Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: ADFG receives barest of cuts among Dunleavy’s vetoes

Fisheries fared better than most in terms of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s budget cuts. Just less than $1 million was cut from the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, leaving it with an $85 million budget, half from state general funds. “To give the governor credit, he recognized the return on investment,” said ADFG Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang. “It’s a theme I had all the way through the Legislature that we take a $200 million budget of which about $50 million is unrestricted general funds and we turn that into an $11 billion return to our state. And I think he got that.” Vincent-Lang added that Dunleavy also did not veto the travel budget for the Board of Fisheries and its advisory committees. It’s indefinite still how the budget cuts will play out, and Vincent-Lang said he is trying to avoid staff cuts to the 700 comfish positions. “I suspect we may have some but we will try to do that through vacancies and a variety of other things as we have retirements,” he said. Also set to get axed is funding for research projects, such as salmon in-season sampling and Tanner crab surveys at Prince William Sound, and five salmon weirs at Kodiak and Chignik. Salmon counting is likely to be reduced at the Yukon River’s Eagle and Pilot Station sonars, along with various stock assessment surveys for groundfish. “I’ve asked my staff to look at their overall program, and not necessarily cut the projects, but take the ones that have the least impact on the management of our fisheries across our state in terms of economic value back and cut those,” he explained, acknowledging that the cutbacks could lead to more cautious management. “Clearly, any time you reduce your forecast ability you become more precautionary in your in-season management approach until you can become more certain,” he said. Vincent-Lang said the state hopes to form local partnerships to help fund shortfalls, “like the Bristol Bay Science Initiative and Yukon River tribal groups to try to find ways that we can replace that money to ensure that we minimize the impact to our ongoing management programs.” Those partnerships “are the path forward” for Alaska’s fishing industry to jointly fund research, he stressed. “If we are going to be continually dependent on state general funds, that presents a challenge,” he said. “We need to look for ways to partner with different groups to get a diversified funding stream.” Partnership also will be important to fund ADFG’s special areas management, which is facing a $280,000 budget cut for its oversight of 12 game refuges, 17 critical habitat areas and three wildlife sanctuaries. Vincent-Lang said using hunting dollars with matching grants in some areas will help make up for that budget shortfall. “The rest of the department, like the Sportfish and Wildlife divisions, are largely funded by federal funds that are dedicated to those activities and we match them with hunting and sport fishing license dollars. There’s very little state general funds in those divisions,” he explained. The Habitat and Subsistence Divisions will remain under the auspices of ADFG, despite reports that two director-level positions and associated funding would move to the Office of Management and Budget. Vincent-Lang said those two positions were open when he took the job and he opted not to fill them. “I didn’t want to lose actual staff members in those divisions that were equal to a director position,” he explained. “If a director position cost $200,000 I would have lost three or four staff members in both divisions to make up for that. I willingly gave up those two positions to OMB because they needed them, but the activity they were doing remains under the supervision of ADFG.” The total budget for ADFG is $200 million. Fish schools state workers Several hundred of Alaska’s fishery managers are graduates of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, or CFOS, an arm of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The college offers degree programs in fisheries, marine biology and oceanography, and of its nearly 1,000 graduates more than half have come out of the fisheries program and work in the state. “That is a remarkable number. I don’t know any other fishery department in the country that can say half of their graduates still work in their home state,” said Brad Moran, dean of CFOS, adding that the college has seen steady year over year increases in enrollment of undergraduates. Moran is awaiting the fallout from Dunleavy’s evisceration of the university budget. CFOS, which has a staff and faculty of about 140, also operates campuses in Juneau and Kodiak and its collaboration with Alaska Sea Grant extends its reach to a dozen more locations. Moran said nothing is safe. “There’s not any faculty, staff, student or location that will not be impacted should the veto for the university budget not be overridden, “he said. “That has to be crystal clear. There is nothing that will be left untouched,” With the number of incoming state dollars driven by the university, Moran said he just doesn’t get it. “It’s been shown that for every dollar the state spends, we’re bringing in about $6 university-wide to the state. I don’t see how you cannot say that’s a great turn on investment,” Moran said, (unknowingly echoing the words of ADFG’s Vincent-Lang). Moran pointed to the CFOS-operated research ice breaker Sikuliaq home-ported at Seward as an example. “We are entrusted to operate a $200 million federal asset in that vessel which is owned and paid for by the National Science Foundation. All of the funding for that ship is externally coming into the state. That’s only one example of state dollars driven by the university,” Moran said. He added that Alaska’s university teachers and researchers are at the forefront in the world in terms of rapidly changing ocean and Arctic conditions. “All require basic research and those investments from the federal government are leveraged by the state one dollar on six,” he emphasized. “You can always look for economies of scale and improvements in cost efficiency,” Moran added. “What you cannot do is drop the hammer overnight to this extent and expect an organization to deliver the same kind of value to the state. But we will do our very best.” Alaskans Own delivers Alaskans Own, a Sitka-based seafood delivery service, is celebrating 10 years of providing local fish not to Outsiders, but to other Alaskans, the majority of whom can’t get their hands on the best fish out there. “It’s a crazy statistic that just 1 percent of the seafood that is caught in Alaska stays in Alaska, so 99 percent is exported,” said Natalie Armstrong, outreach assistant for Alaskans Own, a Community Supported Fishery project of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. The CSF follows a more well-known agriculture model that bridges the gap “from farm to table.” “We’re bridging the gap from ocean to table and connecting more communities to their seafood,” Armstrong said. Alaskans Own has more than 300 subscribers who from May to October can choose different sized packages of portioned halibut, salmon, lingcod, shrimp, sablefish and more. The fish is shipped to hubs in Sitka, Anchorage, Seattle, Juneau, and Fairbanks and also to Outside customers. “Anyone can choose what they want. They can get a mixed bag or 40 pounds of coho and we ship it right to their door,” Armstrong said. A fleet of 100 boats fish for the CSF, and all profits go to the Fishery Conservation Network, an ALFA offshoot that partners fishermen with scientists in local research projects. Armstrong is hopeful other Alaska fishing towns will create CSFs to promote their small boat fleets and protective fishing practices. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Locals keep share of fish taxes; new tech for cutting crab, salmon farms

One fisheries item that appears to have escaped Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s veto pen so far is his desire to divert local fish taxes from coastal communities into state coffers. Dunleavy’s initial budget in February aimed to repeal the sharing of fisheries business and landing taxes that towns and boroughs split 50/50 with the state. Instead, all of the tax revenues would have gone to the state’s general fund, or a loss of $28 million in fiscal year 2020 to fishing communities. “There is a recognition that these are viewed as shared resources, and they should be shared by Alaskans,” press secretary Matt Shuckerow said at the time. “So that’s kind of what this proposal does. It takes shared resources and shares them with all Alaskans, not just some select communities.” The tax split remains in place and the dollars are still destined for fishing towns, said rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who also represents Cordova, Yakutat and several smaller towns. “It’s general fund revenue and that has been appropriated to the appropriate communities,” Stutes said in a phone interview. “What we can tell right now is it slipped by unscathed because it appears he did not veto that revenue to the communities that generate the dollars. So, it looks like we’re good to go there.” What’s not so good is the nearly $1 million cut to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial fisheries budget. Stutes and Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, worry that the shortfall could result in lost harvests. “It’s always short-sighted when you cut Fish and Game. It’s just really crucial that we have the personnel we need to manage our resources and to make sure they continue to be there when we need them,” Stevens told KMXT in Kodiak. Stutes, who chairs the House Fisheries Committee, said it does not make sense to cut state money makers. “In the long run, that creates revenue for the state because it allows all these different fisheries to stay open longer,” she said, adding that lost oversight due to budget cuts will result in more conservative management. “If they do not have the personnel to do the appropriate salmon counts, they’re going to manage very conservatively. And that means less openings or they’ll close the season earlier,” Stutes said. “Those are dollars that the state’s not going to get by the governor vetoing those funds to Fish and Game. It just doesn’t make sense to me under any conditions.” All the amendments that the Alaska Legislature added back into the original ADFG budget were vetoed, including a $280,000 cut to special areas management, which include 12 game refuges, 17 critical habitat areas and three wildlife sanctuaries. Two director-level positions and associated funding from the Habitat and Subsistence Research Divisions will be moved to the Office of Management and Budget and no longer be associated with ADFG related duties. Impacts of the budget cuts were not readily available and all questions are referred to a new [email protected] address. The questions may be directed back to appropriate staff, but “they want everything to be through that address,” said one ADFG employee. “Welcome to our world,” said Stutes. “As a Legislature, we can’t get answers. We can’t speak to department heads. We get no response. We are required to go through the legislative liaison. I have never seen such a lack of communication between any department or between the legislature and the executive branch.” Robots cut crab Radio Canada reports that robotic machines that cut and shuck crab have nabbed a U.S. patent that is being hailed as a breakthrough in fish processing technology worldwide. The system, developed by the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation in Newfoundland, operates at lightning speed on crab at fish plants in eastern Canada. In a shipping container-sized chamber, crabs go down a conveyor belt where each is analyzed by cameras; then, “pick and place” robots saw off the legs, sort and package them and off they go. Along another belt, robots shuck the meat from the crabs, a job that would have been done in China. “Instead of sending all our crab out as sections with the meat in the shell we thought we could attract a higher price if we sold the meat instead,” said Bob Verge, the brains behind the crab robots and managing director at CCFI. While the crab cutting robots are designed for snow crab (Eastern Canada is the world’s largest producer), Verge said the system is adaptable to other crab species and potentially other shellfish. He added that interest is high, including from international markets who are interested in developing robotic solutions to other fish production problems. CCFI has applied for patents in 10 other countries and those are expected to be issued soon. The robot makers are hoping the system will help solve workforce problems in fish plants that often are located in remote regions where it’s tough to recruit enough workers. In this case, Verge said humans will work on more highly skilled machines and computers, and not on the slime line cutting up crab. “If we are going to attract the young people we need, we need better jobs, not more jobs. We have to offer them a better deal,” he said. “In demonstrating this technology to young people, they are very impressed with it.” Land ahoy! Since the 1990s, Alaska’s salmon industry has faced tough competition from farmed fish. Now salmon growers are coming ashore in the U.S. in a big way. The latest trend is raising Atlantic salmon in massive tanks on land, called recirculating aquaculture systems, or RAS. “It really could be considered salmon aquaculture 2.0,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group. “The current model is the nearshore farms, and land based technology has really improved upon that. Obviously, there is no worry about interaction with wild stocks.” The closed loop systems, some holding two million gallons of water, also use no antibiotics, additives or pesticides, removing big negatives from fish that are farmed in crowded ocean net pens. The tank water, gotten mostly from deep wells, is filtered similar to an aquarium, and can be constantly reused. A non-stop current also provides exercise to enhance fish health and meat quality. Maine already has attracted two growers. Last month Nordic Aquafarms of Norway announced plans to build an RAS farm in Belfast that will eventually produce 70 million pounds of salmon each year. UK company Aquabanq also announced they will begin building a massive RAS facility in Millinocket next spring. Another Norwegian company — Atlantic Sapphire — is doubling its land purchase in Homestead, Fla., to 160 acres for a RAS facility that aims to grow 500 million pounds of salmon annually by 2030. Since 2017 a Wisconsin company called Superior Fresh has advanced the land-based fish tank model on its 720 acres by attaching it to a greenhouse. Its motto is “great food from the best fish.” Alaska needs to pay attention, Evridge advises. “In sum, these proposed facilities would have production that in some years is equal to current Alaska salmon production. It’s certainly something to pay attention to and it looks like there’s momentum around the industry.” Video deadline Aug. 2 is the deadline to submit short videos that highlight contributions of women in all segments of the seafood industry: fishing, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, teaching, etc. It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry. Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches. The top winner receives 1,000 euros along with two 500-euro prizes. Enter at www.womeninseafood.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ‘Unheard of’ flood of pinks surprises at Alaska Peninsula

The biggest fish story for Alaska’s salmon season so far is the early plug of pinks at the South Alaska Peninsula. By June 28, more than 8 million pink salmon were taken there out of a statewide catch of just more than 8.5 million. Previously, a catch of 2.5 million pinks at the South Peninsula in 2016 was the record for June and last year’s catch was just 1.7 million Managers at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Sand Point said at this pace, this month’s catch could near 10 million pinks. “It’s unheard of, really,” ADFG’s Elisabeth Fox told KDLG radio. Typically, pink salmon return to the South Pen region in July and managers believe the earlier arrivals are not homing in on local streams. “We don’t know where these pinks are going,” Fox said. No tagging studies have been done on the pinks passing through, but they could be headed farther north to Norton Sound where record numbers also have shown up for the past few years. “There is no known link between South Peninsula pinks and Norton Sound,” Jim Menard, Area Manager for ADFG in Nome, told SeafoodNews.com. You can track Alaska’s daily salmon catches by region and species with ADFG’s Blue Sheet. There are also in-season summaries that graph the weekly progression of commercial salmon harvests and compare it with five-year averages. Pink pressure All those pink salmon could face stiff headwinds from Russia in global markets. Alaska projects a total catch of nearly 138 million pinks this summer, 97 million more than last year, and Russian fleets expect another huge haul. “If Alaska and Russia both realize their forecasts it will be interesting to see how the market reacts,” said economist Garrett Evridge with the McDowell Group. Just how big might Russia’s pink salmon catch be? “Russia is anticipating a harvest in line with last year which was a record. It was over one billion pounds,” Evridge said. “For context, in 2018 Alaska harvested about 150 million pounds.” Speaking of Russia, we’re into the fifth year of an embargo that Russia put on U.S. seafood and other food purchases in 2014 to retaliate for alleged U.S. meddling in Ukraine affairs. That‘s been an annual loss of over $60 million to Alaska, mostly for salmon roe sales to Russia which had grown by 222 percent in 2013, according to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Meanwhile, the U.S. continues to buy increasing amounts of seafood from Russia, mostly king crab, snow crab and sockeye salmon. Trade data show the US bought $51 million of Russian-caught seafood in 2018. Dunleavy déjà vu On June 28, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy cut an additional $444 million from Alaska’s operating budget. All the amendments that the legislature had added back into the original ADFG budget were vetoed. There is a gag order on fisheries staff at ADFG and no one is allowed to talk about the budget cuts. All questions are referred to “the governor’s administration.” United Fishermen of Alaska provided this initial breakdown: • $997,000 less for commercial fisheries management • 50 percent reduction in funds for travel across all divisions (including Commercial Fisheries) • $280,000 less for special areas management • Transfer of two director-level positions and associated funding from the Division of Habitat and Division of Subsistence Research to the Office of Management and Budget. (these jobs will no longer be associated with ADFG-related duties) Shuckin’ time One of Alaska’s most exclusive fisheries gets underway on July 1: weathervane scallops. Just two boats take part in the fishery that spans from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. “It’s not something you can get into easily,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at ADFG in Kodiak. “It takes a fair bit of institutional knowledge and also specialized gear. Lots of people have some Tanner crab pots lying around but not many have a 15-foot New Bedford scallop dredge in their backyards.” The scallop fishery also is very labor intensive as it includes crews of up to 12 people who catch and shuck the catch. “Every Alaska scallop you’ve ever seen was shucked by hand,” Nichols said. This year the two boats will compete for 267,000 pounds of shucked meats, which are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed. They are a wildly popular delicacy and can pay fishermen $6 to $10 per pound, depending on size and grade. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined fishing regions. The fishery is co-managed with the federal government and has 100 percent observer coverage. It takes a scallop around five years to be large enough to retain in the fishery. Weathervane scallops are the largest in the world and their shells can measure 8 to 10 inches across. Get thee to a DMV! A request by United Fishermen of Alaska to postpone a new state title and registration law that requires fishing vessels, tenders, barges and sport fish boats to register at the Dept. of Motor Vehicles was denied by Department of Administration’s Commissioner Kelley Tshibaka. Here’s the breakdown from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission: Undocumented vessels without a valid certificate of documentation issued by the U.S. coast guard must continue to be registered with the DMV and now must also be titled with the DMV. Documented vessels with a valid certificate of documentation issued by the USCG now must also be registered with the DMV. Federally documented vessels are exempt from the new title requirements but are no longer exempt from the DMV registration requirement. Fish movers Alaskans Cora Campbell and Nicole Kimball have been named to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council by the U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. The council oversees over 25 Alaska fisheries from three to 200 miles from shore. Campbell is a former ADFG Commissioner and current CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, a company started by fishermen in Sitka in 2007 that has grown to become one of Alaska’s largest seafood companies. Kimball served for many years as federal fisheries coordinator for ADFG and is currently vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association that has represented Alaska seafood companies since 1914. Both will serve three-year terms that begin on Aug. 11. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact ms[email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Vessel owners scramble to comply with new registration law

A well-intended new Alaska law has gone awry from a botched rollout that has turned thousands of Alaskan fishing vessel, tender, barge and sport fish operators into lawbreakers. Since the start of 2019, all vessels longer than 24 feet are required to be registered with the state at a Department of Motor Vehicles office. Previously, vessels that were documented with the U.S. Coast Guard were not also required to register with the state. The registration costs $24 and is good for three years. “You need to get down to the DMV whether you’re documented or not,” explained Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. “If you’re documented you have to register, and if you’re not documented, you have to register and get a title.” The new rule stems from Senate Bill 92, the Derelict Vessels Act introduced last year by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, and passed by the Legislature. It is intended to help harbormasters and others track down owners of abandoned vessels. But virtually no mariners know about the new registration requirement. “We found out about it from DMV personnel in Haines who told one of our gillnetters and he told me, and we both called the troopers and they didn’t know anything about it,” said fisherman Max Worhatch of Petersburg. “Later they got back to us and said it was indeed the law.” Worhatch, who is executive director of United Southeast Alaska Gillnetters, said he’s directed queries to the departments of Administration and Public Safety. “Why weren’t we notified?” he asked. “Nobody found out about this and nobody would’ve found out about this if we hadn’t alerted people. There was no public notice, nothing.” The new law states that a derelict vessel prevention program shall, to the extent that general funds are available, establish education and community outreach programs. But the only outreach is coming from fishermen’s groups, said UFA’s Leach in a June 18 letter to Department of Administration Commissioner Kelly Tshibaka. “Since becoming aware of this new law in late May, UFA has been working with the Department of Motor Vehicles and State Wildlife Troopers to understand how they intend to implement the requirements of the law,” the letter says. “We have notified thousands of fishermen of the law’s requirements through emails and social media posts. As far as we can tell, the commercial fishing industry, spearheaded by UFA, is the only sector actively working to inform commercial fishermen of the new requirements, even though this affects thousands of non-commercial fishing boat owners around the state. Who is informing them?” It adds,“As fishermen attempt to comply with the law’s requirements they are discovering that many DMV offices are not ready to deal with the onslaught of this new bill.” Leach and Worhatch also point out that requiring vessel registration at a DMV adds an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy and is “reinventing the wheel.” “All the information on the DMV registration is available on a public database website at the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission website. Everything,” said Worhatch. UFA, which represents 36 fishing groups, requested a one-year delay of the law “until all state agencies are better prepared and trained and adequate public notice and education are given prior to it going into effect.” That has the support of Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka. “Running the DMV gauntlet is the last thing fishermen need to be thinking about as salmon season heats up,” he wrote by email. Kreiss-Tomkins voted against the new law, saying he was concerned that the bill, albeit well intentioned and addressing all too real a problem, would create more paperwork than it would solutions. “The fear about paperwork headaches is proving all too real,” he said, adding that it “makes heaps of sense” for the existing CFEC database to do “double duty” and relieve the DMV of those headaches. “If sound legislation will be forthcoming to this end, I’ll certainly support it,” he said. As to the botched rollout, Kreiss-Tomkins said: “There seems to be critical mass concern. Everyone — the fishermen, the agencies — is climbing a learning curve, so to some extent it’s understandable. I just hope that this recent attention can help everyone get on the same sheet of music.” Naknek does nets Fishing net recycling is expanding to Naknek. Nicole Baker, founder and operator of Net Your Problem, plans to meet with net menders, processors, gear sellers and landfill managers in early July to begin formulating a program. “These are people who have reached out to me or I have been communicating with over the last year or so,” she said, adding that the recycling start up is set for next summer. Baker, who is in Dillingham for three weeks taking a class at the University of Washington salmon research camp, also has met with the local Curyung Tribe which has managed a net recycle program at the Dillingham Harbor since 2008. Since 2017, Net Your Problem has shipped more than a half-million pounds of plastic fishing nets from Dutch Harbor and Kodiak for renewed life in Europe. “They grind them up, melt them down and turn them into plastic pellets that they then resell to buyers of recycled plastics who turn them into water bottles, phone cases or whatever they choose,” she said. Other updates: nets are still being taken in at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak has a net drop off deadline this summer of Sept. 1 due to shipping logistics. Petersburg will soon be sending out a container of nets collected by the Petersburg Indian Association. The Haines Friends of Recycling has collected seven nets so far and more are being dropped off at the Net Loft. Juneau will be sending out a container of nets at the end of summer collected by the Recycle Works Group. Fishing changes Fishermen are closest to the changes brought by a warming climate and talking about it is a first step in finding solutions. That’s the thought behind The Nature Conservancy’s second collection of audio stories in its Tidal Change series. “If we are not talking about the problems or the challenges ahead, we’re not going to start tackling them. This is a chance to generate conversation,” said spokesman Dustin Solberg of Cordova. The stories reveal a swirl of emotions. Here’s a sampler: “The environment is changing, undoubtedly. When I first fished there was a lot of ice and now most of the glaciers are receding,” said Leonard Leach of Ketchikan, who has been fishing since 1961. “If this whole warming trend keeps happening my understanding is that jellyfish will really come back and that would be a detriment to our gillnetting and seining.” “The water’s warmer and the fish get confused and they don’t know when they’re supposed to run,” said Lia Cook, who fishes with her family at Bristol Bay. “It really affects the peak and the amount of fish that comes through because there is confusion in the school of when are we supposed to go and spawn and do all these things.” Lauri Rootvik of Dillingham also spoke to the odd run timing at Bristol Bay. “When I was a child it was the 4th of July run and it was pretty predictable. It’s not predictable anymore and it hasn’t been for quite a few years,” she said. “Warm water produces more harmful algae blooms. It’s not something that’s coming, it’s something that we are experiencing,” said Bob Eder, a 45 year veteran of Dungeness crab fishing in Oregon. “In our industry there are people of all different political leanings but I don’t know any fishermen who don’t recognize climate change and the challenges coming.” Katrina Leary grew up at a fishing camp along the Kuskokwim River and called it “magical.” “It’s really emotional when you realize your livelihood is being threatened and your kids might not be able to do this. Fishing really is our life. I couldn’t imagine a summer without fishing and I hope I never have to.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Summer fishing ramps up; gov opposes council’s Pebble letter

Salmon dominates the summer fishing headlines but it’s among many other fisheries going on throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Alaska’s salmon season has gotten off to a mixed start, with strong catches in some regions over the past month and dismal hauls in others. Good harvests have continued at the Copper River and more recently throughout Prince William Sound. That’s not been the case at Kodiak, Cook Inlet and Chignik where fishing is off to a very slow start. Trollers are targeting chinook salmon in Southeast, and other salmon fisheries are popping up all over that region. The state research vessel Pandalus is on its way to Port Moller to start sampling ahead of the big sockeye run expected in a few weeks at Bristol Bay. State managers predict a total Alaska salmon catch this year of 213 million fish, 84 percent higher than 2018. In other Alaska fisheries, a lingcod fishery reopened at East Yakutat on June 7 and Southeast’s shrimp beam trawl fishery reopens on July 1 with a 175,000-pound combined harvest of pink and sidestripes. Fishing for Alaska pollock reopened on June 10 in the Bering Sea where a catch this year will top 3 billion pounds. Hundreds of other Bering Sea and Gulf boats also are targeting cod, flounders, rockfish, and myriad other whitefish. Alaska halibut longliners are nearing a catch of 8 million pounds out of a 17 million-pound catch limit. For sablefish, about 10 million pounds has crossed the docks from a 26 million-pound quota. Several summer crab fisheries are coming online. The Dungeness season opens in Southeast Alaska on June 15. State fishery managers will use catch stats from the first seven days to predict the harvest for the season. Last summer’s dungy fishery produced three million pounds. The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery also opens on June 15 for a slightly increased catch topping seven million pounds. A red king crab fishery will open at Norton Sound on June 26 for a 147,300-pound harvest. Finally, a wrap up by state managers shows that 19 seiners set a record at Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in April with a 23,060-ton harvest. Fishermen got just $75 per ton for the roe herring making it worth $1.73 million at the docks. Pebble pushback As the July 1 deadline approaches for public comments on plans for the Pebble mine, the project is getting unprecedented pushback from unexpected people and places, to the ire of Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s administration. The City of Kodiak, Aleutians East Borough, North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Trident Seafoods and 53 members of Congress are newly on record to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opposing the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, for the massive copper and gold mine, saying it is flawed, inadequate and leaves more questions than answers. At Kodiak, where more than 500 resident fishermen and tenders work at Bristol Bay, city council members said in a comment letter that there is no discussion in the DEIS of how Pebble affects fisheries beyond the Bay and Cook Inlet. “Any potential negative impacts, release of toxins or damage to the watershed and consequently on the fisheries at Bristol Bay, has the potential to have a profound impact on all our fisheries by damaging the Alaska brand,” said Councilman John Whiddon Likewise, the Aleutians East Borough, representing six communities adjacent to the mine area, commented they were never even invited for consultations, and discussions about impacts to their borough were “non-existent.” Mayor Alvin Osterback’s letter called the project “an avoidable risk” and said the best option is no Pebble mine. Similarly, a comment letter written by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council recommends that the potential impacts of large-scale mining be assessed not only for fish populations, but also “on both the value and reputation of North Pacific Fisheries.” That had the Dunleavy administration calling foul at the recent NPFMC meeting in Sitka. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker entered the state’s formal opposition to the letter, calling the Pebble DEIS “outside the Council’s purview” and “a distraction from the large number of fishery management issues on our agenda,” reported KCAW in Sitka. In Congress, led by US Representative Jared Huffman of California who chairs the committee on water, oceans and wildlife, 53 House Democrats sent a letter last week to the Corps asking them to simply drop the Pebble mine project because it would “destroy thousands of acres of wetlands in Alaska and threaten the most valuable wild salmon fishery in the world.” “We urge the Corps to listen to the tribes, village corporations, commercial fishermen, hunters, anglers, and those whose lives and livelihoods depend on the integrity of the Bristol Bay watershed, and we urge the Corps to deny the permit for the Pebble Mine,” the letter stated. Trident Seafoods, the largest seafood company in the U.S., has sent a letter to Alaska fishermen sharing its comments to the Army Corps that the Pebble mine “poses a significant risk to the many families, businesses and communities that rely on the natural resources of Bristol Bay.” Finally, Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office in Washington, D.C. is being deluged with hundreds of net corks being sent by Alaskans with messages entreating her to stand with them in opposition to the Pebble Mine. Building blue businesses Seward is the first Alaska community to work with the Alaska Ocean Cluster to jump and grow ocean-based businesses. A first cohort of four early-stage businesses that signed up with AOC’s Blue Pipeline Incubator last October has so far attracted $1.6 million from an investment goal of $2.3 million, 10 times more than anticipated. “They include seafood manufacturing, ocean energy, mariculture and coastal tourism,” said Justin Sternberg, director of the Blue Pipeline Incubator in Seward which is a partnership with the AOC, the City and local Chamber of Commerce, UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, and the Alaska Small Business Development Center. One business also filed a provisional patent on a new technology that won the Invention of the Year award at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks. “It’s a technology that pulls hydrogen out of ocean water that can then be stored as a battery for use later. It also de-acidifies the water,” Sternberg said. “If it proves to be commercially viable it would allow for a mass scale way to produce energy and at the same time reduce the carbon that is in the water creating acidification.” Another Blue Pipeline company was a semi-finalist at the first Alaska Angel Conference last month in Anchorage, which brings investors and business startups together. Sternberg said the cohorts receive mentoring and “MBA level training” that helps them “with the whole suite of starting a business from the idea all the way to the implementation to selling it down the road.” The Incubator also offered ASBDC support to 18 Seward businesses, including two new ones, with eight new jobs created as a result. Sternberg, who also helped launch Alaska’s kelp industry in Kodiak, said AOC collaborators are refining the Blue Pipeline to make sure it “fits the dynamics of entrepreneurship in Alaska communities” as they expand to more regions. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is a project of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Feds still working on plan for $56M in disaster relief funds

Alaska fishermen are still awaiting disaster relief funds for the 2016 pink salmon run failure that was the worst in 40 years. Congress approved $56 million that year for Alaska fishermen, processors and communities hurt by the fishery flop in three Alaska regions: Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game and National Marine Fisheries Service finalized plans and procedures for payouts last August. Since then, the paper push has stalled on various federal agency desks. NMFS missed a promised June 1 sign off deadline and now says the funds will be released on the first of July, according to Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who has been tracking the progress. “It affects all the cannery workers all the processors, all the businesses in the community,” she said. “This has a big trickle-down effect.” The draft spending plan awaiting approval provides for funds in four categories. Coastal communities that would have gotten 1.5 percent of the landed value of the foregone pink catch would receive $2.43 million. Just more than $4 million was set aside for pink salmon research, and processors would get $17.7 million for lost wages as a result of the humpy bust. Alaska fishermen would get the biggest chunk at $32 million. The funds would be distributed using a calculation to restore lost dockside value equal to 82.5 percent of their five even year averages. As for the July 1 promise, Stutes said she “is not holding her breath because of the fed’s current track record in adhering to its own timelines.” “They know I’m a squeaky wheel and my job is to keep this moving in a forward direction,” she said. Season of uncertainty Fisheries are always fraught with uncertainties, but there is an added element this year: trade tariffs on Alaska’s largest export: seafood. “The industry is accustomed to dealing with uncertainty about harvest levels, prices and currency rates. The trade disputes just add another layer to that,” said Garrett Evridge, an economist with the McDowell Group. Tariffs of up to 25 percent on U.S. seafood products going to China went into effect last July and more are being threatened now by the Trump administration. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of Alaska seafood exports in 2017 valued at $1.3 billion. “It’s important to remember that a tariff is simply a tax and it increases the prices of our products,” Evridge explained. “As Alaskans we are sensitive to any increase in the price of our seafood because we are competing on a global stage. And right now we have tariffs imposed on seafood from the Chinese side and the U.S. side.” In terms of Alaska salmon, the new taxes could hit buyers of pinks and chums especially hard. Managers expect huge runs of both this summer and much of the pack will be processed into various products in China and then returned to the U.S. “There is uncertainty as to whether or not those products will be tariffed and the Trump administration has indicated they want to tariff all products from China,” Evridge said. For salmon, in a typical year Alaska contributes 30 percent to 50 percent of the world’s wild-caught harvest. But when you include farmed salmon, Evridge said, Alaska’s contribution is closer to 15 percent of the global salmon supply. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a total catch of 213.2 million salmon this year, more than 80 percent higher than in 2018. The harvest breakdown this year is pegged at about 42 million for sockeye salmon, 9 million fewer than last year. For pinks, a haul of nearly 138 million would be an increase of 97 million fish over last summer. A coho salmon harvest of 4.6 million would be up 900,000 silvers over 2018. Chum catches are projected to be at an all-time high with a catch of 29 million, topping the 25 million record set in 2017. The harvest for Chinook salmon is 112,000 fish at areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where catches are determined by a treaty with Canada. The all gear limit in Southeast this year is 137,500 kings. You can track Alaska’s salmon catches via weekly emails that Evridge compiles for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “It gives folks a sense of what the various Alaska areas are producing versus prior years. The goal is to provide a quick snapshot of 2019 versus 2018 as well as the five year average,” he said. Sign on at [email protected] Big boat buy? The Bristol Bay Native Corp. is in talks to buy the two largest U.S. Pacific cod longline fishing companies, according to Undercurrent News. The companies — Clipper and Blue North — have 20 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, of the longline portion of the Pacific cod catch. Clipper has a fleet of six vessels while Blue North has five larger longliners. Buying the fishing companies would be the first move into seafood for BBNC, which reported revenue of more than $1.6 billion in 2018. Undercurrent said the corporation “generates around half its revenue from providing services to the oil and gas industry. The company’s next biggest business units are firstly construction and then providing engineering and technical services primarily for the U.S. government.” New fish hire Scott Kelley has joined United Fishermen of Alaska as its new executive administrator. Kelley was former director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries division from 2015 until his retirement last year. He worked with ADFG since 1990, starting as a port sampler at Excursion Inlet near Juneau. Kelley replaces Mark Vinsel, who has worked at UFA for 18 years, including as executive director. “Scott’s immense knowledge of commercial fisheries in Alaska is well-respected and his relationship with commercial fishermen is extremely valuable. We are very lucky to have him join our organization,” said UFA Executive Director Frances Leach. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, representing 35 member organizations. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture expanding in area, species so far in 2019

More Alaskans are turning to seaweed farming as the state’s fledgling mariculture industry expands to more regions. Shellfish growers also are finding that an oyster/aquatic plant combo boosts their bottom line. Sixteen applications were filed for new or expanding aquatic farms during the January through April time frame, of which 56 percent were for growing various kelp, 31 percent for a combination of Pacific oysters and kelp, and 13 percent for oysters only. While it was the same number of applications as 2018, the underwater acreage increased considerably, said Cynthia Pring-Ham, aquatic farming coordinator at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which issues the farm permits. “There were about 616 acres that were applied for in 2019 compared to 462 acres in 2018. That’s about a 33 percent increase,” she said, adding that ADFG partners with the Department of Natural Resources, which leases the tidal and submerged lands where aquatic farming takes place. For the first time, interest came from a westward region beyond Kodiak. “In 2019 we had our first applications from the Alaska Peninsula, two from Sand Point, and for kelp species,” said Pring-Ham. “It’s difficult for bivalves in that area to grow successfully, so maybe that will be a new avenue for people. We are very excited.” Two Kodiak growers pioneered kelp farming in Alaska by getting the first state permits in 2016. A mixed sugar and ribbon kelp harvest of 16,000 pounds followed in 2017; that jumped to nearly 90,000 pounds in 2018, valued at $33,000. Currently in Alaska there are 58 aquatic farms, 5 hatcheries and 7 nurseries operating, with most involved in oyster production at Kachemak Bay, Southeast and Prince William Sound. In 2017, 41 operators produced a crop of nearly 2 million Pacific oysters, valued at $1.53 million. Pring-Ham said Alaska oyster farmers are finding that fast growing kelp can boost their bottom lines. “The major species people are growing can be grown in a very short amount of time. They put them out in the fall and can harvest in the spring. So in four to six months they can have a product ready for market, which is a lot shorter than for shellfish like our Pacific oysters which can take two to four years,” she said, adding that aquatic plants also provide opportunities for more people in fishing communities. The global commercial seaweed market is projected to top $22 billion by 2024, with human consumption as the largest segment. Besides kelp, 21 of Alaska’s aqua-farmers also have added dulce, nori and sea lettuce to their macroalgae or shellfish menus. Other undersea crops being grown in Alaska include urchins, sea cucumbers, mussels and giant geoduck clams. Shrimp shines in the Panhandle Southeast Alaska is the state’s biggest producer of America’s No. 1 seafood favorite: shrimp. And much of it is enjoyed right where it’s landed. Four varieties of shrimp are taken at various times throughout the year by permit holders, with recent catches topping 1.5 million pounds and worth $3 million at the docks. “We have 19 different areas around Southeast and each has its own appropriate harvest level for sustainability,” said Dave Harris, area manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Juneau. Catching shrimp with beam trawls, in fact, is Southeast’s longest ongoing fishery since 1915. The trawlers target tiny northern, or pink, shrimp and larger sidestripes, mostly near Petersburg and Wrangell, with recent harvests topping 1 million pounds. Most of the pinks pay out at around 20 cents per pound and are frozen into blocks and currently processed elsewhere; the sidestripes fetch more than a dollar per pound from local processors and lots of customers pay much more buying direct from the boats. Fewer than 10 boats are participating in the trawl fishery of late; it’s the better known and more lucrative pot fishery for big spot shrimp that is drawing the most interest. “That’s been getting more popular,” Harris said. “In 2016, 116 fished, the next year it was 157,” adding that 175 of 256 active permits fished the current season for a half million pound harvest. Fishermen have several sales options for spots. They can fetch $5 to $7 per pound from processors; $10 at the docks and boats rigged to freeze the shrimp onboard get even more. “Guys are catching, hand packing and freezing whole shrimp onboard their boat primarily for the Japanese sushi market,” Harris said. “They can get $10 to $12 for the whole product, which is about twice the weight of the tailed product.” Fishermen also catch coon stripe shrimp in pots along with the spots, which usually pay out at around $2 per pound. Shrimp are unique in that they are protandric hermaphrodites, meaning they start out as males and switch to females after reproducing for a year or two. The sex switch can make it a tricky species to manage. “As part of the overall population dynamics, it doesn’t really matter when you harvest that shrimp; you’re taking away their reproductive potential,” Harris explained. “For a young male, you’re taking them a couple of years before they convert over to female for the rest of their life. That’s a key part of the management which makes it makes it so difficult because it is very easy to over-fish shrimp if you’re not careful.” It also has been difficult to gauge impacts on the shrimp stocks from personal users. In 2018, new state rules required that personal use fishery permits be issued for the first time. “We have some information from specific areas that it can be quite significant, equal to or more than the commercial harvest in some cases,” Harris said. Other shrimp bits: Total U.S. shrimp production in 2016 was 4 million pounds valued at $10 million. Texas is the largest U.S. shrimp producer at nearly 3 million pounds annually, followed by Alabama and Florida. The U.S. imported nearly 700,000 metric tons of shrimp in 2018 (1.54 billion pounds), setting a new tonnage record for the third year in a row. India achieved the milestone of becoming the first country to top 500 million pounds of shrimp to the U.S., followed by Indonesia and Ecuador. Wood who? Seemingly out of nowhere, Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy last week named fly fishing enthusiast John Wood of Willow to the state Board of Fisheries, to which industry stakeholders responded with a collective “who?” Wood, who is an attorney and local chairman of the Alaska Republican party, was a legislative staffer for then Dunleavy from 2012-14 and focused on Northern Cook Inlet salmon allocation issues. Wood also has participated in the Mat-Su Fish and Game Advisory board, according to a press release. The surprise timing of the appointment also raised eyebrows, because the Legislature won’t be able to confirm him until next year when the regular session resumes. Meanwhile, Wood will be making decisions starting this fall on Cook Inlet regulatory issues when the Board of Fisheries begins its meeting cycle in October. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon census stable; algal bloom bites Norway

Salmon abundance in the North Pacific has declined slightly over the past decade, but salmon catches remain near all-time highs. For nearly 30 years the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. The Commission tracks all salmon species caught in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also provides the venue for coordinating research and enforcement activities. For 2018, the total salmon catch topped 1 million metric tons, or more than 651 million fish, the highest catch ever for an even-numbered year. That’s nearly 200 million more salmon than were caught in 2017. Russia led all other nations for salmon catches in 2018, taking 63 percent, or 676,200 mt. The U.S. ranked second for salmon catches at 27 percent at nearly 287,000 mt, with Alaska taking all but 8,700 mt of the total U.S. catch. The other three nations all were in single digits for salmon catches. Pink salmon made up 55 percent of the North Pacific catches by weight, followed by chums at 26 percent and sockeyes at 16 percent. Cohos comprised just 2 percent of the total salmon catch and Chinook was less than 1 percent. Hatchery releases from the five countries have been fairly stable since 1993 at about 5 billion fish released annually. The U.S. accounted for 44 percent of total hatchery salmon releases last year, mostly coming from Alaska. That was followed by Japan at 34 percent, Russia at 17 percent and 5 percent from Canada. Chum salmon made up 59 percent of all hatchery releases with pink salmon at 29 percent. Chinook salmon made up 5 percent, sockeyes at 4 percent and coho salmon at 2 percent of hatchery releases. The commission said variability in annual North Pacific salmon catches has been more pronounced during the past decade, primarily due to unpredictable pinks. A particularly low pink salmon catch in 2018 (71,300 mt) resulted in the lowest total North American catches of salmon in 40 years. Nature bites Norway Global salmon markets are getting shuffled by a massive algae bloom that has suffocated more than 8 million farmed salmon in Norway with no end in sight. Norway is the world’s largest farmed salmon producer and its supply numbers can set the mark for fish prices around the world. The Norwegian Directorate of Fisheries estimated the salmon loss so far at more than 25.5 million pounds of Atlantic salmon valued at more than $82 million. That would still amount to less than 1 percent of the industry’s output last year, when Norway produced nearly 1.3 million metric tons (nearly 3 billion pounds) of salmon, according to the New York Times. (That compares to Alaska’s catch of more than 605 million pounds of salmon.) “The algae has a chemical composition that affects the membranes of the cells in the gills and they are destroyed, so the fish actually dies due to lack of oxygen,” said Lars-Johan Naustvoll, a biologist at Norway’s Institute of Marine Research. Though the algae bloom is a natural event, fish growers said it is rare for it to be so concentrated and so lethal. Salmon farms are especially at risk since the salmon held captive in large net pens can’t swim away from it. Most blame an off kilter climate and warming oceans for the killer algae event. More salmon challenges The makers of genetically modified salmon are embracing the “Frankenfish” name, saying it’s much like the Frankenstein monster in the book written by Mary Shelley in 1817. Undercurrent News reports that Sylvia Wulf, CEO of AquaBounty Technologies, said: “It was the uneducated mob that didn’t understand the benefits of the science that killed Frankenstein. Let’s applaud the Frankenfish, because it’s designed to solve real-world global challenges.” Wulf was speaking at a Recirculating Aquaculture System Technology conference last week in Washington, D.C. In March, the Food and Drug Administration removed a three-year-old import alert that prevented AquaBounty from importing eggs from a Panama facility for grow out and sale in the U.S. With that regulatory barrier gone, the company is now gearing up to go to market. A first batch of eggs is on its way to a growing facility in Indiana with a goal of sending thousands of 8- to 11-pound genetically tweaked Atlantic salmon to supermarkets next fall. The fish is altered to grow three times faster than normal salmon. AquaBounty tested its fish in Canada in 2017 and 2018 and each time it sold out within a few days, the company said. The fish were not labeled as genetically modified, as Canada does not have a labeling requirement. By law, U.S. companies have until 2020 to begin labeling foods that contain 80 percent or more genetically engineered materials with a mandatory compliance date of Jan. 1, 2022. But it will fall to customers to find out on their own, as labels may be a symbol, a digital link, text message, phone number or web site. AquaBounty called the labeling requirement “good news” saying that the market will be awash in so many bioengineered products, customers won’t focus on their fish. Nearly 2 million Americans opposed the FDA’s approval of Frankenfish and 60 major grocery chains pledged not to sell it, including Safeway, Kroger, Target and Whole Foods. In a touch of irony, Wulf said AquaBounty plans to expand sales to China and South America, but has no plans to pitch Frankenfish to Europe because of “their anti-genetically modified leanings.” Seafood minus the sea Wild fish, farmed fish, Frankenfish — get ready for seafood grown directly from cells — with no head, tail, bones or blood. National Public Radio calls it “fish without the swimming and breathing part. It’s seafood without the sea.” In fact, it is whole fillets grown from a needle biopsy’s worth of muscle cells from a single fish. The cells are cultivated and fed a blend of liquid vitamins, amino acids and sugars. The resulting fillets can be sold fresh or frozen or made into various seafood dishes. A San Diego based company called BlueNalu is pioneering the cellular aquaculture as one of six companies focused on growing cell-based seafood. Finless Foods, for example, is focused on blue fin tuna; a company called Wild Type is working on salmon. All are likely five to 10 years away from having actual product on the market. The companies point out cell-growing uses no genetic tweaking, nor does it introduce anything new that doesn’t already exist in nature. They claim they’re not looking to replace wild or farm-raised seafood, and instead offer a third alternative. But the fledgling industry is poking at some tender industry spots: illegal and overfishing, climate impacts, bycatch and food waste. They note that cell-grown seafood is free from antibiotics and pesticides used in fish farms, potential ocean contaminants and micro particles of plastics. Referring to the more than 3.2 billion people globally who depend on seafood for at least part of their protein, a BlueNalu spokesman said “Catch, grow or make it, I’m not even sure we’ll be able to meet demand.” Alaska fish keeps Seattle afloat If not for Alaska’s fisheries, the Port of Seattle would be a shadow of what it is today. An economic report released in May reveals that Seattle is home port to about 300 fishing vessels and all but 74 make their living in Alaska. The Seattle-based boats harvest Alaska pollock, Bering Sea crab, flounders, salmon and many other high value species, and they vary in size from huge catcher-processors with 150 crew to small seiners and trawlers. In 2017, vessels that moored at one of Seattle’s three terminals and operated in the Alaska fisheries generated gross earnings of more than $455 million, nearly half of the total gross earnings from those fisheries. Boats fishing in Puget Sound and other Washington areas earned $26.6 million at the Seattle docks. An estimated 7,200 jobs were directly associated with commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle in 2017. Of those jobs, 5,100 were on fishing vessels, and all but 200 operated in Alaska fisheries. Additional revenues to the port came from various support services, staff and on-shore port tenants, including seafood processing and cold storage facilities. Factoring in all segments of commercial fishing at the Port of Seattle, fishing activities generated more than $671 million in business output in 2017. It also produced more than $13 million in state of Washington taxes. Between 2011 and 2017, Port of Seattle customers harvested between 800,000 and 1.3 million metric tons of seafood from the North Pacific fisheries. Harvested tonnage increased by more than 500 percent over this period, or approximately 23 percent per year, based on a compound annual growth rate. Factoring in indirect and induced impacts, the total statewide economic impact of commercial fishing operations to the Port of Seattle accounted for 11,300 jobs, $543 million in labor income and over $1.4 billion in business output in 2017. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Young renews push to restrict salmon farms from U.S. waters

In his 46 years as Alaska’s lone representative in Congress, Don Young helped toss out foreign fishing fleets from Alaska’s waters with the onset of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act in 1976, and today he is intent on doing the same with offshore fish farms. The MSA established an “exclusive economic zone,” or EEZ, for U.S. fleets fishing from three to 200 miles from shore. Now, a bill introduced by Young aims to stop the Trump Administration’s push to use those waters for industrialized fish farming operations. The fish farms are being touted as a silver bullet to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the $15 billion seafood trade deficit that comes from the nation importing more than 85 percent of its seafood. Earlier this month, Young filed the Keep Fin Fish Free Act that would stop officials from allowing fish farms in U.S. offshore waters unless specifically authorized by Congress. “The biggest selling power we have in Alaska is wild caught salmon and other fish products and I don’t want that hurt,” Young said in a phone interview. “If we put in a commercial operation offshore, outside of State jurisdiction, we’d have a big problem in selling our wild Alaskan salmon.” Young’s effort follows a push begun a year ago by over 120 aquaculture and food-related industries to have lawmakers introduce an Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act, which failed to get any traction. The campaign is organized under a new trade group called Stronger America Through Seafood and includes Cargill, Red Lobster, Pacific Seafoods and Seattle Fish Company. “I was assured they were not going to grow salmon but they will have to feed all the fish. And that pollution factor can get into the water and contaminate our salmon. And I don’t know who’s going to be involved in it,” Young said. “I’m very supportive of the state waters production of shellfish and kelp, but I’m trying to keep all fish farms off the Alaskan shores, that’s the big thing.” Young, who is in his 24th term, said he believes most other coastal states are opposed to the idea of large fish feed lot operations off their shores. He added that no one likes the idea of so much fish being imported to the U.S. but said, “we shouldn’t weaken our natural system to try to feed our appetite. We should try to increase our natural system and make sure we have more finfish and I’m confident we can do that.” Young’s bill was immediately hailed by numerous environmental organizations. “Raising fish in massive cages in federal waters is completely against the public interest and will not solve our food system crisis,” said Shannon Eldredge of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance. “This is what I’m doing this for,” Young said. “To keep our fish safe and make sure that the best product gets to the market.” He added that the AQUAA Act has not yet been re-introduced to Congress and he does not believe there is much interest in advancing it. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., the bill’s sponsor, is reviewing the legislation and working to find a Democratic co-sponsor before re-filing it. Pebble suit gets tossed A lawsuit by the Pebble Partnership and six fishermen against the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association was dismissed on May 17 by an Anchorage Superior Court. The plaintiffs argued that the association was overstepping state statutes in aligning itself with Tribal and other groups to speak out against the threats posed by the proposed mine and should instead restrict its messages to marketing. The lawsuit was supported by the State of Alaska, a stance contrary to two previous governors, Parnell and Walker, who both acknowledged the association’s authority to spend its own funds at its own discretion. In dismissing the case, Judge Yvonne Lamoureux said the association had the right to not only promote Bristol Bay salmon, but to take steps necessary to protect the integrity of that brand. “Interpreting the statute as restricting RSDAs’ abilities to devote efforts regarding environmental concerns in their regions has the potential to produce some absurd results. For example, a RSDA could advertise and market its salmon as wild, pristine, and sustainable but would not be able to spend funds in a way to keep those brand identities authentic in its view or spend funds to signal to its consumers its efforts to maintain that brand identity,” Lamoureux wrote. She also ordered the Pebble Partnership to pay the defendants’ attorney fees and costs. In an email correspondence, I asked Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy what he would say to a room full of Bristol Bay salmon fishermen, Native groups and others about his support of the Pebble lawsuit. Spokesman Matt Shuckerow responded: “Governor Dunleavey has said that like all natural resource development projects, he would like to see the Pebble project follow the established permitting process. He says the outcome of that process will ultimately determine if the project meets the standards set forward in law and regulation. “More broadly, the governor’s position on resource development continues to be that we should take care of our environment while responsibly seizing opportunities here in Alaska. Rather than developing minerals across the globe in locations with little to no environmental safeguards, we should be doing our part here to allow Alaska resources to move safely to market.” Dunleavy also did not support expanding the public comment period on the Pebble Mine permit, which was extended to July 1. Salmon starts! Alaska’s 2019 salmon season officially got underway on May 16 with catches of sockeyes and kings at Copper River. A total of 2,237 king salmon and 20,474 sockeyes were taken during the 12-hour opener. “It looks like we might be back to normal,” said Bill Webber, a 52-year fishing veteran at Copper River, referring to last year when the total sockeye salmon harvest of 44,000 was the lowest in 120 years. Starting prices also were reported as the highest ever with sockeyes paying out at $10 per pound and $14 for chinook. “Fish and Game takes three data points to create a trend and establish how the fishery is going and Mother Nature might throw a curve ball but I feel optimistic,” Webber added. For 16 years, Webber’s Paradigm Seafoods has sold much of his salmon directly to customers and he is renowned for the equipment he has created to enhance fish quality. All of the salmon are immediately processed onboard the Paradigm Shift using an automated intravenous pressure bleeding system, which as of this season can be regulated via a cell phone. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Optimism abounds after strong showing of snow crab recruits

Bering Sea crabbers saw upticks in crab recruits during a good fishery for the 2018-19 season, along with strong prices. The crab season opens in mid-October for red king crab, Tanners and snow crab, or opilio, and while fishing goes fast for red kings in order to fill orders for year-end markets in Japan, the fleet typically drops pots for the other species in January. Crabbers said they saw strong showings of younger crab poised to enter the three fisheries. Only male crabs of a certain size are allowed to be retained for sale. “For Bristol Bay red king crab the reports were very positive,” said veteran crabber Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange that represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers. “I got a lot of reports from people saying they saw a lot of recruitment around, a lot of females and small crab, but some boats didn’t see any. So, it depended on where you were. Overall, the catch seemed to go pretty fast and the fishing was good, it wasn’t scratchy at all for most of the boats.” The price also was good. The red king crab fetched $10.33 per pound, up from $9.20 last season, for a catch of 4.3 million pounds. Crabbers also saw good numbers of bairdi Tanners which had a harvest limit of 2.4 million pounds. Jacobsen said price negotiations are still ongoing for both Tanners and their smaller cousin, snow crab. “We should be close to record prices for opilio (snow crab),” Jacobsen said. The record snow crab price set in 2012 was $4.98 per pound; last season’s price was $4.04 per pound. Competing imports from Russia are up substantially, Jacobsen said, and they are trying to get rid of product held over from last season. “That’s brought the price down and I expect prices will start to climb again as people get a feel for availability of the resource and what the crab looks like,” he added. Snow crab is a bright spot for the Bering Sea fleet. A catch of 27.5 million pounds this season was a 47 percent increase after the 2018 summer survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females. Bob Foy, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of science and research based at the Auke Bay lab in Juneau, called it “one of the largest snow crab recruitment events ever seen.” Jacobsen said that was consistent with what the crabbers saw on the fishing grounds. That has speculation running wild that the snow crab catch could double again for next season, but he added it’s best to wait and see. “I’ve been in the business too long to get excited about that kind of news because I’ve heard it before. It all depends on the summer survey and we’ve been trying to make some improvements in the stock assessment model. But it looks pretty positive,” he said. “What we’re looking for isn’t dramatic swings. We’d rather have a steady, fishable population but with nature that’s not always possible. Crab are very cyclic in their population numbers.” There’s been some tension between crabbers and managers in recent years over big differences in what crabbers are seeing on the fishing grounds and the numbers managers pull up in the summer trawl survey. “Apparently, the crab go on vacation somewhere else in the summertime because they haven’t been showing up in the survey recently,” Jacobsen added with a laugh. Last season the three Bering Sea crab fisheries were valued at $190 million for a fleet of about 85 boats. Wanted: Young fishermen The call is out for young Alaska fishermen who want training in career opportunities in fishery management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and much more. The Young Fishing Fellows Program, now in its third year, is an initiative of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. The program this year will include five mentor groups across the state. “The Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka, the North Pacific Fisheries Association out of Homer, and the Alaska Fishermen’s Network is hosting a fellow of our own this year to help us out with the Young Fishermen’s Almanac,” said Jamie O’Connor, director of the network, an AMCC program. “Also, Koniag, the Native (corporation) out of Kodiak, is doing a policy fellowship focused on fisheries access. And the N&N Cannery History Project is hosting a fellow and will focus on the history of canneries in Alaska and the folks who work in them.” O’Connor, who got the job at AMCC after participating in the first Fellows cohort, said the fellowships are open to fishermen 35 and under who are paid from $16 to $26 per hour for their work, depending on their experience. “It’s part time and usually ends up being about 10 hours a week for a few months in the winter. There’s a lot of flexibility built in so people can work around their winter schedule or jobs, and of course, the fishing seasons,” she said. Past Fellows have gone to work as legislative aides in Washington, D.C., and as part of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council advisory panel. One is a subsistence fishing advocate; another is doing research at the Kachemak Bay National Estuarian Research Preserve on adaptability for fishing businesses in a changing climate. “One of our mentors likes to say ‘if you’re not at the table you’re on the menu,’ and these fellowships teach people like myself and the others how to effectively be at the table, whether it be regulatory or direct marketing or whatever young fishermen might need to diversify their business,” O’Connor said. The fellowships begin this fall and the deadline to apply is May 26. “We are hoping to have enough applications to get everybody matched up before I go fishing,” O’Connor said. Learn more at www.akyoungfishermen.org. The Young Fishing Fellows Program is funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Edgerton Foundation. Salmon starts + fishing updates Alaska’s 2019 salmon season officially opens on May 16 with a 12-hour opener for sockeyes and king salmon at Copper River. Salmon openers in other Alaska regions will quickly follow. Trollers in Southeast began targeting spring king salmon starting May 1. Some Southeast areas opened to beam trawlers for side stripe and pink shrimp on May 1 and a pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a catch of 39,500 pounds. Two areas remain open to golden king crab, and Panhandle divers continue going down for geoduck clams. At Prince William Sound a third opener for spot shrimp opens on May 14 for a fleet of nearly 70 boats who are competing for a catch of 68,100 pounds. A sablefish season is underway in the Sound with a 134,000-pound target. The recent Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound produced nearly 125,000 pounds for 14 fishermen who received $3.30 per pound. A one-day-per-week bait herring fishery is open at Upper Cook through May 31, and a small smelt (hooligan) fishery opened on May 1. Clammers also are busy at Alaska’s only razor clam fishery at beaches on the west side of Cook Inlet with a 400,000 pound limit. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery continues with a harvest set at just more than 1,400 tons. Togiak’s herring fishery closed May 3 with a record catch for seiners topping 23,060 tons. A herring bait fishery is underway near Unalakleet area and Norton Sound Seafood Products plans to buy about 40 tons. There is more than 6,000 tons for the herring quota this year, but no buyer interest for a roe fishery, which pays out much less than herring purchased for bait. Halibut landings have crept up to about 4 million pounds and 6 million for sablefish. Fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders, other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Pebble mine critics cite concerns over dust from operations

Editor's note: In response to the statement below that "little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers," the Pebble Partnership supplied the following links to appendices in the DEIS containing the baseline soil and sediments data: Appendix K3-14 discusses soils  Appendix K3-18 discusses sediments  Analytical chemistry database  EBD Chapter on Trace Elements  According to the Pebble Partnership, the appendices contain data from approximately 20,000 soil/sediment sample results collected from 150+ sites across several hundred square miles.  ORIGINAL STORY Bulldozers, blasters, excavators, vibrators, jaw crushers, drillers, graders, crushers, huge trucks and other heavy equipment are tools of the trade when building and operating large mines — and they all kick up a lot of dust. In the case of the Pebble mine, the project is expected to generate 8,300 tons of so called fugitive dust in its annual mining operations. Another 5,700 tons will come from building the 83-mile main road to Cook Inlet, and the 35 times daily round trips trucking mineral concentrates will churn out 1,500 tons of road dust each year. When it’s blowing in the wind, the dust will land on at least 1,500 acres of wetlands and 300 acres of lakes, ponds and streams, according to analyses done for the United Tribes of Bristol Bay, a tribal consortium representing 15 Bristol Bay tribal governments that represent more than 80 percent of the region’s total population. The dust will contain particles of the metals being mined, notably, copper, which when it leaches into water bodies, has been proven to be toxic to the olfactory system of salmon. “Increases in copper concentrations of just 2 to 20 parts per billion, equivalent to two drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon,” said Dr. Thomas Quinn, a professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences at the University of Washington. “Salmon use smell to identify predators, prey, mates, and kin. And importantly, they use sense of smell to return to their natal streams.” But little to no baseline data on soil or sediments is presented in the draft environmental impact statement, or DEIS, compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers that is currently undergoing public review. “One of the most eye-opening things was, when you’re looking at fugitive dust, you’re looking at it from the perspective of human health and there are 10 or 11 hazardous air pollutants that you must look at when you’re permitting for air quality. Copper is not a human health hazard, so that was completely omitted from any mention in the discussion on dust,” said Kendra Zamzow, an environmental geochemist with the Center for Science in Public Participation. Zamzow, who is from Chickaloon, has pored over thousands of supplemental documents to the DEIS called requests for information, or RFI, on behalf of the United Tribes. “They have a table in the soils chapter that lists how much they expect in concentrations of things like arsenic or cadmium or mercury increases over time in soils based on loading from dust. But there is no mention of copper. And this is going to be a copper mine,” Zamzow said. “We know from the element analyses they’ve done on concentrations in the ore and the waste rock that copper will be one of the top two components in the rock, and probably the highest of the trace metals. “And there’s absolutely no mention of the copper, which to me is really surprising because we know how copper is toxic to aquatic life, and everyone knows impacts to aquatic life is the entire reason that people are concerned about the Pebble mine.” The copper will inevitably leach into water bodies where fish and aquatic life in general will be exposed. “A lot of these particles could become available to the base of the food chain, the benthic feeders and zooplankton,” Zamzow said. The copper-saturated dust would blow from the mining area, whereas road dust would likely have a different composition. “The road dust is expected to impact a lot more waters than the mine site. But we don’t know to what extent concentrates could be making up part of the dust because it is not discussed at all. And mitigation mostly talks about watering the road,” Zamzow said. According to a 2014 Assessment of Potential Mining Impacts on Salmon Ecosystems at Bristol Bay by the Environmental Protection Agency, the transportation corridor in the Kvichak River watershed would cross approximately 64 streams and rivers of which 55 are known or likely to support migrating and resident salmonids, including 20 streams designated as anadromous waters. The corridor would run near Iliamna Lake and cross multiple tributary streams. Lower Cook Inlet also will get impacts from the Pebble dust as Amakdedori Creek in Kamishak Bay will be the export terminal to ship out the mined materials. Trucks from the mine site will transport the finely powdered concentrates to ice breaking barges for an 18 mile daily transit across Iliamna Lake, truck it on a 30-mile road to the coast, load it onto barges, then offload to a mothership 12 miles or more offshore. “They’re going to take 38-ton shipping containers off of trucks, lower them into a ship’s hold and turn them upside down to dump out the concentrates. And it will have very high concentrations of copper,” Zamzow said, adding that the DEIS says the transports will include nearly 630,000 tons of materials per year. Pebble’s mine site structures will include an open pit, a tailings storage facility, low grade ore and overburden stockpiles, quarry sites, water management ponds, milling and processing facilities, a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the site, a power plant, water treatment plants, camp facilities and storage facilities. “Building and powering a mine like Pebble or Donlin is like adding a new city to Alaska,” said Zamzow. “Dust is another example of how the Corps of Engineers has not done their job and is not holding Pebble up to a high standard of scientific rigor that Bristol Bay demands. And our decision makers are letting them,” said Alannah Hurley, United Tribes executive director. The public comment period for the Pebble Mine has been extended to June 29. Find more information at www.pebbleprojecteis.com. Expo No. 3 The third annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is just weeks away as the region gears up for the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery. The event is a fundraiser for local childcare held in Naknek, the fishing hub for 10 major seafood processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 boats. “There was no child care whatsoever in the community,” said Sharon Thompson, Expo co-organizer and board president of Little Angels Childcare Academy. The Expo so far has raised nearly $40,000 to open the doors and pay staff at the Academy, which received its state license last week to serve up to 15 children. “It has been the reason that Little Angels could continue existing while we got through the licensing process,” Thompson said. The Expo is on track to match or beat the 50 trade show vendors from last year. Other features include the premiere of The Wild, a film by Mark Titus and a visit from renowned sushi chef Taichi Kitamura who will be serving salmon dishes. Two of the biggest Expo hits are the Fashion and Wearable Art Show followed by an Auction featuring Bristol Bay fisherman and auctioneer Kurt Olson. (Donations are needed for the auction.) Invitations also have been sent to Alaska’s policy makers. “Those who are in public service and our politicians are forming the policies that will affect everything from our industry to our way of life. So, we are putting invites out to Sen. (Lisa) Murkowski, Gov. (Michael J.) Dunleavy, and a lot of others because it is an important part of our show,” Thompson said. The Expo theme this year is “feeding our families and fueling our dreams,” which Thompson said is exactly what the Bristol Bay salmon do. “We are just so grateful because our wild salmon resource is supporting all of this,” she said. “In times of budget crises, they’re putting food on our table, food in our freezers, and the wild salmon has provided a child care facility.” The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 9 and 10 at the Naknek school. See more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish economics updated; skins show healing power

Why should every Alaskan budget watcher care about the price of fish? Because when the price at the docks goes up by just one penny, it means more money for state coffers. In 2017, for example, the average dock price per pound for all Alaska seafood was 41 cents. If the price had increased to 42 cents, it would have added nearly $2 million more from fisheries landing and business taxes. That was one of the takeaways in an updated McDowell Group report presented last week at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s spring board of directors meeting. It offers a good snapshot of the industry that spawned Alaska statehood and is now a seafood superpower. Here’s a sampler: Alaska’s seafood industry puts 60,000 people to work and supports at least $150 million a year in taxes and fees. More than 9,000 vessels are home-ported in Alaska and deliver fish to 87 large shoreside processing plants. Catches of nearly 6 billion pounds of seafood worth about $2 billion were the industry averages for 2016 and 2017. Pollock accounted for 57 percent of the volume caught and 22 percent of the value. Salmon ranked second for volume at 14 percent but was tops for Alaska seafood value at 34 percent. Cod catches were third and accounted for 11 percent of the value. Halibut, sablefish and crab each accounted for 1 percent of the total catch volume and 12 percent of the value. The U.S. is usually the largest market for Alaska seafood, followed by China, Japan, South Korea and the European Union. The export value over the past decade has averaged $3.3 billion, making seafood Alaska’s largest export by far. (By value, fishery products accounted for more than two-thirds of Alaska’s exports in the first quarter of 2017, according to the first quarter economic report by the state Department of Commerce.) Alaska’s top exports are pollock surimi and fillets (a combined $845 million) and frozen sockeye salmon ($313 million). Exports to China, which in 2018 comprised 32 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales and 23 percent of the value, dropped 20 percent due to ongoing trade spats with the Trump Administration. That included a 54 percent drop in Alaska salmon sales, a 49 percent decrease for crab and cod sales to China dropped 29 percent. In another trade hit: Imports to the U.S. of fresh Atlantic halibut from Canada have nearly doubled since 2012 to 8.8 million pounds last year. Looking at 2019, harvests of Alaska salmon, crab, halibut, sablefish and pollock are expected to increase, with declines for cod and rockfish catches. The market outlook for salmon is “stable to strong” said fisheries economist Garrett Evridge, who presented the report. “While there is optimism surrounding the harvest volume for the 2019 salmon season, we have been hearing reports of buyers pushing back against strong prices,” he said in an email message. Get skinny Those billions of fish skins tossed out each year could turn into a steady stream of more dollars for Alaska. Most recently, fish skins are making international headlines for their proven ability to heal burns. Last December tilapia skins treated the burnt paws of bears and mountain lions during the California wildfires. Earlier this year a tissue-like bandage created in Iceland from intact cod skins began use on burn patients in Europe and in the U.S. The fish skin product is called Kerecis Omega 3 Burn Treatment and when it is grafted onto damaged tissue, it builds up the body’s own cells to rapidly regenerate healthy tissue. Kerecis credits omega 3s for the healing power along with collagen. Fish skins contain the type of collagen protein that makes up most parts of human skin and bodies. Most has traditionally come from livestock and is used in a wide array of products. But the more remarkable properties of fish skins have experts pegging the value of marine collagen for the nutraceutical, cosmetic, food and medical market at $620 million in 2018 and nearly $900 million by 2023. Fish skins have extra appeal because they are available at a large scale and come with no religious constraints. “They’re fish — not beef or pork. So it satisfies kosher and halal dietary restrictions,” said Cindy Bower, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture food researcher at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Bower’s studies also showed that skins destined for collagen extraction can be stabilized with common drying agents to hold them prior to shipment and don’t need to be chilled. Dan Lesh, a senior economist with the McDowell Group, said with catch volumes for Alaska pollock averaging more than 3 billion pounds annually, that adds up to over 1.4 million pounds of skins, assuming a 5 percent yield. Skin yield percentages were similar for Pacific cod and in the 8 percent to 10 percent range for salmon. Studies show that the fish skins are loaded with collagen. Nearly 20 percent was extracted from salmon skins and 11 percent from cod, according to a 2017 Portuguese study. Alyeska Seafoods and one other processing company in Dutch Harbor have reportedly been extracting collagen from fish skins for decades for sale to the Japanese cosmetic industry. And there’s this: fried salmon skins are becoming a snack rage in England. A former chef created Sea Chips after diners called for more crispy salmon skins as garnishes on their meals. The chips come in three flavors and are being cranked out at 100,000 bags a week. They are being sold at major retailers in Britain and the makers expect sales to top $1 million over the next 18 months with 10 percent going to ocean charities. Don’t do drugs Customer backlash has Chilean farmed salmon producers promising to reduce their use of antibiotics by half by 2025. Members of the Chilean Salmon Marketing Council made the announcement last month at Seafood Expo North America in Boston. The group will work with the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program to secure a coveted better rating by that watchdog group. Chile is the world’s second-largest producer of farmed salmon after Norway and most of the farmed salmon that Americans buy comes from Chile. The country was court ordered three years ago to disclose its antibiotic use after 37 companies refused to give any details, saying it would pose a “competition and commercial risk.” Chilean salmon farmers use florfenicol, a common veterinary antibiotic, to kill a bacteria that kills the fish that are grown in crowded net pens near coastlines. The court case was filed by Oceana that showed that Chile was using more antibiotics than any other fish and livestock producers in the world: 950 grams to raise one ton of fish. In 2014, usage was 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics on 2 billion pounds of fish. In contrast, Norway uses just 0.17 grams per ton of salmon. The Chilean marketing council said it plans to spend millions in its effort to win over wholesalers, retailers and food service companies with its new “Promise of Patagonia” campaign. Meanwhile, U.S. salmon lovers can easily tell if the fish they are choosing is drug free. Country of Origin Labeling laws since 2009 require fish sold in the U.S. to be identified as to where it comes from and if it is wild or farmed. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values rise on optimism; halibut shares sinking

Nearly all Alaska salmon permits have gone up in value since last fall and buying/selling/trading action is brisk. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in the last 20 years,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Boat sales are doing well and between IFQs (individual fishing quota) and permit sales, we’ve got a busy year going.” The salmon permit interest is fueled by a forecast this year of more than 213 million fish, an 85 percent increase over 2018. Also, salmon prices are expected to be higher. For the bellwether drift permit at Bristol Bay, the value has increased from around $165,000 and sales are now being made in the low- to mid-$170,000 range. Several good salmon seasons in a row pushed drift permits at Area M on the Alaska Peninsula to about $175,000 last fall, Bowen said “and if you can find one now, it’s going to cost you over $200,000.” At Cook Inlet, where salmon catches have been dismal for the drift fishery, permit values bottomed out at $28,000 and have climbed a bit to $38,000. At the salmon fishery’s peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cook Inlet drift permits were traded at more than $240,000, Bowen said. “When Alaska’s salmon industry crashed in the early 1990s due to the flood of farmed fish, those permits dropped to under $10,000 and since then have been all over the map,” he added. The drift fleet at Prince William Sound also had one of its worst years last summer and that permit is one of the few that has gone down in value. “They were over $150,000 and the last one we sold was at $145,000,” Bowen said. For Prince William Sound seiners, who are expecting a good pink salmon year, the permit value is listed at $170,000, a $5,000 increase from last fall. At Kodiak, seine permits have held steady for several years in the $28,000 range. At Chignik, where seiners experienced the worst fishery ever last year catching just 128 sockeyes, there is little to no interest in permits. Salmon permit action in Southeast Alaska “is kind of a mix,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. For both buying and leasing, there’s less interest in power troll permits for a second year but prices “are holding at a respectable $27,000 to $28,000,” Olsen said. “The permit holders have a really positive outlook for all species except kings, so they don’t understand why the price isn’t going up,” she said, adding that there is little interest in hand troll permits. Southeast drift permit prices are up with expectations of good prices and lots of fish. “Last year they were selling for $79,000 to the low $80s and currently prices are at $95,000. So that’s been a hot permit,” Olsen said. “They are opening new fishing areas which they feel should thin out the herd and have plenty of fish for everybody.” Demand also is up for Southeast seine permits and the price has increased to $250,000, a boost of $25,000 since last fall. Both Olsen and Bowen agreed that Alaska salmon permit holders are looking toward a good year. “We’re seeing a lot of optimism pretty much across the board,” Bowen said. Halibut quota slump A slight increase in this year’s halibut catch and respectable dock prices haven’t done much to boost the value of IFQs. Halibut quota shares that topped $70 per pound in some regions took a 30 percent nose dive in 2018 and have remained there ever since. Now $63 per pound is the high for halibut IFQs in the Southeast fishing region, with most moving at the $52 to $58 range, said Olivia Olsen. In the Central Gulf of Alaska, quota is listed in the $35 to $45 per pound range, down from a high of $50 last November. The value per pound in the Western Gulf, is down by 50 percent from 2017. “It’s advertised at $27 and selling for less,” Olsen said. Last fall, halibut prices dropped by $2 per pound to the $5 range at the Alaska docks and boats sometimes couldn’t find buyers for their fish. The biggest hit was a flood of seven million pounds of cheaper Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada displacing Alaska’s fish in east coast markets. But things seem to be looking up. “This year there is an increased confidence level for halibut. There is some optimism that we’ll see better recruitment into the fishery,” said Doug Bowen, referring to strong year classes from 2011-12 that are showing up in the fishery. Olsen agreed. “The confidence level is up a bit in halibut after last year being our slowest selling year ever for IFQs,” she said. “Buyers are interested but at last year’s prices and it seems to be working. Considering that the IFQ prices were out of whack on the high end, perhaps it’s a good adjustment.” Baited fisheries Herring and smelt at Upper Cook Inlet are fisheries that pay out nicely for the few who participate, and both are open to all. Ten to 20 fishermen usually take part in the bait herring fishery that runs from April 20 to the end of May. A combined take of 150 tons can be taken from four areas by set or drift gillnets, although nearly all comes from the upper east side, said Pat Shields, commercial fisheries management coordinator for Lower and Upper Cook Inlet at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Soldotna. “It’s a pretty small quota but we’re not even reaching the quota of up to 40 tons on the east side,” he said, adding that all of herring goes into the bait market for halibut fishermen, either commercial or sport. The catch might be small, but it fetches big bucks as bait. “Currently the fishermen are selling that product for $2,000 to $3,000 a ton, or $1 to $1.50 a pound,” Shields said. In contrast, the average price for herring caught only for their eggs at places like Sitka, Kodiak or Togiak averages 12 cents per pound. Shields speculated the price is so high because there are so few bait herring fisheries in the state. Most Alaska fishermen purchase herring for bait from the east coast, often at about $1 per pound. The Cook Inlet herring is frozen and sold throughout the year and Shields said demand far exceeds the supply. Also at Upper Cook Inlet: A smelt fishery with a 200-ton limit will open from May 1 and run through June. Fewer than 20 fishermen participate in what Shields calls “one of the most interesting and challenging fisheries in the state.” “It’s done with dip nets at the mouth of the Susitna River. People usually take a drift boat across the mudflats. That’s eight or nine miles of a muddy mess that you have to navigate with winds coming in from three different areas: Knik Arm, Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet. Some people refer to it as a cesspool because the waters are just swirling and it’s shallow,” Shields said. The boats come back to the Kenai River to offload their catches and the smelt is frozen, boxed up and shipped out. “Then it gets distributed primarily along the West Coast for human consumption, where Columbia River smelt fisheries are very restricted or closed,” Shields said. “It also goes into the bait market for the sturgeon fishery and the marine aquarium market.” Fishermen can get a nice price, twice: 25 cents to 75 cents per pound for their catch, and up to $2 per pound after it goes to market. Estimates from 2016 peg the annual smelt run to the Susitna River at 53,000 tons but Shields said the catch remains very conservative. “The reason for the small limit is that this is a beluga critical habitat area and this is a forage fish that is considered very important to that species,” he explained. Both the smelt and herring fisheries are open to anyone but require special permits. “Anytime you have an interest in what we call these smaller fun, interesting fisheries, please give us a call and we’ll do all we can to help you get involved in them,” Shields said. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Net recycling effort spreads to Southeast; almanac seeks stories

The Panhandle plans to be the next Alaska region to give new life to old fishing gear by sending it to plastic recycling centers. The tons of nets and lines piled up in local lots and landfills will become the raw material for soda bottles, cell phone cases, sunglasses, skateboards, swimsuits and more. Juneau, Haines, Petersburg and possibly Sitka have partnered with Net Your Problem to launch an effort this year to send old or derelict seine and gillnets to a recycler in Richmond, British Columbia. “We’re going to be working in a new location with a new material and sending it to a new recycler,” said Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem and the force behind fishing gear recycling in Alaska. Baker, a former fisheries observer who also is a research assistant for Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington, jumpstarted recycling programs for trawl nets, crab and halibut line two years ago at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak quickly followed. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 25,000 tons and can cost $350 to $500 per ton for disposal in landfills. The community/industry collaborations in both towns have so far sent 300,000 pounds of gear in seven vans to Europe for recycling. “Each fishing port will have its own special logistics plan but the general role is the same,” she said. “You need somebody to give you the nets, truck them around, load them and ship them.” No two plastics are the same, and the B.C. recycler opened the door for removals of seine and gillnets made from nylon. Baker said only gear that contains lead, such as longline gear or leaded lines, cannot be accepted for recycling. “The recycler I have been using in Europe told me it is illegal to import lead into the EU. So that is something that is still a bit of a struggle,” she said. “But as far as polyethylene and polypropylene trawl gear, or nylon seine or gillnet gear, I can recycle all of those at the moment.” The pace of the fishing seasons will determine the best time for the Southeast towns to begin collecting the nets from fishermen, Baker said, and she hopes to hear from other communities that have net pile ups. “If you are dealing with this issue please feel free to reach out to me because I am happy to try to establish the logistics for a program in your community,” she said. “My goal is to expand slowly but surely and add one new location every year while still continuing support for recycling efforts at the previous locations.” Baker will start off the Southeast tour in Haines during its Earth Day events on April 19. Hatchery numbers Salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries are maintaining a decade long trend of comprising one third of the statewide catch. In 2018, a hatchery harvest of 39 million salmon — mostly chums and pinks — was 34 percent of the total statewide take, valued at $176 million to Alaska fishermen. Forty-one million adult salmon returned to Alaska’s 29 hatcheries last year, shy of the 54-million fish forecast, and below the 61 million 10-year average. That’s according to the 2018 salmon enhancement report released each year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest hatchery salmon producer and last year’s catch of 19 million fish accounted for 76 percent of the region’s total, and 75 percent of the value to fishermen at $65 million. Southeast is the second biggest hatchery producer. The 2018 catch of about 8 million fish was 46 percent of the region’s harvest, and 59 percent of the value to fishermen at $63 million; $53 million of that was from chums. At Kodiak, just less than 4 million fish from two hatcheries made up 42 percent of the Island’s total catch last year. The fish were valued at $7 million, or 25 percent of the salmon value. At Cook Inlet, a catch of just more than a half-million hatchery salmon accounted for 26 percent of the total harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value of $5.3 million. About 70 percent of those fish were pinks. Nearly 1.8 billion tiny salmon were released to the sea in 2018 from pink and chum salmon eggs collected in 2017, and from chinook, sockeye, and coho eggs collected in 2016. Alaska hatchery operators forecast a return of about 79 million fish in 2019. This includes returns of 54 million pink, 21 million chum, 2.5 million sockeye, 1.5 million coho, and 109,000 king salmon. Almanac calls Personal glimpses that chronicle the fishing life make up the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac and the call is out for submissions. The second version of the Almanac is in the works and sales of the first run last year were so good, it’s covering costs for the whole project. “People loved it. They’d ask which submission is yours. And you’d be eternally flipping to the picture of the fillets and peanut butter you fed your crew all summer,” said Jamie O’Connor, a Homer-based fishermen and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “It’s a really fun way to communicate to people outside of this community about the culture of fishing, especially from the perspective of the young fishermen.” Last year’s 141-page Almanac featured nearly 60 items from almost every region of the state. “Everything from essays to recipes to photos, poems and art. There’s also a lot of useful stuff in there,” O’Connor said. “Plus, fun stories, a little bit of mischief, pro tips from more mature fishermen to people who want to get into the industry.” The Almanac is styled similar to a younger version of a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. “It’s modeled after the Young Farmer’s Almanac as a way to share the culture and put out a touchstone every year that people can refer back to or share with their families,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do for young fishermen as well.” “We’re looking for anything people want to send in. We’re hoping they really flex their creativity, she added. Deadline to submit to the Almanac is Sept. 1 at www.akyoungfishermen.org or via email at [email protected] Fishing watch Lots of April fishing is underway all across Alaska. One sad exception is the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound where seiners have yet to wet their nets. Typically the fishery has come and gone by mid-March and the harvest this year called for a nearly 13,000-ton haul. The herring, which are valued for their eggs, are showing up but they are too small to call an opener. The last time a fishery was called off at Sitka Sound was in 1977. Golden king crab also has been slow going: 10 to 15 crabbers have pulled up less than 50,000 pounds out of a 76,000-pound limit. The crabs have paid out at $11 per pound, making each worth $70 to $80 to fishermen, reported KFSK in Petersburg. Southeast’s winter Tanner crab catch of 1.3 million pounds was the third-best in 15 years. The month-long fishery was valued at $4.2 million for a fleet of 69 crabbers. Divers are still going down for geoduck clams and Southeast’s spring troll fishery for chinook begins on May 1 in some districts. There’s lots of fishing action at Prince William Sound with a shrimp pot fishery opens April 15 to the 23. Ninety-nine boats will compete for 68,100 pounds of the popular prawns. A sablefish season also opens on April 15 for 134,000 pounds. And due to weather, the Tanner crab fishery was extended in parts of Prince William Sound to April 18. A one-day a week herring fishery opens at Upper Cook Inlet on April 20 through May 31, and a small smelt fishery opens on May 1. Kodiak’s herring fishery kicks off on April 15 with a harvest set at just over 1,400 tons. And spotters are already flying at Togiak looking for early herring arrivals there. That herring fishery, which should come in at around 23,000 tons, usually opens in May. Halibut and sablefish are still crossing the docks and fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Believe it or not, in just a few weeks Alaska’s salmon season will officially begin with runs of reds and kings to the Copper River in mid-May. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest projection takes big leap from 2018

Alaska fishermen could catch 85 percent more salmon this year (nearly a hundred million more) if state forecasts hold true. That’s good news for fishermen in many Gulf of Alaska regions who in 2018 suffered some of the worst catches in 50 years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a total salmon catch of 213.2 million fish for 2019, compared to about 116 million salmon last year. The increase comes from expectations of another big haul of sockeyes, increases in pinks and a possible record catch of chum salmon. The harvest breakdown calls for 112,000 chinook salmon in areas outside of Southeast Alaska. The catch for the Southeast troll fleet, which is determined by a treaty with Canada, will be 101,300 kings, or an increase of 5,600 fish. For sockeyes, a catch of just less than 42 million is projected, about 9 million fewer than last year. A harvest of nearly 138 million pink salmon would be 97 million more that last summer, and a coho harvest of 4.6 million would be an increase of 900,000 over 2018. Chums could set a record with a projected catch of 29 million, a boost of nine million and well above the 25 million chum catch record set in 2017. Some highlights and lookbacks: Copper River’s commercial sockeye salmon catch for 2019 is pegged at 756,000 million and 31,000 for chinook (all fisheries). Managers said the forecast should “be interpreted with caution as poor runs of many Gulf sockeye stocks in 2018 suggest there is considerable likelihood of overforecasting.” Last year the Copper River drift gillnet catch of 47,000 reds was the second-fewest in 100 years. Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon run is predicted to be weak this summer with a catch of 18 million, half of the 10-year average. That follows on a catch of just more than 8 million pinks in 2018, which ranks 51st in harvests since 1962. Biologists said a big source of uncertainty is abnormally warm Gulf sea surface waters “may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon.” At Kodiak, the predicted 27-million pink salmon harvest is in the “excellent” category and compares to a catch of just 6 million pinks in 2018. The total salmon take last year at Kodiak of just nine million salmon compares to a 10-year average of more than 21 million. Upper Cook Inlet could see a slightly improved sockeye harvest of three million. The 2018 catch at UCI of 1.3 million sockeyes was 61 percent less than the 10-year average and the smallest harvest since 1975. At Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula where an astonishing 128 sockeye salmon were caught last year, a hopeful harvest of about 965,000 reds is projected this year. At Bristol Bay, a sockeye harvest of about 27 million compares to a catch of 41.3 million in 2018. That stemmed from a run of more than 62 million reds, the largest on record. It was the fourth consecutive year that the Bay’s sockeye runs topped 50 million. State salmon managers don’t produce formal forecasts for most salmon runs in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, or AYK, region, but they predict continued good returns to Norton Sound, Kotzebue and a half-million chum catch at the Lower Yukon. Salmon fishermen near Nome set records for coho and chum catches last year, and a 4,000 sockeye take was the second-most ever. Pink salmon runs also were stronger than expected but met with little interest from the one buyer. Fishermen at Kotzebue Sound caught a record 695,153 chum salmon in 2018 and managers said a 700,000-chum harvest would be possible if there was a market for the fish. The lack of a buyer will beach Kuskokwim salmon fishermen for the fourth year, although it’s not due to a lack of fish. For example, the weir on the 75-mile Kanektok River did not operate in 2018 due to a lack of funding, but aerial surveys showed the second-largest escapement of sockeye salmon on record. A fish plant at Platinum that bought salmon, herring and halibut starting in 2009 closed abruptly in 2015. According to owner Coastal Villages Region Fund, a group created to provide economic benefit for its 20 member communities, the plant “never became sustainable” and was a big money loser. CVRF has instead invested in five vessels, the largest at 341 feet, that fish for pollock, crab and cod in the Bering Sea, Three of the boats are homeported in Seattle. CVRF claims it “has grown to be the largest seafood owner/operator headquartered in Alaska.” Herring on hold Herring at Sitka Sound is still a waiting game in a fishery that’s usually come and gone by late March. Many seiners and tenders left on March 28, reported KCAW, along with the state research vessel Kestrel that does fish sampling. Most of the herring, which are valued only for their eggs or roe, have so far been too immature for an opener. By April 3, more than 21 miles of herring spawn had been mapped, usually signaling the beginning of the end for a fishery. But spotters were still flying and biologist Eric Coonradt at ADFG in Sitka said some seiners and processors were sticking around. “I feel like there’s still time left. Some years the larger versus smaller fish kind of split up. It’s just kind of a wait and see game,” he said. Seiners were hoping to haul in nearly 13,000 tons of roe herring after a total bust last year that produced just 2,800 tons. Sitka Sound’s latest herring fishery was April 15 in 2002. The last time there was no commercial fishery there was in 1977. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is expecting a big run and an earlier start as soon as mid-April. ADFG area manager Tim Sands told KDLG in Dillingham that unusually warm waters are making it tough to predict run timing. “This year there’s no ice anywhere near Bristol Bay and sea surface temperatures are much warmer. We have different models that worked relatively well when conditions were normal. But we’re so far from normal this year, we don’t have a lot of faith in our predictive ability,” Sands said. Budget cuts and a lack of aerial surveys for three years also have also contributed to the uncertainty and caused a more conservative approach to the Togiak herring fishery. “We retroactively introduced this idea of reducing the exploitation rate by 2 percent a year for years of poor data,” he explained. Togiak has a 2019 herring catch quota of 26,930 tons, up slightly from last year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Plan to end local fish tax split panned at Senate hearing

None of the members of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee lives near the sea, but at a hearing last week they were not impressed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s plan to pull millions of dollars in fish taxes from remote coastal towns. Bills submitted to the Legislature by the governor would remove the ability of towns to keep their share of local fisheries business and landing taxes. For decades, the taxes have been split 50-50 with the state. Dunleavy wants to take all of the funds for state coffers, meaning a combined loss of $29 million to fishing towns come October. More than 20 mayors, financial officers, harbormasters and fishermen testified against the tax grab at the CRA and outlined how it would devastate coastal Alaska. “The share of fish taxes is used to ensure sustainable communities,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League. “They contribute to general funds, operate and maintain ports and harbors, many of which the state transferred in neglect to municipalities 10 years ago; they support education, hospitals, public works, solid waste, grants to local nonprofits and to replace gaps in state capital investment.” Yakutat City and Borough Manager Jon Erickson said the loss would likely close down the community’s lone fish plant. “What part of shutting down rural Alaska equates to Alaska is open for business?” he asked. Kodiak City Mayor Pat Branson called the tax loss “cost shifting and revenue grabbing” and a “quick fix to a long-term problem of the state budget deficit.” “Every municipality and every Alaskan should have in-depth research and analysis,” Branson said. “This budget approach lacks the understanding and awareness of the realities of living in a resource economy and in a geographically remote location.” “Moorage rates in Wrangell would increase from 43 to 57 percent to cover the loss of money dedicated to our harbors,” said Lee Burgess, financial manager of the City and Borough of Wrangell. “It’s an example of arbitrarily picking winners and losers and causing disproportionate harm to certain communities relevant to how much of their economic platform is made up by commercial fishing.” “Fisheries is our only industry and fish tax revenues make up 26 percent of our $31 million general fund revenues, over $8 million annually. We use fish and sales taxes to pay our own way,” said Frank Kelty, mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s top fishing port for more than two decades. “If the state takes away the share of fish taxes, who will step up to assist communities across Alaska with projects needed to support the seafood industry, which is the economic engine of all fishery dependent communities?” “If you’re looking for money to run the state why not revise the oil subsidies to big oil that collect more profits per barrel than any other oil field in the world. We fish hard and pay our taxes. We deserve our taxes to benefit our communities,” said Shawn Dochtermann, a longtime Kodiak fisherman. “You took oaths to defend Alaskans,” said Jeff Guard, a Cordova city council member. “We are under attack and you have the power of the purse to defend us from these draconian budget cuts.” Fisherman Stosh Anderson of Kodiak closed his testimony with a haiku: “Fishermen pay tax, “Absconded by the government. “Infrastructure fails.” And so it went as Alaskans from Petersburg, Akutan, Bristol Bay, Adak, Homer, St. Paul, Kenai and more shared their concerns. Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, and Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, asked Department of Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman if there had been any communication with communities about the fish tax loss, or any economic impact analyses done. The answer was no. Tangeman said the governor intends to share 50 percent of state alcohol tax revenues through a community assistance program to soften the loss, or about $20 million. Birch asked about the motivation behind allocating alcohol taxes to the fishing towns. “I don’t know what the policy call was,” Tangeman responded. (Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Dunleavy policy advisor John Moller both said they were unaware of the alcohol tax proposal at subsequent public meetings in Kodiak.) “The thinking behind this is we need to bring all our revenue streams together to benefit all Alaskans,” Tangeman said. “Obviously, these folks are seeing this from their backyards. I hope they can all appreciate the state is really struggling and we have a budget that is unsustainable.” “Is this bill a priority of the Dunleavy administration?” asked Bishop. “Yes, it is,” Tangeman said. “I want to tell you how much I appreciate and respect your comments that the state is struggling,” said Gray-Jackson. “But you can’t punish communities because the state is struggling. That is just not the way to handle this.” Halibut intel More halibut from Atlantic Canada and a shift in consumer preferences are two new drivers in the halibut market. The Pacific fishery opened on March 15 to prices similar to last year, where they’ve pretty much stayed: in the $6 per pound range to fishermen on the Alaska mainland; $5.50 to $6 in Southeast and in the $4.75 to $5.25 range at Kodiak. A major Kodiak buyer said the market is favorable for fish headed to fresh markets, but that won’t absorb all of the halibut coming out of Alaska. Contrary to preseason reports, just about every major packer is sitting on frozen inventory from last year, “a halibut hangover,” and buyers will be cautious about freezing more. The market for frozen halibut is really changing, he added. “Two of the largest buyers in the old steaking program, where they’d buy an 80-or 100-pounder, that’s just completely going away,” he said, adding that it’s tough to even move frozen halibut in the smaller sizes. What consumers want now is the convenience of vacuum-packed halibut fillets or chunks, either fresh or frozen. All market reports show that the biggest hurt in Alaska’s halibut market is coming from Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada. That could put more than 10 million pounds into the U.S. market this year compared to 300,000 to 400,000 pounds just six years ago. Alaska fishermen can catch 17.7 million pounds of halibut through Nov. 14. Salmon surprises An ambitious winter research trip to study salmon in the deepest waters of the Gulf of Alaska yielded some surprises. The five-week trip by an international team of 21 researchers docked in Vancouver last week. CBC News said researchers collected thousands of samples in their quest to learn more Pacific salmon survival in the open seas of the Gulf, a major feeding ground. “The main inspiration of this project is to increase our awareness of the challenges the salmon meet in the open ocean and in the coastal areas,” said Dr. Vladimir Radchenko, director of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission with five member countries: the US, Canada, Russian, Japan and Korea. The Gulf project was a centerpiece of its International Year of the Salmon initiative, a five-year project to study salmon in the northern hemisphere as they face challenges from an off kilter climate. Aboard the research vessel Professor Kaganovsky the team trawled a span of nearly 5,000 miles in waters 200 miles from shore and collected salmon data at 60 locations. “Since during the winter all salmon species migrate off shore, the main spots of aggregation should be located beyond 200 miles in February and March,” Radchenko said. Researchers also pioneered a new DNA testing method to identify where the salmon hatched. The research led to some surprising discoveries. One of the most abundant species in their catches was coho, contradicting the belief that most coho overwinter in coastal areas. Pink salmon — the most abundant of all Pacific species — comprised only 10 percent of their trawl catches. The scientists also hope to learn if large releases of hatchery pinks and chums from Pacific Rim countries are impacting wild fish in the open ocean. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Legislators learn hatcheries are a self-sustaining salmon program

Commercial fishermen pick up the tab for just about anyone who catches a salmon in Alaska that started its life in a hatchery. That was a finding that wended its way to the surface during a hearing last week of the House Fisheries Committee on the state’s hatchery program. The program began in the mid-1970s to enhance Alaska’s wild salmon runs. Unlike meetings that are top heavy with fishery stakeholders, most of the committee members are not deeply familiar with many industry inner workings and their interest was evident. “Who funds the hatchery programs?” asked Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, referring to the 25 private, non-profit associations that operate in Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet. Turns out, it’s commercial fishermen. “In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director of Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association. Fishermen also catch and sell returning adult salmon to the hatchery, which operators use to pay operating expenses, a process called cost recovery. In 2017 cost recovery fish, which fetch a lower price for fishermen than selling to processors, accounted for 79 percent of hatchery income. There have been discussions about sport charter operators contributing, but it’s not really needed, said Steve Reifenstuhl, executive director of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. “Because of the mechanism we have for doing cost recovery there is not really a need to bring in additional money,” he said. “That’s very refreshing to hear right now that you have adequate revenue. That is not something we hear very often,” said Rep Sarah Vance, R-Homer. “So thank you to all the fishermen who contribute and make it sustainable.” “The hatchery programs truly represent one of the most successful public/private partnerships in the state’s history,” Fairbanks said. “These facilities produce salmon for sport, subsistence, personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial landings and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.” “It’s very uncommon,” said Dan Lesh, an economist with the McDowell Group. “It is quite impressive that it produces such large economic benefits with no cost to the state.” “It seems to me that the commercial fishing industry is paying out millions of dollars through foregone revenue in cost recovery and enhancement revenues that benefit Alaskans collectively,” responded Kreiss-Tomkins, adding that he would like to see an analysis done. “It’s paying for all Alaskans in a sense by underwriting this common benefit.” Alaska’s hatchery harvest in 2017 of 47 million fish accounted for 21 percent of the statewide salmon harvest valued at $162 million to fishermen, which was 24 percent of the statewide value. That was the lowest percentage of hatchery fish in the overall catch since 1995, and due largely to a wild stock harvest that was the third-highest in Alaska history. An additional 194,000 Alaska hatchery fish were caught in the sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. Fish differences Americans have very different perceptions on wild versus farmed fish, and whether it is grown in fresh or saltwater. In a new report called Aquaculture/Mariculture, US Market Insights and Opportunities, food industry trackers Changing Tastes and Datassential surveyed 1,500 consumers and 400 restaurant operators about their preferences for America’s three favorites: salmon, tuna and shrimp. Nearly half of consumers and 40 percent of restaurateurs said they prefer wild fish and shellfish because it has better flavor, quality, texture, is free of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals. For salmon, 57 percent of consumers said they prefer wild caught; it was 64 percent for restaurants. Both believe less than half of the seafood we eat today comes from aquaculture. Overall, land based and near-shore aquaculture operations got much lower marks across the board. Water pollution and impacts on water quality were listed as the top concerns by 66 percent of consumers for land-based fish farms and 58 percent for near-shore. Water concerns jumped to 80 percent among buyers. The use of antibiotics and pesticides in fish farms ranked as the second concern by 64 percent of consumers and 68 percent for restaurant operators. Consumers and buyers believe a substantial amount of seafood is already farmed in the deep ocean, and one quarter believe that open ocean mariculture is better for the environment than wild capture fishing. The report concludes that as more Americans shift to eating seafood, the share with no established preferences for wild versus farmed increases. Fish bits Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has nominated Nicole Kimball, vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, to seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace two current members whose terms expire this summer: Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer. The NPFMC oversees more than 25 fisheries in federal waters off Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets April 1-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. On the agenda: Navy war game plans for May in the Gulf of Alaska. Comments on any items can be made through March 29. For its upcoming meeting cycle, the state Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial and statewide fisheries at Kodiak and Lower and Upper Cook Inlet through April 10. Tariffs on U.S. imports from China will continue indefinitely the Trump Administration announced last week. The trade war, which began last July, has hit the seafood industry on both sides. SeafoodSource reports that Trump said he plans to “leave them on for a substantial period of time.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Groups collaborate to launch fishermen’s loan fund

A new lender is offering loans to young Alaska fishermen who want to buy into the halibut and sablefish fisheries, and repayment is based on their catches. The Local Fish Fund opened its doors this month to provide alternative loan structures to young fishermen as a way to help turn the tide on the trend called the “graying of the fleet.” The average age of an Alaska fisherman today is 50 and fewer recruits are choosing the fishing life. A big part of what’s turning them away is the cost to buy into fisheries that are limited through permits, or in the case of halibut, catch shares that can cost up to $75 per pound. The high values have made conventional loans unobtainable, especially for crewmen who may know how to catch fish but have little collateral. “The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” said Linda Behnken, founder of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “We’re looking for ways to help the next generation of fishing families get that start and build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.” The Trust is among a group of entities that collaborated on the unique lending concept for more than a decade. They include The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation, Catch Together, Oak Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Local Fish Fund was jump started with $1.5 million from Catch Together and the Rasmuson Foundation and will be centered for now on fisheries in Southeast Alaska. “We’re hoping to build the fund to be available more broadly and capitalize at a higher level,” Behnken said. The Fund’s flexible “revenue participation” approach will let fishermen repay their loans according to the ups and downs of fishing. “Part of what has made it really challenging to buy into the fisheries is the uncertainty and how that will affect their ability to make fixed payments that don’t fluctuate as catches or fish prices drop,” Behnken said. “We share and reduce that risk so the payments are based on what fishermen are paid at the dock. If the price falls, so does the payment; conversely, if they go up, it’s a bigger share.” The Local Fish Fund comes with another good catch. Fishermen are encouraged to participate in local resource conservation projects, such as electronic monitoring or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear. They are given a 1 percent break in their loan interest if they do. “Part of our goal is to involve more fishermen in conservation research and fisheries management. Our perspective has always been that fishermen are the best problem solvers and when we engage them, we find solutions,” Behnken said. “Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending,” said Dustin Solberg of The Nature Conservancy in Cordova. “There are great opportunities for fishermen and scientists to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment.” Get more information at LocalFishFund.org or [email protected] Halibut starts The Pacific halibut fishery started on March 15 with more fish to catch and favorable market conditions. The coastwide catch limit from California to the Bering Sea is just less than 30 million pounds, an 8.2 percent increase over 2018. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch is 22 million pounds, up 1.5 million pounds, with increases in all fishing areas except the Western Gulf of Alaska. Market conditions are more favorable this year, due mostly to fewer fish in the freezers. SeafoodNews.com reports that less carry over going into the new season has renewed interest in halibut, especially during Lent which runs until April 20. Buyers pulled back on halibut purchases last year after years of high prices and a sudden flood of cheaper fish from eastern Canada sucked the wind out of the Pacific market in 2017. The Canadian fishery, which operates year round, has recently been putting up to 11 million pounds of halibut into U.S. markets. Starting prices to Alaska fishermen last year were in the $4 to $5 range, down $2 on average from previous years. Prices ticked upwards during the season but never reached the levels of a few years ago. Roughly 2,000 Alaska longliners hold quota shares of halibut, which they can fish through Nov. 14. ComFish at 40 Hundreds of visitors will flock to “the Rock” to celebrate the 40th ComFish Alaska trade show March 28-30 at Kodiak. Joining all the vendors and exhibits at the downtown convention center will be U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who reportedly plans to stay a few days. From the governor’s office, special advisor John Moller and Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will hold open meetings, as will Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Trending topics on the ComFish agenda also include a Q &A with Mark Lester, president of Alaska Aerospace Corp., which has over 30 rockets planned for the Kodiak launch pad that could curtail fishing. Also, updates on the Pebble mine, seafood marketing, “throw me a rope” safety tips, fish stories and sea songs, legal advice, net recycling and much more. Recognizing Kodiak’s processing workers has become a ComFish Saturday tradition and teams from different companies compete in skill competitions. This year includes a shark dissection, a new Fish in a Box contest where a line up must be identified by touch and/or tail, and a fish toss. A contest to showcase the most able fisherman will bring ComFish to a close. Alaska Airlines is offering a 7 percent off ComFish special for Kodiak flights. See the full line up of ComFish events at www.kodiakchamber.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trade war takes big bite out of Alaska seafood sales

So how’s that trade war with China going? Up until last July, China was Alaska’s biggest trading partner for seven years running. In 2017, China bought 54 percent of Alaska’s fish and shellfish products, valued at $800 million. The initial U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports were followed by a retaliatory 10 percent tariff from China last September that included U.S. seafood exports; U.S. tariffs against $200 billion worth of Chinese imports were to increase to 25 percent on March 2, but that deadline was extended by 60 days late in February as trade negotiations continue. All the tariff tit-for-tat has taken a big bite out of Alaska’s seafood market share and sales continue to sink. The new taxes have tamped down Alaska seafood sales to China by one-fifth through 2018, said Jeremy Woodrow, acting director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. In a presentation this month to the House Fisheries Committee, Woodrow said “sales so far this year are off by more than 20 percent and we expect to take a big hit from China this year.” Woodrow said a survey of Alaska processors and industry stakeholders revealed that “65 percent reported they had immediately lost sales from the increase of these tariffs, 50 percent reported delays in their sales, and 36 percent reported they lost customers in China. Another 21 percent said they had unanticipated costs because of the trade conflict.” He added that the taxes have caused inventories to pile up in freezers as Alaska seafood sellers seek markets to fill the China shortfall. Sales inroads are being made in other countries like Spain and Brazil, Woodrow said, but the loss of China would leave a lasting hurt. Meanwhile, state general fund dollars have been zeroed out for ASMI’s budget by the Dunleavy Administration and its travel budget slashed by more than half to $158,000. Other trade impacts A new report by economists from Columbia, Princeton, and the New York Federal Reserve explores the impacts of the Trump Administrations trade policy on prices and pocketbooks. In the short term, it says the U.S. has experienced substantial price increases, large changes to supply chain networks, a drop in the availability of imported varieties, and complete passthrough of the tariffs to domestic consumers. While the long-run effects are still to be seen, the economists said, “we also see similar patterns for foreign countries who have retaliated against the U.S., which indicates that the trade war reduces real income for the global economy as well.” Seaweed to the rescue “They are coming to take our cows away!” yelped critics of the proposed Green New Deal that’s cropped up in Congress. The deal calls for major investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure to help the U.S. transform to a more earth friendly economy. The GND is making farmers uneasy because fingers are pointing at cows as big polluters from the methane gas they pass. Most of the gas is actually belched from the cow’s mouth and not released from the back end. Cow burps account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA. Seaweed can help put the brakes on all those burps. Researchers in Australia started investigating after a dairy farmer noticed cows that grazed on washed-up seaweed along the shore were healthier and more productive than those in the field. Another study five years ago confirmed those results and 20 different kinds of seaweed were tested in cow feeds. Overall, they reduced methane production by up to 50 percent but required high doses of seaweed, almost 20 percent by sample weight. Enter Asparagopsis, a red seaweed found throughout the Pacific. The Queensland researchers found that adding less than 2 percent of that particular seaweed to a cow’s diet reduced its methane output by up to 99 percent! The cows have good taste; asparagopsis is one of the most in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. The problem now is producing enough of the methane suppressor. Wild harvesting is not sustainable, the researchers said, and it will take financial and industry backers to cultivate production to an industrial scale. Meanwhile, that dairy farmer has sold his farm and is selling kelp and rockweed infused livestock feed full-time with a Prince Edward Island company called North Atlantic Organics. Fish gals on the job Women at work in the seafood industry is the focus of an international video competition that’s now open for entries. The scope includes all segments of the industry: fishing on boats, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, research, monitoring, teaching and any related services. It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry. “Women are very numerous in the industry, but not very visible,” said Marie Christine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder. Studies show that one in two workers in the seafood industry is a woman, but most are over-represented in low skilled, low paying positions. Montfort said women account for less than 10 percent of company directors and just 1 percent of CEOs. A WSI international survey last year revealed that 61 percent of women reported perceptions of gender inequality in the seafood industry compared to 48 percent of men. Raising awareness of gender biases is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said. And that is what the film contest is all about. Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches. One entry from Alaska called Copper River featured veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. Individuals and groups are invited to contribute videos of up to four minutes showing women at work in the industry. Winners receive 1000 euros along with two 500 euro prizes. Deadline to enter is Aug. 2. Learn more at womeninseafood.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trident’s pollock noodles sweep Symphony of Seafood awards

Push that pasta aside. Noodles made from Alaska pollock are poised to become a center of the plate favorite. Alaska Pollock Protein Noodles from Trident Seafoods swept the awards at the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products competition in Juneau. The low carb, “flavor neutral” noodles contain 1O grams of protein per serving and can be swapped with any pasta favorites. The ready to eat item drew raves from judges and samplers from Seattle to Southeast who gave the noodles quadruple awards at the Feb. 20 bash. “That’s never happened before,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation,” host of the Symphony event. “It really blew everything out of the water.” The new products played to a packed house as part of United Fishermen of Alaska’s annual legislative reception where everyone gets to sample and vote on the goods. “It’s a great chance for policy makers to mix with people in Alaska’s statewide seafood industry,” Decker said. “Sen. Murkowski gave away the grand prize. Lots of legislators were there and a number of them presented awards. A number of people from the governor’s office also attended.” The annual competition kicks off at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November where the new products are judged and first place winners in three categories are announced. All other winners are kept under wraps until the Juneau event. Trident’s protein noodles took top honors in the retail category, People’s Choice awards in Seattle and Juneau and the overall grand prize. Second at retail was Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky by Fishpeople Seafood of Portland, Ore.; Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder by Heather’s Choice of Anchorage took home third place. First place in the Food Service category was awarded to Alaska Cod Dumplings by Tai Foong USA, followed by Trident’s Entrée Redi pollock fillet portions. The winner in the Beyond the Plate category, which features items made from seafood byproducts, was Wild Alaska Pollock Oil by Alaska Naturals Pet Products. Second place went to Tidal Vision’scrab shell based Tidal-Tex Odor Preventer that “de-funks” footwear, camp gear and pet beds. Top winners are automatically entered into the Seafood Excellence competition at the Seafood Expo North America March 17-19 in Boston. Fishing updates Hundreds of boats are out on the water all winter throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea targeting pollock, cod, flounders, other whitefish and more. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery is still ongoing as are openers for their bigger cousin, bairdi Tanners, in Southeast Alaska. The Tanner harvest should top 1 million pounds. Southeast crabbers also are finishing off a golden king crab fishery that has a catch limit of 76,000 pounds. A fishery for seven types of rockfish will remain open in outside waters of Southern Southeast until March 14 or until the fleet takes the nearly 112,000-pound quota, whichever comes first. A Tanner crab fishery opened in Prince William Sound on March 1; Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery opened on Feb. 25 with a winter harvest limit of 12,048 pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery opens on March 15, soon to be followed by herring fisheries. Love wild? Eat wild Fish farming does little if anything, to conserve wild stocks. In fact, aquaculture has failed to reduce the pressure on the world’s fish stocks, it has not advanced fishery conservation, and should focus more on species lower in the food web, such as clams and other bivalves. Those are the conclusions of a study published in Science Daily by researchers at the University of North Carolina, who base their findings on historical data from the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization from 1970 to 2014. Yet the push to convince consumers that eating farmed saves wild has gotten new life by meal kit makers LoveTheWild. The Boulder-Colorado based group, which launched its oven-ready farmed salmon, trout and barramundi offerings in 2014, has announced they will be available at Whole Foods stores nationwide this month. Among their investors is actor Leonardo DiCaprio who claims that “the exploitation of our oceans has left many marine ecosystems on the brink of total collapse” and that LoveTheWild is “empowering people to take action on the crisis in a meaningful way.” LoveTheWild omits the fact that meals and oils made from wild fish are used to feed farmed fish, thereby removing more from the ocean, not less. Also, many fish are grown in packed net pens and are routinely doused with additives, antibiotics and pesticides. “There are some perceptions in the consumer market on the production and management of our wild fisheries that are misconstrued and quite frankly, wrong,” said Michael Kohan, Seafood Technical Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Alaska’s fisheries support over 60,000 jobs by people whose livelihood is putting wild fish on the market for people to purchase. You support wild fish by eating wild fish.” Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, called the farmed saves wild push “misplaced.” “Their hearts might be in the right place but I don’t think they are thinking it through,” Wink said. “When you buy fish from a sustainably managed fishery, you’re voting with your dollars to support those who are doing things right.” Fish funds American Seafoods has issued a call for grant applications targeting community programs in Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. A total of $45,000 will be allocated in grants that typically range from $1,000 to $7,500 each for projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. The deadline to submit a request is April 10; the company’s Western Alaska Community Grant Board will select recipients on April 25. Grant request forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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