NSEDC board sets community benefit share at $150,000
Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation’s board of directors met last week in Nome for the third quarter meeting during the week of October 30.
One new board member and four current board members were sworn in following the October 3 elections. Brevig Mission elected Frieda Southall, Diomede reelected Francis Ozenna; Shaktoolik reelected Harvey Sookiayak; Unalakleet reelected Frank Katchatag and White Mountain reelected Dan Harrelson.
In 2024 there will be no elections because of the five-year term schedule.
The board approved $150,000 community benefit share per member community, totaling $2.25 million for the region.
A $2,500 hardship payment to the fishers in the commercial salmon fleet was also approved by the board in response to the poor commercial salmon season. The board also acted to relax and extend NSEDC loan terms for salmon fisheries due to difficult 2020 and 2021 seasons.
The third action item the board took was approving the extension of the Native Village of Wales’s Community Energy Fund grant. This grant funds efforts to shore up the community’s electrical supply system, to ensure safe and reliable service.
During committee meetings board members discuss topics related to the committee in greater detail so they can bring recommendations of action to the full board.
The rules and bylaws committee voted to recommend the full board expands the requirements of pre-employee background checks to those who work on vessels, and those staying at NSEDC bunkhouses.
The scholarship committee discussed the amendment of the scholarship for maintaining certification and refresher courses to allow for people in programs less than 250 hours to receive funding up to 50 percent of the original scholarship and made a recommendation to the full board for approval. They also recommended to the full board that the Growing Our Own Teacher Program language is amended to include certified school guidance counselors.
Every action item was approved by the full board during their meeting.
The fisheries committee heard a public comment from Charlie Lean, a former employee of NSEDC. Lean said he was hired to start the Fisheries Research and Development and worked for many years to rehabilitate salmon runs. Lean said there is a lot of information coming out currently about the benefits and downfalls of using hatcheries to produce or overproduce fish and how that impacts wild stock. “I think that NSEDC’s priorities should be rehabilitating, not to overproduce,” Lean said. “I think that’s something that needs discussion.”
Following Lean’s comment, Kevin Clark, the area management biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, gave a report to the board. Clark began the report by stating this was a bad season for most fish. “Salmon, especially in southern Norton Sound were pretty bleak,” Clark said.
This year, 25,000 salmon were harvested which is significantly less than the last five-year average harvest of 282,000. Freshwater systems in Unalakleet and were closed for most of the year. Escapement goals weren’t met in the Unalakleet North River for king salmon. Escapement goals weren’t met for pinks on the North River either, which hasn’t happened in decades, Clark said.
Northern Norton Sound fared better, all chum escapement goals were met in Nome’s Snake River and in the Eldorado River, despite being smaller numbers than years past.
Tower fish counting operations were difficult this year due to high water. The Niukluk River tower count was inconclusive for silvers due to weather and high water. Some silver fishing occurred in southern Norton Sound but those efforts were quickly stopped when catch rates were determined poor. Despite poor numbers, silvers increased in average weight this year.
Clark moved on to the crab fishery. The guideline harvest level for next year will likely be similar to this year or higher. Clark said this cohort of crabs is getting to the point where crabs will start aging out, but ADF&G is hopeful another cohort will age up to meet the fishery’s needs. The winter crab fishery will open on February 1, as usual.
In new business, Chief Operating Officer Tyler Rhodes presented on Northern Bering Sea Regional Aquaculture Association, the body that discusses salmon enhancement projects, such as hatcheries and rehabilitation. NSEDC funds this organization through grant funding. Rhodes said the annual meeting is scheduled for November. A hatcheries workshop will take place during NSEDC’s December board meeting, which will be informed by the outcome from the Northern Bering Sea Regional Aquaculture Association’s meeting.
Board Chair Frank Katchatag asked about the state “meeting NSEDC halfway” in terms of salmon rehabilitation efforts, prompting Rhodes to talk about Norton Sound Fisheries Research and Development Director Renae Ivanoff’s efforts to lower the threshold allowed by the state to take eggs from wild stock.
The Department of Fish and Game already lowered the threshold for the Unalakleet river system last year, but they further allowed the number of fish taken to be equal with escapement. This means escapement doesn’t have to be met for NSEDC to take from their stock. This lower threshold was in place for coho salmon on the Snake River system last year. “Our ability to take salmon when the runs are lower is positive on our front,” Rhodes said. Several board members thanked Renae Ivanoff and Rhodes for that advancement and their efforts toward salmon enhancement.
Renae Ivanoff gave the Norton Sound Fisheries Research and Development report. No king salmon eggs were collected this year due to low escapement. They also didn’t collect chum eggs this year. They collected eggs from five spawning pairs of silvers. Renae Ivanoff said the new crew of biologists meant everyone was in a transitional place this year so it was good to collect the eggs and incubate them to get everyone familiar and learning about the projects. Looking to the future, the program will focus on kings and silvers. Fisheries Research and Development is working with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration to tag pacific cod near St. Lawrence Island, they were only able to tag three this year due to bad weather.
Fisheries Research and Development conducted four community clean-up projects this season in Elim, Golovin, Savoonga and Nome.
Norton Sound Seafood Products
In the Norton Sound Seafood Processing Working Group NSSP Operations Manager Justin Noffsker gave an overview of the season. “It was one of our worst years for commercial harvest,” Noffsker said.
This year, they focused on maintenance. Due to persistent, late sea ice, the herring, which is used as bait, “came and went’ before fishers had access to it. NSSP is looking to source the approximate 75 tons of herring they’ll need next season locally.
The three-fold problem of low numbers, lack of catches and the limited openings from Fish and Game made for a dismal salmon harvest.
Eighty fishers harvested 150,000 pounds of salmon, about 50 percent of the typical participation rate.
Nome’s bunkhouse, housing 12 employees, didn’t offer enough space to house all temporary employees. NSSP is looking into other housing options for the future. Lack of housing for summer workers made it difficult to process the amount of crab this season. Almost 413,000 pounds of crab was harvested from 24 fishers in the region. For halibut and cod, just under 40,000 pounds of the 81,000-pound quota was harvested.
Board member Morris Nashoanak, Sr. of Stebbins asked what it would take to start a crab fishery on St. Michael Island. Board member Milton Cheemuk said there is a significant presence of crab near the island, and it would be good for the communities to get involved with the crab fishery. Garnie agreed with the other board members and said it should be looked into.
Vessel manager Martin Lewis said the lack of salmon fishery allowed three vessels to be used for crab this past season, which was necessary due to their large numbers. Commenting on Lewis’ report, Garnie said it was good to see local names on the captains list.
Most of the finance committee meeting was held in executive session.
Senior Accountant Virginia Nashalook presented on NSEDC’s current loans and the outstanding amounts.
Following the finance committee meeting, the full Board of Directors meeting began with an executive session discussion of NSEDC’s subsidiaries.
Quota Manager Wes Jones reported next year’s quotas will likely be similar to this year’s. The price of cod has gone down dramatically causing harvesters to be less interested in going to the Aleutian Islands. “We’re very fortunate we have another year on our Siku contract with American Seafood so that really provides in this time of turbulent markets some stability for next year,” Jones said.
Tanner crab and red king crab markets are smaller but will have significant yields in the fourth quarter. Golden king crab has been very successful this year.
Community Benefits Department
Board member JT Sherman asked Community Benefits Director Paul Ivanoff III if fuel negotiations have started yet. Paul Ivanoff III said this is the last year with NSEDC’s contract with Crowley Fuel and negotiations will start again in upcoming weeks, it’s too early to determine what the fuel prices will be.