FISH FACTOR: Sen. Sullivan talks fisheries accomplishments in Kodiak
Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has scored seats on nearly every Congressional committee that deal with issues on, over, and under the oceans. That fulfills a commitment he made to Kodiak when he ran for office two years ago, he said at a ComFish town meeting during a two-day stay on “the Rock.”
Sullivan ticked off a list of fishery related actions he’s had a hand in getting accomplished over the past year: passage of an enforcement act that combats global fish pirating and seafood fraud; adding language to bills that lifts pricey classification requirements on new fishing vessels; and a one-year water discharge exemption so fishermen don’t need special permits to hose down their decks.
He said he is “working to make sure new regulations are not an undue burden on the industry.”
“We hear about overregulation in terms of costs from every single group I’ve met with,” Sullivan said. “We all want clean water and a safe environment, but we have federal agencies that are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to these regulations and it can be crushing on what you all do. I hear it loud and clear.”
Sullivan said when it comes to Alaska’s fisheries, he is guided by three core principles: science is the foundation for sustainability, seafood is the engine for strong coastal economies, and the need to create more markets for what he dubs the “superpower of seafood.”
“We’ve been looking at ways structurally to create more demand for Alaska seafood,” he said, citing recent legislation that was added to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to fix a seafood oversight.
“The authorizing legislation said our trade negotiators have to achieve objectives to open markets for different industry groups, such as agriculture, high tech, textiles…” Sullivan said. “Guess what industry was not in the bill — seafood. So my team drafted legislation that said in any future trade agreements, the U.S. has to get access for our fisheries and fish products in foreign markets, and go after the subsidies of foreign fleets that unfairly compete against us. It passed and was signed by the president.
“So all trade agreements for the next six years must have major provisions focused on opening markets for U.S. seafood products. It also is included in a European trade agreement being negotiated now.”
On the home front, Sullivan said he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require the nation’s school lunch program to only include fish that is caught in U.S. waters.
“Believe it or not, there are loopholes in the program that don’t require that,” Sullivan said. “In my view, we should not be feeding our kids fish that is caught in Russian waters and then processed in China and injected with phosphates. If our kids get fed fish that is not very good, you turn off a generation until they get about 30 or 40 and get over the fact that the fish sticks they had in second grade made them not like seafood.”
In a separate media interview, Sullivan took exception to allegations that he and Alaska’s delegation aim to stymie U.S. and global protections for an increasingly off kilter climate to benefit the fossil fuel industry.
“On the science side we’re trying to make sure that ocean acidification and other issues that impact the fisheries are completely and fully funded. I’m all over that,” he asserted. “In Alaska we’re seeing the impacts of climate change and a warming ocean. I have been very focused on making sure the agencies have the applied science capability to manage the stocks accordingly.”
Sullivan agreed that human activity has an impact on climate change, to some degree.
“With seven billion human inhabitants there is certainly a human impact, but to what degree, I don’t think the science is ever settled on that,” he said.
Sullivan said he supports an “all of the above energy strategy, crediting the “natural gas revolution” of the past few years (fracking) for “driving down America’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly.”
Sullivan said Alaska’s roads, ports and harbors will benefit from a $2.6 billion highway bill passed by Congress, and another in the pipeline will provide “significant” money for airports. The Coast Guard’s biggest airbase at Kodiak also is set for some upgrades, including new aircraft and cutters.
Each year more than one third of Alaska’s salmon catch and value comes from fish that started out in hatcheries.
It’s very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed into nets or pens until they’re ready for market. In Alaska’s salmon enhancement program — which began in the early 1970s in response to low statewide runs — all fish originate as eggs from wild stocks, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. In the state’s 29 hatcheries operating today, most of the homegrown fish are pinks and chums.
According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual Alaska Fisheries Enhancement Report, the 2015 salmon season produced the second-highest catch for hatchery stocks at 93 million fish with a dockside value of $125 million.
Pink salmon accounted for 47 percent of the value of the statewide hatchery harvest, followed by chum salmon at 31 percent, sockeyes at 17 percent, cohos at 3 percent and chinook salmon at two percent of the value.
By far most of Alaska’s hatchery production is in Prince William Sound, where last year’s 74 million hatchery harvest was worth nearly $80 million, or 67 percent of the Sound’s total salmon value.
Southeast ranks second for hatchery production, which last year yielded about 11 million fish worth $37 million, or 42 percent of the total exvessel salmon value for the region.
Kodiak’s two hatcheries produced over 5 million pink salmon last season, valued at $4.5 million, or 12 percent of the total salmon value.
At Cook Inlet, about 2.4 million hatchery sockeyes were caught, valued at more than $3 million, or 10 percent of the fishery value.
Nearly 150 Alaska schools K-12 participate in hatchery egg take and salmon release programs.
Kodiak’s roe herring fishery begins on April 15 with a low 1,670-ton harvest limit.
Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay will follow with a catch pegged at nearly 30,000 tons. There’s lots of herring in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region but no buyers. A small herring fishery may occur this summer at Norton Sound.
A fleet of 84 vessels signed up for a six day, 47,061-pound pot shrimp fishery set to open at Prince William Sound on April 15.
In Southeast Alaska, salmon trollers will be back out targeting spring kings by May 1 at the Stikine River.
Southeast crabbers had their second best Tanner fishery ever, topping 1.3 million pounds in just 12 days. The crab averaged $2.23 for 74 permit holders, 30 cents higher than last year. To the contrary, dwindling stocks of golden king crab yielded a catch of just 155,000 pounds, down by half from last year. The 17 crabbers got $10.50 a pound, compared to $11.86 last season.
Crabbing was about over in the Bering Sea, where just 2.5 million pounds of snow crab remained in the 36.5 million pound quota. Also, the 17 million pound Tanner crab quota is a wrap. Halibut landings were approaching 2 million pounds of the 17 million pound catch limit.
Ten percent of the 20.3 million pound sablefish quota had crossed the docks. Fishing for cod, pollock, rockfish, flounders and other groundfish continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.