Laine Welch

GM salmon labeling amendment moves ahead

If genetically modified salmon gets a green light by the federal government, it will be labeled as such if U.S. senators on both sides of the aisle have their way. The Senate Appropriations Committee last week passed the bipartisan Murkowski-Begich amendment requiring that consumers be advised of what they are buying. During testimony, Sen. Lisa Murkowski questioned if the so-called Frankenfish can even be called a real salmon. “This takes a transgenic Atlantic salmon egg, which has genes from an ocean pout that is somewhat akin to an eel, and it combines with the genes of a Chinook salmon. I have questioned time and time again, why we would want to be messing with Mother Nature like this,” Murkowski said. “We are trying to invent a species that would grow quicker to out-compete our wild stocks. This experiment puts at risk the health of our fisheries not only in Alaska, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.” “We’re not talking about GM corn or something else that is grown. We are talking about a species that moves, migrates, and breeds,” Murkowski said. “This is an experiment that if it went wrong could be devastating to the wild, healthy stocks that our farmers of the sea depend upon.” The “AquaAdvantage” Frankenfish, created by a company called AquaBounty, based in the U.S. and Panama, has been vying for Food and Drug Administration approval for two decades. The company has spent nearly $80 million on what would be the first genetically engineered animal ever to be approved for human consumption. Because the gene tweaking is considered a “veterinary procedure,” the fish will not be required to use any labeling identifying it as a man-made product. Murkowski pointed out that more than 1.5 million people have written in opposition to FDA approval and 65 supermarkets (including Safeway, Kroger, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s and Target) have pledged not to carry it. Salmon farmers also are distancing themselves from Frankenfish; both the International Salmon Farmers Association and the Canadian Aquaculture Industry Alliance have issued statements in opposition to GM salmon. AquaBounty CEO Ronald Stotish called critics of the fish “bullies” and “terrorists” in a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article last week. Murkowski said, “We are not doing anything more than telling the FDA if you move forward with a wrongheaded decision to allow for the first time ever this genetically engineered salmon for human consumption, at a bare minimum you’ve got to stick a label on it that says so.” Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., agreed. “Whether we look at this from the viewpoint of a citizen’s right to know what they’re buying, or we look at it from the viewpoint of ensuring a healthy industry that’s so important to our states, this amendment is absolutely 100 percent right on,” Merkley said. “And if you buy salmon, you should buy 100 percent salmon.” Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Democrat from Maryland and chair of the Appropriations Committee, added: “If something is a GMO food, we ought to know what it is. I don’t want to eat a Dolly-burger and I don’t want to eat a Frankenfish.” A voice vote on the Murkowski-Begich amendment passed with only one dissenter. It now goes to the Senate floor as part of the agriculture spending bill. Words matter Whoever represents Alaska in Congress needs to be seafood savvy, as nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s total harvests fall under federal jurisdiction, meaning in waters from three to 200 miles offshore. That’s a lot of poundage hauled aboard, but when it comes to fish delivered to the docks, state waters win the day. And the difference between “volume” and “landings” is often confused. “You can imagine the number of deliveries, for example, that happen in Bristol Bay in the month of July — every setnetter and every drift gillnetter who is pitching off fish, that’s a delivery, a landing. And there are hundreds of those happening every day. But you contrast that with the volume or poundage of fish harvested, that’s another thing,” explained Kurt Iverson, the Research and Planning project leader at the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. Likewise, there is an important distinction between fishery poundage and values. Some are high volume with relatively lower value on a per pound basis, and vice versa.  “A good example of a fishery that has very high value but relatively low volume is sablefish. Compare that to other fisheries and the total poundage harvested may not measure up, but the value is very high,” Iverson said. Furthermore, when people talk about the overall value of Alaska’s fisheries, they use the ex-vessel, or dockside numbers. But that represents only 40 percent of what it is really worth — it’s the first wholesale value that gives a more accurate number after the first fish sales are made by seafood processors. Iverson said fisheries terms can easily be misconstrued and it is important to make distinctions. “Not only for someone who is expressing it, but for a reader. Are you considering a value or poundage or a harvest, a delivery or something else?” he said. “We all have a responsibility to be clear about what we’re talking about, and our audiences should be aware that there are differences.” Shell shocks The shells of crabs, shrimp, lobsters and other crustaceans are being turned into bio-plastics for food packaging and more. The shells contain a compound called chitin, which is also found in insects and fungi, and it is one of the most abundant biodegradable materials in the world. Estimates say more than 25 billion tons of chitin from seafood is disposed of each year. Bankrolled by funds from their government, scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research are turning chitin into so called “active” packaging aimed at reducing plastics made from petro-chemicals. The products can range from hard bio-plastics to thin films that cover food products. The food sector alone, including beverages, accounts for nearly two-thirds of global packaging from non-biodegradable plastics. Chitin has a rich research history for use in agriculture, medicine and other fields. As a seed treatment added to soil, it works as a bio-pesticide, increases blooms in plants and extends the life of cut flowers and Christmas trees. The U.S. Forest Service has conducted research on chitin to control pathogens in pine trees and increase resin pitch outflow that naturally resists pine beetle infestation. Chitin also can be used in water filtration, as it causes fine sediment particles to bind together. Tests show that chitin combined with sand filtration removes up to 99 percent of turbidity in water. Chitin’s hemostatic properties cause blood to clot rapidly and it is used in bandages by the U.S. and United Kingdom militaries. Scientists also have recently developed a polyurethane coating that heals its own scratches. When added to traditional coatings to protect paint on cars, for example, the chitin reacts chemically to ultra violet light and smoothes scratches in less than one hour.   Crossing the bar Alaska lost one of its finest fishery writers with the untimely death last week of Bob Tkacz. Bob covered seafood industry issues in Juneau for 33 years and published the weekly Laws for the Sea during the legislative sessions. He was well known (and feared) for asking tough questions, having the facts at his fingertips, and tenaciously demanding answers. As one politician put it: “Bob was someone you wanted covering the other guy’s press conference.” Bob was a friend and mentor for 25 years and saying he will be missed is an understatement. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Plenty of pink salmon in stock from 2013; price info hard to get

Salmon season is just getting underway, but seafood companies are still selling last summer’s record catch of 226 million pink salmon — and it has prompted lots of creative thinking. “The challenge is to market all this fish and still maintain the value,” said Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, the state’s marketing arm. “It wouldn’t be any problem for the producers just to flood the market, and then we would see a tremendous downward pressure in years to come. More so, we see this as a great opportunity to introduce more people to wild Alaska salmon at a price they can afford,” Fick added. ASMI has put forward an additional $1.5 million to promote pink salmon, both at home and overseas. And while Alaska has been shifting away from lower valued canned pinks — 72 percent was canned a decade ago, compared to less than half in 2012 — now it’s looking “back to the future” with a smaller sized can. “We’ve been really successful in marketing pink salmon which has greatly increased the value over the past 10 years. The idea is that with a smaller can size, and the market will tell us what that is, we can then hit a price point to be competitive with other protein options,” Fick explained. The smaller size cans also will let processors use the expanded product development tax, passed this year by the Alaska legislature, to upgrade canning lines, many of which are from the 1950s. Alaska marketers also are targeting endurance athletes with magazine ads in Runner’s World, Bicycling and Competitor, Triathlete and others, as well as onsite promotions. “We’re going to some rock and roll marathons, which is a series of road races with routes lined with live bands and cheerleaders, and we’re working with people like Kikkan Randall who are pressed for time and want a lean protein that is very nutritious. Canned salmon certainly fits that bill,” Fick said. The U.S. Department of Agriculture also announced in January that it would buy $20 million in canned pinks for food assistance programs. Meanwhile, the huge pink pack is moving to market, said Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “Prices haven’t crashed or anything and things are selling at an OK rate. Business looks good, so there’s absolutely no reason to panic,” Sunderland said. State figures show a tally of 2.7 million cases of canned pinks (talls); and 1.7 million cases of halves produced from the 2013 catch. That compares to 1.3 million and 55,000 cases, respectively, from 2012. The market should see some relief from a much smaller pink run this summer — the Alaska forecast calls for 75 million fish, a 67 percent decrease from last year’s humpy haul. Greenland calling A new television pilot featuring Alaska fishermen will take them halfway across the world to the iceberg filled waters of Greenland. A recent classified ad in the Kodiak Daily Mirror called for the best and bravest halibut longliners, stating “Crybabies need not apply.” “We are looking for Alaska halibut fisherman that have braved the waters of Alaska and are looking for the next great challenge,” said David Casey, executive producer at Los Angeles-based Moxie Pictures. “The Greenlandic and Atlantic halibut of Greenland are much larger, and much harder to catch. You have to get right up next to the glaciers to catch them. So it is a completely different environment and we want to see if the Alaska fishermen can hack it.” Casey said in a phone interview that only three of the toughest men will be accepted for what he described as a very different halibut fishery that is “very abundant but hard to get to.” “They longline down with two hundred hooks into the deepest fjord fishing waters in the world, and the fishery changes with the season,” he said. “In the winter they use Greenlandic sled dogs to sled out into the inland fjords where ice extends out over the deep waters where the biggest halibut are. For the summer they go out on to the fishing waters on very small 5-meter boats; they are basically glorified bathtubs. It’s the same process, but they have to get up near the largest icebergs in the world. You are in open ocean, but what you are fighting is not necessarily the waves but the melting ice around you.” Greenland’s halibut quota this year is 55 million pounds, and fishermen average $7 per pound. The Greenland halibut is marketed in Europe; any sold in the U.S. is known as Greenland turbot. “It is a completely different fishing environment,” Casey said. “I understand that halibut is ebbing and flowing commercially in Alaska, and I know those changes are creating new opportunities elsewhere.” Filming of the pilot will start this summer. For more information contact Christian Skovly at [email protected] Price check Call salmon buyers around the state for fish prices and you’ll get widely different responses — if any at all. Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen depend on the region, the types of fishing gear and markets. Prices also reflect bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries and other agreements between a buyer and seller. But finding any information during the fishing season is a challenge. “You are kind of in the dark,” said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the state Commercial Fisheries division. “You have to call around and talk to fishermen; sometimes our biologists know what the prices are because sometimes there are prices on fish tickets, but a lot of times there are not. And the prices are also in flux. Until the fish are actually sold at the wholesale level, you really don’t know what the price is going to be. So there’s a lot of uncertainty, and just a lack of information. Bruce added that in-season price information also may not be very accurate “even if it’s showing up someplace.” “That’s one of the reasons some staff don’t like to deal with it because they know it’s not accurate, and there is no way they can actually arrive at an accurate figure. So they don’t want to be putting out information that they don’t feel they can be certain about, so they don’t do it. Besides, tracking salmon prices is not an agency priority. “There are no critical decisions being made by the agency in which in season fish prices are an important piece of the information,” he said. Still, he agreed not being able to pencil in a bottom line makes it tough to run a fishing business. “I know there are many fishermen who don’t know what they are going to get paid who are frustrated by that,” Bruce said, “but there is nothing that we can do as the Department of Fish and Game to alleviate that frustration.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

First Copper River salmon reach state, national markets

Trollers in Southeast Alaska provide fresh king salmon nearly year round, but the runs of reds and kings to the Copper River mark the “official start” of Alaska’s salmon season. On May 15 the fleet of more than 570 fishermen set out their nets on a beautiful day for the first 12-hour opener amidst the usual hype for the first fish. “We’ve got a lot of people riding around in the sky checking out the conditions, and a lot of people are getting ready to move the fish to other places for first fish celebrations,” said Kim Ryals, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. Out on the fishing grounds, it was a “very slow day, to say the least,” according to veteran high liner Bill Webber of Cordova.  “Even with the warmer environmental conditions we had this spring, I think we are in front of the run,” Webber said. “I just hope we stay on the return trend we have been enjoying in recent years. Well, it is the first period and we have to get a few more to see the trend for this year.” Prices for the first fish dipped a bit — Copper River Seafoods posted advance sockeye prices at $3.50 and $6 for kings; that compares to $4 and $6 to $7, respectively, for last year’s opener. In what has become a traditional rite of spring, Alaska Airlines whisked away the first 24,000 pounds of the famous fish to Seattle where pilots traversed a red carpet to hand deliver a 48-pound king salmon to three chefs for a cook-off at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport. At least five other jets carried fresh fish from Cordova to eager buyers throughout the U.S., as well as to Anchorage.  “This year, along with sending salmon to high end markets in Seattle and the Lower 48, the first fish also will be enjoyed closer to home,” said Kim Ryals.  Several events are planned in Anchorage, she said, and fishermen also donated salmon to a shelter called Clare House. “It is for women and children and pregnant women over 18,” Ryals said. “We feel like we have so much to be thankful for here in Cordova with our rich natural resources that we want to share some of these things with the people here in our own state.” A special locator app tells where Copper River salmon is being sold, and customers also can upload information. The Copper River forecast calls for a catch of 1.8 million sockeyes and 33,000 kings this summer.  Seeing red Red salmon from the Copper River are a unique brand that fetches an average premium of nearly $2 per pound above all other sockeye salmon in U.S. grocery stores. The average price of “unbranded” sockeye was $10.23 per pound during the past year, according to a market analysis by the Juneau-based McDowell Group. The report was done for Bristol Bay fishermen, but it covers all regions and markets. Sockeyes are by far Alaska’s most valuable salmon, typically worth about two-thirds of the total statewide salmon haul. But in terms of global supply, wild sockeye are rare creatures — they account for about 5 percent of all wild and farmed production, and represent just 15 percent of the world’s wild salmon harvest. Alaska typically accounts for 70 percent or more of global sockeye production, with nearly half of that coming from Bristol Bay. The U.S. is the single largest market, purchasing nearly 44 percent by value in 2012. Japan and the U.K. are next, followed by Canada. The McDowell report said it will be increasingly important to defend the Alaska sockeye brand from “craft” farmed salmon producers. Niche producers, such as Verlasso and Skuna Bay have a big advantage because they can offer fresh salmon on a year-round basis. The high-end fish farmers also message their salmon as being sustainable, environmentally friendly and “harmoniously raised.” Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch this year is projected at nearly 34 million fish, five million more than last year. Average statewide price last year was $1.60, an increase of 30 cents from 2012. Going grey As older fishermen retire from the business, fewer young people are recruiting in. The average age of Alaska permit holders is 47 — and there are twice as many permit holders aged 45 to 60 as there are between 30 and 44.  The issue — dubbed the Graying of the Fleet — has been discussed for years. Now an ambitious project is underway to find ways to overcome the obstacles facing young recruits. Armed with a $335,000 grant from the North Pacific Research Board, a multi-year project is underway to focus on young fishermen in the Bristol Bay and Kodiak regions. “We are really going to be diving into some of the factors that allow young people to be successful and what motivates them to stay in the business, and what are some of the challenges and solutions to make it easier for young people to live, work and be successful as fishing business owners,” said Kelly Harrell, director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council that has teamed with Alaska Sea Grant for the project. The “Graying of the Fleet” project will include interviews with permit holders, processors and other stakeholders in an attempt to come up recommendations. It will be completed in August 2016. Weed power! “When the tide is out, the table is set” is an Alaska Native saying. Now scientists at North Carolina State University have found that seaweeds commonly found in waters and beaches near Sitka are packed with compounds that can protect against obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. The researchers said there is nothing on grocery shelves that can compare to the levels of antioxidants and other healthy compounds seen in Alaska seaweeds, which have to be really tough to withstand strong tides and temperatures. That results in “more bang for your buck,” and the Alaska seaweeds produce much stronger chemical defenses than commercially grown fruits and vegetables. In a presentation at a biology conference in San Diego last week, lead seaweed scientist Joshua Kellogg showed how the high levels of “bioactive phytochemicals” in Alaska seaweeds appear to combat the chronic inflammation that causes obesity, diabetes and heart disease. Find more information in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Commercial sector dwarfs sport impact; gear contest underway

The debate over which sector – commercial or recreational fishing — provides the bigger economic punch can finally be put to rest. The annual “Fisheries Economics of the United States” report by the Department of Commerce shows once and for all that in terms of values, jobs, sales and incomes, the marine commercial sector far outscores saltwater recreational fishing. A breakdown of the extensive report by market analyst John Sackton shows that in 2012, commercial fishing had $140 billion in sales compared to $58 billion for sport fishing. And for the value contributed to the national economy, commercial fishing added nearly $60 billion, double the recreational sector. In terms of jobs, the seafood industry employed 1.27 million people compared to 381,000 for sports anglers. The most striking difference, Sackton said, is in where those people are employed. For sport fishing it was building boats and engines, representing 82 percent of both employment and sales and it is very regionally concentrated. The NOAA report added that less than 20 percent of the jobs in the sport industry come from guides, boat operators, tackle shops and various rentals. For the commercial fishing industry, the value and jobs created are spread throughout the entire country; for the recreational sector, they are concentrated in a few states and industries. For example, Florida accounted for 30 percent of all U.S. recreational fishing jobs; add in the Gulf States and North Carolina and the number jumps to nearly half of the national total. The economic benefits of the commercial seafood sector also penetrate all parts of the U.S. and the economy. Unlike its sport counterparts, a fisherman in Alaska is in fact supporting dozens of other U.S. jobs in retail, wholesale, distribution and import sectors. In short, the facts negate the argument that recreational fishing has a greater or more direct economic impact than the commercial fishery. The economics report also breaks down information by region. In terms of prices, it shows that of 10 key U.S. species, sea scallops, Pacific halibut and sablefish received the highest ex-vessel (dock) prices in 2012 at $9.83, $4.48 and $3.42 per pound, respectively. Menhaden and pollock had the lowest ex-vessel prices in 2012 at seven cents per pound and 12 cents per pound per pound.  However, landings of both species were the largest in the U.S. at 1.77 billion pounds of menhaden and 2.87 billion pounds of pollock. Find a link to the fisheries economics report at Get your gear on The call is out for entries in the international Smart Gear competition! The contest, which was started in 2005 by the World Wildlife Fund, rewards new gear ideas that help fishermen retain target catches while letting marine mammals, turtles, birds or small fish swim away. This year’s competition offers the largest prize pool ever, said program director Michael Osmond in a phone interview. “There is a $30,000 grand prize; two $10,000 runners up prizes, and we also have two $7,500 what we call special bycatch prizes. One of them is a tuna bycatch reduction prize, and the other is a marine mammal bycatch reduction prize,” he said. The competition goes well beyond the cash prizes, he added. “The second step is to get those ideas to the stage where they can actually be out there being used by industry, and doing the job they were designed to do,” he said. WWF and its partners continue working with the gear innovators and to date almost 50 percent of the winning ideas from the competition are now out on the water. That includes the 2011 winners — from Japan, a double weight branchline that prevents seabird bycatch; from Florida, a Seaqualizer that lets fish with air bladders be safely returned to deep water, and from California — simple LED lights or glow sticks that keeps turtles away from gillnets. Osmond said 60 percent to 70 percent of the gear entries come from fishermen, as do the majority of winning ideas. The 2011 competition attracted 74 entries from a record 31 countries. Osmond said Alaska is always in the mix with three or four entries. “We haven’t yet had a winning idea that’s come from Alaska,” he said, “but this year is just as good a chance as any.” Deadline to enter the Smart Gear contest is Aug. 31. For more information go to Pollock opp flop It’s the peak time of year for jig fishing for cod and 60 boats have landed over 1.5 million pounds so far out of a nearly 6 million-pound quota. At the same time, jiggers can keep as much pollock as they catch. But so far it hasn’t been much of a draw. “No one seems to be taking advantage of the pollock jig fishery in the sense that they are going out and targeting pollock,” said Matt Keyse, a regional manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.  So far 15,000 pounds of pollock delivered by jig boats, which is about average, Keyes said.  “Every year jig cod boats tend to land between 20-30,000 pounds of pollock, and I expect we’ll be in that same range if things remain the same as they are now,” he added. The jig cod price at Kodiak is 35 cents per pound; pollock is closer to 13 cents. A dozen seiners signed up for the first ever pollock fishery and Keyse said he’s just waiting for the boats to show. “At this point we are waiting for someone to approach us and say they are ready to go,” Keyes said. “There has been interest and most people who signed up a few weeks ago indicated it was probably going to be late May or early June because most of those boats are out herring fishing right now. So anytime between now and June 9th a guy can try some pollock seining.” The Kodiak salmon season begins on June 9 and Keyes said there won’t be conflicting seine gear in the water. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut prices up; acidification is a problem for salmon

The basic laws of supply and demand are resulting in a nice payday for Alaska halibut and sablefish harvesters. Prices for both fish are up by more than a dollar per pound compared to the same time last year. Fresh halibut has been moving smoothly and demand is steady since the fishery opened in early March, said a major Kodiak buyer, where dock prices were reported at $6 per pound for 10- to 20-pounders, $6.25 for halibut weighing 20 to 40 pounds, and $6.50 for “40 ups.” At Homer and in Southeast Alaska, halibut prices have yet to drop below six bucks per pound, said local processors. Dock prices at Homer last week ranged from $6.50 to $7.00 per pound “for very small loads.” At Southeast, after reaching a high of $6.75 at Easter, halibut prices were $6.60/$6.40 /$6.10 per pound, depending on size. Processors are reporting “strong halibut catches and lots of nice fish.” The fresh fish is being flown out almost daily from Southeast and distributed in small lots to markets all over the U.S. Alaska’s total halibut catch this year is close to 16 million pounds. The higher halibut prices are likely due to the slower pace of the fishery and less fish crossing the docks. Just more than 3.5 million pounds had been landed statewide by May 2 out of a nearly 19 million pound catch limit. Top ports for halibut landings were Seward, Homer, Petersburg and Kodiak. For sablefish, commonly called black cod, longliners are benefitting from “bare cupboards” and strong demand by buyers in Japan, where the bulk of Alaska’s catch goes. Last year, holdovers in freezers pushed prices down 40 percent to the $3 to $5 per pound range, depending on fish size. Black cod is usually priced in five weights, ranging from less than three pounds to more than seven pounds. At Kodiak the breakout was $6.75, $5.75, $5.00, $4.50 and $4.00. Sablefish prices at Homer were running between $4 and $7 a pound. Southeast processors reported prices at $5.30 to $7 a pound at the docks. Alaska’s sablefish catch this year is about 24 million pounds. Most deliveries are going to Seward, followed by Kodiak and Homer. Snails on acid Argue all you want about climate change — even a Toys R Us chemistry set will prove that the oceans are more acidic. Now, a federal study is revealing its first findings on how corrosive oceans are affecting sea life — and it points to big trouble for pink salmon. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, announced last week the first evidence showing the high acid content in the Pacific Ocean is dissolving the shells of tiny free-swimming snails called pteropods. The tiny snails make up 45 percent of the diet of pink salmon; they also are a food source for herring and mackerel. Researchers at NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Seattle said the percentage of   pteropods with corroded shells has doubled in near shore areas since the pre-industrial era.  Study co-author William Peterson said scientists did not expect to see pteropods being affected to this extent for several decades. The number of snails with dissolving shells is likely to triple by 2050, he said, when waters close to shore are projected to be 70 percent more corrosive. The problem stems from carbon dioxide being released into the air by human industry that is absorbed by the ocean and becomes carbolic acid. When you combine the corrosion with increasing ocean temperatures, the entire marine mix is affected. “With a 10 percent increase in water temperature, which is what most people fear in terms of climate change, there would be about a 3 percent drop in mature salmon body weight,” said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA lab at Kodiak. “On the other hand, a 10 percent drop in pteropod production would lead to about a 20 percent drop in body weight. Obviously, the system is fairly dynamic, but the loss of pteropod population would be extremely detrimental to pink salmon.” Pinks make up Alaska’s largest salmon fishery by volume and second only to sockeyes in value. Last year’s pink salmon catch was a record 219 million fish valued at $277 million at the docks. NOAA research finds acid dissolving snail shells. Fish Watch Seiners and gillnetters were making their way through a nearly 28,000-ton roe herring haul at Togiak in Bristol Bay. Herring fisheries also were ongoing at Kodiak and Southeast regions. A fleet of 60 jig boats fished for cod and black rockfish in the Central Gulf. Prices were 35 cents and 45 cents, respectively. Trawlers were targeting other rockfish (there are over 30 species), which will add up to 15 million pounds coming into Kodiak. Pot shrimp reopened in Prince William Sound on May 1. The same day, the spring troll fishery for Chinook salmon got underway in Southeast Alaska. The 2014 salmon season will officially kick off when the reds and kings return to the Copper River. The tentative opening date is May 15. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Kodiak roe herring prices, participation, down

Kodiak’s roe herring fishery began on April 15 with little notice and rumors of fire sale prices. The fleet of 22 seiners was down a bit; they are competing for a harvest of 5,800 short tons, similar to the past five years. No gillnetters had signed up for the herring fishery. Test fishing from the east side of the island were showing nice roe counts, said James Jackson, herring manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “We are fishing a predominantly older age class of mostly nine year olds and it looks like we are hitting those fish right now. They are about 250 to 300 gram fish with 12.5 percent roe counts, so it looks pretty good,” he said. The female herring are valued in Japan for the amount of roe (eggs) they contain as a percent of body weight. As much as 90 percent of the males and female carcasses are mostly just ground up and dumped. Talk of an advance price of $150 to $200 dollars was the word on the Kodiak docks, down by half from last year. Virtually all of Alaska’s herring roe goes to a single market, Japan, where hefty supplies reportedly remain in warehouse freezers. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak was poised to take off any day with a harvest of nearly 28,000 tons. With the market in a slump and prices in the pits, some were calling for the fishery to remain closed. “It’s not worth going over there,” said Robin Samuelson of Dillingham, chair of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Association and a lifelong fisherman. “A lot of fishermen are saying we need to hold our spot in case the price comes up. I personally feel them fish are more important to the ecosystem at $50-$65 a ton than catching them. We need to look at how we can capitalize on that market.” The base price for roe herring last month at Sitka Sound was $150 compared to $600 in 2013. The price last year at Togiak was about $100/ton. But things are looking up! A bill just passed by Alaska lawmakers expands the Salmon Product Development Tax Credits to include herring. Senate Bill 71, sponsored by Sen. Peter Micciche, R-Soldotna, will enable processors to purchase equipment and make investments in more valuable herring products, such as canned, powdered, pickled and smoked. “There have been positive trends since this bill was originally enacted (for salmon) in 2003, including product diversity, increased state revenues from the fisheries business tax and increased permit prices,” Micciche said in a press release.  The bill also was expanded to include new product development from fishery byproducts. Quality guides Alaska’s seafood industry will soon enter into a 10-step program. It’s not a program designed to change bad habits; rather, it will help improve good behaviors by Alaska’s seafood processing workers as they turn fish into food. For the first time, Alaska seafood companies will have a 10-step training tool to help them standardize procedures for quality controllers. “This is such a critical point for the industry. You have no quality, you have no control,” said Brian Himelbloom, a microbiologist at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, a part of the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “There is a lot of turnover in the seafood industry and this is something that’s been talked about for a long time.” Armed with a $40,000 grant from Icicle Seafoods, Himelbloom and his colleagues will create 10 modules to guide a quality control, or QC, training program. Icicle CEO Amy Humphreys said “the training will ensure more Alaskans are qualified for quality control jobs, and help others advance their careers.” The modules will include onboard handling and quality of the catch, principles of HAACP (Hazard Analysis of Critical Control Points), practical seafood sanitation, seafood processing and preservation, adding value to seafood products, seafood safety and quality, sensory analysis of seafood products, quality control programs for both whitefish and salmon, and seafood byproducts utilization and management of processing wastes. The final module covers interfacing with regulatory agencies and recordkeeping in the seafood industry. “We need to reinvigorate that because there is a new federal mandate called the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which is huge on paperwork. It’s HAACP squared,” Himelbloom said. The 10 step QC program will be available later this year in print manuals and online. A matching Technical Vocational Education Grant may carry the program even further with a series of training videos.  Fish fizzle For the first time since 1990, the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce has called off its famous fisheries debate due to non-participation by candidates. Republican hopeful Dan Sullivan’s campaign claims a military commitment and fellow challenger Joe Miller has not responded at all. All candidates received letters of invitation in mid-January to the May 23 debate, which this year coincides with the annual Kodiak Crab Festival. The other Republican, Mead Treadwell, was the first to confirm, followed quickly by Sen. Mark Begich, a democrat. “It is unfortunate that some of the candidates weren’t able to work this debate into their schedules,” said Trevor Brown, Kodiak Chamber executive director. “I can imagine they are extremely busy and must have some considerable obligations to pass up an opportunity to talk about issues that affect such a large portion of our state’s population. It is a true loss to all the fishing communities in the state.” The two-hour debate, has previously been limited to topics relevant to Alaska’s seafood industry and broadcast live to every Alaska community via the Alaska Public Radio Network. Another fisheries debate featuring candidates for Alaska governor is set for Aug. 28 in Kodiak. All gubernatorial candidates have already confirmed their participation. Fish watch Ocean Beauty Seafoods has been awarded the 2014 Supplier of the Year award by Whole Foods Markets for consistently providing the grocer with Alaskan salmon and halibut. Whole Foods said Ocean Beauty’s fish products meet its strict specifications, and that it “admires Ocean Beauty’s partnering with port buyers to ensure fishermen are recognized and treated with respect.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon permit values on the rise; grant funds mariculture

Alaska salmon permits in many fisheries have tripled in value since 2002 and the upward trend continues. An overview of April listings by four brokers shows that Bristol Bay drift net permits are valued at nearly $134,000 by the State, and listed for sale at $150,000 to $170,000. That compares to $90,000 this past January. At Southeast Alaska, seine permits are the priciest in the state at more than $300,000. That’s an increase of $50,000 since January. The asking price for Prince William Sound seine cards exceeds $200,000 compared to the $140,000 range a year ago. After being stalled in the mid $30,000 range for years, Kodiak seine permits are showing a steady uptick, now listing at between $55,000 and more than $80,000. Chignik permits are moving up from the $225,000 range; at Area M/Alaska Peninsula, drift permits were listed at $100,000, up from $90,000. At Cook Inlet, drift permits were listed at $100,000, up from $75,000 less than a year ago. Looking at IFQs (Individual Fishing Quotas) – halibut shares have hit a $50 asking price at Southeast Alaska, the only place where halibut catches have increased in the past two years. (Offers are in the $45 range.) For the Central Gulf of Alaska, the asking prices for halibut IFQs range from $28 to $42 a pound and $16 to $20 in the Western Gulf. That’s an increase of about $6 dollars in both Gulf regions since January. Conversely, the prices for shares of sablefish (black cod) show a big drop in price from a year ago. Asking prices in Southeast of $22 to $30 are down from $28 to $34 per pound; likewise Central Gulf sablefish shares are priced at $15 to $30, down from $28 to $34 per pound. The decline is likely due to a big drop in dock prices for sablefish over the past two years (after reaching a high of $9 per pound for large fish), and a 25 percent drop in the value of the yen in Japan where the bulk of Alaska’s sablefish is sold, said Andy Wink, lead seafood analyst with the McDowell Group in Juneau. Get growing A new Alaska mariculture initiative has a mission to create a plan “to grow a billion dollar industry within 30 years.” That would about double the annual dockside value of all Alaska seafood landings combined. The ambitious project will be bankrolled by a $216,812 federal grant to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, or AFDF, one of 10 award recipients out of a pool of 250 as part of NOAA Fisheries’ national mariculture expansion policy. “We see it as a real opportunity that has been kind of struggling in Alaska,” said AFDF director Julie Decker, adding that the project will “broaden the concept of mariculture.” “We’re not just talking about shellfish farming or aquatic plants, but also enhancement and restoration. It’s a three legged stool,” she said. “When you start looking at the industry from that point of view, it’s a much broader impact and involves many different sets of stakeholders.” Decker points out many parallels between the mariculture initiative and Alaska’s salmon enhancement program, where the state backed a $100 million low interest, revolving loan fund so salmon hatcheries could get built and operate for several years. That gave them time to develop tax and cost recovery programs to help pay back the long term loans. “It helps people see conceptually that Alaska can do this,” she said. “Now we have hatcheries that have completely paid back those loans with interest, and are producing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of salmon every year. Alaska has done this and done it really well. And we developed something in rural Alaska where it is very difficult to make businesses work.”  Mariculture was approved by the Alaska legislature in 1988; today 69 sites are permitted but  only 28 growers are marketing shellfish, primarily oysters, with an annual value of half a million dollars a year. Alaska has two fledgling shellfish hatcheries – Alutiiq Pride at Seward and OceansAlaska at Ketchikan.   The initiative foresees Alaska grow outs of geoducks clams, scallops, urchins, abalone, king crab, Dungies and various plants. Starting this summer Decker said AFDF will begin harnessing statewide support from state, federal and university researchers who already are active in the field, and include community development quota groups in Western Alaska. “I believe there are things that can be grown out there, whether it’s an enhancement program or private shellfish farming,” she said. The potential for well-planned mariculture is enormous — New Zealand’s grow out of oysters, green mussels and king salmon is worth $400 million now and the value is predicted to top one billion dollars by 2025.  Science made simple Lifestyles of the small and toothy, not all waters are created equal, whales as sentinels in   changing marine environments, salmon excluders for trawl fisheries, economics of killer whale predation — these are just a few topics that people will learn about at next week’s Kodiak Area Marine Science Symposium, or KAMSS. “This is a pretty unique gathering of folks who have been doing research in the Kodiak area that work for state, federal and academic entities — all getting together and bringing their science back to the people of Kodiak,” said Kate Wynn, a marine mammal researcher at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center and co-organizer of the Sea Grant event. Nearly 40 presentations are scheduled over four days covering research from the bottom up.  “From zooplankton to crab research, through birds and mammals and humans and seafood science and archeology — they are all related to marine science and we put them in an order that goes from the bottom of the food web to the top and human dimensions. They just flow together,” Wynn said. The topics flow quickly — each presentation is limited to 15 minutes and five minutes for questions. Wynn said there is one other rule. “That they are presented in a way that anyone can understand,” she stressed. “Don’t overwhelm them with scientific details that you might use in a scientific symposium to your peers. These are school kids, guys off the street, tourists, and others in the community who want to know what you’re talking about.” Alaska Sea Grant has hosted similar “lighter side of science” symposia in other Alaska communities to highlight local research that touches people’s lives. Wynn said a goal is to make science enjoyable and not to scare people away. “We’ve actually had discussions about even using the word science in the symposium name. It can throw people off and be intimidating,” she said. “We are trying to get past that because in a lot of cases these are just fun facts about things that apply to our lives.” The KAMSS event runs through April 26 at the Kodiak Convention Center. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Off-year pinks mean 2014 won't match record salmon haul

Alaska’s total salmon catch for 2014 is projected to be down by almost half of last year’s record haul. State fishery managers are calling for an all species harvest of just under 133 million salmon, a 47 percent drop from last year’s whopping 283 million fish.  A pink catch of 95 million in Southeast pushed the record last year and it is pinks that will bring the numbers down this summer. Pink salmon run in on/off year cycles and this year the catch is pegged at about 75 million, a 67 percent decrease from last summer’s 226-million humpy haul. Other projected catches for this year call for a 14 percent increase in sockeyes to nearly 34 million; 4.4 million coho salmon, and nearly 20 million chums. For chinook salmon, a catch of 79,000 is projected in areas outside of Southeast and Bristol Bay. Along with the salmon forecasts, the annual report released last week by the state’s commercial fisheries division also provides recaps of the 2013 season for every Alaska region. (All values are dock prices and will increase when post-season sales bonuses and other adjustments are made.) Some highlights: A total of 1,917 permit holders participated in Alaska’s salmon fisheries last year, an increase of 1 percent over 2012. The preliminary value of $691 million is the highest since 1985. The proportional harvest composition by species was less than 1 percent chinook, 1 percent sockeye, 3 percent coho, 84 percent pink and 11 percent chum salmon. Southeast Alaska fishermen again caught the most salmon at 112 million, the most since 1962, and 218 percent of the recent 10-year average. The ex-vessel (dockside) value of $238 million was the highest since 1985. Prince William Sound’s salmon harvest barely missed 100 million fish — all but about 7 million were pink salmon. At Upper Cook Inlet, the catch of 3.1 million salmon was down 23 percent from the 10-year average, but high sockeye prices pushed the value to $39 million, the eighth-highest value since 1960, and the second highest in a decade. The Bristol Bay total harvest was 16.4 million salmon, valued at $141 million, 26 percent above the 20-year average and seventh over that same period. At the Kuskokwim region, 469 permit holders went fishing last summer and took home $2.4 million at the docks. The overall chum run at Kotzebue Sound was well above average For the sixth year in a row, there was no fishing for king salmon in the main stem of the Yukon and Tanana rivers. Many of the 467 fishermen had great success targeting chums with dipnets for a dockside value of $3.5 million. At Norton Sound 124 salmon fishermen brought in the highest chum salmon harvest in over 25 years. For three of the past four years, the value has topped $1 million. At Kotzebue, 66 permit holders sold 2.5 million pounds of chum salmon, down 20 percent. A 15 percent drop in chum prices to 27 cents per pound likely caused less interest in the fishery. The dockside value of $689,163 was 16 percent above the historical average. The $23.3 million value of the Chignik salmon fishery was worth $307,076 on average among the 77 permit holders. At the Alaska Peninsula/False Pass, 150 fishermen shared a payday of $33 million. At Kodiak, 335 (55 percent) of the eligible salmon permits fished last year for a catch that topped 59 million, the highest since 1995. It paid out well above the previous average 10-year value of $28.3 million. Seiners accounted for 94 percent of the total Kodiak harvest with earnings averaging $304,105 per permit. Fish to Schools A push by Sitkans is aimed at getting more local seafood onto Alaska kids’ school lunch trays.  A Fish to Schools Resource Guide created by the Sitka Conservation Society is a sort of “tool kit” that outlines procuring and preparing seafood, legalities, tips and recipes. The idea was spawned two years ago at a Sitka Health Summit, a grass-roots effort sponsored by the community’s two hospitals, said Tracy Gagnon, community sustainability organizer for the Society and program coordinator. “The Fish to Schools Program tries to integrate the community into every part of the process,” Gagnon said. “It gets our fishermen and processors involved, our schools and children and parents, community members…I really think that’s what makes ours so successful.” To help make students more aware of where their food comes from, the guide includes a seven-lesson ‘Stream to Plate’ curriculum.  “It really brings salmon to life in the classroom and teaches students how the fish are connected to their lives, the community, the economy and the environment. That is something unique to our Sitka program,” she said, adding that salmon is served once a week at most Sitka schools. Prior to this year, more than 23 local fishermen and Sitka processors donated the seafood to the schools — but now they can be paid, thanks to a $3 million funding grant from the state. “It’s called ‘Nutritional Alaska Food for Schools’ (NAFS) and it’s a fabulous statewide appropriation that reimburses school districts for their Alaska food purchases, including seafood,” Gagnon said. (Credit Rep. Bill Stoltz, R-Chugiak, for sponsoring the bill.) Food for Schools money is in the fiscal year 2015 capital budget and Gagnon hopes it becomes a fixed item. “We are really hoping to see multi-year funding so schools have the ability to invest in infrastructure development so that they can process raw products,” Gagnon said. She added that the U.S. school lunch program has moved away from scratch cooking and most meals are heat and serve, highly processed products. “We are really limited on how schools can prepare food. Some have convection ovens so you can bake fish, and that’s how all of our fish recipes have been so far. But we don’t have skillets or frying pans,” she explained. “I think that’s one of the successes from this program is that we are breaking that habit. We are changing the current system and integrating local seafood that is prepared from scratch. So that is a really cool hurdle we’ve accomplished.” The Food to Schools program also is a boom to Alaskan growers and fishermen because they are able to have secure in-state markets. Seafood purchases through NAFS last year totaled 137,176 pounds by 25 Alaska schools or districts, led by Anchorage, Kenai and Kodiak. Sitkans hope their Fish to Schools guidebook will motivate others to come aboard. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Kodiak seiners get first shot at pollock; fish talk in Juneau

Kodiak seiners will be scooping up pollock in their nets starting this week. You heard right. Seiners have a chance to test the waters to determine if a directed pollock fishery makes sense for that type of gear in the Gulf of Alaska. Except for a small jig fishery, the only pollock fishery operating in state waters (out to three miles) is at Prince William Sound where trawlers this year have an 8.5 million-pound catch. “The initial seine opportunity will just run from April 11 through June 8 so we don’t overlap with salmon season. And during that time the harvest will be limited to 500,000 pounds,” said Trent Hartill, a groundfish manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. Pollock weigh three to four pounds on average. The proposal for the trial pollock fishery got the nod in January from the state Board of Fisheries to operate under a special “commissioner’s permit” Hartill said. “The purpose of that permit is to test the efficacy of seine gear in catching pollock,” he explained. “If it’s successful, it will provide information for the board to determine whether they want to pursue a full blown fishery or move in whatever direction they desire.” Roughly 190 salmon seiners are currently operating out of Kodiak and Hartill said there is lots of interest in giving pollock a try. The dock price in town is 12 to 14 cents per pound. “This is the time when they will have to actually get some gear wet. We may have quite a few that come forward and we may have no vessels,” he said. “April 11 is the deadline to sign up so we’ll see.” Legislature talking fish Lots of fish news this week from one end of the state to the other. It’s status quo for the Board of Fisheries seats — Gov. Sean Parnell has reappointed John Jensen, of Petersburg, Susan Jeffrey of Kodiak, and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks to three-year terms that begin July 1. No grumblings over those choices, which are expected to be easily confirmed by the Alaska legislature on April 17. Alaska lawmakers reined in a misuse of dude licenses, originally intended to let tourists experience “a day in the life” of a fisherman. Over time, salmon permit holders, primarily at Bristol Bay, were buying consecutive seven-day licenses for $30, half the cost of seasonal crew licenses. In 2005 when the program began, 47 dude licenses were sold; that number jumped to 1,344 in 2012. The estimated lost revenue to the state is more than $285,000. The new law will limit crew to one temporary license per year. It was sponsored by Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer. Back to the Bay Sue Aspelund will take the helm as director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, operated and funded by more than 1,850 salmon driftnetters. She retired in January after six years as deputy director of Fish and Game’s commercial fisheries division. From 1998 to 2003, Aspelund served as director of Cordova District Fishermen United, which represents Copper River and Prince William Sound harvesters. Her new role will be a sort of homecoming — from 1980 to 2003 Aspelund owned and operated a salmon setnet operation on the Naknek River. Fishing break Fishermen way out west got a break when NOAA Fisheries changed course and agreed to relax some restrictions in the western and central Aleutian Islands aimed at protecting food and habitat needs for Steller sea lions. The Atka mackerel and Pacific cod fisheries have been closed in those regions for three years, at a loss to the industry of $65 million per year. The agency estimates that the proposed fishery management changes would relieve roughly two-thirds of the economic burden imposed on Aleutian Islands’ fishermen by sea lion protection measures that took effect in 2011. New regulations should be set by next January. NOAA Fisheries also decreed last week that a listing of the Southeast Alaska herring population near Lynn Canal does not warrant an endangered species listing. The Juneau Group of the Sierra Club petitioned NOAA to list that stock in 2007. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Board nominations in; Southeast herring fishery finished

Nine names are vying for three seats on the state Board of Fisheries, including six newcomers.  That gives Governor Parnell the unique opportunity to replace a majority of the seven-member Fish Board, should he choose to do so, and should the Alaska legislature go along with it — an unlikely scenario.  It took filing a Freedom of Information request and a 10-day wait to get the names of the Fish Board hopefuls, said veteran legislative watchdog Bob Tkacz in his weekly Laws for the Sea. They include the three incumbents — John Jensen of Petersburg, Sue Jeffrey of Kodiak, and Reed Morisky of Fairbanks. The hopefuls included: Alan Gross of Petersburg, an orthopedic surgeon and new commercial fishing skipper; Dean Scott Risley, a 26-year gillnetter from Haines; Harvey Kitka, a hand troller and Sitka Tribal council member; William Kuhlmann, a retired Bristol Bay setnetter now living in Eagle River; Thane Humphrey, a business/training entrepreneur and outdoor survival expert from Anchorage, and Cary Jones, a Juneau chiropractor. The Legislature has scheduled a joint session for April 11 to vote on all confirmations. Tops to the Rock Kodiak will be one of the first Alaska towns to meet Eileen Sobeck, the newly named NOAA Fisheries Assistant Administrator, often called the National Marine Fisheries Service. Her visit comes in response to a ComFish invitation from the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce; accompanying her will be Senator Mark Begich, well known for bringing D.C. officials to all corners of the state.  “She is anxious to come and learn more about Alaska specific issues and ComFish is the perfect event for her to really get a good sense of that,” Sen. Begich said in a phone conversation. “There is so much you learn when you go out to the remote communities.” Kodiak will provide an opportunity for Sobeck to see Alaska’s most diverse fishing fleet and busiest year-round working waterfront.  “On the fish end, there is no question that Kodiak is the right place to be and we’re going to give her a good education,” Begich said. As NOAA Fisheries director, Sobeck oversees the management and conservation of all marine life in U.S. waters, from coastal habitat to humpback whales and everything in between.  She is scheduled to spend two days in Kodiak starting April 17. See the line up at Sobeck will also visit the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in Anchorage prior to her Kodiak visit. Long haul for crab science Alaska’s golden king crab fleet plans to undertake the largest survey ever covering the entire range of the Aleutian Islands golden king crab stock — an 800-mile span from Dutch Harbor to Atka. “It is exciting to think that for the first time we will have a good index of the size of the golden population, the age and sex structure, the distribution and how deep they go and what proportion of the population occurs at different depths,” said John Hilsinger, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation. Through 2006 state managers surveyed a small area of the Aleutians, but there’s been no budget since to assess the far flung crab stocks. The foundation formed two years ago and its harvester members partner with biologists during the golden king crab fishery. “We plan to design the survey for the entire area, and then start off the first year by doing a portion of it to prove the concept and make sure it works and integrates well with the fishermen. Then we’ll spread it out,” Hilsinger said.    The expanded surveys will start yielding meaningful results in three to five years, and it could be 10 years before a proven track record of the population can be modeled over time. “The crabbers are very committed to help over that time frame. That’s a real major contribution by the fleet,” he added.   The Aleutians golden king crab fishery harvest has operated under a six million pound fixed cap for decades, and crabbers believe the catch could be higher. Eventually, goldens could overtake Bristol Bay and become Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. If the survey gets the nod by stakeholders in May, it will begin when the fishery opens in mid-August. Fish watch Herring seiners at Sitka Sound last week landed close to their 16,000-ton quota and roe counts were high – the only thing missing is a price. Lots of herring roe remains in the freezers of Alaska’s single customer, Japan, who had yet to make an advance price offer. Last year Sitka fishermen averaged about $500 per ton; talk on the dock last week put it closer to $150.  Conversely, freezers of sablefish (black cod) have emptied and pushed up prices for those prized fish. reports fishermen’s prices at Southeast Alaska at $5.25 for 5-7 pounders, $4.50 for 4- to 5-pound fish, and $3.75 for 3- to 4-pound fish. Buyers report good interest in sablefish and more demand is coming from U.S. restaurants. Last year about 70 percent of Alaska sablefish went to Japan, down from nearly 100 percent a few years ago. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut fishery underway; seafood sales increase for Lent

March 5 marked the start of Lent, a time of fasting, soul searching and repentance for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world. And what the burst in the holiday sales season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means the same to the seafood industry. The 40-day Lenten season, which this year runs from March 5 to Easter Sunday on April 20, dates back to the 4th century, and it has been customary to forego meat ever since. While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the so-called “whitefish” species, such as cod, pollock, flounders, and halibut. Food Services of America reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top selling season for the entire year. (Ash Wednesday is so called from the ritual of placing ashes from burned palm branches on the forehead to symbolize “that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.”) Overall, Americans ate more seafood during Lent in 2013 than in previous years, according to Nation’s Restaurant News. GrubHub, the nation’s top online and mobile food-ordering company which works with nearly 30,000 restaurants in 600 cities, said the number of people eating fish on Fridays increased by 20 percent during Lent last year since 2011. The Filet-O-Fish sandwich, which was launched by McDonald’s on Good Friday, is made with Alaska pollock and sales top 300 million a year. Nearly 25 percent of the fish sandwiches each year are sold during Lent. No matter what the seafood favorite, the long Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 60 percent of the wild-caught seafood to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores. Halibut’s here Alaska longliners are ready to haul in the year’s first fresh halibut with the March 8 start of the fishery. Alaska’s halibut catch of roughly 19 million pounds is down about 11 percent. Sablefish, or black cod, also opens on March 8. That quota was reduced by 10 percent this year to just under 34 million pounds.  Less overall fish might bump up dock prices, but it will take a week or so for markets to settle out. Buyer resistance to the high priced fish came into play last year and sales started off slowly.  The first fresh landings last year fetched $5.25 to $5.75 at major ports, then dropped about a dollar in the first week. Likewise, starting sablefish prices were down by 40 percent, ranging from $3 to $5 across five sizes. As a price watch: Last year’s average Alaska fish prices were $5.06 per pound for halibut and $2.84 per pound for sablefish. That compares to $5.87 and $4.11 in 2012. Alaska fishermen provide more than 95 percent of our nation’s halibut and over 70 percent of the sablefish.  Switching to herring The upcoming roe herring harvest at Sitka Sound has been clipped to 16,333 tons, about 1,200 tons less than announced in December. State managers are already set to start aerial surveys for signs of the roe herring run. Herring managers also think the warm spring means the fish might show early at Togiak in Bristol Bay. That is Alaska’s largest herring fishery with a catch this year at nearly 28,000 tons. A push is gaining steam to use all of the herring, not just the female roe, instead of grinding it into fishmeal. In Norway, herring is sold smoked, canned, pickled and more. Fishermen there get 47 cents a pound for their catch; that compares to $100 per ton at Togiak. A McDowell Group report showed that if male herring from Togiak and Kodiak fisheries were made into frozen fillets, the wholesale value would approach $15 million. Bring ‘em back Researchers at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center are tops at the work they do — the Center is the research arm of NOAA Fisheries. Their science forms the basis for setting Alaska fish quotas, running observer programs, tightening bycatch limits, to name just a few. But the Alaska Fisheries Science Center is located in Seattle. Juneau Mayor Merrill Sanford wants to bring those science jobs closer to the sources they study. “There are other places in Southeast where some of these jobs could go, and there’s also Kodiak which has a big fishing industry where some of the jobs could go. We want to look at all of that,” he said at a recent meeting. Sanford has created a task force to learn how those science jobs might be brought back to Alaska. Attracting more federal jobs to Juneau is an Assembly priority, he said, as well as lab techs and research vessels. “If we could move even a few to our own research centers in our own fisheries areas, I think it would be a big advantage to us,” he said. NOAA Fisheries has fewer than 200 researchers in Alaska, mostly in Juneau. The Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle lists more than 400 on the job. That’s a long commute to and from the fishing grounds. So how did the Center end up there in the first place? “That is where the geographical distribution of the labor force developed around the time of statehood,” NOAA spokesperson Julie Speegle told KTOO in Juneau, “and it’s mostly just been maintained there.”   The Assembly task force will reveal its findings in six months. Fish flash! Eileen Sobeck, the new director of NOAA Fisheries, will attend the ComFish trade show next month in Kodiak. U.S. Senator Mark Begich is bringing Sobeck to the event; it will be her first trip to Alaska. Begich frequently attends ComFish and holds informal, open meetings with all comers. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

West coast scallops are suffering from ocean acidification

Just as Nero fiddled while Rome burned, U.S. policy makers are quibbling over climate issues as bivalves dissolve in an increasingly corrosive Pacific Ocean. Any kid’s chemistry set will show that big changes are occurring in seawater throughout the world. As the oceans absorb more carbon dioxide from fossil-fuel burning outputs (primarily coal), it increases acidity to a point where shellfish can’t survive. It is referred to as ocean acidification and results in sea creatures’ inability to grow skeletons and protective shells. The process occurs much faster in colder climes. West coast scallops are the latest bivalves to feel the bite. Ten million tiny scallops have died in waters off Victoria, British Columbia, reported the Parksville Qualicum Beach News. Nanaimo-based Island Scallops, a grow-out hatchery with 1,235 acres in production, has shut down its processing plant and laid off a third of its workforce. That accounts for about 16 percent of B.C.’s total shellfish aquaculture valued at $10 million. Island Scallops started seeing problems in 2009 along with other Washington hatcheries, said CEO Rob Saunders. “Suddenly we were getting these low pH values. That level has been so stable that for many years no one bothered to measure it because it never changed. It was really startling,” he told the News. Early last year the company counted three million scallops seeded in 2010 and seven million from 2011, and was gearing up for processing. But the shellfish started to die and by July the losses reached 95 percent. Other local growers faced the same fate. “The high acidity in the local waters interferes with everything they do, their basic physiology is affected,” said Chris Harley, a marine ecologist at the University of B.C. Growers are artificially increasing the pH levels of the water that circulates through the hatcheries to protect the larvae, but that is little help to the shellfish once they are moved to the sea. The B.C. Shellfish Growers Association stated that the acidic ocean is increasingly having an effect on survival and growth of shellfish during grow out in the ocean, and that last year mortalities reached 90 percent in all year classes. Pacific oysters also are one of the most vulnerable to the ocean corrosion. In 2005, growers first noticed oyster failures in natural sets in Willapa Bay in southern Puget Sound, and production was off by 80 percent by 2009.  “The oysters still grow a shell; it’s just that it dissolves from the outside faster than they can grow it. So eventually they lose the race and they die,” said Bill Dewey of Taylor Shellfish Farms with 11,000 acre in Shelton, Wash. It is the nation’s largest shellfish producer with 500 employees. Growers there have learned that wind direction tells them when to plug intake pipes to the shellfish holding tanks. When the wind shifts from south to north, they know they have about a 24-hour window before corrosive waters show up. Meanwhile, Taylor is planning to move more of its oyster operations to Hawaii. Closer to home, researchers are seeing signs of corrosion in tiny shrimp-like pteropods — which make up 45 percent of the diet of Alaska pink salmon. Carbon dioxide has passed 400 parts per million, or ppm, in the Earth’s atmosphere, according to measurements taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory. That’s up from 280 ppm in the pre-industrial era. Halibut help Halibut researchers will test deeper and shallower water depths to get better data on the dwindling stocks, and more fishing boats are needed to help. Each summer up to 15 boats are contracted to help halibut scientists survey 1,300 stations from Oregon to the Bering Sea. Since 1998 the surveys have been done in a depth range of 20 to 275 fathoms where most of the fishing takes place. This year they want to check out different depths.  “We use the area from zero to 400 fathoms as halibut habitat, but our surveys cover the area from 20 to 275 fathoms,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “So we’re using the catch rates from our existing survey depths to extend into those areas. We know we are ignoring some habitat where fishing is going on, but we don’t have the data so we are extrapolating from our known survey areas into the unknown.” Leaman said researchers plan to expand the surveys from 275 to 400 fathoms and from 20 down to 10 fathoms along the Pacific Coast and in area 4A — the Bering Sea edge and eastern Aleutians region near Unalaska. There are four survey regions in that region and each one contains 40 to 50 stations. “That’s one of the areas where we are seeing an increasing amount of fishing going on below 275 fathoms,” Leaman said. “Actually, all of the Bering Sea has a significant number of survey stations that are in depths that we don’t currently occupy.” The halibut stock surveys occur from late May through August, and it takes three to four weeks to get the job done. It’s a chance to make a good chunk of change, said survey manager Claude Dykstra. Typical payouts range from $70,000 to $120,000 depending on survey regions. Boats also get 10 percent of the halibut sales and 50 percent of any other fish retained and sold. Vessels using fixed gear can submit a proposal at Fish watch March 8 was opening day for halibut and sablefish. Fishing continues throughout Alaska for cod, flounder and other groundfish. In a few weeks, the jig fleet will be the first to take part in a new small boat pollock fishery, and managers report lots of interest. The Bering Sea pollock fishery will wrap up in a few weeks with a half-million-ton catch for the winter season. Trawlers will be back on the water in June with a total pollock catch this year of nearly three billion pounds. Crabbing continues in the Bering Sea for golden kings, Tanners and snow crab. Seiners will soon head to Sitka for the mid- to late-March arrival of roe herring. They will compete for a nice haul of more than 17,000 tons. Small boats wanting to drop dredges for the new state water scallop fishery must register by April 1. The Board of Fish will hold its final meeting for this cycle from March 17 to 21 in Anchorage. Statewide king and Tanner crab and supplemental items are on the agenda. Fish bits The Alaska Department of Fish and Game will get a $2.5 million cut if recommendations by a House Finance Subcommittee are accepted by the full Legislature and approved by Gov. Parnell. That includes a 10 percent reduction in state funding for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or about $780,000. The ADFG subcommittee is chaired by Rep. Bill Stoltze of Chugiak, who recommended cuts by division and not specific programs, said Juneau watch dog Bob Tkacz in Laws for the Sea. The long awaited book — “Catching a Deckload of Dreams” — recounts the journey of Chuck Bundrant from deckhand to chairman and founder of Trident Seafoods, the largest seafood harvesting and processing company in North America. When he arrived in Seattle in 1961, Bundrant had $80 in his pocket. Currently, Trident has sales topping $1 billion, employs more than 10,000 people and its products are sold in over 50 countries. The book is authored by John Van Amerongen. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

IPHC tests pollock as bait to replace spendier salmon

Bait is a big expenditure for many fishing businesses and pollock could help cut costs for Alaska halibut longliners who fish in the Gulf of Alaska. Researchers have tested pollock in two projects to see if it might replace pricier chum salmon as halibut bait. Fish biologists use more than 300,000 pounds of chums in their stock surveys each year, costing nearly $500,000. The baits are used at more than 1,200 testing stations from Oregon to the Bering Sea. A pilot study three years ago in the central Gulf and off of British Columbia showed some promising signs for pollock. “We looked at several different baits — our standard chum salmon, pink salmon, pollock and herring. Pollock showed a very strong indication of both better catch rates and lower bycatch rates, so we were very excited about that,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission. In 2012, the bait project was expanded coastwide, and that led to mixed results. “One confirmed what we saw in the Gulf, in that pollock was a very effective bait there relative to chum salmon and we got good catch rates. But when we moved into the Bering Sea, we got completely opposite results where the salmon bait performed better than the pollock,” Leaman said. “In the Bering Sea, pollock is a very significant component of halibut diet, and we were speculating that it may be a sort of novelty seeing salmon down there as bait, and that may have been what the fish were responding to.” When all the raw data were statistically compiled and corrected, Leaman said the bait test results were inconsistent. “We do a number of corrections to the data to actually compare apples to apples across areas. One of the things we correct for is the number of returned baits and the hook competition among areas,” Leaman explained. “And when we did those comparisons, we found that the results were nowhere near as strong as with the raw data. The raw data showed pollock had much better catch rates, lower amounts of sub-legal fish and lower amounts of bycatch. But when we did corrections to the data we found that those results were not so consistent.” The pollock bait still caught fewer small fish, but overall, the halibut catch rates were almost the same as with chum bait. “That’s not necessarily a bad result,” Leaman said. “It’s just that pollock was not as grossly superior compared to what we had been using.” Studies will continue but for now chums will remain the bait of choice for science. Leaman does agree that pollock can be a good bait alternative for halibut in the Gulf. “It’s a good idea,” he said. “It’s far less expensive and can represent a significant savings. In fact, some are already using pollock right now.” Call for fish techs There is a severe shortage of fish technicians and biologists in Alaska’s largest industry, and it is a trend that is predicted to continue for at least the next 10 years. A new statewide outreach programs started last fall aims to fill the bill. “Some of the positions for fisheries technicians include fish culturists, fishery observers, fish and wildlife surveyors, habitat restoration technicians, stream surveyors, fishery management assistants, and hatchery technicians,” said Kaitlin Kramer of Valdez. She is one of six outreach coordinators located also in Petersburg, Kodiak, Homer, Sitka and Dillingham. They work for the University of Alaska Southeast; the Fish Tech program is headquartered at Sitka. “Our role is to reach out to the communities where we live and help promote the fisheries technology program, try to recruit students and facilitate internships with local industries,” Kramer added. Two training programs are offered — a Fisheries Technology certification and an Associates of Applied Science in Fisheries Technology. All classes are available to students on their computers. The classes are recorded online with instructors in Sitka and as long as they have an internet connection, students can view them on their own time, or they have the option of sitting in live as the class is being taught. Classes follow the college semester schedule, Kramer said but people can tune in when it’s convenient. She said most people are surprised at the wide range of good jobs in the seafood industry, beyond catching and processing fish. “A lot of people don’t realize anything about this degree, or even what people in the fisheries technician world do,” Kramer said. ´It’s fun to let them know that there are options available and there are so many opportunities throughout the state. This program is really trying to reach out and let Alaskans know that in every community, there is a related job.” The Fish Tech program offers scholarships and internships. Registration opens April 21. For more information call 907-747-7717 or visit SWAMC soiree Energy, fisheries, and politics will be served up at SWAMC’s 26th Economic Development summit next month. The Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference is a non-profit group that represents more than 50 communities, including Kodiak, Bristol Bay and the Aleutians. SWAMC interim director Erik O’Brien said the group networks with more than 100 members and their main connection is fish. “The one unifying need of the whole industry is making the most value out of our fisheries and seafood,” O’Brien said. “That is really the one single thing everyone has in common.” The three-day summit will cover a wide range of economic topics. “On our first day the main thing we will look at is how do you bring down the overall cost of energy. Day two will focus on developing our human capital in our education, training and workforce development systems and how we can make those better. Then on the fisheries day, we will discuss how the maximum sustained yield benefits the people of Alaska,” O’Brien said. Candidates for governor Bill Walker, running as an independent, and Democrat Byron Mallott will participate in a debate on the final night; no word yet if Gov. Sean Parnell will show. The SWAMC Summit runs March 5-7 at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage. Debate updates Kodiak is featuring two fisheries debates this year, an event that began in 1990. The first, on May 23, will feature Alaska’s candidates for U.S. Senate. Republican Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell quickly accepted the invite and Sen. Mark Begich is making plans to attend. No word yet from Republicans Joe Miller or Dan Sullivan, said Trevor Brown, director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the event. A second debate on Aug. 28 will bring the candidates for Alaska governor to Kodiak. The two-hour event is broadcast live via APRN to more than 300 Alaska communities. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

State DEC says seafood is free from Fukishima radiation

Alaska seafood is free of radiation stemming from Japan’s 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. That was the take home message from the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation to the state Senate Resources Committee at a recent hearing. Citing information from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Food and Drug Administration and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Pacific states including Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington, as well as Health Canada, “all have demonstrated there are no levels of radiation that are of a public health concern,” said Marty Brewer, director of DEC’s Environmental Health Division. She added that only small amounts of radiation have been detected from the reactor source. “There has been detection of cesium that is reportedly from Fukushima but at miniscule levels,” Brewer said. DEC Commissioner Larry Hartig said programs in the Lower 48 are testing fish that swim between the Gulf of Alaska, the West Coast and Japan, and they have come up with a clean bill of health. The DEC also is monitoring marine debris washing ashore in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound, Hartig said.  None of the debris that has washed ashore anywhere in the U.S. so far has shown signs of radiation. Fish behavior cuts bycatch Fishing gear experts are using fish behavior to take a bite out of unwanted salmon bycatch in trawl nets. Video cameras inside nets revealed several years ago that Alaska pollock and salmon behave very differently when captured. Salmon were able to swim against the strong flow within the net better than the pollock, said John Gauvin, a gear specialist who for decades has worked closely with the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska trawl fleets. “You would see the salmon moving forward in the net at times, and you would see the pollock steadily dropping back, with some ability to move forward but at a loss. They would move a little bit forward and then move a lot back,” he explained. Trawlers will soon begin field testing a so called “over and under” net device to see how it performs.  “We are pretty excited about this device and we are going to be doing testing this spring in the Gulf and then, hopefully, in the fall in the Bering Sea,” Gauvin said. A “flapper” excluder device, used by many trawlers since 2012, has resulted in a 25 percent to 37 percent chinook salmon escapement with very little loss of pollock. While it works well, Gauvin said the design is difficult to adopt widely into the fishery and takes a lot of fine-tuning. Finding “cleaner” gear that is affordable and adaptable will drive the future of our fisheries, Gauvin believes.  “What is interesting to me today is that in many ways, success in the fisheries is not so much of what you catch, but what you don’t catch,” he mused. “Fishermen spend a lot of time figuring out how to avoid things they are not supposed to catch so they can continue to make a living.” Fish = Healthy Hearts February is American Heart Month and the role of seafood and heart health is being featured in a nationwide media blitz. The American Heart Association has placed one million magazine inserts in major newspapers from Boston to L.A., and they include full page ads about the importance of eating more seafood. “The science is there to help all of us understand that eating seafood twice a week can be great for our heart health, but that message is just not getting out. So this is our first effort to work with health partners to bring a credible message to Americans. We are very excited about it,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, which promotes the twice a week message across the country. “I can see that people understand that seafood is good for them,” she continued. “The hurdles come from knowing how to buy it and cook it, and understanding the different varieties of seafood they can include in their diet.” Getting women across those hurdles is especially important for women (who do most of the home food shopping), as heart disease is by far the No. 1 killer of American women. Cornish said the Seafood Nutrition Partnership also is testing various outreach messages to see how they resonate with consumers — and to balance out negative messages. “What you are seeing in terms of the different messages on mercury and toxicity is very well founded; it’s just that you hear more of those messages versus the good news on seafood. So our initiative is to try and get more positive messages out about seafood and provide a more balanced view.” Pick the winners! The Fishing Family Photo Contest from the Alaska Seafood marketing Institute attracted more than 700 entries, and it’s now time to vote for your favorites. Categories include Best Family or Kids photo, Best Old School or Throwback, Best Fish, Best Scenic, Best Boat, Best Humor and Best Action photo. The Fan Favorite wins two Alaska Airlines tickets; other top winners get iPads. The winning images may be used in ASMI’s promotions in 21 countries Finalist photos are hosted in a Facebook app that allows visitors to browse and vote for the images they like best. To vote, “like” Alaska Seafood on Facebook at and locate the contest app in the upper right, or by visiting Each visitor may vote once per photo per day. Voting ends at midnight Feb. 17. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Debut of new seafood products planned at annual gala

Eleven new seafood products from seven companies will be showcased at the upcoming Symphony of Seafood galas in Seattle and Anchorage. In its 21 years the event has introduced and promoted hundreds of new Alaska seafood items to the marketplace. “Developing new products is really hard,” said Julie Decker, new executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which hosts the event. (Decker replaces Jim Browning, who retired.) “It costs a lot of money, takes a lot of time and attention, and sometimes the products are wonderful and sometimes they are not. So this event really helps companies determine how the market place is going to receive their product.” Entries always come from major Alaska seafood companies to small “mom and pops.” This year they include beer battered cod, a ready-to-eat grilled pollock fillet, all-natural Keta Salmon Jerky and Little Sammies in a blanket made with salmon franks. On Feb. 5 in Seattle, an expert panel will judge all of the products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Winners will be kept secret and announced after a tasting bash at the Anchorage Hilton on Feb. 13. All top entries — plus a grand prize winner selected by voters — receive a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March. Last year’s Grand Prize went to Zesty Grill Sockeye Salmon by Copper River Seafoods; the 2012 big winner was Kylee’s Alaska Salmon Bacon by Tustumena Smokehouse in Soldotna. New life for old fishery Small boat fishermen will have a chance to drop dredges for Weathervane scallops this summer. Starting July 1, state waters of Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Shelikof Strait and Dutch Harbor will be open to any vessel that registers for the fishery before April 1. Only four or five boats have targeted Alaska scallops since the fishery went limited entry 15 years ago, after waves of East Coast boats boosted the number to more than 20. The boats today are usually 70 feet to 80 feet, but 58-footers also have participated, said Wayne Donaldson, state regional shellfish manager at Kodiak. The total Alaska catch is usually half a million pounds of shucked meats. “You need a boat that has enough horse power to pull a scallop dredge along the bottom, and you need enough deck space to haul up the dredge and to sort out the scallops. So we will see how small the boats are that decide to jump into it.” Donaldson added: “Since it is all new we encourage anybody who is thinking of getting into the scallop fishery to give us a call or stop by so we can go over how the regulations are structured.” USA Strong Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, and a strong U.S. dollar means it will cost more for global customers to buy it. “The dollar is really strengthening against a basket of other currencies because the U.S. economy is doing better than many other places,” said market expert John Sackton of “So it makes imports of things like farmed shrimp, salmon or tilapia less expensive for the U.S. to buy, and it makes exports from the U.S. more expensive in the host currency, whether it’s Yen or Euro, Canadian or Yuan or whatever.” Each year between 60 to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported to other countries, and a strengthening dollar will make it slightly harder for Alaska to be competitive, Sackton predicted. “But I would think of it more as a headwind,” he added, “rather than a change in direction.” Aqua Awards National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Sea Grant plans to award $3 million to fund a national competition for marine aquaculture research projects. It is part of the ‘overall plan to support the development of environmentally and economically sustainable ocean, coastal or Great Lakes aquaculture,’ according to the grant website. Institutions of higher education, nonprofit and commercial organizations, state, local and tribal governments and individuals are eligible. Topical priorities for the fiscal year 2014 include research to inform about pending regulatory decisions, informational outreach tools, social and/or economic research to understand aquaculture issues and impacts in a larger context. Pre-proposals must be received via email to the National Sea Grant Office by 5 p.m. eastern time on Feb. 21. Tune in to fish meetings The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Feb. 3-10 at the Renaissance Hotel in Seattle. The meeting will be broadcast at The agenda will be continually updated with the associated documents.  The state Board of Fisheries is meeting through Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. The agenda includes 236 proposals directed at Upper Cook Inlet finfish fisheries. Those meetings also are available as they happen on the web. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Setnet opponents file appeal; Begich, Murkowski on Pebble

A measure aimed at banning salmon setnetting is being held afloat by backers. The ban includes the Anchorage area, much of the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. It would completely eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and affect roughly 500 fishing families in all. Lt. Governor Mead Treadwell decided two weeks ago (Jan. 6) to not allow the question to go before Alaska voters as a ballot initiative in 2016. The newly formed Kenai-based Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance followed up with an appeal filed in Alaska Superior Court. “In a measure based on conservation and Alaska law, our organization will challenge the decision to disallow our proposed statewide commercial set net ban in the urban, non-subsistence regions of Alaska from going to the state voters,” AFCA Director Clark Penney said at a press conference.  Alliance legal counsel Matt Singer called the legal opinion “incorrect.” “The decision by the Lt. Governor and the opinion by the Attorney General upon which it was based is wrong. They are wrong on the law,” Singer said. “The decision, should it stand, will set a dangerous precedent for Alaska.” The setnet ban is being driven primarily by the dwindling number of king salmon returning to Cook Inlet, which has curtailed salmon fishing across the board for several years. Removing setnetters would likely shift more fish to sport anglers and the drift fleet targeting sockeyes. Treadwell ruled it amounts to fish allocation decisions, which cannot be made through a voter initiative. The Alliance insists, however, that it is a conservation measure. Treadwell urged all users to find solutions, and to let decisions be made by the State Board of Fisheries. But Matt Singer countered that AFCA has no confidence in the board. “The board has not conserved kings, and the voters have a right to express their will,” he asserted. Cook Inlet sport fishermen would not oppose restrictions in the name of king conservation, said AFCA President Joe Connors. Alliance founder and sport fish icon Bob Penney said he recognizes the importance of commercial fishing in Alaska, but alleged that setnets have the “highest bycatch” of any fishing in state waters. Penney called setnets an “inappropriate gear” when king salmon numbers were steadily dwindling. “You don’t wait till the kings are gone to say we should have done something,” Penney said. “Now is the time to protect the fish. Conservation of the fish comes first.” The setnet ban is widely opposed by other Alaska fishing groups and the city and borough of Kenai. The Alliance hopes to fast track the setnet ban case, Singer said, so that a decision is made in the next few months. Pebble point/counterpoint Reactions last week by Alaska’s U.S. senators differed widely to the Environmental Protection Agency’s conclusion that the Pebble Mine would be “devastating” to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and Native culture. That sets the stage for the agency to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to permanently ban mining in the region. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was critical of what she terms a ‘pre-emptive’ veto and not following a clear process. “I had expressed concern about an effort to prejudge where there has not been a plan that is clearly delineated, permit applications have not been made and the required analysis completed,” she said in a phone conversation. “The project is not located on federal lands, it’s on state lands and you have a federal agency weighing in ahead of such time as there has been a clear project outlined.” The EPA weighed in at the request of more than a dozen Alaska Native tribes in the Southwest region. Sen. Mark Begich had a different stance, calling Pebble “the wrong mine in the wrong place.”  The “science” drove his decision, Begich said, and a visit to Red Dog, an open pit zinc mine near Kotzebue that he supports, reinforced it. “In my view, that specific type of mine could devastate the long term subsistence, commercial and recreational fisheries, and I felt it was not worth trading off a nonrenewable resource for a renewable resource,” Begich said.   Acoustic comments extended In a quick, NOAA Fisheries has agreed to a 45-day extension for comments on its draft study of how man made noises affect marine mammals. The deadline was set for Jan. 27 but extended to March 13 at the urging of Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who was irate when the agency put out its notice during the holidays and few people were aware of it. The “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic [manmade] Sound on Marine Mammals” will be used by federal agencies and other stakeholders to predict a marine mammal’s response to sounds exposure from activities including construction, shipping, resource development and military operations. Fish watch Alaska’s share of this year’s halibut catch will be just less than 20 million pounds, down about 11 percent from 2013. Southeast Alaska was the only region where the catch limit increased, topping 4 million pounds (between commercial and charter fishermen). The halibut fishery will run from March 8 to Nov. 7 Alaska’s pollock fisheries began on Jan. 20 in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. The Bering Sea catch will be nearly 3 billion pounds this year; another four million pounds will come from the Gulf, up nearly 45 percent from last year. Trawlers also are targeting cod and various flat fish in both regions. The Bering Sea snow crab catch has topped 30 percent of the 48.5 million pound harvest limit. Crabbers also are targeting Tanner crab and golden kings along the Aleutians. Southeast crabbers will drop pots for Tanners and goldens in early February. Fish bucks give back American Seafoods Company is again calling for applications for its Community Grants program. A total of $30,000 will be given to projects addressing issues of hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of grant awards range from $500 to $3,000.

Treadwell to leverage Arctic expertise in Senate contest

Good science should drive all fisheries decisions, and Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell says he has the chops to maintain a true course. Treadwell, a Republican who hopes to unseat Democratic U.S. Sen. Mark Begich in November’s election, paid a recent visit to Kodiak and “talked fish” in a brief interview. Few can claim Treadwell’s experience and understanding of the Arctic, where he has represented Alaska on U.S. Delegations in three circumpolar government groups, and been a director of the Institute of the North. He said he “doesn’t expect any major fisheries there anytime soon.” Treadwell called ocean acidification one of the “most pressing effects” of climate change, and “one of the toughest things to adapt to.” The solutions, he believes, lie in better technology. “I have always supported trying to make our energy cleaner,” he said, pointing to potential in CO2 sequestration technology and use of hydrogen vehicles. “I believe we can and must be a proving ground for some of these new technologies.” Treadwell added that he always has been a “tireless advocate for our oceans.” “But you are not going to find me, as a responsible official from a state known for three things:  cold, dark, distance — and where people are already paying too much for energy, trying to raise their energy prices,” he said. Treadwell has played a leading role in the launch of nearly every Alaska research center from Ketchikan to Barrow; he is a past director of the state Department of Environmental Conservation, served as Cordova’s director of oil spill response after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, and was a founder of the Prince William Sound Science Center. “I would come to the Senate with that background,” he said. “I am probably one of the most scientifically savvy people to have ever served.” On the fisheries side, Treadwell believes “knowledge is power.” He said his entire career has focused on “commons management” of resources, starting with his first job in Alaska as an intern to Wally Hickel when he unsuccessfully ran for governor in 1974.  Treadwell helped Hickel pen his position on the 200-mile limit, and he later wrote his graduate thesis at Yale on the limit’s history going back to 1937.    “I also am no stranger to the senior fisheries managers in this country. I have been part of the fight to get CDQs (Community Development Quotas) — and I will be there fighting with knowledge even if I don’t have seniority,” he said. Treadwell said he is “passionate” about protecting the livelihoods of fishermen and coastal communities.   “I think of our fishermen as some of the last free people on earth and I want to make sure we maintain that freedom,” he said. “To do that, it takes three things: make sure the biology is sustained, make sure any program works economically and you don’t drive the fishermen out of business, and make sure there is equity so that you keep fishing families fishing. My motto to any young person is ‘never leave your government alone,’” the Senate hopeful added. “If you do, they will get their own ideas and they are not always useful to you.”  Comment deadline flub No one appears to know that a deadline to have a say on how man-made sounds affect marine mammals is Jan. 27. Two days after Christmas, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, released its “Draft Guidance for Assessing the Effects of Anthropogenic (man made) Sound on Marine Mammals,” which seeks to improve understanding of acoustical impacts on the animals. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was irate at NOAA’s untimely “holiday surprise” in announcing the opportunity for the public to comment.  “This is a national issue, but when you think about Alaska, it is something that has the potential to affect our coastal communities, the maritime sector, the transit of all of our goods, the fishing industry, oil and gas — basically anyone who is out on the water,” Murkowski said in a phone interview. “It will include the noises of seismic activity from exploratory depth soundings, or driving piles to expand a dock at the Port of Anchorage or a coastal community.”   Specifically, the “guidance assessments” identify the thresholds above which marine mammals are predicted to experience changes in their hearing sensitivity from all underwater manmade sound sources. The document outlines NOAA’s updated acoustic threshold levels, describes how they were developed and how they will be updated in the future. It is the first time NOAA has presented this information in a single document. Murkowski has urged NOAA to allow an extra 60 days for the public to become more familiar with the draft report and comment. “If you are going to have good process and get meaningful feedback on such a complex issue, you have to allow for time to weigh in. We really need to have an extension,” she said, adding that she has yet to hear back from the agency. More information is available at Salmon permits soar The value of Alaska salmon permits are soaring in many fisheries. At Bristol Bay drift gillnet permits are being offered at $140,000, compared to $90,000 at the same time last year. A scan of listings by four brokers shows that Prince William Sound seine cards are more than $200,000 — they were in the $140,000 range a year ago. The Sound’s driftnet permits also are selling at more than $200,000. Southeast Alaska seine permits are the priciest at $320,000, up from $250,000 last January. Kodiak seine values continued an upward creep to $50,000 compared to $36,000 on average. Chignik permits are listed in the $225,000 range. At Area M on the Alaska Peninsula drift cards were at $90,000 and seine cards at $65,000, down slightly. Cook Inlet drift permits are being offered at $85,000 or higher, which is $10,000 more than a year ago. Cook Inlet seine cards are listed in the  $65,000 range and setnets at $16,000. Cook Inlet will be the focus of the Board of Fisheries when it takes up 235 proposals at its meeting later this month. Fishery managers have provided a list of frequently asked questions, or FAQs, about managing king salmon on the Kenai River in advance of the meeting. It uses the 2013 season to explain escapement policies, how salmon are counted, king salmon research and more. The Fish Board meets Jan. 31 to Feb. 13 at the Egan Center in Anchorage. Sessions will be webcast. Find a link to the FAQs at Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Pinks pushing salmon catch up; Domino's disses halibut

Alaska salmon catches are poised to blow past the pre-season forecast of 179 million fish due to a plug of pinks that is coming in stronger than expected. “We are going to be short on sockeyes by five million or so, and we’re probably not going to make the chum salmon numbers either. So we’ll have to go over with pinks, but at the rate things are going that is entirely possible,” said Geron Bruce, deputy director of Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries division.   As of Aug. 9, the total pink salmon catch had surged to nearly 114 million (the forecast was for 118 million pinks, 73 percent higher than last year) — and catches were still coming on strong. Three regions provide the bulk of Alaska’s pink pack: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. At Southeast, where 15 million humpies were taken in a single week, the catch had reached 43 million and it’s likely to exceed the 54 million forecast. “The next two weeks are typically the peak, so if catches stay at that level, that’s another 30 million pink salmon,” Bruce said. At Prince William Sound, the pink returns were so strong fishermen were put on trip limits due to a lack of tender capacity. Still, they took 10 million pinks in a matter of days and the total PWS catch was approaching 57 million fish (the forecast was just more than 38 million).  Kodiak’s pink catch had topped 9 million out of a 17 million pink forecast with steady catches coming in. Even the Alaska Peninsula was yielding larger catches than usual, topping 5 million pink salmon so far. At a dock price of roughly 45 cents per pound, pinks will really boost the value of Alaska’s total salmon fishery this summer.   “When you’re talking about the volumes in these fisheries, that really drives up the value rapidly,” Bruce said.  For the past couple of years, some salmon runs have peaked and waned early, as with Bristol Bay reds this summer. Bruce cautioned there is a chance that pinks could be following a similar trend. “But if the catches continue to remain high over the next week, we could end up close to 200 million pinks,” he said.  If so, that will break the record pink salmon catch of 161 million taken in 2005. Halibut hate Domino’s Pizza is getting heat from Alaskans for a new national television ad called “Powered by Pizza.” The ill-advised campaign claims pizza is “the food of big ideas” — and in doing so, the ad demeans halibut. The narration says: “At Domino’s we take our job seriously because we know Americans order pizza when they are building, creating and innovating. Without pizza, school projects and music albums might go unfinished…startups unstarted…No one is coming up with a world-changing idea over halibut. No way.”  At the same time, an on-screen actor takes a mouthful of halibut with a plastic fork, and then spits it with a look of disgust on his face!   Alaskans quickly let Domino’s know of their displeasure. Sen. Mark Begich entered the fray telling Domino’s they obviously have never sampled one of Alaska’s iconic fish, and urging them to stop being “a halibut hater.”  Jeanne Devon of The Mudflats blog fame contacted Domino’s and got a quick response from Tim McIntyre, vice president of communications.  “In no way did we intend to disparage the hard working men and women in the fishing industry… It was simply meant to be a bit of humor,” he said, adding that Domino’s was “sincerely sorry for any offense the ad caused.” But …the fish offensive ad is still running nationwide! Well. Domino’s is obviously oblivious to the fact that the adage “fish is brain food” is not just an old wives’ tale. Several studies in Europe and the U.S. have proven, among other things, that pregnant women who eat fish promote brain development in their babies. And elderly people who eat fish at least once a week are less likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. Now, that’s brain power! A “Team Fish” campaign is gaining steam and urging Alaskans to contact Domino’s with Twitter — using the hash tag “Powered by Halibut” or via Domino’s Facebook page. So far the response to the ad has reportedly been intense — and it is likely to remain so until Domino’s Pizza pulls the attack ad that treats halibut as an inedible food choice. Fish watch There will be even fewer sockeye salmon to meet strong market demand this summer. By now, British Columbia’s Fraser River reds are usually filling orders as the Alaska catch tails off — but dismal returns mean it is likely there won’t even be a Fraser fishery. The lack of reds will push up prices even higher. Alaska longliners have taken 61 percent of the nearly 22 million pound halibut catch limit. For sablefish, the catch tally was at 68 percent of the 28 million pound quota. Southeast Alaska’s Dungeness crab fishery ended Aug. 8, a week earlier than usual. That catch should top 2 million pounds and the dungy fishery will reopen Oct. 1. The year’s first king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound where 35 small boat crabbers have a half million pound quota. The golden king crab fishery way out along the Aleutian Islands starts Aug. 15 — that harvest will top 6 million pounds. Pollock boats are back out on the water in the Bering Sea; trawlers also are targeting cod, and pot cod opens Sept. 1. In the Gulf, pollock reopens on Aug. 25, mostly around Kodiak. Cod opens for all gears in the Gulf (except jig) on Sept. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska salmon back on menu for nat'l parks, Walmart

Holy Oncorhynchus! Any doubts about the brand power of Alaska salmon can be put to rest after the high visibility contretemps over the past few weeks — and the fish story has a happy ending. All of Alaska’s “powers that be” converged on Walmart and the National Park Service when both reportedly snubbed Alaska salmon over a labeling issue. Both Gov. Sean Parnell and Sen. Mark Begich sent letters to Walmart blasting the ill-advised decision, and Sen. Lisa Murkowski verbally (and very publicly) spanked the NPS for not following its own rules. The dust-up stemmed from Alaska’s decision to opt out of a pricey eco-label by the Marine Stewardship Council that since 2006 Walmart has used to guide its purchases of seafood from sustainably managed fisheries. The process is complex and can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to an industry or trade group — but a green label has become part of doing seafood business around the globe. The London-based MSC spearheaded the sustainable seafood movement in 1997 and can take credit for setting the standards followed by other groups in the fisheries certifying business. Ironically, Alaska salmon was the MSC’s first “poster fish,” but the state and industry are in the process of transitioning to another fisheries certifier called Global Trust. A routine letter sent to its seafood suppliers whipped things up at Walmart, said Chris Schraeder, senior manager of sustainability communications. “The letter contained a footnote saying that at this point, Alaska salmon did not have an equivalent certification. People interpreted that to mean that Walmart would no longer be purchasing Alaska salmon,” Schraeder said in a phone call from Walmart’s Arkansas headquarters. It is the first time Walmart has found itself in this type of eco-incident, he added, saying that the company commissioned two studies earlier this year to review the standards of other certifiers to make sure the company can deliver on its earth friendly fishing commitment. “What we are really asking is for (Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute), and others who are closely involved in the industry to educate us and give us information so we can make a sound assessment,” Schraeder said. “We are proud to offer Alaska salmon in our stores,” said Andrea Thomas, senior vice president of sustainability. “It is important to us because we know it is important to our customers.” Walmart last week invited Alaska to send a team to its headquarters “to educate senior executives and buyers about Alaska’s sustainable fisheries and management practices,” Gov. Parnell said in a press release. Meanwhile, Sen. Murkowski followed up with U.S. Department of Interior National Park Service officials to make sure that Alaska salmon can be on the menus at food outlets at nearly 130 parks and monuments nationwide.   The senator grilled NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and he conceded: “What I am willing to do is change the guidelines so it includes Alaska wild caught fish. I think that’s the simple fix here.” After a meeting with Jarvis Aug. 2, Murkowski said she believes the perspective of NPS officials has been broadened, “not just for Alaska, but for all U.S. fisheries.” “We’ve turned heads in the right direction,” Murkowski said in a quick phone call, as she headed back to Alaska from D.C. for the August break. Salmon sales 2012 A snapshot of salmon sales through 2012 shows some good signs for sockeyes. The Alaska Salmon Price Report by the Department of Revenue Tax Division shows market prices for salmon by species, region and product. Here’s a snapshot of 2012 wholesale prices along with some telling comparisons: The bulk of Alaska’s salmon pack goes to markets frozen whole, headed and gutted. Those values for sockeye salmon continued to slide last year, averaging $2.89 per pound, compared to $3.20 in 2011. That trend already has turned around this year, however — the average price for frozen sockeye salmon ticked up a dime from January through April.  Canned reds jumped to $193 per case of talls, a $23 increase from the previous year. Lower supplies and strong demand should keep an upward press on sockeye sales prices throughout the year. Frozen pink salmon prices took a dip last year averaging $1.29 per pound, down from $1.44. Pink salmon roe prices averaged $10.29 per pound in 2012, an increase of $2.63 per pound and bringing the total value to more than $100 million. Pink salmon roe prices from January through April of this year topped $12 per pound.  Chums followed a similar pattern. Frozen chums averaged $1.38 per pound, a drop of 44 cents from 2011. But chum roe rang in at nearly $17 per pound for a total value of $120 million. And prices of chum salmon roe through April topped $20 per pound.  Happy Birthday, USCG Aug. 4 marked the 223rd birthday of our nation’s oldest sea going service — the U.S. Coast Guard. The USCG was launched in 1790 as the U.S. Lighthouse Service when the first Congress gave orders to build 10 vessels to enforce tariff and trade laws, and to prevent smuggling. At the time, that was the only source of revenue for the federal government. The Coast Guard was called the Revenue Cutter Service until 1915 when it was merged with the Life-Saving Service and received its present name from Congress. Back then, historians say rescuers would use small cannons to fire a sort of giant clothesline toward the masts of stranded ships. Attached to the line was a bulky pair of canvas pants, which sailors would climb into and be hauled ashore. In the Coast Guard’s Top 10 list of most memorable missions, the response to Hurricane Katrina ranks as No. 1. The Coast Guard is credited with saving more than 33,000 people after it took charge there. Two Alaska events made the list: the rescue of 520 people after a fire broke out and sank the cruise ship Prinsendam 130 miles off Ketchikan in 1980.  In 1897, six Coast Guardsmen set off from a Cutter near Point Barrow to save the crews of eight whaling ships trapped in the ice. Using dog sleds, they brought 400 reindeer to the whalers in a 1,500-mile journey that took more than two months. The single largest rescue effort in Coast Guard history was in 1937, when a flood on the Mississippi River led to the rescue of 44,000 people — and more than 100,000 head of livestock. Today, roughly 40,000 men and women serve in the US Coast Guard. They are credited for saving more than one million lives and counting. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Camera provides undersea views; salmon supplies still tight

If a picture is worth a thousand words, get ready for millions of undersea images — brought to you by a handmade, high definition undersea camera. “Alaska Cam Sled is a towed imaging system that takes a lot of high resolution pictures of the bottom of the ocean,” said Gregg Rosenkranz, a state scallop biometrician based in Kodiak. Rosenkranz and his colleague Rick Shepherd built the cam sled, which lets them experience a live stream of the sea floor while onboard a research vessel. They hail it as a non-invasive way to observe and collect data in real time. “We found out pretty quickly after we started doing this about six or seven years ago that there is a lot of other stuff down there, for example, a lot of Tanner crabs live in the same areas as scallops do.   “I like to think of it as a really stupid robot that does one job really well, and that is to take high resolution photos,” Rosencranz said. “It’s easier and cheaper than a lot of other ways, because it is towed. You’re not sending divers down there for example, who get tired out.” The Alaska Cam Sled will be showcased at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Sept. 26-28 in Kodiak. Fish cam fast track Meanwhile, Sen. Lisa Murkowski is pressing federal managers for faster action on getting fish cams to monitor catches on small fishing boats. “With today’s advanced technology, (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) Fisheries Fisheries can figure out an electronic monitoring system that works for small fishing businesses,” Murkowski said in a phone interview. An electronic monitoring system would replace fishery observers now required on halibut longline vessels during fishing trips.  “That is the one thing I’ve heard as I’ve been out walking the docks,” she said. “People take me onto their boats and say where are you going to put an observer on this vessel that has room for three, maybe four?”   Murkowski said it troubles her that a crewmember often gets left behind to accommodate an observer, which affects the efficiency and safety of the fishing trip. She added: “I understand the data is important. I’m just saying we can be smarter in how we collect it.” Salmon scramble A lackluster Alaska salmon fishery combined with shortfalls in farmed fish has buyers struggling to fill orders for US customers.   The statewide salmon catch has topped 81 million, less than half way to the 180 million fish forecast. It will take those hard to predict pink salmon to get us there — state managers anticipate a harvest of nearly 120 million humpies, 73 percent higher than last year.  The pink numbers are adding up fast — already half of the total salmon catch is made up of pinks, mostly from Prince William Sound (26 million). The biggest push is still to come from Southeast Alaska, where a catch of 54 million pinks is predicted this summer. Trade reports say that supplies for wild and farmed salmon are down across the board and prices are increasing for both. Notably, Alaska’s sockeye harvest was disappointing; at the same time, shipments of farmed salmon from Chile are on hold pending FDA inspections for a banned chemical.  ‘But’s up Remember two years ago when people were aghast at halibut individual fishing quota, or IFQ, share prices hitting $30 a pound? It’s gone even higher. A scan of top brokers shows the asking price has reached $50 for some IFQs in Southeast Alaska, with most going for $40 to $43 per pound. Prices for halibut shares in the Central Gulf were ranging from $30 to $38. For sablefish, quota shares in Southeast, were going from $26 to $32; slightly higher at west Yakutat — and in the $20-$30 range in the Central Gulf. Fish bits The year’s first red king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound, with a half million pound quota. The Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast will end August 8, a week earlier than usual, with a 2.25 million pound projected catch. The golden king crab fishery begins way out along the Aleutians on Aug. 15 where more than 6 million pounds will be hauled up. Pollock boats are fishing in the Bering Sea; pollock reopens in the Gulf on Aug. 25. Comments extended Noting the comment period falls at the height of Alaska’s fishing season, NOAA has extended the public comment period for the proposed halibut catch share plan for commercial and charter operators through Aug. 26. The plan, which will allocate fish between the two sectors in Southeast Alaska and much of Southcentral, is scheduled to be in place next year. For more information go to Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.


Subscribe to RSS - Laine Welch