FISH FACTOR: Annual best and worst of the past year in state fisheries
2016 marks a quarter of a century for this weekly column that targets Alaska’s seafood industry.
At the end of every year, I proffer my “no holds barred” look back at the best and worst fish stories, and select the biggest story of the year.
The list is in no particular order and I’m sure to be missing a few, but here are the Fishing Picks and Pans for 2015:
Most eco-friendly fish feat: The massive airlift/barge project led by the Department of Environmental Conservation that removed more than 800,000 pounds of marine debris from remote Alaska beaches.
Best new fish service: “Print at home” fishing licenses (and more) by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.
Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon — Frankenfish
Best fish financial potential: Mariculture for more shellfish, sea “vegetables” —shrimp?
Worst fish kick the can: The Department of Natural Resources’ stall on a salmon vs. coalmine water rights decision at the Chuitna watershed in Upper Cook Inlet. DNR awarded a small reservation to protect salmon while allowing more time for PacRim coal to prove that building Alaska’s largest coal mine won’t hurt salmon and the ecosystem.
Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Pacific Seafoods Processing Association among the appellants in a lawsuit against DNR’s decision to grant water reservation rights for the first time to a private entity, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition (See above)
Biggest fish hurry up: Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Not much extra bunk space on a 40 footer.
Biggest fish phonies: Kenai-based sportfish enthusiasts bankrolling an effort to ban setnet gear in “urban” areas in the name of conservation. Their claims that setnets are an “outdated gear and devastating, indiscriminate killers” ignore 10 years of ADFG data showing that 99.996 percent of setnet harvests is salmon.
Best fish quick fix: The JDBeltz, by Anne Morris of Sand Point — a horizontal Vicky knife holder that prevents leg pokings.
Best fish sigh of relief: Federal fish managers allowing the use of pots, instead of longlines, to catch black cod. The gear shift prevents whales from stripping the pricey fish from hooks, leaving only the lips. Fishermen call it “getting whaled.”
Best fish visionary: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention.
Best fish fighters: The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP, for fighting tirelessly to get tasty, “kid approved” fish meals into school lunch programs, and for getting the pollock name corrected on federal food lists to guarantee the fish is top quality.
Best fish energy booster: Bob Varness of Juneau for the first in the nation electric powered passenger boat, the E/V Tongass Rain, set to be out on the water doing eco-tours this summer. Next up: all electric fishing boats.
Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for low cost courses in vessel hydraulics, electronics, maintenance and repairs, fish technicians and more — most are available on-line; Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents.
Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, on its way to donating 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994.
Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska.
Best fish boosters: Juneau Economic Development Council for ramping up visibility of the local fishing/processing sector, and envisioning big opportunities in mariculture and fish “co-products.”
Fondest fish farewell: Ray RaLonde, who retired from Alaska Sea Grant after decades of creating and nurturing the state’s fledgling mariculture industry.
Best fish informer: Julie Speegle, Communications Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries/Juneau
Saddest fish story: The sudden and untimely death of Greg Fisk, fisheries advocate and newly elected Juneau mayor.
Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which generates nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower. Kodiak also turns its fish wastes into oils and meals at a “gurry” plant owned by local processors, and the city plans to turn its sludge water into compost.
Best fish gadget: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It’s free.
Most encouraging fish pols: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka
Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is documented and happening fastest in Arctic waters.
Biggest fish brush off: Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which has voted to tank every climate change/clean air/clean water measure that has come before Congress in favor of fossil fuels. No comments on the 200+ nation climate accord in Paris. How will that play in Kivalina?
Best fish to kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society.
Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI.
Best global fish story: The U.S. and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported, or IUU, catches by fish pirates—more 20 percent of the global fish harvest.
Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com; Pacific Fishing Magazine’s Fish Wrap
Best fish watchers: Trustees for Alaska, Cook Inletkeeper
Best new fish writer: DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce
Best fish economists: Gunnar Knapp, ISER; Andy Wink, McDowell Group
Worst fish travesty: Halibut catches for commercial and sport users slashed every year while fishing fleets take millions of pounds as bycatch. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go.
Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries offices in Alaska.
Best go to bat for fishermen/fishing towns: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans programs which aim to expand statewide.
Most ambitious fish dilemma: The plan to reduce bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include apportioning 25 different types of groundfish among all user groups.
Tastiest new family fish products: Trident’s Ultimate Fish Sticks, Pickled Willy’s Smoked Black Cod Tips
Best fish partnership: Golden king crabbers and state biologists teaming up to do the first stock surveys that span 800 miles along the Aleutian Islands
Best fish show offs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 23 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation.
Biggest fish story of 2015: 50 cents for reds at Bristol Bay and a nearly 70 percent drop in Alaska salmon prices across the board. The perfect storm of adverse global currencies, big inventories and record U.S. imports of farmed salmon could stoke a similar trend in 2016.