DJ Summers

Alaska’s debt rating downgraded

Oil prices continue to lurk at less than $40 per barrel, and despite hope for a legislative salve, Standard & Poor’s is lowering the state’s debt rating. 

S&P lowered Alaska’s general obligation debt from AAA status to AA+ and lowered the state’s appropriation-backed debt and Alaska Municipal Bond Bank’s debt from AA+ to AA. It also lowered bonds issued by the Alaska Energy Authority to A+ from AA.

Standard & Poor’s said in release the state’s widening budget deficit tied to oil prices spurred the decision. 

Pollock fleet sees its quota increased

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council raised pollock quota for 2016, but only by half the requested amount, locked in by the 2 million metric ton cap for the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands groundfish fishery.

The 2016 pollock limit for the Eastern Bering Sea is 1.34 million metric tons, a 30,000 metric ton increase from the 2015 limit but less than half the 65,000 metric ton increase the Advisory Panel recommended and the pollock biomass could’ve handled.

Fish board won’t meet on peninsula

The 2017 Upper Cook Inlet meeting of the Alaska Board of Fisheries will be held in Anchorage, as planned and as usual.

The board made the call by a 5-2 vote at the tail end of its Bristol Bay finfish meeting, also in Anchorage. Only two board members, commercial fishermen Sue Jeffrey and Fritz Johnson, voted in favor of a proposal moving the meeting from Anchorage to the Kenai Peninsula, where the board hasn’t held an Upper Cook Inlet meeting since the last millennium.

Final marijuana regs allow Outside investment, cafes

The Alaska Marijuana Control Board accepted its final draft of the regulations that will govern the new industry, legalized by Ballot Initiative 2 in November 2014.

The new cannabis industry regulations include a concession to marijuana clubs that still leaves a hazy legal area to be challenged later, a quasi ban on Outside investment, revisions to concentration limits, allowances for retail operations and limited cultivator licenses, and clarifications to packaging requirements.

Alaska Communications’ bottom line boosted

Alaska Communications System Group Inc. revenue is down after selling off its wireless business to its fellow Alaska telecom GCI, but net income through nine months has sharply increased.

Net income through three-quarters of the year for Alaska Communications was $12.6 million compared to just $2.6 million for the same nine months of 2014. That is despite total operating revenues declining to $54.7 million from $78.4 million in the third quarter of 2014.

GCI grows its third-quarter income

General Communications Inc. had another strong quarter in terms of revenue, particularly broadband subscribers and tourist season roaming fees, but the company is still absorbing last year’s major purchase of wireless business in its bottom line.

GCI reported $19.9 million in net income in the third quarter of 2015 compared to $9.9 million in the third quarter of 2014 following the acquisition of wireless customers and infrastructure from Alaska Communications Systems Group Inc. that was finalized in February.

Alaska leads nation in seafood production in volume, value

Alaska once again led the nation’s seafood output in 2014, according to a recently released report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

According to the administration, or NOAA, Alaska led all states in sheer volume of U.S. seafood landings with 5.7 billion pounds valued at $1.7 billion. The next closest state was Louisiana shrimp-based fisheries at 870.5 million pounds.

Overall, landings and values are both down from 2013, though NOAA officials say the trends are still positive. 

Fish prices high for consumers

Seafood producers were hoping U.S. consumers would have cheaper salmon this year, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. 

The $8.99 per pound of Alaska sockeye the U.S. consumer pays at a minimum in Anchorage isn’t making its way back down the chain to the fishermen, whose overall pay has been slashed in half by a cyclone of every possible negative market pressure and a marketing campaign that keeps prices high and attracts fraudsters.

DNR rules on water rights petitions

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article, which appeared in the Oct. 8 edition of the Homer News, said Alaska Center for the Environment and Cook Inletkeeper filed for instream flow reservations, in addition to Chuitna Citizens Coalition. ACE and Cook Inletkeeper only filed objections to PacRim’s competing water right. 

 

By DJ Summers

Morris News Service - Alaska

Commission seeks proposals for ’12 salmon disaster funds

The Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission is asking for proposals on how to spend $2.2 million in federal disaster funds geared toward salmon research in Cook Inlet and the Yukon-Kuskokwim region.

The funding opportunities will be welcome in wake of state budget cuts that claimed the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative. The program was slated to give $30 million over a period of years for in-river chinook studies, but only $15 million was used before Gov. Bill Walker’s administration cut the funding.

USDA buys $22 million in canned Alaska salmon

Icicle Seafoods and Peter Pan Seafoods have each offloaded millions of dollars worth of stockpiled canned salmon, courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture. The department paid less than the 10-year average wholesale value for the product.

At the urging of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack authorized the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase up to $30 million worth of surplus canned Alaska sockeye salmon that’s been crowding processor storage since a blockbuster 2014 season in Bristol Bay.

Marijuana board accepts draft to ban cannabis clubs

The Alaska Marijuana Control Board accepted draft regulatory language on Sept. 24 that would ban cannabis social clubs, unable to establish any regulations around a license type that was not specified in the ballot initiative that legalized cannabis. The existence of cannabis social clubs will now depend on the Alaska Legisature to establish the license type, informed by a planned policy statement from the board.

Marijuana board accepts some do’s, don’ts for retail ops

The Alaska Marijuana Control Board is parsing out what should be its business and what should be left to good business sense.

Aug. 31 began a two-day meeting for the Marijuana Control Board, which is on an aggressive deadline to approve a set of cannabis industry regulations. The board is reviewing the second of three draft regulation sets. Set two concerns retail business operations, including operating requirements, taxes, hours, and prohibited sale practices and items.

Federal rules, state caution stymie cannabis investments

Alaska’s forthcoming cannabis regulations might stop homegrown bud businesses from seeing a dime from the hot-ticket marijuana investment scene developing in the Lower 48.

Outside investment raises both industry and regulatory hackles in the Alaska cannabis scene, either as the surefire road to a federal crackdown or the harbinger of boutique-killing Big Marijuana, depending on who is asked.

DNR hears arguments on Chuitna water rights

A small creek is causing big trouble for Chuitna mine developers and the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

The Alaska Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, heard arguments from Chuitna Citizens Coalition, Cook Inletkeeper, the Alaska Center for the Environment and PacRim Coal in the latest installment of a lengthy and contentious permitting process for a proposed coalmine in the Chuitna River drainage.

Marijuana legal; finances remain in black market

Conrad Daley, executive director of the Alaska Cannabis Growers’ Association, tried to get his organization a bank account for months, and has yet to keep one. Two months after finally securing an account with an Alaska KeyBank branch, he received an account closure notice from the bank’s Ohio headquarters with a check for the balance.

“It’s exactly what we’d feared,” said Daley.

Sockeye harvest tops ’14 as Bristol Bay run nears state’s forecast

Bristol Bay’s late-arriving sockeye run has contributed to a healthy commercial harvest of more than 47.6 million sockeye statewide, though some fisheries have yet to heat up with strangely behaving tardy returns.

Statewide, the sockeye harvest has already surpassed the 2014 total and on the contentious Kenai River, king salmon have rebounded from the lows of 2012-14 and the run size has eased restrictions on all user groups.

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