All posts by Chris Cocoles

B.C. Mine Accident And Alaska Response

Here’s an interesting take on last week’s Mount Polley mine accident in British Columbia that was sure to trigger a response in Alaska, which has been locked in a tug-of-war over the Pebble Mine project. 

From the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:

The collapse of the Mount Polley tailings dam “validates fears Alaska fishermen have regarding Canada’s proposed development of large-scale hardrock mineral mines near transboundary rivers with Alaska,” Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who has opposed EPA intervention at the Pebble Mine near Bristol Bay, asked Kerry to intervene to ensure regulation at Canadian mines.

“The tailings breach at Mount Polley mine … has renewed the specter of environmental impacts from large scale hard rock mineral developments in Canada that are located near transboundary rivers,” Murkowski wrote.

“Thousands of Alaska natives, commercial fishermen, and tourism industry shareholders have legitimate concerns about the potential impacts that large scale mining in Canada could hold for them.” …

IMG_2324

 

Environmental Protection  on the concern regarding the proposed Pebble Mine project:

“We don’t want this to happen in Bristol Bay,” said Kim Williams, director of Nunamta Aulukestai, an association of Alaska Native Tribes and corporations. “With all the similarities between Pebble and the Mount Polley copper mine, we’re urging the EPA to take immediate action to finalize mine waste restrictions in Bristol Bay,” she continued.

On Monday, a tailings dam failure caused over five million cubic meters of wastewater to spill from Imperial Metals’ Mount Polley copper and gold mine, flowing into the headwaters of the Fraser River watershed, and causing officials to enact a number of water use and drinking water bans. The Mount Polley Mine in B.C. and the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska are both large, open pit, copper porphyry mines, with a modern tailings dam design, located at the headwaters of an important fishery.

“Our research shows that these tailings dam failures are far more common than the industry wants to admit,” said Bonnie Gestring of Earthworks northwest office.  “In the U.S. more than a quarter of the currently operating copper porphyry mines have experienced partial or total tailings pond failures.” She continued, “That’s why the EPA’s plan to restrict mine waste in the Bristol Bay watershed is so critical to the future of our nation’s most valuable wild salmon fishery, ”

Such an event will only add to the tension.

 

 

 

 

 

Deadliest Catch Season Finale Coming Next Week

Our friends at the Discovery Channel have been great in setting us up with some interviews to do profiles on both Johnathan Hillstrand, captain of the crabbing vessel Time Bandit, and the Northwestern father and daughter team of Capt. Sig Hansen and his new deckhand, Mandy Hansen.

The show’s 10th season finale is this Tuesday, Aug. 5. Here are some photos courtesy of Discovery:

Discovery Channel

 

Discovery Channel

 

Discovery Channel

 

 

Peculiar Choice Added To Alaska Fisheries Board By Parnell

IMG_2257

 

Alaska’s Pebble Mine opposition is feeling a little miffed right now. Word is out that Gov. Sean Parnell has named Ben Mohr as his “fisheries advisor.” A big deal? Well, if you factor in that Mohr spent six years representing the fisherman’s biggest enemy, the Pebble Mine project.

You can only assume how this news is being received in the Last Frontier:

The Anchorage Daily News/Alaska Dispatch

This is the time of year year when the governor appoints people to official positions. Parnell is delivering a couple of real doozies. In searching high and low (especially low) for a fisheries advisor, the governor landed on the six-year spokesmodel for the Pebble mine project, a guy named Ben Mohr. You know Pebble, the project that plans to build a giant poison lake at the headwaters of Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers. Mohr is definitely a guy you want making policy to ensure the health of our fisheries for the next millennium.

 In 2011, the governor appointed Mohr to the board of directors of the Alaska Humanities Forum because … well, I have no idea. Good grooming comes to mind.

 Yes, the guy who pimped Pebble and then worked as campaign manager for Ohio’s golden boy, Dan Sullivan, is now advising the governor on fisheries policy. Good thing we care so little about our fish that we’re comfortable letting political hacks manage them.

Undercurrents News 

Alaska Governor Sean Parnell’s recent selection of the next fisheries advisor is likely to leave some scratching their heads.

He appointed Ben Mohr, who worked for the Pebble Partnership and worked for years as a Pebble Partnership employee, reports Fish Radio.

“Alaskans overwhelmingly oppose the Pebble Mine, yet Parnell has done everything in his power to push this mine through the permitting process and wreak havoc on Bristol Bay’s valuable fishery,” Kay Brown, executive director of the Alaska Democratic Party, said.

AlaskaDemocrats.org

Ben Mohr has been appointed by Parnell to replace Stephanie Moreland. Mohr worked six years as a spokesperson for the Pebble Partnership. He also has worked as a campaign manager for Dan Sullivan, the candidate for U.S. Senate who previously pushed for Pebble mine as DNR Commissioner.

Northern Dynasty is attempting to develop a copper, molybdenum, and gold deposit on state land despite peer-reviewed scientific studies finding that the mine would negatively impact salmon in Bristol Bay.  Local Lake and Peninsula Borough residents passed an ordinance opposing Pebble Mine, and public opinion polls show overwhelming bipartisan opposition to the project.

Ben Mohr is just the latest controversial appointment of Parnell’s.

And that’s the way it is on a Thursday in Alaska.

 

 

 

 

 

Kenai River Salmon Fishing Shut Down

You could see this one coming.

All the signs were dismal pointing toward the 2014 Kenai River king salmon season.  Then came the news the famed river would be closed to fishing until July 1. 

Bears will have the Kenai River salmon to themselves due to a closure to all fishing for kings. (EARL FOYTACK)

Bears will have the Kenai River salmon to themselves due to a closure to all fishing for kings. (EARL FOYTACK)

 

Now comes the sobering news the Kenai will be closed to all sport and commercial fishing for the remainder of the season that was scheduled to run through July 31.

Just last week, the river was limited to a first: catch-and-release only with barbless hooks due to declining return projections.

From the Peninsula Clarion:

The closure, effective Saturday, triggers a closure of commercial setnet fishing on the East Side of Cook Inlet and is meant to conserve Kenai-bound king salmon which are not currently projected to return in large enough numbers to make the escapement goal on the Kenai River.

As of July 23, the sonar estimate of king salmon passage into the Kenai River was 8,023 fish and current projections put the final escapement between 13,500 and 14,000 fish — below the river’s escapement goal range of 15,000-30,000 fish.

Daily estimates of king salmon passage into the river have remained in the low hundreds of fish — the highest passage to date was Sunday, which saw more than 1,000 fish pass the sonar. Counts have since dropped significantly.

Fish and Game sport fish division area management biologist Robert Begich said the high passage on Sunday helped bump projections upward but continued low counts kept projections lower than what is needed to make the escapement goal.

Begich said projections would have to increase dramatically for the fishery to be reopened.

“If 5,000 kings came into the river overnight, if a miracle happened, yeah we’d turn it back on,” he said. “We just want to make the goal and it’s just a day-to-day thing. It’s going to take a lot to (reopen).”

 

 

EPA’s New Proposal Limits Could Scuttle Pebble Mine Project

The Environmental Protection Agency made a new proposal that could threaten the Pebble Mine project at Bristol Bay. Opponents to the mine point to Bristol Bay’s salmon fishery, and the EPA has come to the area’s defense and opposed the project.

Opponents of the Pebble Mine have some new hope with the EPA's latest proposal. (CHRIS COCOLES)

Opponents of the Pebble Mine have some new hope with the EPA’s latest proposal. (CHRIS COCOLES)

 

Here’s a portion of the EPA’s latest report:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 10 is requesting public comment on a proposed  determination to restrict the use of certain waters in the Bristol Bay watershed for disposal of dredged
or fill material associated with mining the Pebble deposit, a large ore body in southwest Alaska. EPA
Region 10 is taking this step because of the high ecological and economic value of the Bristol Bay watershed and the assessed unacceptable environmental effects that would result from such mining.
This proposed determination relies on clear EPA authorities under the Clean Water Act (CWA), and is based on peer-reviewed scientific and technical information. Its scope is geographically narrow and it
does not affect other deposits or mine claim holders outside of those affiliated with the Pebble deposit.
EPA Region 10 is taking this step pursuant to Section 404(c) of the CWA and its implementing regulations at 40 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Part 231.
Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed (Figure ES-1) is an area of unparalleled ecological value, boasting salmon diversity and productivity unrivaled anywhere in North America. As a result, the region is a globally
significant resource with outstanding value. The Bristol Bay watershed provides intact, connected habitats—from headwaters to ocean—that support abundant, genetically diverse wild Pacific salmon
populations. These salmon populations, in turn, maintain the productivity of the entire ecosystem, including numerous other fish and wildlife species.

 

The Nushagak River is one of Bristol Bay's vital salmon spawning grounds that opponents of the Pebble Mine fear could be affected by mining. (BRIAN LULL)

The Nushagak River is one of Bristol Bay’s vital salmon spawning grounds that opponents of the Pebble Mine fear could be affected by mining. (BRIAN LULL)

The Los Angeles Times  had a report on the report:

EPA officials said they would prohibit any discharges or dredging from the planned Pebble Mine above Alaska’s pristine Bristol Bay that would result in significant destruction or alteration of salmon-bearing streams, wetlands, lakes and ponds.

Plans for mining copper, gold and molybdenum by the Pebble Limited Partnership call for an open pit operation nearly as deep as the Grand Canyon that would result in “excavation of almost unfathomable amounts of rock,” EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran told reporters.

Even the most limited version of the project studied by the federal agency would dig up enough matter “to fill one of the largest professional football stadiums more than 880 times,” McLerran said Friday. “Quality salmon habitat is at a premium, and we can ill afford to lose so much of it at the headwaters of our greatest remaining fishery.”

 

 

Blue Crab Caught In Alaska

I remember going to Baltimore a few years back – for some reason choosing this mid-Atlantic destination with a friend in the middle of torrid and humid July. Perhaps it was because my vacation window was usually open in the middle of the summer, or that we made the plans around a visit from my beloved Oakland Athletics to see them play the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards.

Baltimore's famed aquarium and Inner Harbor.

Baltimore’s famed aquarium and Inner Harbor. (CHRIS COCOLES)

 

When my friend left to go back to Washington D.C. for a few extra days and I had a day to myself before catching an evening flight, I took the water taxi to Fells Point and had lunch at a quiet pub. I had some Maryland crab soup with some of the famous blue crabs the Chesapeake Bay region is famous for. 

But I never envisioned a blue crab like the one that was pulled out of Alaskan waters:

As seen in the Nome Nugget, crab fisherman Frank McFarland holds up a rare blue-colored red king crab that he caught in his commercial crabbing pots. Frank Kavairlook Jr. looks on. (Photo: Scott Kent, ADFG)

 Photo by Scott Kent, ADFG

From the Associated Press:

KNOM reports Frank McFarland found the blue king crab in his pot when fishing on July Fourth off Nome. The blue king crab is being kept alive at the Norton Sound Seafood Center until McFarland can have it mounted.

The rare blue king crab has become a rock star of sorts, with people showing up at the center to have their photos taken with it.

Recommended: Name that animal!

Scott Kent, with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Nome, says he has no idea why the red king crab is blue, but suspects it’s just a mutation.

Kent says a blue crab “turns up once in a blue moon.”

 

That would make for a rather large meal in Baltimore.

 

 

 

 

Lower 48 Men Die In Tragic Accident

Rough seas 2

PHOTO BY JEFF LUND 

Many of our stories in Alaska Sporting Journal provide you with tips and experiences for do-it-yourself Alaskan adventures. While having a guide is comforting, and, in many instances, more likely  conducive to fishing or hunting success, there’s a freedom and peace of mind in doing your own research and catching that monster Chinook or bagging that Sitka deer.

But there are risks involved, even if you know the area, which two Lower 48ers apparently were when they traveled to the Petersburg area for a fishing trip.

Here are the details from WYFF in Greenville, S.C.:

Alaska State Troopers spokesperson Beth Ipsen identified the men as 45-year-old Jonathan Comfort, of Clayton, Delaware, and Kenneth Rupprecht, 58, of Tamassee. She says they had plans to spend about a week in the area.

Troopers said the men had called police for help, but were found dead hours later after a major search according to the U.S. Coast Guard.

“These two gentlemen went to a lodge to do a self-guided fishing trip,” Ipsen said. “They have done this fairly often and know the area.”

Coast Guard spokesperson Petty Officer 1st Class Shawn Eggert said Comfort and Rupprecht were in an 18-foot Lund skiff on Sumner Strait, north of the Level Islands and south of Kah Sheets Bay, when they went into the water.

They called the Petersburg Police Department shortly before 6 p.m.

“It looks like the people in the water had contacted PPD via cellphone for 45 minutes,” Eggert said. “They (said they) had (personal flotation devices), but no survival suits; the cellphone call cut out.”

The Coast Guard launched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to search for the skiff, with Alaska State Troopers in both Wrangell and Petersburg alerted to assist with the search. While a full shoreline search of the area was unsuccessful as of 10 p.m., troopers found the capsized skiff and the Jayhawk crew found a cooler it had been carrying.

At about 11 p.m., Eggert says the Jayhawk’s crew reported spotting the two men in the water near the overturned skiff.

“The MH-60 directed troopers to the location of the people; each was recovered and determined to be deceased,” Eggert said. “Neither of them were wearing a life jacket with personal locator beacons when found.”

The last paragraph stands out that the men were without a flotation device. No matter how many times you’ve done such a trip as the report suggests, it’s always wise to take every possible safety precaution in a place as unforgiving as Alaska.

 

 

July 4 Marathon Madness

Happy Fourth of July all!

One of the stories we have running in this month’s Alaska Sporting Journal is something I don’t think I would even attempt: the Mount Marathon Race in Seward.

Fortunately, two of our intrepid ASJ contributors, Bixler McClure and Steve Meyer, have been among the brave souls who have done the race (McClure plans to be out there for today’s event). So we wanted to give you a little taste of what it’s like to charge up the mountain and make the even more dangerous run back down. Here’s a little of each runner’s story:

Bixler McClure (in white shirt) makes the long climb up Mount Marathon. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

Bixler McClure (in white shirt) makes the long climb up Mount Marathon. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

 

First up: Steve Meyer:

The starter pistol sounds, and, in cattle herd fashion, everyone starts running uphill for a half-mile to the base of the mountain. At that point, the contestants split off onto the numerous pathways up the mountain. No matter what path you choose, it’s steep! Your best strategy is to keep the head down as rocks dislodged from the runners ahead of you come bouncing down. Halfway up the course breaks out into the alpine. Not that you are in any condition or state of mind to enjoy it, but the view of Seward is magnificent.

If you’re a bit slow, runners that have already reached the top are flying past you on the descent, throwing shale and mud in every direction. The water crew waits at the top with a much-needed drink as you turn around and begin the “controlled” freefall down the slopes into the “chute” at the base of the mountain. Spectators flock to the spot cheer and sometimes witness some spectacular falls. Dripping blood from various parts of the body is normal, and there are EMS staff members standing by to patch you up or get you to the ER if necessary.

Running back down the mountain is even more treacherous than getting up it. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

Running back down the mountain is even more treacherous than getting up it. (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

And here’s some of Bix’s take on this unique way to celebrate our country’s birthday:

So with all the dangers and risks, why do I run it? Sometimes I ask myself that during my training, when the midday sun beats down on me among the stifling heat in the alders. My mother, Sue, ran the race starting in the 1970s and finished pretty well. A boulder hit her in the back one race and broke her collarbone, but she finished the race anyway. There is the historical aspect of being a fifth-generation Sewardite, but there is also the freedom of knowing that this race is one of the last wild races left. Lately, the race board has been marking routes to avoid particularly bad injuries, but with each training run and each race, I still find myself bruised and sore from rocks and minor falls.

Training for the race usually begins as soon as you can get to the top, which is usually as soon as the snow recedes a bit in April. Even with an active lifestyle and running daily, I find that nothing can actually prepare you better for running “The Mountain” than actually doing it. The first couple of trips up every year are brutal, and I find myself wondering if I will ever be able to get to the top as quickly as I did the previous summer. 

You can read the rest of their stories in this month’s issue. But if you’re like me and spending this holiday leisurely walking the dog and watching the World Cup and baseball, think of the hard work the men, women and youngsters will have done pushing their bodies to the limits in this endurance race for the brave and hearty.

Enjoy your holiday!

Approaching the finish line! (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

Approaching the finish line! (KRYSTIN BABLINSKAS)

Alaska State Troopers Reality Show Being Pulled

The State of Alaska has decided to not carry on with another season of the National Geographic Channel reality series Alaska State Troopers. 

From the Alaska Dispatch:

PHOTO COURTESY OF ALASKA STATE TROOPERS

PHOTO COURTESY OF ALASKA STATE TROOPERS

Trooper director Col. James Cockrell on Tuesday emailed Department of Public Safety employees announcing the state has decided not to participate in another season of “Alaska State Troopers,” the popular, “Cops”-style series on National Geographic, said trooper spokeswoman Beth Ipsen.

 “DPS has decided to end the production after this season after five years of filming with (production company) PSG Films,” Ipsen wrote in an email. “This decision was not reflective of PSG Films or the quality of their product. It was just time to focus on the job of providing public safety without any added outside distractions.”

 Cockrell did not rule out resuming the series “in a couple of years if there is a desire among DPS to begin another chapter.”

 The state received no money in return for allowing film crews to follow members of the statewide police force as they made arrests in cities and villages across Alaska, although the show is buoyed by state subsidies. The first season aired in 2009, arriving early in the current wave of Alaska-based reality shows.

 

King Salmon Anglers Can Keep One Kenai Fish

PHOTO BY CORBY WEYHMILLER

PHOTO BY CORBY WEYHMILLER

 

Good news for Kenai River-area anglers: for the first time in a year, starting today, you can keep a coveted king from the river.

From the Anchorage Daily News : 

King salmon returns to the Kenai have plummeted since 2009, bottoming out last year. With king salmon angling banned during the entire first run, “it’s been really quiet here,” Gease said. “It’s critical for the Peninsula economy, and when it’s closed, that’s a big hit.”

Perhaps no group was hit as hard as fishing guides. Gease estimated that five years ago about 400 fishing and sightseeing guides worked on the Kenai River. That went down to 280 after restrictions to Kenai fishing began, Gease said, and so far this year, most guides who once fished the Kenai have had to find other work — or pursue other fish in other places.

While not strong, this year’s early run lit a flicker of hope for a king turnaround on the Kenai. As of Monday, 4,585 of the prized salmon have been detected in the river, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s sonar estimate, putting the department’s minimum escapement goal of 5,300 kings within reach. The early run ends Monday night.

At the same time last year, only 1,343 kings had been counted. This year’s return was running ahead of 2012, too.