural Alaska. But a private venture fueled by state funding is taking inspiration from two local veterans to make local veteran’s housing a reality for the Southeast communities of Haines and Klukwan.
National Weather Service Hydrologist Ed Plumb says breakup-related flood potential is moderate throughout the state.
“Some places could be cut off by water,” Plumb explains. “Because the water is too high to cross. You may need to get around with boats to get to some structures. It causes more of an inconvenience for people and also moderate could mean we could have some buildings with water into the buildings and not just under the buildings.”
That moderate rating has residents of Eagle on edge. The tiny Upper Yukon River community survived a devastating flood back in 2009. When a massive ice jam broke free that spring, a deluge of water wiped out the community’s historic riverfront and leveled the nearby Athabascan village. Some residents are preparing for another major flood this spring.
Predicting breakup along the Yukon River isn’t that straight forward, but current snowpack, river ice thickness and cool temperatures are coming together in a “perfect storm” scenario.
“We still have over a foot of snow in the woods right now,” says Andy Bassich, who homesteads roughly 12 miles downriver from the city of Eagle. “The ice was close to five feet thick and very solid with about eight inches of snow on it.”
“So all those indicators are pointing towards the possibility of a very high jamming-type breakup here at our place.”
Bassich and his partner Kate Rorke own a small house that’s nestled up against a place called Calico Bluff.
“We’re at the apex of a turn,” explains Bassich.
That turn in the river made the homestead a prime target for floodwaters back in 2009. Bassich and Rorke nearly lost their lives four years ago. Along with their 25 dogs, the two were rescued by helicopter off the top of their house. This year, Bassich isn’t taking any chances.
“I built a large raft about 16 by 20 foot with large barrels underneath of it and we plan on putting snow machines and tools up on top of that,” he says. “We just moved our fish rack with about 1500 fish on it and then I’m gonna start working on building an extension on the upper deck of our porch so that we can have an area to put all of our household goods.”
While he finds ways to float his belongings and move them above ground, partner Kate Rorke is moving their dogs. She’ll care for them at a small home the two maintain in town.
“I still haven’t stopped having dreams about water for four years,” says Rorke. “So that will tell you the impact it had.”
Before 2009, Eagle residents used to look forward to breakup. Pat Sanders has lived in Eagle for more than 30 years. In an interview last summer, she recalled a celebratory mood at the onset of warmer weather.
“Store owners will leave their stores and run to the riverbank when the ice starts to move,” she remembered. “Everybody’s jovial and happy and noisy and making jokes and barbeques and all sorts of things. After the 2009 flood, you really didn’t see people run to the riverbank when the ice started to move.”
Sanders likened her feelings to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
“Maybe akin to that in a small way, because when you see that that ice move… you see it moving and it sort of scares you now,” she said.
Ann Millard has similar feelings. She’s lived along the Yukon River bank for 17 years. Instead of cleaning off her barbecue this spring, she’s loading her personal belongings onto a school bus she can move to higher ground.
“We have artwork, some beading things that I won at the fair, a cook stove and we just bought a new Blaze King and so those things will be taken out and put into the storage bus with the motorcycle,” says Millard.
She’s packing a second school bus with household items, in case she and her husband have to live in it this summer.
“It’s like my grandma used to say, ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,’ and so we’ve decided we’re going to clear out everything of value in our house and if we have a house after break up then we’re going to paint it inside,” Millard says.
Other residents who live along the riverbank got a personal visit from Eagle City Mayor Don Woodruff. He’s trying to make those affected by the 2009 flood aware of conditions this year. Woodruff also posted lists of items to have on hand in the event of a flood or emergency evacuation. While he’s not necessarily a betting man, he says breakup in Eagle will likely happen before June, but after May 15.
Rural Alaska power costs are unsustainable. And this week, energy providers are gathering in Anchorage to find ways to help bring down those costs. The goal of the Alaska Rural Energy Conference is to create a forum to share ideas aimed at finding solutions for one of the biggest problems facing the state.
The colorful and often controversial former Governor, the late Wally Hickel is the subject of a new film entitled, “Alaska, the World and Wally Hickel.” Consulting producer Paul Brown says the film covers everything from Hickel’s resolve to rebuild downtown Anchorage after the devastating 1964 earthquake, to his firing by President Richard Nixon when he served as Interior Secretary and disagreed with Nixon over the war in Vietnam. The former Governor was around 78 years old when Brown met him. He says Hickel was still youthful in his vision.
Minister Ali al-Naimi scoffed at U.S. leaders who extol energy independence, especially from the Middle East, as a political goal.
“This talk of ending reliance is a naive, rather simplistic view,” he told a crowded conference room at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “It seems to conflate on the one hand U.S. foreign policy and on the other U.S. energy policy.”
Al-Naimi said even with the rapid technological gains that led to the current gas boom in the Lower 48, the United States can’t isolate itself from geopolitics or globally commodities markets.
Shale gas accounts for less than half of U.S. gas supply.
And, al-Naimi said, the U.S. bought more Saudi oil in 2012 than any year before.
“Just as I didn’t buy into the peak oil theories, I do not go along with the opinion that increasing U.S. liquid production means the United States could and should detach itself from international affairs,” he said.
That’s especially true considering there are a dozen export permits for liquified natural gas pending before the federal government.
Some 70% of Saudi exports go to Asian markets; the same markets Alaska would like to export its LNG to.
Shell has named a replacement for its outgoing head of Arctic operations, David Lawrence, who is leaving by mutual consent after numerous problems with the company’s Chukchi and Beaufort Sea exploratory operations and a federal report that blamed the company for poor oversight of its contractors. The new boss at Shell Arctic will be Ann Pickard, who has been running the company’s Australia operations, concentrating largely on natural gas and Liquefied Natural Gas.
Fairbanks public gas utility has applied to the state for a service area. It’s an initial step for the entity created by the North Star Borough assembly last fall.
The city of Anchorage has rejected a second version of an application to hold a referendum to repeal a new ordinance that limits unions. And it looks like whether the referendum goes forward will be decided in court.
The clerk’s office rejected the latest referendum application because attorneys say the ordinance is administrative rather than legislative, so it can’t be reversed by a referendum. Andy Holleman, with the Anchorage Education Association was a sponsor of the application. He disagrees with the city’s decision.
“The next step now is to go to the courts and ask them to rule on it.”
The group’s second attempt at a referendum cleaned up some technical problems with the first application.
Holleman says union leaders will be asking the court for expedited consideration and for the law to be suspended. But he says their primary goal, is to bring the law before the people of Anchorage for a vote.
“Real bargaining needs to be balanced between both parties. And essentially we feel that what Dan Sullivan did, prior to starting bargaining, is he went in an legislated a lot of what he wanted to see at the bargaining table.”
Attorney’s working for the Municipality on behalf of the Sullivan Administration maintain the referendum can’t legally go forward. The ordinance impacts around 22-hundred municipal employees. It limits pay, benefits and mediation, and eliminates the option of a strike.
The spring whaling season is underway on Alaska’s North Slope. The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission reports St Lawrence Island whaling crews are having success with four bowheads landed by Savoonga hunters and two for Gambell. Whalers on the mainland coast are ready and waiting.
Barrow elder Walter Akpik isn’t participating in the hunt this year, but he’s likely following it closely. Last summer, he spoke with reporter Anne Hillman for part of our series on Alaska culture, and described just what it takes to land a whale.
With the signature booklets hot off the printers, opponents of a controversial tax cut for oil companies should be able to start gathering support for their referendum Tuesday.
Vic Fischer, one of the lead organizers behind the repeal movement, says they’re taking a grassroots approach.
“There’ll be some standing on the street, outside the post office,” says Fischer. “And there will be others who will circulate at community meetings wherever they can.”
Backers of the referendum have until July 13 to collect more than 30,000 signatures, if they want their question to appear on next year’s ballot. But Fischer says they want even more than that: They’re try to get over 40,000 voters to join their effort.
There are a few reasons for that. Logistically, organizers want insurance in case some of their signatures don’t qualify, and they have enough support from districts across the state. Deborah Vogt, an organizer in Southeast, says there’s also a political benefit to going beyond the minimum number required by the state.
“It’s certainly an opportunity to start campaigning — to crank people up about voting about on the referendum, even though it’s over a year away.”
While the “Vote Yes — Repeal the Giveaway” effort may already be underway, the measure they’re seeking to repeal has not yet been signed into law. Gov. Sean Parnell, who has long championed tax cuts as a way of encouraging oil production, is still waiting for the bill to transmitted to his office. The bill attracted opposition from a mix of Democrats and coastal Republicans, who argued that it would cost the state about a billion dollars in revenue without any commitments from oil companies.
The state Supreme Court gave the state Redistricting Board the clarification it was looking for last week. It said its order requiring the Board to draft a map of legislative districts based on the criteria of the state Constitution should involve all districts, not the few in which there is a federal concern to preserve Native voting power. There was no immediate response from Board chairman John Torgerson, who has said in the past that the Board intends to do nothing until the U.S. Supreme Court decides on the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act.
Plaintiff’s attorney Jason Gazewood says he is concerned that the Board will stall until it’s too late to implement a new redistricting plan. That’s what happened in 2012, when the Court allowed the flawed plan to govern who got to vote for which state legislator to go into effect temporarily because of lack of time.
Another weak Yukon River Chinook salmon return is forecast for this summer. It would be the latest in a decade’s long trend of below normal returns, and fishery managers anticipate another season of harvest restrictions.
Long time marine transport providers Crowley Marine Services and Ukpeagvik Inupiat Corporation or UIC Bowhead have formed a joint venture to help meet the growing demand for services in the Arctic.
Jim Dwight is general manager of Bowhead Transport Company. He says as on and offshore development ramp up in the arctic, the UIC Bowhead Crowley partnership will be ready for the challenges:
“We’re there year round, we’ve been there year round. It’s operations that Crowley and Bowhead from a logistics point of view, marine transportation point of view, lighterage, very special, shallow draft vessels for going, virtually anywhere between the Canadian Border and Kotzebue Sound. We have all the gear to get into all the little nooks and crannies along the way,” Dwight said.
Dwight says the services they will provide to oil, gas and possibly mining companies will not be new or unique, but the work will considerably expand their fleet.
“The range on that is anywhere from seven or eight million dollar landing craft to a 40 to 50 million dollar specialized tug and barge set with various capabilities for pollution control and anchor work and that sort of thing. So there’s a wide range of vessels and cost that we’re looking at, in the big picture here and the big picture is a five to 15 to 20 year program,” Dwight said.
Dwight says he can’t say yet how many more jobs it will translate into. He says they are targeting Shell and ConocoPhillips for the transport and pollution control equipment needs they will have as they work on offshore development. Dwight adds they immediately have several years of work at the Point Thomson site, located 60 miles east of Prudhoe Bay.
A series of aluminum canisters have been washing up on the shores of Southeast Alaska, and more recently in the Kodiak Archipelago. Two were discovered on Afognak Island earlier this month and last week another was found on Queer Island, near Kalsin Bay.
The canisters contain a compound with the trade name phostoxin, which when exposed to the moisture in the air creates phosphine gas.
“Which is highly toxic and poisonous and leads to, well, death, really,” Tom Pogson, director of marine programs for Island Trails Network in Kodiak, said.
Pogson has been monitoring the reports of the canisters throughout Alaska. He said there have only been a handful, but it’s still concerning as more and more citizens take to the beaches to help with marine debris clean ups.
A spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Ecology, Curt Hart, said the canisters were big problem in Washington State three years ago.
“If they’re the same canisters that we have received on our beaches in years past, these are insecticides. And the common use for these canisters is they’re filled with a powder insecticide. Applicators pour them in a cloth sock and they put them in the hulls of grain ships that are headed for, typically for Asia. And it’s to keep insects from eating the raw foodstuff inside,” Hart said.
Hart said the canisters aren’t a problem if they’re found with the lids off, and can be safely collected and thrown away.
“If the canisters still have the lid on, we recommend they not take the lid off, because there could be residue. And the residue is potentially harmful to human health. And to move them out of the beach area (and this is what we do in our state) give our agency a call. Let us know where they’re located and then we’ll either go out and pick them up or work with local authorities who will go out and pick them up,” Hart said.
In Alaska, the contact agency would be the Department of Environmental Conservation, which is currently tracking and handling hazardous waste on shorelines throughout the state.
Hart said the canisters were washing up by the dozens in Washington, which is why the state made a concerted effort to work with the ports and grain terminals to make sure the canisters were being properly disposed of. Signage went up on beaches, and educational material was sent out to coastal towns so beach-goers knew what to do if they saw a canister. Since then, he said very few have washed up on the state’s beaches, and no injuries were reported.
As for Alaska, neither Hart nor Pogson are exactly sure where the canisters are coming from. The numbers aren’t alarming, but both agreed it’s still important for folks to be aware.
A Delta Junction-area farmer is cleaning up from a barn fire that killed hundreds of chickens and other livestock that provided most of her livelihood. Brandy McClean is seeking help in an effort to save her business.
McLean was picking through the charred debris of what’s left of her barn last week, looking for anything that can be salvaged after the fire destroyed the structure on April 20th.
“Like I said, my laptop computer was in there,” she said, grabbing a blackened mass of melted plastic, “and that’s what we got left.”
The fire eliminated her main livelihood, 500 laying hens, and many ducks, geese and turkeys that she also kept in the 16-by-32-foot, two story structure. It also destroyed bags of feed, hardware, and pretty much every tool she has, except a thing or two like the steel head of a sledge hammer that she fished out of the ashes.
“This I think will,” she said, brushing ash from the underside of the heavy tool where the wooden handle burned off. “That’s a nice and heavy one. I think we’ll be able to salvage it.”
McLean built the barn with her own money, and some donated by her parents. She’s been raising chickens for about eight years now, and has operated the Triple McLean Farms, just outside of Delta, for about 12 years, with the help of mainly her two sons, 8-year-old Codey, and Morgen, age 13.
She’s a woman of slight stature, 37 years of age, and she’s obviously a tough and dedicated farmer who’s determined to stay in business. But the barn wasn’t insured, and she must build a new one. So she’s asking for help, in the form of donations – cash, tools, feed, all the stuff needed to run a farm.
“I hate asking for help. I don’t do it, you know?” she said. “But this is how I raise my kids, and I have to” ask for help. “It’s kind of a Catch-22, because I’ve got to rebuild in order to make the money to support my family. But I don’t have the money to rebuild and do it.”
As she spoke, three Large Black Hogs that she’s also raising grunted in the background. They were not in the barn when it burned.
McLean is raising the hogs organically, like the free-ranging hens lost in the fire. Despite the setback, she says she can’t stop to complain or recoup, because she’s got to keep working – especially now, the busiest time of year for a farmer.
“There’s always so much work to do,” she said. “Especially, with this late spring, y’know, getting to our crops planted, and getting the birds growing. And now we have more work to do to try and salvage and rebuild. And we will. We’re still in business. We want people to know we’re still in business.”
Denali State Bank has set up an account for the Triple McLean Farm, and there’s anonline fund-raising account for electronic donations.
Editor’s note: Brandy McLean may be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at (907) 895-2291 or (907) 460-0236.
Several canoe groups are paddling down the Inside Passage to Wrangell for the Shakes Island Rededication event this week.
Two canoes traveling from Juneau hit bad weather and rough water on Saturday. One canoe was lost.
Both canoes left Juneau on April 24th. They were each accompanied by a support boat.
The Raven canoe belongs to the One People Canoe Society and has paddlers from several Southeast communities and Washington state.
The second canoe is from the Sealaska native corporation and has a Yakutat-based crew.
Alicia Chilton is on the board of the One People Canoe Society. She’s also a paddler on the Raven Canoe.
“On the third day of our journey out of Juneau, we headed out. We knew the weather was bad so we decided not to paddle that day, and we towed the canoes out. It was a little rough at the beginning and then it really began to pick up,” said Chilton.
She said the weather report showed some rough water in Seymour Canal and Stephens Passage. But they were not prepared for how bad it would get.
“We watched the raven canoe start to fill up with some water. We ended up hitting some waves that were 10 to 12 feet and there was no way we could stop to bail out the canoe in that rough of seas,” said Chilton.
Chilton said all the paddlers could do was stand on the deck of the support boat and hope for the best. She said the crew keeps their paddles under the seats when the canoe is being towed. About 15 paddles were swept overboard.
“When we went to turn, the line slacked in, and all the water from the back of the canoe rolled forward. And that’s when she just went down and the line broke. And we watched her drift away from us,” said Chilton.
She said it would have been too dangerous for the support boat to stop and go after the canoe.
Several other boats in the area, including at least one fishing tender, raced to help the crew.
Meanwhile, a short distance away, the same thing was happening to the Sealaska canoe. It too broke its tow line and was washed away.
The lost Raven Canoe was spotted on a rocky shore where it had beached itself. It was retrieved safely at about 2pm on Saturday.
The Sealaska canoe was found about two hours later.
The plan was to tow both canoes to Kake, where they could be inspected for damage, repaired if necessary, and sent back on their journey.
The Raven canoe made it. The Sealaska canoe did not.
During the recovery, it broke its tow line for a second time. It is still missing.
The Raven canoe and its crew arrived in Kake late Sunday afternoon. Gianna Willard is one of the paddlers.
“The boat ride was really rough. By the time we finally got to dry land we were all really exhausted and really hungry. And Kake welcomed us with open arms. They had this huge potluck spread for us. There were people greeting us with coffee at the door to warm us up. It was just a really warm welcoming. We were really glad to see it,” said Willard.
The Sealaska crew made it to Kake as well.
And, Chilton said, everyone is coming together to make the best of a harrowing experience.
Kake resident Mike Jackson and the crew of the Sitka Suicide Prevention canoe, among others, are loaning paddles to the Raven crew to make up for those lost overboard.
The Sealaska crew has found a new home.
“What’s happening now is that the Juneau and Yakutat crewmembers—we’ve got a total of 18—will be rotating through the Raven canoe. So Juneau and Yakutat are combining into one now,” said Chilton.
The Raven canoe is expected to arrive in Wrangell waters on Wednesday.
Southeast’s Inter-Island Ferry Authority will soon be short on cash. The authority sails between Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan.