NSEDC sets 2022 CBS at $100,000
By Peter Loewi
For the first time since January 2020, the public was able to attend the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation’s Board Meeting and Annual Meeting, which were held from November 2-4 in Nome. There was no public in attendance.
The board approved a $100,000 per community Community Benefit Share this year. This comes in addition to the already approved $2.94 million for fuel subsidies and recovery from ex-Typhoon Merbok.
Wednesday was dedicated to committee meetings, the full board met on Thursday, and Friday was the annual meeting of members and the annual meeting of directors. On Friday, newly elected board members took their oaths of office and received their committee assignments.
A number of personnel discussions in the Rules and Bylaws Committee, as well as most of the Finance Committee, were held in executive session.
Alaska Department of Fish and Game Area Manager Jim Menard joined the meeting online to give a review of the past season. For salmon, the ex-vessel value was about the same as last year, he said, at $466,000. In 2021 it was $451,000, both of which are considerably lower than the late 2010s, when it ranged from $1.2 million to a record $4 million in 2018. For 2021, he said, the bulk of the payment was for the pink salmon fishery, but in 2022, the chum and silver salmon harvests were up, which pay more. Chum numbers were better than last year, but also not like the last teens; chum counts were poor in the south but got better as they moved north.
The number of permits fished were down. The average over the last five years was 138 but there were only 108 this year.
Menard was asked by Nome Board Member J.T. Sherman about the openings for commercial fishing for pink salmon. Menard explained that they could have opened for much longer than they were, but buyer capacity was limited due to focusing on crab and then a line issue with the chiller.
After salmon, the discussion turned to crab. Menard said that while he didn’t have the preliminary numbers, it looked like the guideline harvest level, GHL for short, would be going up for next year. Crab pricing was still unknown. “With the closure of the snow crab fishery, who knows what the price will be for Norton Sound Red King Crab,” he said.
Following Menard’s presentation, NSEDC Chief Operating Office Tyler Rhodes gave the report on the Fisheries Research and Development. He announced that Renae Ivanoff, a long-time biologist in the program, had become the director. Rhodes said that they were finally able to complete their survey of blue king crab. Sampling at 42 stations, they found that 31 stations had at least one blue crab. They found 31 females, 52 sublegal males and 24 legal males.
Despite a late start due to weather and adapting to a new normal of high-water impacts, all of their salmon enumeration projects went well, Rhodes said. They were “just staffed enough to operate,” he said. Some NSEDC projects were impacted by staffing issues, such as the Clean Waters beach clean ups. They did hire a new biologist to staff in Unalakleet and will be adding another. Both had been fisheries technicians, received scholarships through NSEDC and came back to work, which Rhodes called a success story for their scholarship program.
In the third quarter, NSEDC gave out 108 scholarships totaling over $332,000, and denied 43 applications. This leaves $558,000 of their $1.4 million budget for the year.Committee members discussed doing a better job to prepare students for college, such as dealing with homesickness issues to ensure scholarship recipients stay in school. The committee had increased the scholarship amounts in the past for similar reasons and discussed surveying students and allowing more opportunities for exploring careers.
Norton Sound Seafood Products Working Group
NSSP Operations Manager Justin Noffsker walked the committee members through the season. In Nome, the primary focus was on crab, and they paid out $3.75 million to 25 fishermen for 309,000 pounds. The only hiccup, which was described once as a “headache” and then again as a “catastrophic failure,” was a hole in the chill line.
In a follow-up email, Rhodes explained that the line had developed small holes which allowed water to penetrate into the crab line’s overall refrigeration system. “This required us to stand down on crab purchasing for a five-day window between June 26-June 30. On June 30 we were able to route crab deliveries to a processing vessel we had on contract while repairs were made to the Nome plant system. We were able to resume processing at the Nome plant by July 8. The new unit arrived later in the season, and we will be purchasing and installing additional refrigeration componentry prior to next season’s start,” Rhodes wrote.
In Unalakleet, they worked on pinks, largely without interruption.
Both the Nome and Unalakleet bunkhouses, which sleep around 30 people total, were at capacity for the season, but staffing was a recurring theme. Josh Osborne, the Nome NSSP plant manager, noted 18 community hires and 45 local hires, but Martin Lewis, vessel manager, said that they had been having trouble finding deckhands.
Rhodes, by email, explained that “We were pleased to again be able to offer our regional hire program to bring in member community residents to Unalakleet and Nome for positions at our seafood plants. This program was suspended in 2020 due to COVID and had reduced participation in 2021 due to reduced work opportunity associated with the salmon and crab fishery failures that year. An uptick in activity in 2022 allowed us to again operate the program more fully.”
Noffsker ended his report saying that the season finished with the typhon, and that their early preparations had paid off. The only issue was of the floating docks in Shaktoolik which washed away. While they have been located, it isn’t clear if they are salvageable, and so far, the only disaster funding that has been offered has been loans, an issue other entities in the region have expressed, as well.
Wednesday’s Finance Committee was the only committee meeting with a public comment. Isaiah Towarak asked about long term plans for future operations and the impact of the pandemic and rising interest rates. NSEDC President and CEO Ivanoff noted that there was an investment portfolio review on the agenda, but it was to be discussed during an executive session.
In the open sessions, two topics took up most of the discussion. First was a capital budget request for $33,501 for the Nome plant’s chiller replacement. Rhodes explained that the part that failed had already been set to be replaced but supply chain issues had delayed the installation. To prevent similar issues occurring again, this request was to purchase, ship and install parts of similar age.
The request was approved to move to the full board.
The other topic of discussion was the bulk fuel receivables and most notably, the rising price of propane in the villages, which was continued at length on Thursday during the meeting of the full board. Dan Harrelson of White Mountain, said that he was told that propane, which currently goes for $285 for a 100-pound bottle, could go up to $800 a bottle.
Quota and Acquisitions Manager Simon Kinneen reported that they’re hoping for an increase in quotas for the upcoming year, but still called it a good year despite the low quotas. “Pricing remains high, something we’re happy about,” he said. Despite crab closures, he said, “we are very thankful to be well invested in golden king crab, which is looking very promising for the future.”
Community Benefit Share
In August, the board approved a special CBS with the intent that communities would use it to subsidize the cost of heating fuel. Rhodes requested the board allow the guidelines to be revised. When initially proposed, the funding would be distributed in a process similar to that of the NSEDC energy subsidy. Rhodes suggested distributing it based on the number of households in the community. The board agreed to the amendment. Administration of the subsidy is up to each community, and at least five communities have already received the funding. Rhodes encouraged community members to contact their city administration how the distribution would be implemented.
Community Benefits Director Paul Ivanoff III said that in addition to the fuel subsidy of $575 per household and the $100,000 per community for disaster reconstruction, now was the time to declare the amount for the 2022 Community Benefit Share. With a motion on the table to approve an additional $100,000 per community, two members of the board asked about the long-term viability of “such generosity.”
NSEDC President and CEO Janis Ivanoff said that while those were valid concerns, “at this time, we are comfortable as your staff with a $100,000 Community Benefit Share for 2022.” All board members voted to approve the amount.
Other new business on the agenda included grants for Kawerak’s Head Start teachers to pursue a semester of higher education, community energy fund requests from Gambell and Teller, and large infrastructure fund requests from Stebbins and St. Michael.
The annual meeting of members lasted less than 15 minutes and was mostly devoted to member comments, all of which were appreciations of the staff and board. CEO Janis Ivanoff noted that outgoing board members Truman Kava of Savoonga and Oscar Takak of Elim had served 25 years, all but six years since the foundation of NSEDC in 1992.
During the annual meeting of directors first time directors Art Amaktoolik and Preston Rookok joined reelected members J.T. Sherman of Nome, Milton Cheemuk of Saint Michael and Joe Garnie of Teller for an oath of office before discussing committee appointments and election of corporate officers. Rookok will be on the Rules and Bylaws Committee and the Scholarships Committee; Amaktoolik will be on Fisheries Development Committee and the Norton Sound Seafood Products Working Group.
Frank Katchatag of Unalakleet was reelected chair of the board and White Mountain’s Dan Harrelson won a narrow reelection for vice chairman. Harvey Sookiayak of Shaktoolik was retained as Sergeant-at-Arms. Dean Peterson of Golovin was reappointed as an executive committee member. Joe Garnie was elected to fill Takak’s seat on the executive committee.