New events, NMFS administrator highlight ComFish 2014


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Bob Foy, laboratory director for the Kodiak Fisheries Research Center, is seen in front of a tank holding all the fish species found in the Gulf of Alaska. Foy will be giving a presentation on efforts to rehabilitate crab populations around Kodiak at ComFish 2014. Other forum topics this year include ocean acidification, Magnuson-Stevens Act reauthorization, observer program and electronic monitoring updates and a first visit to Alaska by Eileen Sobeck, the new assistant administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service.

Photo/Andrew Jensen/AJOC

Note: This story was corrected to reflect NMFS head Eileen Sobeck's correct title.

Kodiak’s 34th annual ComFish will host a first-time visitor to Alaska when National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Assistant Administrator for Fisheries Eileen Sobeck arrives in April for the three-day fisheries event.

Sobeck, who was named to the top position at the National Marine Fisheries Service on Jan. 15, will attend with Sen. Mark Begich on April 17, said coordinator Laine Welch.

“That’s really exciting to have her come here for her very first visit,” Welch said.

Sobeck and Begich are scheduled to speak that afternoon.

ComFish is a three-day fisheries gathering that includes forums and a trade show, as well as related events throughout the community. This year, the theme is “The Business of Fishing,” and it’s scheduled for April 17-19.

Welch, who has been involved in ComFish since 1990, said she invited Sobeck to ComFish at Begich’s suggestion.

“If she wants to see a working waterfront, this is the place,” Welch said, noting that Kodiak has top federal and state fisheries scientists, several processing plants, the nation’s largest Coast Guard base and one of the largest fishing fleets.

Sobeck won’t be the only thing different for the 34th annual fishing industry event, now the largest of its kind in Alaska.

This year, the usual political debates will be held in May and August instead of during ComFish, and a new processing-related event has been added to the schedule.

Assuming that space and liability issues are worked out, the processing sector is planning a competition to showcase the skills used in that part of the industry is scheduled for April 19.

Likely events include filleting contests, comparing how different fish are filleted, and possibly a shucking contest, Welch said.

“It gives an opportunity for people in our community to just get a little bit closer to what this resident workforce in Kodiak is doing behind the doors of all these processing plants that line our community ... It should be really lively and a lot of fun,” Welch said.

The other forums focus on current issues in the fisheries.

During the last two decades of ComFish, Welch said she’s seen growing interest in other sides to the industry by fishermen, and increasing cooperative research between the industry and government agencies.

“I’m always amazed at how smart these fellows are, mostly fellows, and with a broad brush,” Welch said, referring to the diversity of issues fishers are knowledgeable about and engaged in.

Fishery participants are paying attention because they know how the decisions policy-makers make, whether in Washington, D.C., or locally, can affect the fleet, Welch said.

Some of the highlights include a presentation organized by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council about how fishing communities can retain rights to local resources when catch share programs are implemented and a discussion on health insurance organized by Julie Matweyo from the Alaska Seagrant and Marine Advisory Program.

There will also be a presentation on the economics of Alaska seafood and market trends by the McDowell Group.

Presentations about the marine observer program, electronic monitoring projects and other fisheries research are scheduled.

Welch said that the research conducted out of the Kodiak Alaska Department of Fish and Game lab is particularly interesting, including a project where two local researchers have a robot taking video of the ocean floor.

“We’re seeing things just with this basic little sled that they’re dragging around with this camera — mating behavior of tanner crab, all kinds of things,” Welch said.

This year, the various presentations will be streamed online at the ComFish website, www.comfish.com, Welch said.

The trade show will also run as usual. Kodiak Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Trevor Brown said it will be full, with about 40 vendors, ranging from government agencies providing outreach and information to companies selling fishing gear.

“It’s a small show, but we try to pack as much in there as we can,” Brown said.

About half come from off the Island, he said and provides a nice boost in spring tourism.

“It’s a good shot in the arm for Kodiak in April,” he said.

Molly Dischner can be reached at molly.dischner@alaskajournal.com.

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