Alaska News Nightly: December 16, 2011

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Health Care Aides Won’t Strike
Laureli Kineen, KNOM – Nome

Communities throughout the Norton Sound region will continue to have patient care come Monday, December 19 – Health Aides will not go on strike.

Begich Chairs Hearing on Genetically Engineered Salmon
Libby Casey, APRN – Washington

Whether genetically engineered salmon are a danger to America’s oceans and kitchen tables – or the future of food production – was up for debate in Washington on Thursday.

 Alaska Senator Mark Begich chaired a hearing in a Commerce subcommittee on what he calls
“frankenfish.”  Begich and Senator Lisa Murkowski have introduced a bill that would ban interstate commerce of genetically engineered salmon.

Begich says he’s concerned because the Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, is the agency that’s deciding whether to approve the fish. But Begich says it doesn’t typically grapple with questions about the health of fish stocks and the environment.

“As you can imagine it’s very difficult to assess the environmental impacts from fish that have never existed before now,” he said.  “And the FDA is now asked to carry out an impossible task of trying to assess the food safety and the environmental impacts of genetically engineered fish.”

The president of the company that wants to market genetically engineered or GE salmon held his product up for scrutiny.  Ron Stotish runs AquaBounty Technologies Incorporated, which
is trying to get FDA approval to sell the first genetically engineered fish as human food in the United States.

Stotish says fish farms all over the country could benefit from his product. “What you can accomplish by selective stock enhancement or breeding in 25 years we can accomplish in a single generation,” he said. “We can characterize the nature of the change, we can specifically measure the change, and we can basically understand the implication of the change on production.”

The AquaBounty salmon are genetically altered for faster growth and increased survival rates. But George Leonard, the Ocean Conservancy’s Aquaculture Program Director, testified there’s no way to make sure the GE fish don’t mix with wild salmon.

“What is at stake here is no less than the future of fish, natural ecosystems, and our seafood supply,” Leonard said.  “Now proponents of GE salmon would have us believe there’s no risk the fish will get out, and even if they do get out there’s no risk the G-E salmon will take hold or reproduce with native salmon populations.  I would urge the committee to seriously question those assumptions.”

The Ocean Conservancy wants the National Marine Fisheries Service and other agencies with expertise in fishery biology more involved in the process, rather than leaving it up to the FDA.  They want what Leonard calls a modern, environmental risk assessment, and until that’s done, they want a moratorium along the lines Begich is calling for on GE fish.

A fish geneticist, John Epifanio with the Illinois Natural History Survey, testified that there’s a long history of non-native, invasive fish species overrunning local fisheries. And he says there’s no proof that the GE salmon wouldn’t do the same thing.

“Salmon and other fishes are a little more difficult to control if escape occurs. More difficult than a cow or goat. If Dolly the sheep for example escapes, we can go out in pickup truck and go find her,” Epifanio said.

“Alaskans would hunt it,” said Begich, prompting laughter from those at the hearing.”

The only other member of Congress besides Begich to question the witnesses was Maine Republican Olympia Snowe.  She questioned whether there’s a need for GE salmon given the recent successes of farmed fish.

IFQ holder and Fuglvog Boat Operator also Charged for Falsifying Catch Reports
Matt Miller, KTOO – Juneau

An associate of a former fisheries aide is now himself in trouble for a similar violation of false reporting of sablefish or black cod catches from the Gulf of Alaska.

Charges were filed against Freddie Joe Hankins on October 31 for making a false statement and a false record of fish sold in interstate commerce. Federal fisheries investigators allege that, sometime around September of 2006, Hankins harvested about 6306 pounds of black cod that were counted toward his Individual Fishing Quota for the Central Gulf of Alaska area, when the fish were actually caught in the Western Yakutat area. That fish allegedly had an ex-vessel value of $32,533 and was eventually transported across state lines from where it was landed in Yakutat to Seattle.

Charging documents say the 46-year old Hankins of Cove, Oregon operated the Petersburg-based fishing vessel ‘Kamilar.’ The navigational computer indicated that the ‘Kamilar’ fished in the West Yakutat area while the logbook and IFQ landing reports showed the fish was caught in the Central Gulf.

Investigators also allege three other incidents in April and May of 2007 in which Hankins allegedly falsely reported more black cod catches. Over 59,600 pounds of black cod worth nearly $224,000 was reported as being caught in the Central Gulf when it was actually caught off of Yakutat. Although, it appears that Hankins is only being charged for September 2006 landing.

Investigators also say that they interviewed Hankins in July of 2009 and he told them that the IFQ program did not consider historic fishing grounds when an arbitrary line was drawn. Hankins allegedly said “the fish don’t give a damn where the line is.”

The charging documents do not specifically name Arne Fuglvog, the former North Pacific Fishery Management Council member and U.S. Senate fisheries aide, but they do name his company Kamilar Incorporated which at one point featured Fuglvog as half-owner. State business records indicate that Cynthia Fuglvog became full owner of the company sometime before April of 2007.

Arne Fuglvog faces sentencing February 7th for a similar falsification of catch records in 2005. He’ll likely be sentenced to ten months in prison, pay a $50,000 fine, and ordered to give $100,000 to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation for species and habitat restoration.

Hankins was ordered to put up a $5,000 unsecured bond and surrender his passport. His next court hearing in U.S. District Court in Anchorage is this Tuesday, December 20th.

Shell Gets Conditional OK to Explore Chukchi
Annie Feidt, APRN – Anchorage

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management today gave its conditional approval to Shell’s exploration plan for the Chukchi Sea next summer. The Bureau has already approved a similar plan for the Beaufort Sea. The company is proposing up to six exploration wells for the area.

Environmental groups were quick to condemn the approval today. The Alaska Wilderness League called it a “reckless decision” and says there is no proven way to clean up an oil spill in the Arctic’s extreme conditions.

In a statement, Shell said the conditional approval is an important step. But the company is worried about a stipulation that could limit the duration of the drilling season, calling it an “unwarranted restriction.”

Parnell’s Budget Excludes Gas Pipeline to Homer
Aaron Selbig, KBBI – Homer

Communities across the state are pouring over Governor Sean Parnell’s new budget proposal. One project that wasn’t included in the capital budget is the South Peninsula Pipeline, a project that would bring natural gas into the Homer area for the first time.

Fairbanks Hotel to Offer Safe Haven for Inebriates
Dan Bross, KUAC – Fairbanks

A renovated motel will offer a safe haven for chronic inebriates in Fairbanks. The Tanana Chiefs’ Conference has nearly completed work on the former Best Western near downtown Fairbanks.

AK: Alaskan Artist Dot Bardarson
Ellen Lockyer, KSKA – Anchorage

After four decades in Seward, one of Alaska’s best loved artists is taking a look back at the events, and the environment, that shaped her life and her work.  Dot Bardarson has long been an icon for her award winning watercolors.

300 Villages: Brevig Mission
Lori Townsend, APRN – Anchorage

Today we’re traveling north of Nome to the village of Brevig Mission on the Seward Peninsula coast. Alfred Kiyutelluk is the city clerk for Brevig Mission.