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Southeast Alaska News
Two lucrative dive fisheries get underway in Southeast this month. Divers are expecting good prices for geoduck clams and sea cucumbers, two bottom dwelling sea creatures sold to Asian markets.
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Openings for geoduck clams are happening one day a week, with the first one on October 3rd. Fishing time will be shorter this year at least in the early season.
“The geoducks all go to a live market so you can’t flood the market or it drives the price down” said Phil Doherty, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Dive Fisheries Association. That’s an industry group based in Ketchikan with a committee of divers and processors involved in the clam fishery. “Normally our fisheries are on Thursdays, one day a week and normally they’ve been six hours a day. But the geoduck committee has decided to try and reduce our early season harvest so we’re only going to be fishing three hours on the first three weeks of the season, on the Thursdays. So we’ll cut our time in half.”
Doherty says SARDFA is hoping to see a weekly harvest of 25,000-35,000 pounds in the early season, when the bulk of competing product from Washington state and British Columbia is also sent to market.
The clam fishery has an overall guideline harvest level of 583,000 pounds this year. Different areas of Southeast are fished on a rotating basis so the GHL can fluctuate based on which areas are open. The total harvest last year was nearly 800,000 pounds. The average price last year was $6.88 cents a pound. Doherty said divers are hoping for a price in the 8-12 dollars a pound range this season. “We do anticipate a good price,” he said. “The guideline harvest level is down a little bit this year from our normal rotation. So we’re hoping to make up in ex-vessel value what we’ve lost in the guideline harvest level.”
The fishery has been a lucrative one for the nearly 70 divers making landings in Southeast. “The estimated ex-vessel value for the last three years 2010,11 and 12 has been in the ballpark of five million to almost six million dollars, with an average price per pound ranging from about six dollars and 60 cents to almost ten dollars and 43 cents in 2011,” said Mike Donnellen, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s project leader for dive fisheries stock assessment.
Clams are tested on a weekly basis for paralytic shellfish poisoning to determine which areas can open. That toxin can impact how quickly the fleet harvests the GHL.
The fishery also continues to see impacts from sea otters eating geoduck clams. Donnellen said one area west of Prince of Wales Island was not opened this year after a dive survey showed low numbers of clams. “During our dive surveys of Port Real Marina we did witness a great deal of circumstantial evidence of sea otter predation including broken geoduck shells and just not much life in general.”
The bulk of the quota is normally caught in October, November and December. A separate fishery in the Sitka area was wrapping up in September.
There’s more effort in the cucumber fishery with about 150 divers making landings and the last few seasons have gone more quickly than diving for geoducks. Fish and Game’s Donnellen called the cuke fishery a success story with increased quotas. “We have a three year fishery rotation for sea cucumbers and for the 2013-14 season, it’s actually the highest quota that has been set for these areas since 2000,” he said.
Areas are fished then left alone for two years, so the three year rotation impacts the annual GHL for the fleet. This year it’s nearly one and a half million pounds which SARDFA’s Doherty called a pretty good number for the areas open. “So this is a little bit above the last year rotation,” Doherty said. “There were a couple of areas, especially on the east side of Prince of Wales that seemed to have good recruitment and good growth of sea cucumbers this year. Again we did lose a couple areas on the west coast of Prince of Wales, the Craig area, that will not open this year because of sea otter predation. So we were fortunate that we had good production in some other areas but we continually lose ground to sea otters.”
The fishery was worth about seven and a half million dollars for the price paid to divers at the dock last year, just under five dollars a pound. Doherty said the fleet is hoping for a good price again. “Well the cucumber market sounds good going into the season. Again I haven’t heard and no ones talked about a final price yet but I think if we get $4-4.50 a pound, that’d be a good price for the guys up here.”
There’s one other fishery that also starts up in October, red sea urchins. It has a guideline harvest level of over three million pounds but has seen very little interest in the past few years.
A longtime whale researcher in Southeast Alaska agrees it’s time to remove the humpback whale from the endangered species list.
The Alaska Whale Foundation’s Fred Sharpe has spent his summers observing the region’s humpbacks for decades. He’ll be giving a talk tonight sponsored by the Petersburg Marine Mammal Center and Seagrant Marine Advisory Program entitled, “Why so many whales and what are they up to?” Sharpe spent the past summer observing humpbacks based out of Baranof Warm Springs while a colleague continued her research based at the Five Finger Lighthouse with help from the Juneau Lighthouse Association.
Joe Viechnicki spoke with Sharpe about the large number of humpbacks observed in Southeast this summer.
Sharpe’s presentation is tonight at 7 p.m. in borough assembly chambers.
(Editor’s note: The photos and whale sounds with this interview are courtesy of Fred Sharpe and the Alaska Whale Foundation, which does research on the protected marine mammals under a National Marine Fisheries Service permit #14599)
JUNEAU — Glitches are being reported with the new online health insurance marketplace.
Some users attempting to log on in Alaska on Tuesday morning got an initial message indicating the site was experiencing a lot of visits and urging patience in directing users to the login page.
FAIRBANKS — Money to pay for a new middle school and other projects will be up for consideration when Fairbanks North Star Borough voters go to the polls Tuesday.
About two-thirds of the bond money, $37.5 million, would be designated for the local share of a replacement for Ryan Middle School, which engineers have said is susceptible to serious damage from a moderate earthquake. The state would pay 60 percent of the costs of a new middle school plus another $880,000, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.
Marjorie Gellhorn Sa’adah is the Island Institute’s first Rasmuson Artist-in-Residence, a program created by the Rasmuson Foundation to bring artists from outside Alaska into the state, and to send Alaskan artists out into the world.
Sa’adah writes and teaches creative non-fiction. It’s a form of journalism that borrows the tools of the novel and short story. Her work-in-progress is titled At Home in the Going, which is a term used to describe a race horse running at its best on a particular track surface.
Sa’adah’s book documents the lives of the people — mainly itinerant workers — who prepare the tracks, make them safe for horses, and make racing possible. She stopped by KCAW and talked with Robert Woolsey about what she’s learned in Sitka to help her with her story.
Marjorie Gellhorn Sa’adah will speak tonight (Tue 10-1-13), 7 PM, at Kettleson Library in Sitka.
Bartlett Regional Hospital won’t be without a CEO of some sort at its helm for long — if all goes as planned.
The Board of Directors convened for a special meeting Monday night to go over the process of finding, interviewing and choosing an interim CEO, all before outgoing CEO Christine Harff’s last day on Oct. 18.
“We’re going to move as expeditiously as possible,” Board of Directors President Linda Thomas said at the start of the special meeting.
ANCHORAGE — If the federal government shuts down, among services to be affected will be national parks. Here’s how national parks in Alaska would be impacted:
PARKS CLOSED: Buildings will shut down, including the regional office in Anchorage, visitors centers across the state and public land information centers in Anchorage and Fairbanks. What won’t change will be backcountry access, subsistence hunting, sport hunting in national preserves and people crossing public lands to reach their property.
Guardian Flight takes over all SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium medevacs on Tuesday, Oct. 1.
SEARHC Chief Operating Officer Dan Neumeister says a contract signed last week puts Guardian in charge of all medical evacuations.
“Guardian will be responsible for providing services wherever our clinics are. So at Angoon, (if) you need to fly out on a float plane, they’ll be responsible for either providing their own float plane or subcontracting out and getting a plane, putting their people on it and going to get our patients,” he says.
SEARHC laid off the nurses who staffed their own medevacs.
Guardian is Alaska’s largest medical evacuation operation, with bases in eight cities, including Sitka.
Neumeister says turning all medevacs over to Guardian will be simpler and more efficient.
“We had tried to perform the services ourselves part of each day. And we found that that was not as effective, even though we had very dedicated employees providing the service,” he says.
SEARHC has cut several programs this year to save money.
JUNEAU — There will likely be some glitches associated with the rollout of the online health insurance marketplace in Alaska — surges in use, people getting lost on the website or delays in response time, a federal official said Monday.
However, such issues won’t diminish the fact that on Tuesday, millions of people around the country who have been “locked out from the peace of mind of getting health insurance” because of past health problems will now have access, said Susan Johnson, a regional director with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Prince of Wale Islands residents will also be hitting the polls Tuesday.
In Craig, incumbent Dennis Watson will face Miranda Mikesh for a two-year term as City Mayor.
Craig voters will also decide who will fill two three-year terms on the City Council. Vying for those seats are Jan Storbakken, Joni Kuntz, Dan Price and Virginia Sprague-Lawnicki.
Dolores Owen and Scott Brookshire are running unopposed to fill two, three-year terms on the Craig school board. Three people are vying for a one-year term on the school board. They are Kim Scheidecker, Michael Kampnich and Miranda Mikesh.
In Thorne Bay, there are two three-year terms open on the City Council. Raymond Slayton and Risa Carlson are running unopposed for those seats.
However three people are running to fill a one-year term on the Thorne Bay City Council – Terri-Lynn Redding, Patrick Tierney, and Robert Hartwell.
Thorne Bay voters will also decide whether or not to reinstate an occupancy tax of 4 percent.
In Coffman Cove, there are three City Council seats open. Bryce Brucker is running unopposed for a two-year term on Seat C; and Perry Olson is running unopposed for a three year term on Seat F. There are no candidates running for Seat G, a three-year term. A decision will likely be made through write in votes.
Information for Klawock and Hydaburg elections was not available by story deadline.
Local elections are Tuesday, and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Boroughwide, voters will choose two members each for the Ketchikan School Board and Ketchikan Gateway Borough Assembly.
Running for School Board are incumbent Dave Timmerman and two newcomers, Camille Booth and Trevor Shaw. School Board President Ginny Clay did not seek re-election to her seat.
For the Assembly the two incumbents, Alan Bailey and Bill Rotecki, are both seeking re-election. Challenging them is former Assembly Member John Harrington.
Those voters who live within the City of Ketchikan also will choose two City Council members. The two incumbents, Matt Olsen and Dick Coose, are running to retain their seats. The challenger for that race is political newcomer Judy Zenge.
City voters also will decide whether to approve up to $42 million in bonds to pay for planned Ketchikan Medical Center renovations. City officials say the bond debt will be paid for with existing sales taxes, and no new revenue source will be needed for the project.
Also Tuesday, voters in the Saxman Precinct will vote whether to establish a Saxman-South Tongass Fire and EMS Service Area. If passed, emergency medical and fire protection services will be shared by the South Tongass Service Area and the City of Saxman. The new boundaries would take effect in January of 2014.
Tune in to KRBD after polls close at 8 p.m. for live updates on the local election results.
House Majority Leader Lance Pruitt visited Ketchikan for the first time last week, and managed to be here for those two sunny days. He spent some time touring the island, and spoke to some local organizations, including the Greater Ketchikan Chamber of Commerce.
Pruitt is a lifelong Alaskan, but he hasn’t made it to many places in Southeast. Other than Juneau, he’s been to Haines, and stopped briefly at the airport in Sitka. He said his visit to Ketchikan was enlightening.
“I really didn’t know that there was all this industry going on down here,” he said. “You’ve got some of the old facilities that you guys are investing in, the aquaculture, the mariculture down here.”
The Anchorage Republican said that seeing Ketchikan and its economic needs first-hand could help him when he’s making decisions in future legislative sessions.
“When I’m looking through that piece of paper — well, hundred pages – knowing that there are certain priorities down here, I’ll probably be more inclined to go to thos individuals that represent the area and say … I saw this was a priority because it’s going to provide jobs, and I’ll be more inclined to ask them why or why not were these included,” he said.
Sites Pruitt visited include the Southern Southeast Alaska Technical Education Center, the shipyard and Ward Cove, where he learned about OceansAlaska’s work to provide seed for Alaska shellfish farmers. He said that industry has great potential for growth, and Southeast should take the initiative to attract more mariculture business to the region. He noted that Texas had success with a different kind of industry.
“When Colorado chose to – they made some laws that affected gun manufacturers in their state – Texas offered up Texas,” he said. “The way they were able to get the manufacturers to move down there was actually to have the highest leadership go to those companies and say come down. In turn, they actually have two or three manufacturers that are moving to Texas.”
Pruitt said that with ocean acidification causing problems for oyster seed growers Down South, it would be prudent to let them know what Southeast has to offer. After all, he said, if they have to move anyway, why not here?
Pruitt also was asked about the Ketchikan Gateway Borough’s proposal that the state fully fund basic education, rather than require a local contribution. He said that while the funding may be welcome, it might come with some less-welcome consequences.
“I think the long-range discussion that would come into it is if we start taking over more funding, wouldn’t the argument also be that the state should take over more of the administration and operation of that money,” he said.
During his presentation to the Chamber, Pruitt talked primarily about the oil tax reform bill that the Legislature approved last session. He said the bill is an important next step in the state’s evolving tax structure, and will help encourage the oil industry to invest in Alaska.
Pruitt predicts that some of the next big topics likely will be the proposed natural gas pipeline, workman’s compensation and the state’s laws regarding domestic violence and sex crimes.
“As a state, we are known outside of Alaska as the number one place to go if you’re a sex offender,” he said. “I couldn’t figure out why that was the case. That disturbed me. I’ve come to understand a couple of things that we’re working on that potentially can scale some of that back. It comes down to the ease of being able to come up here and disappear into the crowd.”
Pruitt said that while people should have an opportunity to start over, that opportunity shouldn’t come at the expense of a community’s peace of mind.
Brian Templin, Chair of the Southern Southeast Local Emergency Planning Committee; and Stacy Mank from Public Heath speak about efforts to get POW communities prepared for emergencies, and what you can do. POWEmerg
WASILLA — A pilot walked away after crash-landing his small airplane on the Seward-Meridian Highway in Wasilla.
Alaska State Troopers say there is a small airstrip near the highway. It appears the plane had trouble after taking off, and the pilot wound up crash landing on the highway.
The pilot reported no injuries.
Troopers were called at 8:30 a.m., and the road was reopened about an hour later.
No other details were immediately available.
Aaron Swanson, Ben Miyasato, and Steven Eisenbeisz took questions during KCAW’s live on-air forum Thursday night (9-26-13).
They heard from a wide range of callers, including skeptical voters and one woman who identified herself as “Granny Goose.”
One of the most common arguments candidates for office make is that they’re different. Elect me, they say, because I bring something to the table that isn’t already there.
So it was fitting, then, that one of the earliest questions to come in from a listener to Thursday night’s forum dealt with that difference. What is the current Assembly doing that you don’t like, the listener wrote. He asked the candidates to “be specific.”
Aaron Swanson took aim at utility bills, and said as they increase, life gets harder for younger families like his, whose incomes aren’t terribly disposable.
“That’s something the city could also look into — putting a budget plan (together), where you take all your bills and figure out how much you’re going to be spending per year, and have a balanced bill each month, and maybe one catch-up bill in the middle of the summer, when your heating is going to be down.”
The city is raising rates to help pay for a massive expansion to the Blue Lake hydroelectric dam. Steven Eisenbeisz also agreed that raising electric rates was something he didn’t like.
“However, at this point we are too far into the Blue Lake dam project to not finish this. Raising the rates, as bad as it might have been for many people in town, is at this point, an absolute necessity. We can’t spend as much money as we already have and simply give up on it. We have to continue at this point.”
For Ben Miyasato, it was the budget. He said he’d like the city to be more careful about how it uses its money.
“Spending. I hear the same thing about spending. Please keep that in mind — don’t spend what you don’t have, and to start putting some aside.”
It’s all well and good to ask candidates what’s bugging them. But listeners also wanted to know what the Assembly candidates were going to do about it. One asked what fresh ideas they would bring to the Assembly table.
Ben Miyasato says he’s interested in the idea of building a road across Baranof Island, to connect to a ferry terminal closer to the Marine Highway’s main thoroughfare. He’d also favor a marina on the eastern Baranof shore.
“If you have a dock over across the island, you’ll be able to have other communities that will be able to take their own personal watercraft a shorter distance and be able to get on the road system over here to Sitka, to be able to use such things as the hospital, shopping. It opens it up for more public access.”
Aaron Swanson says he’d like to have a sawmill in Sitka again, using local timber.
“You could use that lumber, you could probably sell it cheap, and use it to build affordable housing. Another new and fresh idea would be adding a dock out at Sawmill Cove Industrial Park for the fishing fleet that could be coming in after a major boat haul-out.”
And Steven Eisenbeisz says he wants to look at the city’s water supply.
“One new and fresh idea that I’ve heard around town, and is actually rapidly gaining steam around the country, is about the fluoride that we have in our water here.”
Eisenbeisz says he’s heard studies that say fluoride is a poison, while others disagree. And he says consumer filters to remove fluoride from water are expensive.
“Plus, the city pays a substantial amount of money every year to add fluoride. I’d like to see if there’s community support behind removing fluoride.”
If you were worried about the forum being bound up on complicated policy and wonky budget talk, you needed look no further than minute 52.
“Hi, Steven, this is Granny Goose.”
That’s Eisenbeisz’s grandmother, Eleanor King, fresh off the plane from California.
“I just got in tonight, and I wanted to say hi to you…”
She also had a question.
“Did you have any ideas or thoughts about the tourism here? What you were going to do for them?”
Eisenbeisz said he’d like to see Sitka better marketed.
“Sitka is one of the most historical towns in Alaska, and we don’t tell that story adequately. Juneau has a much more limited history, although they did have a lot of gold mining, and they tell their story a lot better to see this gold mining.”
Miyasato says he’d target marketing toward nations with emerging economies, whose citizens are starting to acquire disposable income, like China.
“Their middle class is one of the fastest growing on this planet, and when you get more over there in their population that are having expendable dollars or yen or wan or whatever their currency is, this is something to look at as to whether we should be expanding marketing for tourism dollars to come here to Alaska.”
Swanson says he’d like to bring cruise executives to Sitka and ask them what we can do to better attract their customers to town.
“And probably add tour agents, travel agents. Have them all come up to Sitka, have the Assembly and the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau get a work session going, find out what we can do here in Sitka to help promote more cruise ships coming to Sitka.”
Of the three candidates running for Assembly, only two appear on the ballot. Miyasato and Swanson’s names will be printed on the ballot handed to voters on October 1st.
Eisenbeisz is running as a write-in candidate.
Election day is October 1st.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
Hosts Mollie Kabler and Kitty LaBounty look at garden clean up, composting, potatoes, and apples in a mini version of The Garden Show.
Listen to iFriendly audio.
KCAW assembly candidate forum recap. Ballot Prop 1 has not been controversial, but not everyone agrees extending the 1-percent seasonal sales tax is a good idea. David Wilcox, Sitka High boys win 3A regional Cross Country title.
A blast from the past~! Here’s a promotional picture of Raven Radio’s country and bluegrass hosts from the mid-80′s featuring Hank Nelson, Richard Williams and Paul Clements a.k.a. Pablo. Hank sent this photo recently with a note to “KCAW – The bright and sunny side of your radio dial.” Keep the sun shining on your community station with your contribution! We are just over $16,000 and need your help to reach our $55,000 goal!
This year’s Alaska cruise-ship season has ended. Close to a million passengers sailed through Southeast this summer, with many traveling on to points north and west.
It was a good summer pretty much everywhere in Southeast Alaska. So, we all should have good memories of the season. Right?
The retired lobbyist is one of about two dozen painters, carvers, print-makers, photographers and potters who run the store as a co-operative.
Her family is also in the flight-seeing business, so she knows warm and sunny skies bring in more of those customers. But when it rains, it’s better in the gallery.
“So they’re wandering around town. And all the shops in the downtown area kind of benefit ‘cause they’ve got money to burn,” she says.
The gallery is one of hundreds of businesses around Alaska catering to summer tourists.
They include gift shops, bus tours, salmon bakes, photo safaris and Gold Rush shows.
“I would say for the 30,000 to 40,000 Alaskans like myself that depend on the visitor industry for our livelihood, it was a good season,” says John Binkley, whose family run paddlewheel riverboat and gold-mine tours out of Fairbanks.
The former state lawmaker is also president of the Cruise Line International Association’s Alaska chapter.
“We finally pulled back from a low point here a few years ago to the million-visitor mark on the cruise side. And although we’re not quite back to where the peak was, we’re headed in that direction now,” he says. (Read a report from the start of the season.)
I think everybody’s into the new economy. It’s the new norm and if we’re going to go on vacation we might as well just go and do it,” says Jeannie McFarland, vice president of the Prince of Wales Island Chamber of Commerce. She and her husband also own McFarland’s Floatel, a lodge near Thorne Bay.
“We have a ton of returning people and they bring their friends and their friends’ friends and, of course, it makes our business survive,” she says.
Small-town lodges and other off-the-beaten-path attractions cater mostly to independent travelers. Most larger businesses depend on those aboard cruise ships.
This year’s projected million-passenger mark was expected to be the best since 2009, before politics and the recession brought them down.
Binkley says a couple of late-season factors made the total lower.
“We lost a few ports of call due to weather. And also there were some mechanical problems with one of the ships and a couple of the actual cruises were cancelled near the end of the season,” he says.
But still, it was a good year. And that’s part of a trend.
“Between 2010 and 2012, visitor industry employment increased by 7 percent in Southeast Alaska. That’s 400 jobs,” says Meilani Schijvens of Sheinberg Associates, who authored a recent regional economic report.
She says next season will be a bit different.
“In 2014, the number of cruise ship passengers visiting the region actually might be slightly lower than it is this year by 23,000 passengers. And that’s because two Princess ships will be redeployed and replaced by a very small amount of less capacity,” she says.
Binkley says the ship shuffle comes as lines try to avoid new, stronger federal air-pollution regulations along the U.S. coast.
“They’ve been working under the assumption that the emission control area, which requires them to burn very expensive fuel, would be in effect. And that influenced their decisions to move ships to other locations,” he says.
Carnival and some other cruise lines have won waivers from those rules in exchange for installing new emissions control equipment.
But that happened after schedules were set. So any change won’t hit Alaska til 2015.
Some in the industry expect more growth in future years, pushing numbers to new highs above the million-passenger mark. A question is: how much will tourists be willing to spend?
“We definitely noticed that trend of people spending less money and being careful and watching for things that are on sale,” says Juneau Artist Gallery member Thyes Shaub.
“I think that maybe a few more people are spending a little bit more. But I think they’re still being pretty careful with their money. We’re still seeing a lot of people that come and pay cash. I think that people decide this is the amount I’m going to spend on my trip and when that’s gone out of my little satchel, I’m done,” she says.
The large cruise lines sailed 28 ships to Alaska ports this year, one more than in 2012. Together, they made close to 500 separate voyages.
School board candidates field your questions during on-air forum. No commercial red or blue king crab fishery in SE this year. Hoonah man recovering from bear mauling. Ed says thanks and farewell.