FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values on the rise; grant funds mariculture


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Alaska salmon permits in many fisheries have tripled in value since 2002 and the upward trend continues.

An overview of April listings by four brokers shows that Bristol Bay drift net permits are valued at nearly $134,000 by the State, and listed for sale at $150,000 to $170,000. That compares to $90,000 this past January.

At Southeast Alaska, seine permits are the priciest in the state at more than $300,000. That’s an increase of $50,000 since January.

The asking price for Prince William Sound seine cards exceeds $200,000 compared to the $140,000 range a year ago. After being stalled in the mid $30,000 range for years, Kodiak seine permits are showing a steady uptick, now listing at between $55,000 and more than $80,000. Chignik permits are moving up from the $225,000 range; at Area M/Alaska Peninsula, drift permits were listed at $100,000, up from $90,000. At Cook Inlet, drift permits were listed at $100,000, up from $75,000 less than a year ago.

Looking at IFQs (Individual Fishing Quotas) – halibut shares have hit a $50 asking price at Southeast Alaska, the only place where halibut catches have increased in the past two years. (Offers are in the $45 range.)

For the Central Gulf of Alaska, the asking prices for halibut IFQs range from $28 to $42 a pound and $16 to $20 in the Western Gulf. That’s an increase of about $6 dollars in both Gulf regions since January.

Conversely, the prices for shares of sablefish (black cod) show a big drop in price from a year ago. Asking prices in Southeast of $22 to $30 are down from $28 to $34 per pound; likewise Central Gulf sablefish shares are priced at $15 to $30, down from $28 to $34 per pound.

The decline is likely due to a big drop in dock prices for sablefish over the past two years (after reaching a high of $9 per pound for large fish), and a 25 percent drop in the value of the yen in Japan where the bulk of Alaska’s sablefish is sold, said Andy Wink, lead seafood analyst with the McDowell Group in Juneau.

Get growing

A new Alaska mariculture initiative has a mission to create a plan “to grow a billion dollar industry within 30 years.” That would about double the annual dockside value of all Alaska seafood landings combined.

The ambitious project will be bankrolled by a $216,812 federal grant to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, or AFDF, one of 10 award recipients out of a pool of 250 as part of NOAA Fisheries’ national mariculture expansion policy.

“We see it as a real opportunity that has been kind of struggling in Alaska,” said AFDF director Julie Decker, adding that the project will “broaden the concept of mariculture.”

“We’re not just talking about shellfish farming or aquatic plants, but also enhancement and restoration. It’s a three legged stool,” she said. “When you start looking at the industry from that point of view, it’s a much broader impact and involves many different sets of stakeholders.”

Decker points out many parallels between the mariculture initiative and Alaska’s salmon enhancement program, where the state backed a $100 million low interest, revolving loan fund so salmon hatcheries could get built and operate for several years. That gave them time to develop tax and cost recovery programs to help pay back the long term loans.

“It helps people see conceptually that Alaska can do this,” she said. “Now we have hatcheries that have completely paid back those loans with interest, and are producing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of salmon every year. Alaska has done this and done it really well. And we developed something in rural Alaska where it is very difficult to make businesses work.” 

Mariculture was approved by the Alaska legislature in 1988; today 69 sites are permitted but  only 28 growers are marketing shellfish, primarily oysters, with an annual value of half a million dollars a year. Alaska has two fledgling shellfish hatcheries – Alutiiq Pride at Seward and OceansAlaska at Ketchikan.  

The initiative foresees Alaska grow outs of geoducks clams, scallops, urchins, abalone, king crab, Dungies and various plants. Starting this summer Decker said AFDF will begin harnessing statewide support from state, federal and university researchers who already are active in the field, and include community development quota groups in Western Alaska.

“I believe there are things that can be grown out there, whether it’s an enhancement program or private shellfish farming,” she said.

The potential for well-planned mariculture is enormous — New Zealand’s grow out of oysters, green mussels and king salmon is worth $400 million now and the value is predicted to top one billion dollars by 2025. 

Science made simple

Lifestyles of the small and toothy, not all waters are created equal, whales as sentinels in   changing marine environments, salmon excluders for trawl fisheries, economics of killer whale predation — these are just a few topics that people will learn about at next week’s Kodiak Area Marine Science Symposium, or KAMSS.

“This is a pretty unique gathering of folks who have been doing research in the Kodiak area that work for state, federal and academic entities — all getting together and bringing their science back to the people of Kodiak,” said Kate Wynn, a marine mammal researcher at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center and co-organizer of the Sea Grant event.

Nearly 40 presentations are scheduled over four days covering research from the bottom up. 

“From zooplankton to crab research, through birds and mammals and humans and seafood science and archeology — they are all related to marine science and we put them in an order that goes from the bottom of the food web to the top and human dimensions. They just flow together,” Wynn said.

The topics flow quickly — each presentation is limited to 15 minutes and five minutes for questions. Wynn said there is one other rule.

“That they are presented in a way that anyone can understand,” she stressed. “Don’t overwhelm them with scientific details that you might use in a scientific symposium to your peers. These are school kids, guys off the street, tourists, and others in the community who want to know what you’re talking about.”

Alaska Sea Grant has hosted similar “lighter side of science” symposia in other Alaska communities to highlight local research that touches people’s lives. Wynn said a goal is to make science enjoyable and not to scare people away.

“We’ve actually had discussions about even using the word science in the symposium name. It can throw people off and be intimidating,” she said. “We are trying to get past that because in a lot of cases these are just fun facts about things that apply to our lives.”

The KAMSS event runs through April 26 at the Kodiak Convention Center. For more information Google KAMSS or visit Alaska Sea Grant website at http://seagrant.uaf.edu.

Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact msfish@alaska.com for information.

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