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(907) 478-3377

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British Columbia Mining Agenda Threatens Fisheries Habitat Across the Region

ATA and other fishing, environmental, and tribal representatives are working together to help protect the region from large-scale acid mines being built near Alaska’s border with British Columbia. Since last year, the group has called upon the Alaska congressional delegation, US State Department, EPA, and British Columbian officials to find ways to ensure that these mining operations do not compromise our watersheds or the Southeast economy, whether it’s through the Boundary Waters Treaty and its International Joint Commission or enforceable protections and mitigation in the event of a mining disaster. The Mount Polley Mine tailings breach in Likely, B.C. gave both nations a glaring look at what can occur at a mine that is relatively small in comparison to those that are just getting started or are scheduled to open in the near future.

Former Premier Christie Clark touted British Columbia’s plans to fast-track the opening of eight new mines and expansion of nine others by 2015. More than 30 mines are currently under permit review. The new government in B.C. gives encouraging signs that we might see some change, but time will tell.

Several key acid producing mines are the subject of our current issue focus. The Red Chris Mine, situated on the Stikine River, is owned by the same company as Mt. Polley and is currently in start-up phase. Kerr-Sulphurets-Mitchell (KSM) began receiving permits this year.

KSM is at the headwaters of the Unuk River, which flows into Southeast Alaska and is one of the region’s top king salmon producers. Primarily a copper mine, KSM would also produce silver, gold, and molybdenum. Current estimates suggest that this would be one of the world’s largest mines and dwarf anything that Alaska has seen. Seabridge Gold hopes to operate the mine for more than 50 years and extract about two billion tons of tailings. The mine will require two ‘100 year’ dams to hold tailings and the operator will attempt to treat volumes of water on a scale never before seen – 119,000 gallons per minute – with no contingency plan in the event of system failures. Water treatment for acid drainage and monitoring for selenium and other toxins would be needed in perpetuity, yet no one knows who will pay for such measures or mitigate any damages in Canada or Alaska. Another large open pit mine, Galore Creek, is slated for the headwaters of the Stikine River.

These mines present a clear and present threat to fish and wildlife that both Alaskan’s and Canadian’s rely on. Canada’s environmental laws appear to have been weakened in recent years and B.C.’s track record of water quality does not give confidence that messes will be prevented and adequately cleaned up, nor do they appear to have an adequate process to mitigate citizen’s losses. A case in point is the Tulsequah Chief Mine, which sits in a transboundary watershed near Juneau. Through the years various concepts to transport equipment, fuel, and ore have met with resistance by ATA and others, due to the risk posed to the salmon and past failures to adequately protect water quality. Since the 1950’s, acid from the old mine site has been draining into a tributary of the Taku River, which is the largest producer of salmon in Southeast. Canada has taken no meaningful action to clean up this leaky mine.

Both Red Chris and KSM operations are expected to dwarf the production at Mt. Polley. These mines and the cumulative impacts of many other scheduled projects could have a devastating effect on critical habitat. Alaska’s Congressional representatives agree, so they asked Secretary of State John Kerry to raise the issue with Canada’s federal and provincial governments. Lt. Governor Byron Mallott and the Alaska Congressional Delegation have all contacted the State Department on the matter.

Lt. Governor Mallott has visited the Mount Polley Mine and hosted the former B.C. Minister of Mines, Bill Bennett on a tour of Southeast, including Tulsequah Chief mine. This followed by meetings with stakeholders and ATA was among the groups who met with the minister. ATA and USAG representatives wrote an opinion piece with their impression of this initial meeting. Some Canadians are reflecting our views.

While so far the Trump Administration has been silent on this matter, former Secretary John Kerry traveled to Alaska with President Obama and once responded to a Juneau Empire reporter’s question about the mines, “That’s a serious issue, and obviously we are very concerned about Alaska, about the integrity of Alaska’s rivers. We’ve raised it with local governments, we’ve raised it with the federal government, and we will continue to, but it’s a…serious challenge. Downstream impacts should not be taken lightly by any country, anywhere.”

As you can see by this more recent piece by Alaska Representative Louise Stutes and ATA’s Executive Director, we think there is a long way to go if we are to secure meaningful protections for Alaskans and our neighbors who also rely on transboundary rivers.

Coalition efforts will continue to urge both countries to safeguard natural resources and local jobs from any negative impacts of B.C.’s mining program.

JE 3-part series on KSM Mine
JE Editorial


US Coast Guard

Safety Rules (still) on Horizon

In October 2010 the president signed into law the USCG Authorization Act of 2010. In January 2012 Congress passed the Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation Act of 2012. Congress included in both of these laws a number of new safety rules for the commercial fishing industry. Changes include: a revised boundary line definition; new safety equipment and construction standards for uninspected commercial fishing vessels operating beyond the boundary; mandatory dockside inspections every 2 years; onboard logbook requirements for safety gear maintenance and drills; operator training; and revised survival craft requirements – life floats and buoyant apparatus will no longer be allowed as a substitute for a liferaft. Here is an overview of the potential changes: Safety Requirements – current as of December 2014. See the USCG safety blog for new information and notification of comment periods. Currently there are two open comment periods ending on Sept. 11 and Dec. 18 .

Read ATA’s comments on the safety regs.

Timeline for implementation of some requirements remains unclear. A few, such as load-line rules, will undergo additional rulemaking. You can help keep watch on new developments by monitoring the websites linked above.

In anticipation of new requirements, Alaska Marine Safety Education Association has been offering free drill conductor training for commercial vessel owners, skippers, and crew. Funding for this program won’t last forever, so if you haven’t had a chance to get in on this excellent class, check soon to see if it is still available. Contact AMSEA for more information on locations and course schedules for this and other class offerings.

Alaska Congressional Delegation Continue the Legislative Fight to Label GE Salmon

The FDA’s approval of genetically engineered salmon was a significant disappointment for fishermen and others concerned about modified foods and the environment, but the Alaska delegation and others in congress are working to prevent the sale of these fish until the product is labeled. Senator Lisa Murkowski spoke on the Senate floor after the decision was announced and vowed to carry on the fight. Last May, Murkowski worked with her peers to successfully added language to the 2017 spending package, which ensures no GE salmon will be sold until the FDA drafts and implements a labeling process.

“The FDA shall not allow the introduction or delivery into inter-state commerce of any food that contains genetically-engineered salmon, until FDA has published final labeling guidelines for informing consumers of this content,” Murkowski said.

Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan working with Congressman Don Young introduced legislation again this year to require labeling and reduce the risks associated with genetically altered salmon. Senator Sullivan is listed as a co-sponsor on Murkowski’s legislation. It is likely that there will be additional legislative actions on this matter over the next year.

Listen to Senator Murkowski introduce her 2015 amendment to require the labeling of GE salmon. Hear Don Young debate his GE salmon amendment (go to 10:09:29pm on the video).

Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act – S. 1528
Modified Salmon Market Names Must Include GE / Independent Scientific Reviews – H.R. 204
FDA Labeling for GE Fish – H.R.205

ATA Comment on FDA Proposed Approval of GE Salmon
ATA Opinion Piece on GE salmon

Congressman Young Introduces Offshore Aquaculture Bill

Congressman Don Young submitted H.R.223, which would prohibit the permitting of commercial finfish farming in the EEZ until a federal law is passed to specifically provide for the activity. NOAA and US Department of Commerce aquaculture policies.