Share this story: Business | Fisheries | State GovernmentAudit recommends changes to state’s commercial fisheries commissionOctober 29, 2015 by Molly Dischner, KDLG Share:A report by the Legislature’s audit division said changes to the state’s Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, or CFEC, could result in $1.2 million in annual savings within three years. CFEC manages participation in the state’s limited entry fisheries, like Bristol Bay.The report suggests moving to three part-time commissioners, instead of the three full-time commissioners it’s currently allotted, and hiring an executive director to oversee day to day operations. It also suggested having the Alaska Department of Fish and Game take on the agency’s administrative work, like issuing annual permits.Kris Curtis, from Legislative Audit, said it would take about three years to make the reforms that would result in the savings.The report was requested by Homer Rep. Paul Seaton in 2014. Fieldwork began last winter, and the report was released after the legislature’s joint budget and audit committee Oct. 21.Much of the report looked at efficiencies and savings. The agency is funded primarily by fishing permit fees, and takes in more than it spends, with the extra revenue supporting other state functions, including commercial fisheries management.Critics have complained that despite that, the organization spends more than is necessary, and has been slow to perform its work in recent years. The audit notes that there are about 28 applications for fishing permits that have been ongoing for more than 10 years, and not yet resolved.The audit also recommended finishing some long-term projects.“The audit also concluded that in general, the commissioners have not adequately managed the daily operations,” Curtis said. “Two projects specifically, the licensing system upgrade and the archival of agency documents had not been prioritized or properly managed.”While the audit raised some criticism about CFEC’s work during his time there, longtime commissioner Bruce Twomley said it also validated the need for the agency.“The auditors were quite strong in their recommendation that it is important and consistent with the original legislative intent that CFEC does continue,” he said after it was released. “I think that’s the most significant finding of the report.”A bill to eliminate the commission and move its duties to other bodies was introduced last session, but hasn’t yet been voted on. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, it’ll be up for discussion first in the House Resources Commission.Twomley said the audit reiterated the need to keep the two organizations separate.“The legislative intent underlying that notices that the kinds of decisions we make affect people individually, just like court decisions,” Twomley said. “And that’s very different from decisions that the department and the board of fisheries make, which affect whole classes of fishermen alike. It’s a different animal. And one of the notions mentioned by the report is keeping biological management separate from the economic management that we do so that one doesn’t influence the other.”Twomley said some of the report’s other recommendations made sense.“We’ve had an executive director in the past and we eliminated the exec director to absorb some budget cuts but the notion of an executive director is consistent with current needs,” he said.Changes to CFEC would have to be made by the Legislature.Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, said he’d like to see the governor spearhead an effort to introduce the recommendations in the report.“Personally, I’d like to see the Walker administration come forward with a bill. I’d like to see a neutral party bring legislation to the Legislature so we that we can look at this, again, very carefully from all aspects, and to look at it particularly from a cost-benefit analysis to fishermen throughout the state.”This is the second report this year to suggest changes to the organization. Last winter, Fish and Game issued its own report that offered five different options for reform, from some light restructuring to eliminating the agency and moving some of its functions.
Alcohol & Substance Abuse | Juneau | Politics | Southcentral | State GovernmentOverdose antidote bill is one of few minority-sponsored bills that passesMarch 8, 2016 by Andrew Kitchenman, KTOO and Alaska Public Media Share:The House passed a bill Monday that provides civil immunity to those who give an antidote to reverse overdoses from heroin and other opioid drugs.Sen. Johnny Ellis in the Alaska Senate chambers, March, 7, 2016. (Photo by Skip Gray/360 North)Anchorage Democratic Sen. Johnny Ellis sponsored the bill. This made it unusual, since few bills sponsored by members of the minority party ever come up for votes.The passage of Senate Bill 23 received unanimous support, with every representative present voting for it.If the Senate – which already passed an earlier version – approves of the current bill, and Gov. Bill Walker signs it – the bill would join a small group of minority Democratic bills that become law.Ellis said the urgency to pass the law came in part from the rising number of overdose deaths both in Alaska and nationally. The bill allows doctors and pharmacists to provide naloxone, or Narcan, a drug that reverses the effects of overdoses.“We have a heroin addiction overdose epidemic in the state of Alaska,” Ellis said. “And I knew that we had achieved a breakthrough when I heard Hillary Clinton talk about Narcan, this life-saving miracle drug to reverse opioid overdoses. And heard (New Jersey Gov.) Chris Christie, who was vying for the Republican nomination for president, speak up in favor of the legislation.”The urgency over the issue was cited by Wasilla Republican Representative Lynn Gattis, who worked with Ellis on the bill. Gattis notes that the House has focused on budget bills recently, but leaders allowed the overdose antidote bill to advance.“I also applaud leadership for recognizing that this is a life and death issue, for making an exception to this incredibly unique and critically important bill,” Gattis said.Since 2013, only nine of 180 bills — or 5 percent — passed by the Legislature had minority-caucus sponsors. That’s because the Republican-led majority controls which bills receive votes.Ellis recalled that a similar pattern held when Democrats have controlled the majority.He said that over time, the minority bills that did advance had broad support, including backing from important groups. The overdose antidote bill was supported by the Alaska State Medical Association.“It really did help that the original idea for the bill, the original support was the State Medical Association,” he said. “And Republican majority members often listen to medical doctors, and (doctors) wanted a release from civil liability.”While minority-supported bills that become laws have very different subjects, one thing they have in common is support from a broad coalition — one that has the attention of the majority.For example Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, a Sitka Democrat, was the sponsor of another prominent minority-sponsored bill. It made Alaska Native languages official languages in the state.He said that it helps when bills can draw on broad coalitions of supporters, rather than narrow support.“If you focus on ideological legislation that isn’t shared by a majority of a body, it’s less likely to pass, whether it’s extreme to the right or extreme to the left,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “I think if you look at deeply conservative or deeply liberal legislation, the rates of passage for that kind of legislation is pretty low.”House Minority Leader Rep. Chris Tuck, an Anchorage Democrat, said it can be frustrating that relatively few minority bills become law. He says he’d do it differently if he ever has the power to change it. Democrats haven’t had a majority in the House in 22 years.“People ask me, well, Democrats are going to do the same thing when they’re in power,” Tuck said. “No, not initially. But if they reigned as long as this majority has control of everything, then things start becoming more heavy handed and more heavy handed and more heavy handed. So I think it’s a really good idea to have the power flip back and forth.”Ellis noted that Walker has signaled support for the bill, and he’s hopeful that it will become law soon.Share this story:
Video Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2017/03/crab_pile.mp400:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Sorting opilio and bairdi crabs on the deck of the FV Polar Sea (Video courtesy Daher Jorge / Polar Sea captain). “How many Opies?”“200,” said a crew member.“How many Bairdi?” Jorge said.“100.”“This is not like we’re faking it,” Jorge said. “This is just one video. It is reality. It’s right there. This is not going to lie.”Those 100 Bairdi all go back in the ocean. Had the Bairdi season opened, Jorge would have been able to sell them.“I mean, it’s a no-brainer,” Jorge said. “Instead of throwing over the side, why we can’t we put one species in one tank and a different species in the other tank?”He says fishing both species would have reduced bycatch — saving fishermen time and money, and saving the crab population a lot of incidental deaths.Opilio crab is offloaded from the Polar Sea. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)But their experience in the ocean didn’t match the predictions from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Management biologist Miranda Westphal said the annual crab survey in October showed low numbers across the board for all species — a trend she connected to warmer ocean waters.“Everything’s just kind of below threshold,” Westphal said. “We’re not seeing a whole lot of recruitment right now. It’s sort of a theme this season.”Managers reduced the quota for red king crab by 15 percent, cut the Opilio quota in half, and cancelled the Bairdi season entirely.With crabbing season now wrapping up, Westphal didn’t want to comment on whether the quotas for Bairdi, or any other species, were appropriate.But Dave Harris thinks the Department of Fish and Game made a mistake. He’s captain of the Arctic Mariner and has hauled pots in the Bering Sea for more than 40 years. In that time, he says he’s never seen the department get the quotas so wrong, and not just with Bairdi.“You might see it in one fishery or the other,” Harris said. “But not all three fisheries. Something’s wrong with this picture. Something’s wrong with the model or surveys or something.”Neither Jorge or Harris is able to attend the Board of Fisheries meetings in person. But they’ve shared their thoughts, videos, and pictures in the hopes of bridging the gap between what they’re seeing and what managers are documenting in their surveys.The meeting agenda includes proposals that might open the fishery even when stocks are low or permit fishermen to keep some of the crab bycatch that’s thrown back when the fishery is closed.Because the Board of Fisheries works on a region based schedule, the statewide King, Opilio, and Bairdi crab fisheries won’t be on the docket again until 2019.Share this story: Alaska’s Energy Desk | Fisheries | Oceans | WesternFish and Game says crab counts were low this season, fishermen totally disagreeMarch 23, 2017 by Zoë Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk Share:When Captain Daher Jorge and his crew fished for Opilios, they found a surprising number of Bairdi crab. (Laura Kraegel/KUCB)The Bering Sea Bairdi (or Tanner) crab fishery stayed closed this year, for the first time in four years. State biologists decided there were too few crab to safely harvest. But fishermen are questioning that decision. They say there were plentiful Bairdi when they were fishing for other species.At a Board of Fisheries meeting in Anchorage this week, commissioners will look into the possibility of opening the fishery even in low abundance years.Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2017/03/22-BOF-crab.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.The crew of the Polar Sea stands at a metal table on the deck, sorting through a fresh pot of crab. They’re looking for Opilio (another snow crab related to Bairdi) keepers. Captain Daher Jorge rolls video on his iPhone and asks for a count.
Business | Fisheries | Public Safety | SouthwestF/V Akutan’s sad, failed season in Bristol BayAugust 15, 2017 by Dave Bendinger, KDLG-Dillingham Share:The 180-foot Akutan anchored is anchored August 5, 2017, in the Nushagak Bay not far from the Dillingham dock. (Photo by Dave Bendinger/KDLG)Fiasco. Disaster. Nightmare.These are words used by those involved with the floating processor Akutan to describe a fishing season gone terribly wrong.The Akutan, owned by Klawock Oceanside, Inc., was supposed to custom process up to 100,000 pounds of Bristol Bay salmon a day for a small fleet of fishermen under the banner Bristol Bay Seafoods.After July 25, it was bound for the Kuskokwim to give local fishermen their only salmon market.Audio Playerhttps://cpa.ds.npr.org/kdlg/audio/2017/08/akutan_package.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.Nothing went right.The owners, the fishing fleet, the lender, and the crew have gone unpaid or lost big sums of money.Onboard the vessel sits 130,000 pounds of headed-and-gutted sockeye salmon, the only bounty other than the vessel itself that may eventually compensate the parties involved.The owners, fishermen, and other parties filed liens against that fish as the 180-foot floating processor Akutan and a skeleton crew limped out of the silty, shallow Nushagak Bay Sunday to seek repairs at a blue water port.“We’re in peril,” Captain Steve Lecklitner said Saturday. “We know we cannot stay in this river. It’s breaking down our systems. The owners have basically abandoned the vessel. The mortgage holders and the lenders have not established contact. I’m trying to get parts for our generator, and as soon as that’s done, it’s our intention to move the vessel to Dutch Harbor.”Best laid plansAfter last season a group of about 15 Bristol Bay drift boat fishermen decided to again pursue their own market. These fishing families are members of an Old Believer community in Homer and are commonly, and not pejoratively, referred to as the “Russians” in Bristol Bay’s fleet.Skipper Kiril Basargin, a leader of this group, has been vocal about his frustration with the “mega corporate seafood buyers” that process 99 percent of Bristol Bay’s catch, faulting them for catch limits and low prices. In 2015 he brought his concerns to the state’s board of fisheries, telling them that Bristol Bay’s seafood companies promise “every year that they are going to keep up, and not holding there [sic] promises. Holding on, the commercial fisherman loses money every minute while they sit. We finally got tired of sitting and losing our seasons. The huge corporations control the markets and commercial fisherman. Finally in Bristol Bay in 2014 Wild Legacy Seafoods was born,” he wrote.What happened to Wild Legacy Seafoods is unclear. But ahead of the 2017 season, Basargin and others formed a new company, Bristol Bay Seafoods LLC, to be their own “buyer”. They hired Klawock Oceanside to be their processor.“And really they’ve lost their whole season to mismanagement and mis-operation of the F/V Akutan,” said William Earnhart, an attorney for the Bristol Bay Seafoods fishermen.Klawock Oceanside is owned by Larry Lang, who says his career in Alaska fish processing began with a job shoveling shrimp out of shrimp boats in Seward in 1963. From there, Lang worked in Ketchikan, then ran the Sitka Cold Storage Company till its 1973 fire, and went on to operate fish companies in Kodiak, Klawock, and floating processors at sea.“The only thing I haven’t processed is pollock,” the 75-year-old says with a laugh.Lang, who lives in Poulsbo, Washington, also ran tenders for a numbers of years, too.“I lost so darn much money being a cash buyer in Bristol Bay, and I started to raise a big family, and I just had to get something that was a little more secure. So I tendered, and we did real well with that. And then uh, we decided tendering was boring,” Lang says, neglecting to mention a July 2001 fire that sank his 72-foot vessel Excursion near Port Moller. He and three others were rescued at sea by the Coast Guard.Lang says he leased a fish plant in Klawock for eight years before purchasing the 180-foot vessel Akutan four years ago. Built in 1944, the Akutan processed fish and crab in Alaska waters for many years, but Lang says had been “tied up” in Seattle for two decades before he got ahold of this one “heck of a boat.” He sent the Akutan to buy salmon in Norton Sound for three years, then tried getting into cod in 2016. That did not go well.“We lost our butt on codfish at Dutch Harbor. We just … I never lost money like that in my life.”Lang says he sold some property to help finance the Akutan’s 2017 operations, but money was running low. His primary lender, Alaska Growth Capital, was tightening the purse strings, too.Earnhart, the attorney for the fishermen, says his clients had by January firmed up their agreement with Lang, who was also planning to buy Kuskokwim salmon after Bristol Bay.According to their contract, Klawock Oceanside would have the Akutan ready process 100,000 pounds of sockeye per day in Bristol Bay by June 15, and the season would end on July 25. Bristol Bay Seafoods would pay Klawock $16,000 per day for those 40 days, plus the same rate for four additional days for travel time from Seattle. That would total a little over $700,000 Lang would raise to run the boat, pay the crew, and turn a profit before heading to the Kuskokwim.The fleet loaned $100,000 to Lang upfront last spring, which the contract stipulated would be paid back first. They purchased $70,000 in packaging, scales, and other supplies, and loaded them on the boat. Bristol Bay Seafoods loaned a further $230,000, according to their attorney, as it became clear the Akutan was in need some of important last minute capital.In early June the fishermen told Icicle Seafoods they had their own market this year and would not be fishing for the company. Lang hired a captain and crew to run the vessel and crew members to process the fish, all of whom began trickling into Seattle before June 15. Fishing was already underway in Bristol Bay, and an unexpectedly large season was about to break wide open.A really late startAs per the contract signed on May 30, the Akutan was to be on the fishing grounds by June 15. Unbeknownst to the crew arriving in Seattle, and perhaps unbeknownst to the fishing fleet, it was pretty clear that deadline was not going to happen.According to Lang, his bank Alaska Growth Capital, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, had seized the boat for his failure to make payments on the principal loan.“They had the boat for two weeks,” said Lang. “We couldn’t even get on it to work. We tried, but it took another week to get everything moving, so we were basically three weeks behind by the time we got everything in flux again.”AGC did not confirm the details of the arresting of the Akutan prior to the season, but did confirm that it did not have ownership post-season. Lang says the bank figured out it probably could not auction the Akutan for what he still owed on it.“It was a bad decision to seize the boat,” he said. “They came to us and wanted to give it back.”“We had a lot of problems getting off with the boat running,” said Curtis Bischer, a 55-year-old from New Orleans, Louisiana, who signed on as the cook. Bischer said he got his kitchen prepped and food loaded while he watched the captain and crew clear remaining problems with the Coast Guard. Then they set out from Seattle.“Little did we know a nightmare was coming,” said Bischer, who says he has been working offshore since 1990, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico.Just outside of the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, the Akutan lost a main engine, and Captain Lecklitner turned her around for repairs. What happened over the next two weeks is unclear, but the Akutan finally made it to Bristol Bay either July 7 or July 9, depending on differing accounts. The vessel took its first fish over the rail late on July 9.By then, according to state Fish and Game records, the total run to Bristol Bay was already 38 million strong, and set and drift net fishermen had already hauled in more than 24 million sockeye. The Bristol Bay Seafoods fleet had thus far sat mostly idle as their fellow fishermen were having their best ever seasons, especially in the Nushagak where the run shattered all expectations and set previously unthinkable records.“The season was pretty much over,” said Lang, who stayed in Washington but posted his son Carson Lang onboard as the processing manager. “It was over. There was a little bit of fish left in Egegik, and a little bit of fish left in Ugashik. So we didn’t have much of a season for these guys.”That the season was over is not quite accurate. From July 10 till July 30, the state went on to tally another 13 million sockeye harvested, and the total run climbed past 56 million, the fourth largest in Bristol Bay’s history.The run was so unexpectedly big that most of Bristol Bay’s processors “plugged up” and put their fleet on catch limits or closures, just as Basargin complained they often do. The last thing any company struggling with the catch volume wanted was anymore fish or anymore fishermen. Icicle Seafoods did not take the Bristol Bay Seafoods fleet back mid-season, despite the urgent pleas from the fishermen for a market. The boats were able to sell some catch to Copper River Seafoods, but according to their attorney, this didn’t amount of much.The Akutan took its last delivery of fish on July 19, amounting to nine or 10 days’ of fishing. Earnhart claims the Akutan was never able to live up to its contract with his clients to process 100,000 pounds per day.“The Akutan did not appear in Bristol Bay until three weeks late, missing the heart of the season. When it did get there, it could only process about 20,000 pounds in 24 hours, and that never got appreciably better,” he said. He attributed some of the shortcomings to problems with freezing and processing equipment.“While we were in the middle of processing, the contractor of the vessel and the owner of the vessel started litigation against each for breach of contract,” said Lecklitner, the captain of the boat. “And in the interim, the mortgage holder of Klawock decided to call the mortgage and all the financing dried up. Work stopped.”Some of the unpaid crewmembers of the F/V Akutan. Pictured here in late July outside Dillingham as they waited to get ashore and get home. (Photo courtesy Darlene Drummer)The unpaid crew and a vessel in peril“As this trip went through, I kept checking my bank account,” said Curtis Bischer, the chef, saying he never saw a deposit. “I was on 42 days, and I’m wondering, where’s my pay? I’m supposed to be getting paid $125 a day, with a bonus on top of $125 a day upon finalization of the trip. Well, they breached their contract for non-payment. They were not paying me. I was working virtually for free, which the whole crew was also.”Most of the rest of the crew on the Akutan were working their first job at sea, and most had been out of cell phone and internet range for weeks by the time they realized no deposits had been made. For those hired to process fish, they had earned nowhere near the hours they expected, and as Bristol Bay’s season wrapped up, were still not aware that the follow on work in the Kuskokwim was falling apart, too.On July 23 the Akutan anchored up outside of the Dillingham harbor, presumably waiting for instructions on what to do with 130,000 pounds of frozen sockeye onboard. Darlene Drummer from Rosharon, Texas, says two days passed and the crew began to get restless. She said Carson Lang, Larry Lang’s son who was onboard as the processing manager, still relayed optimism of more work in the Kuskokwim.“He calls a group meeting and says, ‘When we get over there, we’re going to start processing fish, and it’s going to be a lot of work. We’re going to do at least a hundred hours per week, it’s going to be continuous.’ So we’re happy because we know we’re going to start clocking those hours we need to earn that income,” Drummer said.As the days went by, the crew grew more anxious. They were not privy to the specifics of the negotiations between the parties. Drummer says they heard the fishermen had backed out of the deal, the bank would probably seize the boat, and that there might not be more work in the Kuskokwim.“But we’re just processors, we don’t know what’s going on, and we don’t even know that language,” she said. “This is our first year doing it. All we know is we were contracted to do a job, we worked, we met our obligations, and we just want to get paid and go home.”To add to the misery, the boat was having an increasingly difficult time staying on anchor near Dillingham. An engine went down, as did a generator. Food was running low, and the water became undrinkable. Captain Lecklitner decided to move to Clark’s Point where there is fresh saltwater available to make potable water and clean out the vessel’s clogged up filters.When he did so, the crew lost their cell phone service. That is when frustrations began to boil over, says Drummer.“We’re there for like three days and we’re like, ‘you need to take us back to Dillingham where we can have phone access and talk to our people. Because we’re not getting no answers, you’re holding us out here, and you know what we can’t talk to anybody. And we can’t get off this durn vessel!’”These crew members say they had been promised a 90 day contract with unlimited overtime and were planning to make at least $15,000, hopefully more. Instead, the crew were learning of mounting financial woes back home.“People have lost their homes, they can’t pay their bills, I’m getting ready to lose my health insurance. Their losses are just devastating,” said Captain Lecklitner, who had also not been paid when he spoke with KDLG on August 5.“The story is what it is,” said Drummer. “These people are stuck on this vessel, they want to go home, but it’s like being held captive. No one is holding a gun to our head, but basically you’re being held because you don’t have the resources to go home.”A temporary solutionNegotiations between Klawock Oceanside, Bristol Bay Seafoods, and Alaska Growth Capital broke down while the Akutan sat anchored outside of Dillingham between July 23 and August 6.“We just flat ran out of money,” Lang said, pointing out that the parties could not agree on what if anything should be paid to Klawock, who owns the fish onboard, and whether or not the bank holds title to the mess alongside the mortgage.“I guess this will all be sorted out in court, sad to say,” said Lang, pledging that he will pay the crew first if any money is raised from the processing, sale of the fish, or the sale of the Akutan.By August 3, the satellite phone was turned off, and the captain heard no more from Lang, the fleet, or AGC after the bank stepped in to get most of the crew off the boat and on their way home.Ty Hardt, senior communications director for ASRC, said AGC bought tickets for 11 crewmembers and gave them $500 each as they passed through Anchorage.“Because we had heard what had happened with these folks, and they would be stuck in Bristol Bay if that wasn’t the case,” Hardt said of why AGC intervened. “As I understand these employees have been very appreciative. We were glad to do it, and I think it was the right thing to do.”Ten left the Akutan and flew out of Dillingham on a rainy Wednesday, August 2. Curtis Bischer, the chef, did not take the ticket to go home, saying he really had no home to go to without his season’s pay.“Here I am, I was dropped off in Dillingham on the side of the road, in the mud. I’m scared for what’s happened to me. I’ve been traumatized here. I’ve never experienced anything like this my life,” he said.Cameron Adams, a 35-year-old from Missouri City, Texas, chose not to get off the Akutan. He worked as hard as he could for two months, calling this summer of work a great opportunity to help get his life back on track.“I gave up a job for this. I have to nowhere to go back to. All I ever did was work for him,” he said, speaking of Larry Lang. “I didn’t quit, never, and I still didn’t quit. I’m still working for him, as you can see, still on this boat, in hopes on maybe getting paid when I get back to wherever this boat stops.”Adams and Drummer say they have no hard feelings towards Alaska’s fishing industry, and would come back to try it again.“I would love the opportunity to go with the same expectations of making that type of money in the short period of time,” said Drummer. “We’re working people, that’s what we do. And I’m not even mad at anybody. But I want my money.”Captain Lecklitner steamed out of Bristol Bay jaded and worn, feeling terrible for the crew who had left the boat without their wages. Lecklitner has been a captain for 15 years, running boats in various industries both in the U.S. and abroad. He said he has never seen anything quite like the 2017 voyage of the fishing vessel Akutan.“Never, and I’ve been in the middle of African nations fighting over boats, and it hasn’t been this complicated. The graft and corruption and everything that goes on with these African countries is pretty incredible, but I have never been in a situation that this was stressful and difficult to manage.”He reached safer port at Dutch Harbor, and said on Monday, August 14, that he believes all parties have abandoned responsibility for the vessel and the fish on board. There is no money to keep the Akutan safely moored or powered, and the captain has notified authorities of his peril. He hopes to find someone to purchase the sockeye before he shuts down the freezers. This ship’s captain from Texas does not know what will then happen to the 180-foot fishing vessel Akutan.Share this story:
Alaska’s Energy Desk | Aleutians | Weather | WildlifeScientists confirm traditional knowledge regarding seal pup migrationMarch 1, 2018 by Zoë Sobel, Alaska’s Energy Desk Share:This map shows contrasts in travel between tagged seal pups in 2005 and 2015. These are portions of the pup tracks in November-December, after they left their birth islands. The tracks are overlaid on an 1895 chart displaying the understanding at that time of where northern fur seals traveled during their migration. (Courtesy Noel Pelland/Proceedings of the Tribunal of Arbitration at Paris, Volume 7.)Audio Playerhttps://media.ktoo.org/2018/03/sealwind.mp300:0000:0000:00Use Up/Down Arrow keys to increase or decrease volume.In the late 1800s, the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury sent Captain C. L. Hooper to the Pribilof Islands to learn as much as he could about the northern fur seal from the Alaska Native people who lived there. At the time, the fur trade was big business.One of the lessons he recorded was that the seals are known to travel with the wind when possible. Now scientists have the data to back up that traditional knowledge.“We have this amazing technology that really allows us this very cool look at the lives of an individual animal and where it goes and what it does,” said Noel Pelland, physical oceanographer and postdoctoral researcher at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. “That’s helping us to quantify some of those things that have been discussed by the Aleut hunters.”Pelland is studying how climate affects the survival of northern fur seals in the Bering Sea, and wind may be an important factor.After pups leave the Pribilof Islands in late fall, they can migrate thousands of miles. Varying wind conditions mean pups can end up in a range of locations from the Aleutian Islands to the Gulf of Alaska.Pelland wants to know if the way the pups migrate, and where they end up, is affecting their survival.“In the best years about 50 percent of the pups that leave on their migration will make it to age two,”Pelland said. “In the worst years only about 20 percent of the pups will make it through their migration.”So far, Pelland and his colleagues have compared data from satellite tagged pups with weather models. Now, they want to compare year-to-year changes in the survival of the pups with where the pups end up.And he says the research helps make the case for all scientists to take traditional knowledge into account.“There’s this idea of a separation between ‘scientific knowledge’ and traditional knowledge. I think a much better way to look at it is as an continuum,”Pelland said. “There isn’t this formal separation. It’s all knowledge.”Wind might not be a factor in the fur seal decline, Pelland says but a better understanding of its role is important.Share this story:
Crime & Courts | Federal Government | Fisheries | Politics | WesternQuestions surrounding Supreme Court decision mean no federal officers patrolling lower Kuskokwim RiverJune 19, 2019 by Anna Rose MacArthur & Steve Heimel, KYUK-Bethel Share:The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is managing the federal waters of the lower Kuskokwim River during the 2019 king salmon run. (Graphic courtesy Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge)A U.S. Supreme Court decision is impacting the enforcement of fishing regulations on the Kuskokwim River. For the first time in at least seven years, no federal wildlife officers are patrolling the lower Kuskokwim River during king salmon season.The Department of the Interior chose to withhold federal officers following a decision in March by the U.S. Supreme Court. In Sturgeon v. Frost, the high court ruled in favor of moose hunter John Sturgeon, who was driving a hovercraft through the Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve when the National Park Service stopped him and ordered him off of his hovercraft. State law allows hovercrafts in Alaska, but the National Park Service does not allow them on federal lands.Sturgeon’s attorneys argued that it’s up to the state to decide what kind of transportation can be used in Alaska’s navigable waterways through federal lands under ANILCA, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act.The court agreed and ruled unanimously in favor of Sturgeon. The state of Alaska celebrated. Gov. Mike Dunleavey called the decision “an important moment for Alaska’s sovereignty.”While the ruling contains language leaving federal subsistence fishery jurisdiction in place through federal lands in Alaska, authorities now say that they are not sure they have the authority to enforce it on the lower Kuskokwim, where the river passes through the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. Refuge manager Ray Born says that the Trump administration has decided to put the issue on hold pending clarification.“Based on the Sturgeon decision,” Born said, “the Department of the Interior has decided not to send any refuge officers out on the river until we resolve what that Supreme Court decision means.”In other words, they haven’t decided whether the landmark Katie John ruling, on which federal subsistence fishing regulation is based, allows federal authorities to enforce it. About 200 miles of the lower river falls within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge. This year, like several years before, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has taken over management of the king salmon fishery in these federal waters. That management situation remains in place, but for now it’s just Alaska Wildlife Troopers patrolling the lower river for the first time in seven years during king salmon season.Share this story:
Climate Change | Southcentral | TourismAt Portage Glacier, business boom follows glacial recessionJuly 8, 2019 by Abbey Collins, Alaska Public Media – Anchorage Share:The Portage Glacier, seen from the deck of the M/V Ptarmigan on June 30, 2019. (Photo by Amy Mostafa/Alaska Public Media)Portage Glacier Cruises, south of Anchorage, recently marked its 30th anniversary of shuttling visitors by boat to its namesake glacier.Over time, employees have seen the recession of Portage Glacier first hand. What does that mean for a company whose business is based on this particular piece of snow and ice?On the deck of the M/V Ptarmigan, Captain Marcelle Roemmich led a small crowd of visitors, employees and former employees in a toast.Behind Roemmich sits a massive, frozen variable in the company’s future. Portage Glacier stands tall on the far end of the lake. A wall of white and blue ice.A long time ago, the glacier filled the entire Portage Valley. But in the last century, the glacier has gotten way smaller — retreating farther and farther up the valley, opening up the lake, and making it difficult to see without traveling out on the water.Most of that retreat, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, was driven by the calving of unstable ice. The organization says a warming climate contributed on a smaller scale. Now, that’s the factor driving continued ice loss.Bill Lazarus — “Laz,” as he’s known on the boat — worked as an engineer for the company for 15 years, until 2012.Now, he stands on the ship’s deck again, looking at the smaller, but still-massive piece of ice towering over the lake.“When I started, this face of this rock was all that showed,” Lazarus said. “The ice was right on top of it. From here you could see ice on both sides, and it’s just gone back incredibly.”Lazarus says he even remembers when the glacier could be seen from shore, at the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center.“I can picture standing in the parking lot at the visitor’s center when the glacier went straight across the lake,” Lazarus said. “So it was all the way around the corner.”The visitor center was built in 1986. It’s run by the U.S. Forest Service. Alicia King, with the Forest Service, says it was built on glacial moraine. That’s dirt and rock that gets left behind by a glacier as it moves. When it was built three decades ago, the visitor center’s location was chosen for a reason.“Because of the spectacular view of Portage Glacier,” King said. “The theater of Begich, Boggs Visitor Center opens up into what’s now mostly lake.”Back on the shore, Tom Callahan is sitting at a picnic bench, watching the M/V Ptarmigan pull up to the dock. Callahan is recently retired boat captain. He worked for the company for 23 years.“I saw the glacier every day, five times a day. So it’s a bit like having a child,” Callahan said. “They look the same every day to you, and all of a sudden they’re borrowing your car.”As for the glacier, “I can’t say that I saw dramatic, big changes,” Callahan said. “It was just a little bit year by year.”In recent years, Callahan says he’s seen the rate of recession slow way down. And it has. According to the US geological survey, the most rapid period of recession happened in the 20th century.Still, as the earth’s climate warms, the glacier will likely continue to shrink.Even so, after 30 years in business, Portage Glacier Cruises is experiencing more business than ever.As the glacier shrinks, business is growing, with a record last year of 36,000 visitors.Video by Joey Mendolia Share this story:
Pelican, Tenakee Springs mayors speak out against prospect of summer without ferriesShare this story: Juneau | Southeast | State Government | TransportationAlaska DOT eyes charter vessels for Angoon, Hoonah and KakeFebruary 4, 2020 by Jacob Resneck, CoastAlaska Share:The MV LeConte sits at the dock in Angoon on March 28, 2019. (Photo by Nat Herz/Alaska’s Energy Desk)The state is seeking to fill gaps in Southeast Alaska ferry service using a private charter company. It gave potential operators a day to answer its Monday call for interest.The public notice seeks ships capable of ferrying 125 passengers between Juneau’s Auke Bay terminal and Hoonah, Angoon and Kake. The communities aren’t scheduled to receive a state ferry until March.Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities spokesperson Sam Dapcevich said the state agency is exploring alternatives to the Alaska Marine Highway System’s fleet.“AMHS wants to see if there’s competition in the marketplace for this type of service this time of year and how much it would cost,” Dapcevich told CoastAlaska on Monday.Hoonah Mayor Gerry Byers said his small city is having a tough time without regular ferries. There’s no barge service, and getting vehicles and goods back and forth is putting the squeeze on the island town 40 miles southwest of Juneau.“I think it’s a good step by the state to try to help support the community,” Byers said Monday. “Even if it’s just just passengers being able to leave.”Bad weather constantly cancels floatplanes, making it tough for people to reach Alaska Airlines jets flying out of Juneau, he added.But none of the officials in the three city offices contacted by CoastAlaska said they had any idea that private ferries might be in the works. Byers said DOT has not coordinated with the villages, and this was the first he’d heard of the scheme.“It is nice that they’re thinking of us,” he said of the state transportation agency. “It’s just, I wish we’d had a little more planning and a little more — giving the businesses more time to work on this.”Last month, the state chartered a boat from Allen Marine Tours to ferry passengers stranded after the state ferry Matanuska broke down in Juneau on its way to Haines and Skagway. The ferry remains sidelined until March.The city of Angoon also chartered Allen Marine boats late last year. That cost the small city around $8,000.Alaska Marine Highway shuts down regional service till MarchThe deadline for potential charter operators to respond to the state’s request for interest was the close of business on Tuesday. Long service gaps driven by budget cuts have cut off a number of communities around Alaska, including in Prince William Sound and the Southeast island hamlets of Pelican and Tenakee Springs.No other communities were included in DOT’s request for interest. The public notice asks for service to begin as early as this week, but Dapcevich said that was apparently a mistake.“It was not meant for actual service this week,” the agency spokesperson said. “It was meant for an information-gathering public notice.”A $250,000 study commissioned by the Dunleavy administration on the future of state ferries had found privatization of ferry routes without subsidies would not be feasible. But it did say smaller ships could service some routes on a contract basis.“With longterm contracts, private entities would likely be able to develop appropriately sized vessels that are better matched to the demand for services to/from smaller communities,” the consultants wrote.This story has been updated.
Arctic | Coronavirus | Northwest | Southwest | WesternAfter early containment, COVID-19 spreads rapidly in rural AlaskaOctober 14, 2020 by Lex Treinen, Alaska Public Media Share:Maija Lukin during her self-isolation in Kotzebue. (Photo courtesy of Maija Lukin)At the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, many rural communities acted quickly to impose strict quarantine measures to keep the virus out of their towns. That was largely successful in stalling the spread of COVID-19.But over the past several weeks, that’s started to change. Clusters of cases have flared up in dozens of villages across the state.Gambell, Quinhagak, Stebbins, Buckland and Utqiagvik have all reported recent outbreaks. Some of those villages had case counts that grew quickly to dozens of people. Rural cases still make up just over one in 10 reported cases statewide, but the sudden, rapid growth is a worrying sign.“It’s a building crisis, but it’s not as loud as when you see 100 cases a day in Anchorage or 60 cases a day in Fairbanks,” said Christina McDonogh, a law student originally from Perryville who has been tracking rural COVID-19 cases on a Facebook group.Northern and Northwest Alaska, where all villages are off the road system, now have the highest case rates — the average number of daily positive cases per capita over the last week — in the state. Crowded housing makes containing the spread especially difficult.Kotzebue resident Maija Lukin was diagnosed with COVID-19 about two weeks ago.She got a rapid test in town and returned home. About 45 minutes later, she got a call from the clinic informing her she was positive. Without saying a word, her husband put on a mask and held one out for her to do the same She put it on while still on the phone. They had recently lost a friend to the virus, so fear of it was still raw.“I just started crying and (my husband) was like ‘you’re not positive, you’re not positive’ and I was staring at him with tears running down my face,” she said.But Lukin and her family were fortunate: they had a large house with their kids’ empty bedrooms, which allowed them to isolate within the same home. She hung up a blanket as a divider wall, so she could use the lower part of the house, which had its own kitchen and bathroom, as well as a separate entrance.“I was packing things like packing clothes for myself to go into the other side of the house,” she said.Her husband and 3-year-old granddaughter, whom she takes care of, would stay on one side of the house in the hopes that they wouldn’t catch the virus, while she isolated in the other. But separating a three-year-old from her grandmother wasn’t easy.“Our granddaughter freaked out. And she was like, ‘Where’s my ana, don’t leave me!’” said Lukin.Multigenerational households and extended families living nearby are much more common in rural Alaska than in the urban parts of the state, making social distancing especially hard. Some communities have imposed harsh lockdowns, and families are having to make tough decisions to stop seeing elders or kids. But that’s not always enough to keep the disease out, . And the virus has found a way to sneak into dozens of rural communities, where it can spread quickly.“When you’re living in a rural place, you’re used to stopping by people’s houses. That’s how you pass the time, you stop by your grandma’s house, you stop by your uncle’s house, usually don’t even knock on the door. But with that being unsafe now, it’s very, very difficult to feel feel like yourself, and to feel connected to who you are,” said McDonogh.McDonogh said that after many medical appointments were delayed early on in the pandemic, she’s heard of a new vector of transmission: medical transports.“For people to receive routine medical care, they have to fly to Anchorage or to Fairbanks. And these are the two huge hot spots in the state,” she said.Of course, she says, medical care shouldn’t be delayed. But she’s hoping that residents and officials keep paying attention to making sure people have places to quarantine when they return to their villages.State officials say they’ve been working with tribes to plan for large outbreaks. They have conducted staged exercises for how to respond if there is one, according to Tim Struna, Chief of Public Health Nursing for the state of Alaska.“It is a concern for everybody, and everybody is passionate about making sure that as soon as a case is identified, that there’s this, this team that is going to surround it and do everything they can to keep it as contained and as small as possible,” he said at a Thursday press conference.Despite their best efforts, many worry that if cases around the state continue to rise, it could mean trouble for rural communities who rely on cities for their healthcare.“If Anchorage is full, where are they going to send people? They can send people to Seattle, where they have their own number of cases? It’s a really big problem,” she said.So far, Anchorage’s ICU capacity has been within a normal range for this time of year, according to Jared Kosin, president of the Alaska State Hospital and Nursing Home Association. But he warned that could change soon following a spike in cases that began over two weeks ago. Normally, it takes about two weeks for a surge in cases to manifest as more filled beds.“It’s really important to remember that hospital capacity, the number of beds you have available is a lagging indicator. So if you’re trying to use capacity as a measure for the pandemic, you’re getting the wrong indicator,” he said at a Thursday press conference.That’s why officials are renewing calls on city-dwellers to mask up and take other precautions to make sure that rural residents have access to the hospital beds they’ll need.As for Maija Lukin’s granddaughter – Lukin decided that living at different ends of the house was worse than the increased risk of her catching COVID. Lukin is wearing a mask at home and letting her granddaughter sleep with her, but in a different bed on the other side of the room.Share this story:
Aleutians | Education | HistoryFebruary was Black History Month, but Unalaska teachers are sharing Black stories year-roundMarch 1, 2021 by Maggie Nelson, KUCB – Unalaska Share:High school teacher Hannah Vowell said she consistently seeks out work and examples from diverse voices and authors, no matter what subject she is teaching — whether that be math, science, Spanish or photography. (Photo courtesy of Hannah Vowell)February was Black History Month, a time when schools, libraries and organizations across the nation often pause to celebrate Black history and recognize the United States’ violent and unjust treatment of Black people.But in Unalaska, many teachers didn’t do anything special in their classrooms last month because they are working to include Black history and perspectives in their lesson plans year-round.“It’s kind of like we’re saying your history isn’t history, and your literature isn’t literature, and your art isn’t art unless it’s February — the shortest month of the year,” said fifth and sixth-grade teacher Greta Eustace. “And that just never seemed right to me.”Eustace teaches language arts and social studies on the island, and while she acknowledges Black History Month with her students, she said she tries to consistently highlight work from Black Americans throughout the year.According to Eustace, one month of recognition is not sufficient, but she said the month is necessary to help ensure that people acknowledge Black history and that teachers include Black voices in their curriculum.“I just don’t think [Black History Month] should be a necessary thing and unfortunately, it is,” Eustace said.Discussing Black history and racial inequality, as well as including diverse voices are all inherent parts of her classroom and teaching style, she added.“It’s important to consider the fact that social justice belongs in every classroom and that cultural sensitivity in classrooms promotes connection and equity with students,” she said. “And you have to consider presenting the world from the perspective of your students and the perspective of underrepresented people, in addition to what we would call the classics.’”Eustace calls this approach “decolonizing” her curriculum. By providing her students with diverse texts from diverse writers, she’s giving them the tools they need “to form an educated opinion of the world around them and not just regurgitate what they’ve been told over and over in their lives.”High school English teacher Jacob Collins-Wilson echoed Eustace’s sentiments and agreed that Black history should be included year-round.“Isolating it, I don’t think is the healthy way or the way that I want my classroom, or my life, or the world to be,” said Collins-Wilson. “Black history is not isolated to one month, or one subject, or one kind of conversation. I think it’s inherent in everything no matter what we’re reading or writing.”Excluding Black history throughout the year and then highlighting it in his lessons in February feels like a “cop-out,” he said. Instead, Collins-Wilson makes sure to include essays, stories and ideas from people of diverse backgrounds from the beginning of the year.“My whole teaching from the get go has been much more infused with women and people of color and a big focus on international writers as well,” he said. “Basically, to use English class as a way to explore not only language or writing but also identity and culture.”The recent Black Lives Matter movement has helped facilitate more conversations with his students about racial injustice, police violence and Black history in general, he said. The movement and its social media presence have encouraged people — his students included — to think more diversely.“As an English teacher, I love that because then we get to read such different stuff,” Collins-Wilson said. “And it’s harder for a student to say, ‘this is irrelevant.’ When, if we look at our nation right now, we’re having tons of conversations around race and identity and culture and language and equality and treatment and power dynamics. So it’s really important to talk about that and to read different perspectives that relate to those different topics.”English and social studies teachers are not the only ones incorporating discussions about race dynamics and injustice into their classrooms. Hannah Vowell said she consistently seeks out work and examples from diverse voices and authors, no matter what subject she is teaching —whether that be math, science, Spanish or photography.While she has included some specific lessons in both her Spanish and photography courses this year to celebrate Black History Month, Vowell said she considers it her general responsibility to make time in her classroom to address conversations about things like diversity and culture.“I think it’s my job to lead discussions and provoke critical thinking about what’s happening in the world,” she said.In a school district with a teaching staff that does not mirror the diversity of the student population, these teachers — who are all white — recognize that conversations about race and inequality can be very complicated.While Eustace said she finds the lack of diversity in the teaching population on the island disappointing, she considers it her responsibility to provide kids with a diverse education that always includes Black voices and perspectives.“The kids who need you the most are the ones who need an activist, ones who need people to fight for them to be represented and heard and seen in the world,” she said. “And if you’re not an activist, you’re not really helping the kids who are most in need.”Since 1976, every U.S. president has officially designated the month of February as Black History Month. Other countries around the world, including Canada and the United Kingdom, also devote a month to celebrating Black history.Share this story: