Archive for October, 2010

Chinook By-Catch…Amount Almost Triples !!!

October 29, 2010

Oct 29, 2010

We were asked to believe the trawler pollock industry really did not want to catch all those King, Chinook, Salmon in 2007, over 120,000, and they were capable of figuring out ways to avoid catching the Kings. They did not need harsh limits and restrictions because they were going to just not catch them now that they knew it might be an issue, especially with Yukon Kings.

Well guess what…..they caught almost triple the Chinook By-Catch recent average this season and did most of that damage in less than 2 WEEKS. The average yearly catch has been around 20,000 for the last 2-3 years but this season they have caught 58,336 with almost 25,000 of those from Oct 1-17 of this year.

So what the heck happened? Where are all those ‘excluder devices’ they talked about? What steps come next? Will the industry be shut down?

The ADN is reporting

“Pollock boats and other commercial fishermen in the Gulf of Alaska have accidentally caught an estimated 58,336 king salmon this year, a level of bycatch that could trigger restrictions.”

“COULD trigger restrictions”? WHAT? Only ‘could’?

We hear in the Kodiak  Daily Mirror that although the North Pacific Fishery Management Council is scheduled to meet in December there is nothing on the agenda to address this issue.

“The council is not scheduled to take any final action, but will consider a new paper on the subject.”

If you read the article you will also see …..

“By far this is the largest (bycatch) we have ever seen,” Josh Keaton, a fisheries manager with the National Marine Fisheries Service, told the Kodiak Daily Mirror. “Hopefully it means a lot of kings are out there to be caught and they ran into a big pack of them.”

I am not sure what rock Mr Keaton has been under for the last few years but King returns, back to the rivers to spawn, have been well below averages. This year we saw a number of closings all over Alaska due to low returns.  Bristol Bay has been hit the hardest for shear numbers of Kings and yet to hear almost nothing about that. Might it have something to do with it Bristol Bay Economic Corporation, the local CDQ, having partnership in a good number of trawling vessels?

We went through all those hearings in Anchorage in the winter of 2009 with the National Marine Fisheries Council where we heard how the industry really cared about the life of those who rely on the salmon for their subsistence lifestyle. Here’s my live blog — part 1 and part 2.

Not sure you if remember these two nuggets but I sure do….when one industry representative told us all how important it was for this less than 20 years old industry to survive  because the fish that for years have been considered ‘trash’ fish were feeding thousands overseas! I even remember the reaction of one of the board members, something to the effect of …..We are so glad to know that feeding others overseas was more important than those here in Alaska!!

Then…. one villager voiced that in his village they had been threatened with a reduction of CDQ, Community Development Quota, monies for his village if they spoke out or moved to reduced any catch of the pollock industry. (The six CDQ programs are major owners in a number of trawler boats and companies)

This was no surprise to many of us there who had been at the receiving end of CDQ antics over the years. To hear it stated in federal committee testimony by someone who could suffer ….was nothing less than courageous.

The reason this seems to be getting so much attention now ….it seems that some of those lower 48 endangered Kings might have been caught in this by-catch.

The more I read of this lack of action to address the issue for the Alaska King runs the more I have to listen to the village discussions of ignoring all the ‘advice’ from the experts and move toward getting those Kings/Chinooks listed as at least “threatened”.

To top that discussion off we won’t even start the discussion of how the Pollock industry can continue to garner a ‘Sustainable’ rating by the MSC.

~ Victoria

A Little Catch-Up

October 26, 2010

Oct 26, 2010

Somehow the summer months, which were busy enough, have morphed into an even busier fall for all of us here at AB! We are sure that NONE of you have ever faced this situation and thus can’t relate to our feelings of being overwhelmed with all our ‘projects’ :-))

Given that, we all still want to catch all of you up on a number of things we have been watching!

Here is what else has captured our attention lately, besides the political scene, our families and all the rest of the mundane life things!!

This is just plain neat! All of us are thrilled to see this effort, which we feel needs to be encouraged by any and all villages….

What’s being called the first large-scale excavation in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta has yielded a treasure trove of ancient Eskimo objects, and sparked a race against global warming along the eroding Bering Sea coast.

“In the time I’m giving this talk hundreds of artifacts are washing out to sea all over the delta region,” said Rick Knecht, a longtime Alaska archaeologist now employed by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

We are following this, which happened last month, and will have more updates as we move into the winter months….

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke today announced the awarding of $5 million in federal disaster relief to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to assist with the recovery of fishing communities and fisheries from a commercial fishery failure in the Yukon River Chinook salmon fishery, a written statement from the U.S. Commerce Department said.

The Commission will use the funding, which Congress approved and the president signed as part of Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2010, to provide financial assistance to Yukon River salmon fishermen and to pay for replacing one type of fishing gear with another that allows for more adult females to swim upriver and spawn.

“Fishermen and their families have been struggling in recent years because of the low chinook salmon returns on the Yukon River,” U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke said. “The Alaskan delegation worked hard to ensure that this funding was approved by Congress to provide much needed assistance to fishermen and their families and put in place gillnet gear that aids in the long-term conservation of salmon.”

We all know how hard it is for villagers to obtain healthy foods at reasonable costs, let alone fresh foods. This effort will be fantastic to watch. During Victoria’s time at the Sustainable Agriculture and Gardening meeting last March, she heard about the efforts already underway in this area (her report)…

The award of $411,256 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture will be used to deliver a course called the “Alaskan Growers School.”

Project director Heidi Rader says the course will help Alaska Natives grow food to complement traditional subsistence lifestyles. Rader is the tribes’ extension educator with the Tanana Chiefs Conference.

Read more: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner – Alaska Extension Service wins agriculture grant

Some good news out of the Yukon area. It is good to hear that tensions seemed to have eased, and health professionals are better able to do their jobs in some of our area villages

The clinic in Nunam Iqua, located near the end of the Yukon River, closed this spring when its employees, including two health aides, gave their notice. They said a lack of local police increased the dangers of the job and opened them to harassment from fellow villagers when they couldn’t respond to risky scenes.
We also wanted to make these sites known to all of you if you desire to keep up on a number of things that are happening in Alaska.
This tells you of projects from well drilling to greenhouses as well as lists  some of the major regulations governing these projects.
This let’s you drop in on the Chena Hot Spring plant, a project that many said could never work. Take a few minutes, and see how well this ‘will never work’ project is doing :-)
Sometime you just have to go with your gut, and show ‘um!
Another one of those projects that you just HAVE to fight for.

The dream of electrical engineer Dick Levitt, the project is about as environmentally friendly as man can get. There is no towering dam cutting off passage to fish. There are no spinning windmill blades to kill birds. There are no banks of solar cells covering the floor of a valley. And there is, because of this project, no longer an exhaust-spewing diesel generator burning costly fossil fuels in the 400-plus community of Gustavus with a summer population at least twice that.
This is a gem of a site. It has wind projects in Alaska. It also tells you a number of supporting things that are happening to assist wind projects in Alaska. Go take a peek

How do they DO that in all that cold up there?

October 20, 2010

Oct 20, 2010

Maybe you recall a while back when we discussed one of the OTHER Cold Climate Housing Research Center houses.  It was built in another remote area of Alaska in Anaktuvuk Pass, above the Arctic Circle.  Recently, I decided to take another look at the CCHRC site and see what new info might be found there since the Anaktuvuk house was occupied:

“Data is collected to help improve the understanding of the various building systems incorporated into the house and the various climate conditions in Anaktuvuk Pass.”

I quickly became confused trying to figure out how the fresh air coming into the Anaktuvuk house was 68 degrees F (?)

I checked the air temps at for that community, which took me to the area forecast for “Northeastern Brooks Range”.  On the day I searched, I saw 5 above, 10 above, etc., and I clicked on a link to Anaktuvuk Pass.  The numbers there, too, are quite low.  So, how was the Anaktuvuk house getting 68 degrees of warm air in it?!

The site has various graphs that express a number of kinds of data.  After a bit more careful reading at the CCRHC site, I learned the following info on how smart these guys are who built this house in that harsh land:

1) “The following plots show the air temperature that enters the house through the fresh air intake (top graph) in the front of the house. For comparison, the intake air temperature from the house to the onsite sewage treatment plant (STP) designed by Lifewater Engineering Company is shown in the bottom graph. Air brought into the house through the passive vent system is warmed up in the attic, before entering living spaces. Using warm air from the house for input into the STP helps keep it warm and saves energy.”  (Wow, these guys are so far advanced over ordinary home building!)

2) “The following plots show the temperature in the attic space in the house. Passive heat exchange occurs in this area and portions of water supply utilities are located in this warm space, saving space in the main portion of the home.”  (I love it!)

3) “The following plots show the difference between temperatures inside and outside the house. Staying warm and comfortable inside while extreme Arctic winters dominate winter months is a critical design issue for Alaskan housing.”  (These researchers and home builders are just amazing.)

Please refer to their site for more information at

When the CCHRC comes out with new prototypes, I might as well fire up the popcorn and settle into a comfy chair to read and learn the latest news.  The great things they are doing, in conjunction with the local communities seeking their housing research assistance, is some of the best stuff going on the Intertubes today!

Quinhagak prototype home started!

October 3, 2010

Oct 3, 2010

Energy-efficient home in Quinhagak off the ground

Rendering of an energy efficient, cold climate home

Published on October 1st, 2010

Workers in a Southwest Alaska village are building a prototype house designed to shrug off painful heating costs and the wet winds that rot walls.

On Monday, builders with the Cold Climate Housing Research Center in Fairbanks began teaching a crew of three in Quinhagak how to build the octagonal house, said Aaron Cooke, a center architect.

After it’s built, he’ll monitor the three-bedroom, 1-bath unit to determine its energy-efficiency, using sensors to assess everything from moisture content to heat loss.

Its heavily insulated walls and other features should “drastically” reduce heating bills — the top expense for many rural budgets — cutting them at least in half, he said.

And, thanks partly to minimal building materials, the center expects the house to go up for about half the price of the last home built in the village, Cooke said.

That’s a goal, he cautioned.

That last new house, which arrived off the barge with pre-built walls, cost $430,000, said Patrick Cleveland, head of the tribal government’s housing department.

Residents, many of whom live in houses that engineers say should be condemned, are excited and curious about the project, said Cleveland.

The lucky family will see a “big, tremendous” savings on their heating fuel bill, which now averages at least $4,500 annually per house, he said. Heating fuel is costly — $5.50 a gallon — and winters long.

So who’s moving in when the place is built in five weeks?

Cleveland doesn’t know yet — the tribal government hasn’t created guidelines for the selection — but plenty of families are ready to apply.

“Oh gosh, the waiting line will be at least a page long,” he said.

In 2009, a sample analysis of 55, 1970s-era houses found soft subfloors, rotten walls, crumbling entryways and unhealthy mold levels. The 10 sample homes were called “unsafe for occupancy,” said the center and PDC Engineering of Fairbanks in the review.

The community of 700 lies along the Bering Sea about 70 miles south of Bethel. Winter arrived on Thursday, when snow fell on the crew as they put in the foundation, said Cleveland. The three local hires will be crew chiefs in the future, because the village expects to build more of the energy-efficient homes.

The housing department invited the center, a nonprofit based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, to design the prototype. The village is paying for the work with a loan from the U.S. Agriculture Department, Cleveland said.

Innovative features, created with advice from villagers at design meetings, include an Arctic entryway that wraps part of the house to shield it from wet, southeast winds.

That wrap-around design, and its unusually long length, will keep that area and the house inside warmer compared to standard rural entryways that jut from the house, he said.

No windows will be built on the north side, reducing exposure to dry Arctic winds.

And because it’s octagonal, less of the house will be exposed to cold winds and snowdrifts that pile against the boxy collection of current houses.

During design meetings, villagers said they wanted an intimate family space for the 1,100-square foot home. They didn’t want hallways that would create cold spots in the house, said Cleveland.

As a result, the floorplan sort-of resembles a donut, with the living and dining room in the center and the bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen occupying much of the outer ring.

The home includes a new concept Cooke said was invented by the center that allows walls to be thicker — and therefore more insulated — than is common in most houses.

Open-faced steel beams will replace the typical wooden wall studs and floor joists, a feature that reduces shipping costs because the steal beams nest together and save space.

Most of the house fits into the belly of a single DC-6, Cooke said. For example, the trusses for supporting the roof were built just small enough to fit through the plane’s cargo door.

“When shipping or freight is 30 percent of the entire cost of a house in the Bush, every inch and pound you can save matters,” Cooke said.

The center is playing an increasing role in rural Alaska in recent years. It’s been hired by tribal governments and housing authorities to produce energy-efficient designs, often with a traditional twist.

In Southwest, it’s helped the eroding village of Newtok design an emergency shelter with the steam baths preferred by elders for bathing.

Above the Arctic Circle in Anaktuvuk Pass, it’s worked with the village to build a prototype house partially covered by tundra for warmth, resembling old sod homes used by Alaska Natives.

On the North Slope in Atqasuk, the center trained villagers with the local housing authority to build a home that also comes with some earth insulation. They plan to take the center’s design and build more, Cooke said.

Reprinted with permission from The Tundra Drums


The homes that need replacing

Homes that were built in Quinhagak in the 1970s are not a practical solutuion for people living in cold climates. Interior heat and exterior moisture have,  over the years, left people dwelling in rotting, mold infested homes that are expensive to heat and are not suited for the area they were built.

We are glad the Cold Climate Housing Research Center is pursuing a home building-model that will be both location-friendly and affordable.

The CCHRC home’s donut design, with the offset cold weather entry and central communal area, seems to take historically logical cold weather housing concepts and delivers a home that blends traditional design with modern comforts.

We hope the successful completion of this project will lead to similar home-building projects in Quinhagak and other remote villages where mold is a major health concern.