ALFA wins major grant to improve, expand electronic monitoring on fishing boats

Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association executive director Linda Behnken’s longliner, the Woodstock (Photo Copyright Josh Roper)

A photo taken from electronic monitoring camera

The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association (ALFA) has been awarded a major grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) to improve at-sea monitoring of Alaska’s longline fisheries through the use of electronic monitoring technologies.

At-sea electronic monitoring (EM) technology uses video cameras aboard fishing vessels to monitor catch and bycatch in lieu of a human observer.  Since many small boats do not have the capacity to take an additional person aboard during fishing trips, EM can be more operationally compatible for the vessel, and potentially more cost effective. After several years of research and pre-implementation, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved electronic monitoring as an option for small fixed-gear vessels in the partial coverage sector of the Observer Program in 2016. The grant — awarded by NFWF with funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and the Kingfisher Foundation — will provide ALFA $577,959 to improve Alaska’s longline electronic monitoring program for vessels participating in sablefish, halibut and Pacific cod fixed-gear fisheries.

With this support, ALFA will assist the National Marine Fisheries Service’s work to provide electronic monitoring hardware and field service support for vessels joining the EM program, and also support stakeholder engagement in the program’s development. The project will result in electronic monitoring of up to 120 hook and line vessels and will improve the utility of electronic monitoring data for fishermen and fishery managers alike.

“In Alaska, fishermen pay a large part of the at-sea monitoring costs needed to support our fisheries. By offsetting start-up costs and helping fishermen equip their vessels with EM systems, we can meet at-sea monitoring needs in a way that is more compatible with small vessels and improve cost effectiveness,” says Dan Falvey, Program Director at ALFA.

This is the second NFWF grant that ALFA has received to assist with EM implementation, which will help provide the equipment and field services needed to expand the program to the new vessels.

Over the next two years, 120 longline vessels in Alaska will use electronic monitoring while fishing.

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundations’ Electronic Monitoring and Reporting Grant Program seeks to catalyze the implementation of electronic technologies in U.S. fisheries in order to systematically integrate technology into fisheries data collection and modernized data management systems for improved fisheries management. This year, it awarded a total of more than $3.59 million in grants. The 12 national awards announced generated $3.15 million in match from the grantees, providing a total conservation impact of more than $6.75 million. 

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• New biotoxin lab in Sitka allows for quicker, better monitoring of harmful algal blooms in Southeast Alaska

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From left, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Lab Manager Michael Jamros, STA Environmental Program Manager Chris Whitehead, and STA Environmental Specialist Esther Kennedy discuss the new Sitka Biotoxin Lab with visitors to an open house on Monday, Nov. 30, 2015. The new lab will help Southeast subsistence and sport shellfish harvesters learn about harmful algal blooms in the region so they can avoid paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) or amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP).

Most shellfish eaters are aware of the massive algal bloom that shut down many shellfish operations on the Pacific Coast this summer. The algal bloom even reached Sitka’s Starrigavan Beach with the June discovery of Pseudo-nitzchia, a species of plankton that sometimes produces domoic acid which can cause amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). ASP causes gastrointestinal issues in mild cases, such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. In more severe cases there will be neurological problems, such as headaches, confusion, hallucinations, short-term memory loss, respiratory difficulty, seizures, coma, and in extreme cases, death.

SEAKTribalToxinsSEATTPartnerLocationsUntil two years ago, Southeast Alaska beaches and subsistence- and sport-harvested shellfish weren’t tested for harmful biotoxins. That changed with the Southeast Alaska Tribal Testing (SEATT) program, a partnership of regional tribes coordinated by Sitka Tribe of Alaska, that began training technicians from six villages (now 12 villages) in the region on how to gather water samples so they could be tested. SEATT is part of a program called Southeast Alaska Tribal Ocean Research (SEATOR).

Now the project has moved to the next phase, the creation of a Sitka Biotoxin Lab, located at 429 Katlian Street, that can provide quicker and better testing results to people in the region who want to eat shellfish. Instead of sending samples to the Lower 48 for testing, which can take more than a week or two, samples from Southeast Alaska can be tested in Sitka and data can be available in less than 24 hours, Sitka Tribe of Alaska Environmental Program Manager Chris Whitehead said during an open house at the lab on Monday, Nov. 30. Before the lab opened, the program just took water samples. But now it will be able to actually test the shellfish for biotoxins.

Whitehead said one of the purposes of the lab is to give shellfish harvesters as much information as possible about possible harmful algal blooms so they can make informed decisions about if they still want to harvest and eat local shellfish. Harmful algal blooms spread a variety of biotoxins, such as domoic acid and saxitoxin, which can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and amnesic shellfish poisoning (ASP). PSP and ASP can be deadly, and in 2010 there were two people in Southeast Alaska who died from PSP.

Cockles-Alaska-Department-of-Health-and-Social-Services“The toxins can stay in butter clams for 2 1/2 to three years,” Whitehead said, disproving the common local myth that shellfish is safe to eat in months with R in the name. “We’re still seeing blooms in December.”

Whitehead said he’s hoping to eventually be able to do baseline sampling of a variety of beaches in Southeast Alaska. He said they are sampling bays for cyst beds by digging cores in the beach soil, and they’ve found cysts 3-4 meters (9-13 feet) below the surface. While the beach might be safe for now, if people start building piers or docks it can stir up the cyst beds and launch a harmful algal bloom.

The lab and testing program is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indian Environmental General Assistance Program, the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) and Tribal Cooperative Landscape Conservation Program, and the Administration for Native Americans’Environmental Regulatory Enhancement program. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Biotoxin Programs from Seattle, Wash., and Charleston, S.C., provided training through workshops to help develop the SEATT program.

raw-clams-350Michael Jamros, PhD, was hired in October as the STA Environmental Lab Manager, and he will be handling most of the actual testing and diagnosis of the seawater and shellfish. He said right now the lab is focused on subsistence and sports harvests, but down the road it’s hoping to become FDA-certified so it can test commercial harvests.

Esther Kennedy is the STA Environmental Specialist, and she said “every week I go plankton hunting.” This summer all of her tests were at Starrigavan State Recreation Area, but now that the lab is open she will be able to test in more areas, “wherever you think people might harvest shellfish.”

pe-fig1“I think this will help our food security,” Kennedy said. “People will be able to see this abundant resource of shellfish, and now they’ll have better information about whether it’s safe to harvest.”

In addition to the Sitka staff, the program also trains monitors from 12 partner villages to test in their areas, which range from Ketchikan on the south to Yakutat on the north. These monitors come to Sitka twice a year for training, with their most recent training in early November. A slideshow of photos from the training is posted below.

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• Sitka Tribe of Alaska starts testing for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and other marine biotoxins

Esther Kennedy of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department samples water near the Starrigavan Recreation Area dock for marine biotoxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning. (Photos by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

Esther Kennedy of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska Resource Protection Department samples water near the Starrigavan Recreation Area dock for marine biotoxins such as paralytic shellfish poisoning. (Photos by Emily Kwong, KCAW-Raven Radio)

PSPTestingEquipmentThe Sitka Tribe of Alaska and its other tribal partners in Southeast Alaska have begun testing for paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP) and other marine biotoxins.

The first-year testing program was detailed in a March 24 story on KCAW-Raven Radio, with each of the tribal partners concentrating on one particular spot in their communities (at Starrigavan Recreation Area in Sitka, where two people were sickened in October 2013) as the tribal testers become more comfortable with the testing procedures. Once the technicians become more proficient, and the regional testing lab is built, the program will be expanded to other beaches in Southeast Alaska. The second part of the two-part series aired on April 9 and discussed the benefits to commercial shellfish operations of having a lab in Southeast Alaska.

The Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) program to study harmful algal blooms was announced in October, and Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosted a regional training in November. SEATT partners include Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Klawock Cooperative Association, Craig Tribal Association, Yakutat Tlingít Tribe, Petersburg Indian Association, Organized Village of Kasaan, and the Central Council of Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). In addition to the grant to create the partnership, Sitka Tribe of Alaska also received a second grant to create a regional lab in Sitka to help monitor HABs in Southeast Alaska.

Harmful algal blooms, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), typically have not been monitored in Southeast Alaska for subsistence and recreational harvesters of clams, mussels, oysters, cockles, and other bivalves (commercial harvests are tested). Even though many people in Southeast Alaska love to harvest shellfish, eating it comes with some risks. There have been several PSP outbreaks in recent years that sent people to the hospital, and in 2010 two deaths were attributed to PSP and other HABs, such as Alexandrium, Pseudonitzchia and Dinophysis.

Being able to put trained monitors in several Southeast Alaska communities, the hope is the health risk can be reduced. Each technician will make weekly reports to the lab, which will help harvesters have better information as to the safety of their shellfish.

• Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosts regional training on paralytic shellfish poisoning and other marine biotoxins

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Shellfish lovers in Southeast Alaska have a lot to be thankful for this year, as the Sitka Tribe of Alaska hosted a regional training on how to detect paralytic shellfish poisoning and other marine biotoxins Nov. 20-21 in Sitka.

This workshop brought to town several technicians from seven different regional tribes for the first training since the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership to study harmful algal blooms (HABs) was announced in October. SEATT partners include Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Klawock Cooperative Association, Craig Tribal Association, Yakutat Tlingít Tribe, Petersburg Indian Association, Organized Village of Kasaan, and the Central Council of Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA). In addition to the grant to create the partnership, Sitka Tribe of Alaska also received a second grant to create a regional lab in Sitka to help monitor HABs in Southeast Alaska.

Harmful algal blooms, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), typically have not been monitored in Southeast Alaska for subsistence and recreational harvesters of clams, mussels, oysters, cockles, and other bivalves (commercial harvests are tested). Even though many people in Southeast Alaska love to harvest shellfish, eating it comes with some risks. There have been several PSP outbreaks in recent years that sent people to the hospital, and in 2010 two deaths were attributed to PSP and other HABs, such as Alexandrium, Pseudonitzchia and Dinophysis.

Being able to put trained monitors in several Southeast Alaska communities, the hope is the health risk can be reduced. Each technician will make weekly reports to the lab, which will help harvesters have better information as to the safety of their shellfish. To learn more about the training, check out this link from the Sitka Conservation Society website and this link from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Coastal Science website.

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• Sitka Tribe of Alaska, six other tribes partner to build lab to monitor shellfish biotoxins such as PSP

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The Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA) has formed the Southeast Alaska Tribal Toxins (SEATT) partnership with six other Southeast tribes to monitor harmful algal blooms (HABs) in Southeast Alaska. In addition, STA has been awarded a grant to build a lab to monitor biotoxins, which frequently impact clams, mussels, cockles, and other shellfish harvested in the region.

raw-clams-350SEATT will unify Southeast Alaska tribes in monitoring HAB events that pose a human health risk to the subsistence shellfish harvester, such as paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP). This monitoring effort will provide weekly data on the timing and distribution of HABs, along with measurements of environmental conditions, indicators, and potential mechanisms that trigger HAB events.

In addition to STA, SEATT partners include the Klawock Cooperative Association, Craig Tribal Association, Yakutat Tlingít Tribe, Petersburg Indian Association, Organized Village of Kasaan, and the Central Council of Tlingít and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (CCTHITA).

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Biotoxin Programs from Seattle, Wash., and Charleston, S.C., have committed to provide training through workshops to help develop the SEATT program. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska is hosting a workshop in November for SEATT to provide training on sample collection techniques and data entry. NOAA staff will help facilitate the trainings using previously established protocols used by other HAB monitoring groups throughout nation.

Each SEATT tribe received funding through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Indian General Assistance Program (IGAP) totaling $210,000 for fiscal year 2015, with plans to continue through 2017. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska also received an additional $150,000 to support SEATT with the bi-annual technical workshops and conduct cellular toxin analysis.

Ipe-fig1n addition, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska received $527,000 for the development of a marine biotoxin lab in Sitka from the Administration for Native Americans’ Environmental Regulatory Enhancement program. The lab will provide the SEATT partners the ability to assess their communities’ vulnerability for human health risks following with the same regulatory standards used by other state and federal agencies.

The STA lab will conduct toxin analysis on shellfish using the new Receptor Binding Assay (RBA) technique developed at the NOAA Charleston laboratory. The RBA was just recently accepted as a regulatory method used to determine toxin levels in shellfish by the Interstate Shellfish Sanitation Conference (ISSC) and has been adopted into the National Shellfish Sanitation Program (NSSP).

• Sitka Sound Science Center presentation will shed light on impacts of Fukushima radiation in the Pacific Ocean

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People living along the Pacific Coast, including in Sitka and Southeast Alaska, have been wondering about the impacts of radiation in the food supply ever since the March 2011 earthquake in Japan and Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant meltdown.

Dr. Lee Cooper of the University of Maryland, a Scientist in Residency Fellow at the Sitka Sound Science Center, will discuss the current state of the science on Fukushima radiation and its likely impact on the Gulf of Alaska during a brown-bag lunch presentation from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Friday, March 14, at the Sitka Pioneer Home Chapel. Bring your lunch and questions to the presentation, which is sponsored by the Sitka Sound Science Center and the National Science Foundation.

According to the Sitka Sound Science Center:

It is projected that dissolved contaminants, particularly the radioactive isotopes of cesium, 137Cs and 134Cs from the Fukushima Dai-ichi Nuclear Power in Japan, will reach Southeast Alaska this year.  Because the amount of radiation released is uncertain and the accident site is still leaking to some extent, it is difficult to know exactly what the peak concentrations of radioactive cesium will be in local waters, but it is not likely to exceed levels that were observed during the bomb fallout era 40 to 50 years ago. Cesium is chemically very similar to potassium, which is a common ionic salt in seawater, so fortunately the concentration of cesium into the foodweb and into seafood harvested for food is comparatively modest.

Nevertheless, it is important to put into perspective the potential risks involved and communicate this to the public. This talk will summarize the newest scientific information that is available on the impacts of the accident, based upon a special session held in late February at the Ocean Science Meeting in Honolulu and attended by scientists studying Fukushima impacts, ranging from Japan and East Asia to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.

For more information, contact Tory O’Connell at 747-8878.

 

• How to weed through the conflicting information about Fukushima radiation and its impacts on Alaska waters

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Alaskans have been worried about their seafood ever since the March 2011 Fukushima earthquake and Japanese nuclear plant problems. It’s understandable that Alaskans are concerned about the safety of the seafood, seaweed and marine mammals in the area. But Alaskans also should note that most of the information posted on social marketing sites just isn’t true.

This NOAA map has been showing up on social media posts with a note that it shows the path of 300 tons of radioactive material entering the ocean each day. This map really shows the probable tsunami paths from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

FALSE IMAGE: TSUNAMI WAVES, NOT RADIATION: Many people have posted on social media that this NOAA map shows the path of 300 tons of radioactive material entering the ocean each day. This map really shows the probable tsunami wave heights from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake.

One of the biggest examples of false information usually is accompanied by an official-looking map from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a note that each day the map shows 300 tons of radioactive material entering the water each day. The map is an official NOAA map, but it doesn’t show radiation. It actually shows the probable tsunami paths from the 2011 Tohoku earthquake. When in doubt, or even if not, don’t be afraid to consult one of the myth-debunker sites such as Snopes.com, which has the details on the real story behind this map.

The Sitka Local Foods Network has been following the situation since it happened, and we even posted an update in March 2012 in hopes of easing people’s worries (many of the links on this page have been updated). The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services also has a site with updates.

In recent weeks, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins (D-Sitka) did some research, interviewing Dr. Ken Buesseler of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and one of the country’s top researchers on oceanographic radiation. Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins posted his findings in his Jan. 8 constituent newsletter, and that write-up also appeared in several Alaska publications such as the Alaska Dispatch.

010714_Fukushima-Radiation-GraphAlso in January, Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig gave an update to the Alaska Senate’s Natural Resources Committee about what it’s doing to track the radiation, and he said so far the DEC hasn’t seen anything to cause concern. The Ketchikan website Stories In The News also had a follow-up story that included information from Hartic’s testimony and an update from Buesseler, who announced the launch of a new “How Radioactive Is Our Ocean?” website to help crowd-source information about what’s happening along the 5,000-mile Pacific coastline.

Taking things a step further, in January a couple of Seattle media organizations — KPLU and the Seattle Times — ran stories about Seattle fish-broker Loki Fish Co. ran its own tests on Alaska seafood. After the testing, the folks at Loki Fish Co. decided Pacific salmon is safe to eat.