Laine Welch

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 Seafood.com. “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 npfmc.webex.com. 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 www.alaskafishfactor.com 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 http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/acoustics/guidelines.htm. 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 www.alaskafishradio.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com 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 www.alaskafishradio.com 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 www.alaskafishradio.com 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. www.aaas.org. 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 www.regulations.gov. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Major fisheries management act up for discussion, revision

The rules that govern our nation’s fisheries are being retooled so it’s reassuring that Congress isn’t traveling in uncharted seas. Over 80 percent of Alaska’s fish landings hail come from federally managed waters, and the Magnuson-(Ted) Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, or MSA, is the primary law ruling US fisheries. The Act is undergoing reauthorization for the first time in seven years. First enacted in 1976, the MSA “Americanized” the fisheries by booting out foreign fleets to beyond 200 miles from our shores. It created the nation’s eight fishery management councils, and its laws dictate everything from fishing and bycatch quotas, catch shares, observer coverage, habitat protection and so much more. The MSA legislation is now in the lap of the Senate Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, chaired by Alaska Senator Mark Begich. “It’s the big deal – it really does dictate for generations to come the parameters for managing the fishing industry of this country,” Begich said from his DC office after launching MSA “listening sessions” in Kodiak and Fairbanks and next month in Kenai. The sessions are not designed as debates, but to “put things on the table,” he said. “Both the positive and the negative; what’s working and what’s not. So at the end of the day, we can look at it in a broad perspective and determine where and if we need to make modifications,” Begich added.  The main issues he’s heard from Alaskans so far include the lack of mention of subsistence needs in the Act, and the “need for balance” among commercial, sport and subsistence users.  Topping them all, he said, is the need to have fishery decisions driven by good science. “We hear over and over again — make sure decisions continue to be driven by science and not just some political decision, or who has the majority on a board or a commission,” he said. Begich is working with Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., the ranking Republican on the Oceans Committee, to schedule listening sessions in DC and across the country. “We want to make sure that we continue to develop fish policy that is not only good for Alaska, but good for our nation,” he added. Begich expects the MSA to be reauthorized early next year. Send MSA comments to [email protected] Frankenfish fight continues Senators Begich and Murkowski and Rep. Young all have come out strongly against the Food and Drug Administration potentially giving a green light to genetically modified Atlantic salmon. The fish, tweaked to grow three times faster than normal, would be the first modified animal approved for human consumption. No labeling would be required to alert consumers they are purchasing a GMO fish. A ruling by the FDA is expected this fall. “We are working double time to prevent that product from coming to the marketplace,” Begich said. “I met with the White House two weeks ago and expressed concern that the FDA does not know what they are doing. They are going to introduce a product into the marketplace that could damage this country’s seafood industry,” Begich said, adding that at a minimum, the man-made fish needs to be labeled. “It will be guilt by association. We already are hearing grumblings from major Alaska salmon customers in Canada and Europe. We cannot have this as part of this country’s seafood industry,” Begich fumed. He cited a recent bipartisan victory with a Murkowski-sponsored GMO labeling requirement being added to the Agriculture Bill. The measure squeaked by on a 15-14 vote, with Begich putting it over the top. “We are going to keep skinning this cat any way we can,” Begich said. Wal-Mart’s salmon saga The nation’s largest retailer has said it will not sell Alaska seafood if it is not labeled as “sustainably managed” by the London-based Marine Stewardship Council. The MSC spearheaded the sustainable seafood movement in 1997 — showcasing the good management of Alaska’s salmon industry as its first big “certification” success. More recently, the industry has opted out of the MSC program, believing the Alaska brand trumps a high priced eco-logo. “If I ask a consumer, do you want an MSC labeled salmon or wild Alaska salmon, I can guarantee what they will say,” Begich said.  He added: “Name me one other state that has sustainability written into its constitution. We are the role-model and the MSC used Alaska as its shining example of sustainable fishery management. We don’t need to pay high logo and licensing fees to an organization in order to prove something that we already know.”  Salmon sales through April Alaska’s salmon is marketed in several forms — such as fresh or frozen, fillets, roe and in cans.  The State tracks sales by product, price, production and region and reports on it three times a year.  Here’s a snapshot of the January through April 2013 wholesale compared to the same time last year. The bulk of Alaska’s salmon pack goes out frozen, in headed and gutted form. King prices bumped up by 90 cents to nearly $4 per pound through April. Frozen cohos averaged $2.54/pound, a 30-cent increase. Frozen sockeyes slumped below $3 per pound, a drop of 31 cents on half the volume. Chum salmon prices dropped from $2 to $1 per pound on double the sales volume. Prices for frozen sockeye fillets also fell below $6 per pound from January through April, compared to an average $6.25 for the same time last year. Chum fillets dropped by more than a dollar to $3.20 a pound.  Sales of canned sockeye and pink salmon showed steady price increases.  Hold onto your hats for the price gains for Alaska salmon roe! For pink salmon, average wholesale prices approached $12 per pound through April, nearly double last year. Coho roe ticked up from $9.90 to nearly $12 per pound. For chum salmon, the average roe price topped $20 per pound, an increase of five dollars from 2012. Fish watch The statewide salmon catch was nearing 50 million fish out of a 179 million forecast. Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch is likely to total a disappointing 14 million fish after the reds came and went eight days early. Alaska’s first red king crab fishery kicked off at Norton Sound last week with a half million pound quota. Southeast’s Dungeness fishery will close a week earlier on August 8 this summer due to low catches. Halibut longliners have taken more than half of their 22 million pound catch limit; for sablefish, 60 percent of the 28 million pound quota has been landed. The summer pollock fishery has reopened in the Bering Sea, with a total catch this year projected at nearly one billion pounds. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, is searching for a new International Program Director. Deadline to apply is July 22. For more information go to www.alaskaseafood.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon feed prices on the rise; strong chum landings on Yukon

Alaska spends more than $20 million on fish feed each year for its 35 salmon hatcheries — feed that comes primarily from anchovies caught in South America. Meanwhile Alaska seafood processing companies produce over 200,000 tons of fishmeal each year — for customers in Asia. Last year 33 million fish — 20 percent of the total Alaska salmon harvest — originated in hatcheries; in some years the figure has topped 30 percent. At Prince William Sound, for example, 73 percent of the salmon catch originated in local hatcheries. The most costly part of any hatchery or farmed fish business is the feed — it represents 60 to 70 percent of production costs. The bulk of the feed is made from ground up wild fish, such as anchovies, herring or menhaden — which totaled 870 million tons in 2011, valued at $350 billion.  According to Chilean fish feed company Camanchaca, fishmeal prices are set to increase 18 percent this year to $1,750 per ton, an 18 percent increase. Roughly 10 percent of global fish catches go to fishmeal, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO. It takes up to four pounds of wild fishmeal to grow one pound of farmed salmon, and the industry is facing increasing criticism to find other food sources. To the rescue in the search for alternative and sustainable proteins — insects! Tests are showing that all kinds of insects can be an attractive option in the global search for alternative and sustainable proteins. The FAO’s Animal Feed Resources Information System, called Feedipedia, claims that the high crude fat content in black soldier flies provide “high value feedstuff” for both fish and livestock. Silkworms, maggots, mealworms, termites all provide meal nutrients of varying types and degrees. Topping the list for best insect-based fish feed is grasshoppers or locusts (acridids) of any kind. Feeding trials on certain fish species showed that diets in which 25 and 50 per cent of fishmeal was replaced with grasshopper meal produced results as good as the control diet with100 percent fishmeal. All growth parameters measured for the selected fish were higher for the feed containing grasshopper meal than for those fed with conventional feeds. The possibility of recovering chitin from the insects used for fish feed is also being explored. Find the Insects as Animal Feed report at www.thefishsite.com. Dippin’ in the Yukon The first commercial salmon dipnet fishery on the Lower Yukon River is a resounding success. Seafood.com reports that landings by about 90 fishermen are approaching 40,000 chums so far. The use of dipnets is a new regulation passed by the state Board of Fisheries in January as a way to allow a chum fishery while protecting the Yukon’s dwindling numbers of king salmon. Over the past several years, the chum fishery has been held up due to chinook conservation needs. The dip nets allow for the safe return of king salmon into the river; not a single king salmon has been harmed so far. The Yukon chum run is extremely strong this summer and could top three million fish. The dip net fishermen are earning about $5,000 per week in the new fishery. Salmon competition Fresh salmon prices are up 47 percent from a year ago, and imports from Chile are at record levels, according to Urner Barry, the nation’s oldest market watchers since the late 1800s. Imports to the U.S. have approached 80 million pounds of fresh Atlantic salmon fillets, an increase of roughly 21 percent and an all-time record for U.S. salmon imports. Overall, the U.S. salmon market has expanded significantly, with strong demand and prices, although retail prices tend to drop off a bit at this time of year.

Halibut tracking tags need work; cod harvests increasing

June 20, 2013 It’s back to the drawing board for halibut iTags that will soon tell us more about where the fish travel than ever before. The internal tags, which were deployed in 30 halibut two years ago, were the first to test smartphone geomagnetic advances to track the migrations of fish. The tags record magnetic field strength on three axes and have accelerometers and pitch and roll detectors, explained Tim Loher, a biologist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “Without being able to tell whether or not your tag is horizontal, you can’t really get the axis of the magnetism. The invention of the iPhone pointed the way to make the pitch and roll detectors small enough to put in fish tags,” he said. The geomagnetic tags, which can record data every 30 seconds for seven years, are designed to give real time, daily positions on halibut and track them without any need for light, acoustics or communication with GPS satellites — all the information will be onboard when the fishermen catch them. But in the field tests, magnetism was the gut tags’ undoing. “The tags had some metal components inside them that were actually picking up magnetic charges and screwing up the calibrations,” Loher said. He added that a new metal-free version of the tags already has been developed, and will be deployed in Glacier Bay halibut later this summer by project associate Julie Nielsen, a graduate student at University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences in Juneau. Within a couple of years, the IPHC team plans to tag 1,000 or more halibut from Oregon to Attu. “We’ve got a lot of migration issues and we are trying to set our quotas and determine exactly how to assess the stock,” Loher said. “We know the halibut are moving but we are having trouble getting refined estimates of movement by size, age and regulatory area, so hopefully this will help nail that down. It’s going to be a really powerful experiment..” The IPHC will pay a $500 reward for the return of any geomagnetic tags (which are accompanied by external wire tags). Rewards ranging from $50-$200 also are paid for returns of halibut containing darts or wire tags. (Learn more at www.iphc.washington.edu)  Profiler payouts Water column profilers that provide ocean data are still sitting on the ocean floor and scientists hope to get them back. The profilers, purchased by the IPHC with a half-million dollar grant from NOAA Fisheries, were deployed four years ago at more than 1,200 halibut survey stations between Oregon and the Bering Sea. They measure salinity, temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll content, and the data is shared with many users. One profiler was lost off the east side of Kodiak; another disappeared on the south side of Adak. The 60 pound profilers are housed in a steel cage and could be snagged on the bottom or detected with depth sounders. “Particularly the one that is off Kodiak Island,” said Bruce Leaman, IPHC executive director. “It doesn’t have the floats on top but it’s sitting on hard bottom and you would get a little bit of a bump in there. The one that is off Adak Island, you can actually see the floats on your echo sounder if you’re going by.” The IPHC will pay a $1,500 reward for the return of the profilers. “We hope the money is incentive enough so people will actually go looking for them,” Leaman said. “It’s a small thing in a large area but we have some fairly precise location information and we would dearly like to get them back because they have important data, plus they are reusable and are durable pieces of equipment.” Daily salmon tracker You can now track Alaska salmon catches by region and species on a daily basis with Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s popular Blue Sheet. Starting this season, salmon managers made the change from weekly to daily catch updates from mid-May through September. A glance at the Blue Sheet through Monday showed that the total salmon catch had topped two million fish, most coming from the Copper River/Prince William Sound region; the remainder from the westward region. Along with the daily blue sheet, ADF&G also provides a weekly in-season summary that graphs the progression of commercial salmon harvests and compares it with the five-year averages. More cod coming The global cod glut is likely to continue into 2014 as quotas are expected to increase again in Norway, Russia and Iceland. Market expert John Sackton said the Barents Sea cod catch could increase to 993,000 metric tons. That is seen as a peak, based on the age structure of the stock, but when declines begin in 2015 they are not expected to be significant, Sackton said. Iceland has announced another increase in its cod quota to 215,000 tons next year, up 10 percent. Researchers said Iceland’s cod spawning stock is the largest since the early 1960s. In Alaska, Pacific cod accounts for 11 percent of total fish landings. Harvest levels from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska were set at about 320,000 tons this year and are not expected to change much in 2014. Unlike Alaska crab or wild salmon, cod has no special brand and is lumped in as a “whitefish” commodity. A portion of the Alaska cod pack goes to U.S. markets as fillets, but most goes to China for reprocessing. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Aleutian golden crab looks strong; Steller sea lions on upswing

Amidst the salmon fisheries starting up all across the state, several Alaska crab seasons also get underway each summer. In mid-June, the summer Dungeness crab fishery opens in the Panhandle, as does red king crab at Norton Sound. Those are followed in August by golden kings along the far-flung Aleutian Islands, which might soon take the title as Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. Unlike other Bering Sea crab stocks, surveys on golden kings have been limited due to distance and high costs. The deep water stocks have sustained a fishery for 30 years, but managers aren’t sure about what’s really going on down there. The golden crab catch has been limited with a conservative six million pound cap, and crabbers have long believed that the harvest could be higher — but the lack of research left too many questions about the overall abundance of the resource until now. An experiment by the crab fleet and researchers has revealed that golden king crab stocks around the Aleutian Islands are not only stable, they are thriving. “The fleet has over the years changed the pot mesh size to allow little crabs to escape. That’s great fishing practice, but unfortunately, it is not great scientific information. Managers have been concerned as to whether there is any recruitment of small golden crab into the population,” said Denby Lloyd, science advisor for the Aleutian King Crab Research Foundation, formed by the harvesting vessels. In the experiment, pots with small mesh designed to not let the little ones go, were put down next to strings of regular gear during the commercial fishery. (Golden king crab pots are strung together with long lines to prevent them from getting lost in the region’s massive underwater mountain ranges.) The results were very clear, Lloyd said.  “The regular pots caught good numbers of legal sized crab but not many sub-legals. But the paired research pots right next to them caught as many or more legal crab and very large numbers of smaller crab,” he said. Research will be ongoing and fishery managers will use the data in stock assessment modeling. The end result could be a new king of the crab hill. “With this level of productivity,” Lloyd said, “potentially those quotas will increase for golden king crab, we might be in competition with Bristol Bay for Alaska’s largest king crab harvest.” The Aleutian Island crab fleet also is helping with ocean acidification and handling studies. Lloyd had high praise for the collaboration: “Having the industry be this enthusiastic and having the agencies open up to immediate cooperative research opportunities like this, it’s really fun stuff. Steller upticks There is “strong evidence” that the numbers for both western and eastern populations of Alaska’s Steller sea lions appear to be, by and large, on an upward trajectory. That’s according to a May 15 technical memorandum by researchers at the Seattle-based Alaska Fisheries Science Center, which summarizes results of air and ship-based sea lion surveys from 2000 to 2012.   The upticks are good news. Since the late 1990s many Alaska fisheries have been restricted in regions where numbers of sea lions have been dwindling for decades, notably, in Central Gulf and areas farther west. The AFSC memo said that while the western Aleutian stocks still appear uncertain, numbers increased in the eastern and western Gulf of Alaska, and the eastern Aleutians. If those counts continue to tick up through 2015, some Steller stocks could be on track toward a down listing from “endangered” to “threatened” status under the Endangered Species Act. Conversely, in Southeast Alaska sea lion numbers remain on an increase, a trend since the 1970s. The surveys showed at least 1,600 sea lions moving from the central gulf to Southeast during breeding season, the memo said. www.afsc.noaa.gov Frankenbreed Studies from Canada show that genetically modified salmon can cross breed with a close relative: brown trout, and produce an even faster growing hybrid. Researchers at Memorial University of Newfoundland said the study highlights the ecological consequences should so called Frankenfish get into the wild. Ronald Stotish of Aqua Bounty, the Massachusetts and Panama-based company creating the GMO salmon, insists the risk of it breeding in the wild is “negligible.” The application calls for land-based, contained cultivation of all sterile female populations that will be reared only in FDA inspected facilities,” he said. The Food and Drug Administration will announce in a few months if it approves GMO salmon for human consumption. Congress is still debating whether the GMO fish will be labeled to alert American consumers. Speaking of labels … Should the government have a role in certifying sustainable seafood? The Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee, an advisor to the Secretary of Commerce, wants feedback “on the benefits and limitations of third party seafood certifications, and the potential for a federal government role.” Having a fishery certified as being well managed for sustainability has become a necessary part of global seafood commerce. Find a link to the MAFAC survey at www.surveymonkey.com/s/TZZHNZB Questions? Contact Keith Rizzardi [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Murkowski wants to see labels on GMO, plan from Pebble

Salmon setnet families were streaming out of Kodiak all week, heading to their summer sites to get ready for the June 9 season opener. Their departure wrapped up a busy week of Memorial Day festivities on “the rock,” including festivals, fleet blessings, a landslide on Cannery Row and visits by both of Alaska’s U.S. Senators. I caught up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski over a beer at Kodiak Island Brewery. She spoke candidly on several hot-button fisheries topics. It’s well known that Murkowski and the rest of Alaska’s Congressional delegation are strongly opposed to genetically modified salmon (aka Frankenfish), and have led the charge to derail its approval for dinner plates by the FDA. The “AquaAdvantage” salmon, tweaked to grow three times faster than normal, would be the first animal approved for human consumption. The public comment period recently closed on the issue, and Murkowski said the FDA decision should be announced “in seven months or so.” Should Frankenfish get government approval, it will require no labeling to alert consumers they are buying a man-made salmon instead of the real thing. The GMO process is categorized under “veterinary procedures” and as such, no labeling is needed. Last week, Murkowski was the only Republican to vote for GMO labeling requirements at a Senate hearing; the measure failed to pass by a wide margin. The U.S. is one of the few nations in the world that has not either banned GMO foods outright, or requires labeling. “What does that say to the American people, at a time when they clearly are concerned about food safety and what they are putting into their mouths?”  I asked. “It says we don’t think it’s important for Americans to know,” she retorted, adding that the thumbs down by the Senate is “not a final straw.” Murkowski said she is extremely concerned that the U.S.’s lack of GMO labeling will be met with backlash by world commerce. “Most of Europe says no to GMOs, so if we continue to have this attitude we will lose those markets,” she said. Murkowski revealed that people at recent Arctic summit meetings were “shocked” to learn that the U.S. is so slipshod about GMO products. “Especially those from Norway. They told me straight out ‘we will not buy any U.S. salmon if we are not sure it is not GMO,” she said. “It will crush our wild salmon market.” “Speaking of wild salmon,” I quickly interjected. “Senator, are you ready to take a stand on the threat posed to the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery by the proposed Pebble Mine? Alaskans are waiting to hear more than the stock response of ‘they must be allowed to go through the process.’” She responded: “As a policy maker who spends most of my days saying there is a process we need to follow, I have a tough time telling the State to chop it off at the knees. But I’ll tell you one thing — Pebble isn’t doing itself any favors by not giving more definition to its plans. They have documents to the moon, but no images or mine plans. The best thing Pebble could do is lay it on the table so we have something real to deal with. “As an Alaskan, I don’t like how this has pitted neighbor against neighbor, town against town, Native against Native. The longer it’s delayed, the worse it gets. We’ve got enough issues facing us, and if we are not working together, it will be tough to get anything accomplished.”  Fish watch Copper River fishermen were slamming the reds – after three openers the catch topped a half million sockeyes, twice what was expected. Conversely, the king salmon harvest of around 6,000 fish was disappointing. Prices started out at $4 per pound for sockeye and dropped to $2.50 most recently; the price for kings had increased from $6 to $7 per pound. Southeast trollers are back out on the water for spring kings. They wrapped up a slow winter season at the end of April, but king prices were higher than ever, averaging $10 per pound in the last months of the fishery.  Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak wrapped up last week with a catch just shy of the 30,000-ton quota, the best harvest in 20 years. Overall, 56,000 tons of herring were harvested along the coast from San Francisco to Togiak, nearly 20 percent more than in 2012. Poised to take off is the herring fishery at Norton Sound, where Icicle Seafoods has four tenders on the grounds for an 800-ton catch. Payouts there are posted on a sliding scale ranging from $100 to $450 per ton, depending on roe counts. Norton Sound also just wrapped up its best ever winter king crab fishery. The catch of nearly 20,000 red king crab was twice the previous record set in 1978. The 25 fishermen also got a record $6.67 per pound for the crabs that they catch through holes in the ice. Norton Sound crabbers will begin a half million pound summer king crab fishery in mid-June. Southeast Alaska’s summer Dungeness crab fishery kicks off in mid-June, and the Bering Sea pollock fishery reopens for the summer season on June 10. Alaska longliners by late May had landed just more than 7 million pounds of halibut out of the 22 million pound catch limit. Kodiak prices were all over, most recently at $4.50 to $5.00 per pound, with prices starting at $5.40 per pound for 10- to 20-pound fish reported at Seward. For sablefish, the catch had topped 11 million pounds out of a 28 million pound quota. Those prices continue to drop in Kodiak to $3 to $5 per pound depending on fish size. Watershed assessment comment period extended Public comment on the EPA’s Bristol Bay watershed assessment has been extended through June 30. The assessment is available at ww2.epa.gov/bristolbay. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. This article is protected by copyright and may not be reprinted or distributed without permission. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Fishermen receive some of value-added price increase

It takes quite a crew to get an Alaska salmon from “boat to throat,” and everyone along the line gets a cut of the catch. How that “value chain” has paid out in the past few years shows some nice gains for Alaska fishermen and processors. “We often get asked what share the fisherman retains, and how much each segment of the supply chain gets for salmon. The answer depends on the species, and the product you are talking about, and what gear type,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau who compiled a report for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Wink’s report tracks and compares salmon ex-vessel (dock price) payouts from 2008 to 2011 for fishermen and first wholesale value for processors, which typically is defined as the value of the product as it leaves Alaska.   The chain illustrates three examples, showing values from high to low returns for fishermen, with troll-caught kings topping the list. “In this case, the harvester bleeds and dresses the fish and adds most of the value before delivery. The processor basically just holds and ships out the fish, and acts as more of a distributor,” Wink explained.  For that reason, the chinook fisherman gets a higher return; 40 percent of the final retail value in that four-year time frame. The value chain for sockeye fillets follows a very different pattern. “In this example, the processors are taking on fish in the round, filleting them, packaging and freezing, they’ve got a lot more labor and capital expended. It’s the processors who are adding more value, and for that reason they get a larger share,” he explained.   Canned salmon follows a similar pattern in terms processors adding value to the raw product, he added. Comparisons from 2008 show nice gains throughout the salmon value chain, and the trend is likely to continue. “The share of the first wholesale value paid to fishermen has increased, and we attribute that to higher prices for salmon in general,” Wink said. “If salmon prices are higher at the wholesale level, processors are going to have more funds to compete for fish. And that’s what we see going on here.” Forecasts call for less sockeye salmon, meaning, “there might not be enough to go around,” which could boost those prices. And despite a big rebound by farmed fish from Chile, Wink said Alaska wild salmon prices are holding strong. “There has been some weakness in the frozen pink and chum market recently, but besides that, it’s been pretty good going. All the work Alaska has done since the start of new millennium is starting to pay off to keep our market share,” he said. In another sign of how times have changed, Alaska sockeye exports to Japan were down 72 percent last year. Not long ago, nearly all of Alaska’s red salmon went to that one country. Chile has taken a lot of market share within Japan, but there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of demand for sockeye from the U.S. market and the European market as well, Wink said.  New rules for hired skippers The practice of hiring skippers to fish for other people’s quota shares is set to undergo some big changes. In April 2012, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved a plan to limit the use of hired skippers who fish quota shares initially allocated to others when the IFQ plan began in 1995.  When the halibut and sablefish quota share program hit the water, federal managers envisioned a primarily owner-operated fleet that would reduce pressure on the resource, and provide entry-level opportunities for coastal Alaskans. But in the last 20 years, the number of hired skippers has surged from eight percent to 50 percent. Many of the absentee quota owners have been charging them high “rents” for their fish; that’s cut into crew wages and inflated the costs for quota shares.    A proposed rule has been published in the Federal Register that would bar an initial quota share recipient from using a hired skipper to harvest any halibut or sablefish shares acquired after a cutoff date of Feb. 12, 2010. Comments on the new rule are being accepted by NOAA Fisheries through May 28 via the federal site at www.regulations.gov.

Exchange rates make 2013 a mixed year for seafood exports

Between 60 and 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood is exported to customers around the globe, and the strength of foreign currencies against the U.S. dollar plays a big role in annual sales. Tracking by the Juneau-based McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute shows mid-year ups and downs for Alaska’s biggest seafood buyers. On the down side: The Japanese yen has taken a 20 percent drop versus the dollar this year – not good for Alaska seafood exporters. Japan is a leading buyer of salmon roe, pollock roe, surimi, sablefish (black cod), and crab. Likewise, the British pound has weakened by roughly 6 percent since the beginning of the year; the U.K. is Alaska’s biggest buyer of canned sockeye salmon. On the up side: Europe is Alaska’s largest export market for frozen pollock, cod, salmon and surimi. The Euro, the currency used by 23 countries, is trading at about the same value versus the dollar as it was at this time last year. Last summer the Euro was really weak, so this year could be better for exporters selling to the Euro zones. Exchange rates between the Chilean peso and the U.S. dollar impact trade prices for farmed salmon in the U.S., which in turn affects demand for wild, Alaska salmon — especially fresh and frozen pinks and chums. The peso is currently very strong versus the dollar — that’s good for Alaska, the report says, because it makes the price of imported Chilean salmon more expensive from an American point of view. Supply and demand also plays strongly into the import/export equations. For wild salmon, total harvests from major producers (Alaska, Russia, Japan, the Pacific Northwest) are likely to increase 8 percent to 20 percent over last year, meaning a supply between 2.16 billion to 2.38 billion pounds, similar to 2011. Alaska’s salmon harvest forecast this year is for 179 million fish, or roughly 820 million pounds. The Russian prediction calls for a catch of at least 727 million pounds, but the actual volume will likely be much higher, possibly topping 1 billion pounds. Odd-numbered years usually have produced larger pink salmon harvests in both Alaska and Russia. Japan is a major chum salmon producer (mostly from hatcheries), accounting for over three-quarters of Japan’s total salmon harvest. The country typically produced 450 million pounds of chum salmon or more each year, but poundage has declined in recent years, especially following the March 2011 tsunami. Increasing chum salmon production is expected to take several years due to the damage sustained by hatcheries from that horrific event. Roe rallies Salmon roe might not be an American favorite, but it’s a highly valued delicacy elsewhere. The main sources of salmon roe are pink, chum and sockeye, in that order. This year roe production is projected to total 27 million pounds, a big increase from the five-year average of 23 million pounds. Pink salmon usually provide more than half of Alaska’s total salmon roe haul and this summer nearly 15 million pounds of pink roe is projected, 54 percent of the total. Chum salmon are the second largest source of roe, producing a quarter of the Alaska pack. Chum roe is the highest valued, and about 7.5 million pounds should come out of the 2013 catch. For sockeye, the 34-million-fish projection should yield a modest 4.7 million pounds of roe. Salmon roe follows different market trends than other Alaska salmon products. According to fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp, that’s because roe wholesales into different end markets, and it faces very little competition from farmed salmon. Looking at sales trends: all Alaska salmon roe prices surged from Sept. through December last year. For pink roe, over 5.5 million pounds fetched nearly $12 per pound, compared to less than $8 on average for all of 2011. For chums, over 3.2 million pounds was sold at $18.76 per pound, an increase of $5 dollars per pound from the previous year. For sockeye 1.6 million pounds was valued at $8.97, up more than $2. In all, Alaska salmon roe had a first wholesale value of nearly $200 million in 2011; the sales totals for 2012 will be released by the state Department of Revenue’s Tax Division in early July. Got cod? Take it from the freezer, put it in the oven and in a half hour you will have a cod dinner for four, complete with your choice of Thai Curry, Tuscan and Chipotle Lime, Garlic Pesto, Teriyaki Ginger, Southwest Mesquite, Asian Stir Fry and Morney White Sauce. The new product was recently launched by Alaskan Leader Seafoods, or ALS, from its fleet of hook and line catcher processors. “We are very proud of this. It’s a big deal for an Alaska company,” said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing for ALS. “We are partnered up and rolling it out with DuPont Corporation and Multi-Vac. We are the first U.S. company they have chosen to put seafood into one of their packaging pouches.” “Blazing your packaging with Made in Alaska or product of the USA is a big deal right now. It’s definitely on the forefront of people’s thoughts when they are shopping, as well as sustainability,” he added. “Our success is the fishermen’s success. If we do well, we can get the prices up and it will help the fishermen at the dock.”

Salmon season ready to open with Copper River celebrations

It might still feel like winter but Alaska’s 2013 salmon season will officially get under way on May 16, when the first runs of reds and kings are scheduled to arrive at Copper River.  The season’s first fish will attract the usual media hoopla – helicopters whisking salmon from the fishing grounds to waiting planes, ready to fly them to eager restaurateurs and retailers in Seattle and other regions. New among the salmon groupies will be two Texas chefs who will fish for Copper River salmon themselves, then stop at the Alaskan Brewing Co. in Juneau before heading home to host a VIP dinner featuring the salmon/beer duo. The Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association and Alaskan Brewing Co. partnered to bring two famous Alaska products to the Lone Star state. Copper River’s projected catch of 1.3 million sockeye and 19,800 Chinook this summer will be part of an Alaska season total pegged at 179 million salmon, 30 percent higher than the 2012 harvest. Pushing this year’s higher forecast is a bumper run of pink salmon that could yield a 73 percent higher take of 118 million fish. The projected catch breakdown for other salmon species is 34.3 million sockeye, down 1 percent; for coho salmon, a slightly higher catch of 3.9 million, and a chum catch of 23 million, a 1 percent increase. Find all the salmon projections for this year at www.alaskafishradio.com. Capital fish When Alaskans think of Juneau they don’t usually think of commercial fishing, but in fact, the seafood industry is the largest private employer in the capital city.  Juneau is home to 800 fishermen, 330 fishing vessels and four seafood processors. Last year nearly 18 million pounds of seafood were landed in the city, valued at $28 million. On the national scene, Juneau is ranked 43rd of U.S. ports for volume of fish landings, and 39th for value. “The fishing industry, apart from our processors, is lots of individual, small businesses. If you compare it to mining, which is something Juneau is well known for; we have more employment in the seafood industry than we do in the mining sector. So it is very important in our community,” said Brian Holst, director of the Juneau Economic Development Council. That message will be spotlighted at Juneau’s 4th annual Maritime Festival on May 19, a celebration to remind people that they are connected to the ocean. (May is National Maritime Month.) The day begins with First Alaskans arriving from Douglas in their canoes followed by a traditional welcome and dancing. Seafood samples, donated by local processors, are dished out all day and Holst said that inspired one of the Festival’s most popular events – a filleting contest using rockfish and salmon. “As they were serving up the free samples, we were all mesmerized by the folks that were demonstrating their skill in filleting. So we found some rules from elsewhere and we had a wonderful event last year,” he said. Winning filleters get an iPad. People also line up for fishing vessel tours, Holst said, and for many it’s a first-time experience on a working vessel. “And that’s why we know it is very valuable. People see these things but they are off in the water, and if you are not directly involved, it’s easy to not really appreciate all that goes into a small fishing business,” Holst said. The line-up of May 19 events is available at www.juneaumaritimefestival.org. Fish funds Three Alaska groups merited grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or NFWF, as part of its Fisheries Innovation Fund. The program began in 2010 with a goal of sustaining fishermen while rebuilding fish stocks, and funds related projects across the country. Among the 15 award recipients are: $55,000 to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, for a project on halibut discard mortality. AMCC will conduct an industry-driven conservation initiative to reduce mortality of discarded, sport-caught halibut in Southeast and Southcentral fisheries. The project will promote and facilitate best practices for careful release of the fish. The Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association received $110,000 for a project that will test GPS data loggers as a low-cost alternative to vessel monitoring systems in halibut and sablefish fisheries. The North Pacific Fisheries Association was awarded $127,400 to test electronic monitoring on small fixed-gear cod boats in the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska. The project also will compare costs of electronic monitoring versus onboard observers in the fishery. Fish watch As of May 3, boats and tenders were waiting for the fish to arrive at the Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay. Kodiak fishermen had passed the halfway mark for their 5,600-ton roe herring quota. Final tallies at Sitka showed the herring fleet took less than half of the 11,000-ton quota. The herring were robust with 13 percent roe averages; advance price at Sitka was reported at $500 per ton. Halibut longliners have been on the water for over a month with catches at less than 4 million pounds out of the 22 million pound catch limit.

Catch shares part of plan to reduce Gulf of Alaska bycatch

Fishing industry stakeholders and federal managers in June will begin crafting a bycatch reduction plan for trawl groundfish fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. It will include some form of catch share plan, and as the main delivery port for more than $100 million worth of pollock, cod, flats and other fishes, Kodiak is closely guarding any giveaways. It’s similar to a chess game, said Duncan Fields, a lifelong Kodiak fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council charged with designing the new plan. “You have multiple moving pieces and every time you move a piece, it impacts all other pieces on the board,” Fields explained at a recent panel discussion in Kodiak. “You have your queen and your king — those might be your primary policy goals — but if you can get that pawn to the other end of the board, that becomes a queen. Sometimes the little components of a catch share or rationalization program can become equally as important as the big parts.” “The big question is how you win, collectively, as a community,” he added. “That revolves around defining the goals and objectives early on. At the cusp of developing a program for the Gulf of Alaska, we have to appreciate the long term nature of the decisions we may make.” Fields said he believes mirroring catch share modes being used so far in Alaska (halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab fisheries) “will not bring a good result to the Gulf.” Any new plan must be very inclusive, said Nicole Kimball, the State of Alaska’s federal fisheries advisor. “We need to recognize the interests and investments and the dependence of all sectors, so there shouldn’t just be a vessel-based program or one just focused on processor interests or the community. It needs to be all three,” Kimball said. In addition to bycatch reduction, the State wants the new plan to limit consolidation. “It’s understood that can have a very negative effect on community stability and employment opportunities in fishing, processing and all the support industries,” she added. Kimball said she is “constantly hearing” that the groundfish program needs to have improved monitoring and reporting, and it should also keep tabs on social and economic impacts of the management shift. “The Council has embarked on a collection project to get baseline data on those kinds of questions that don’t get asked on fish tickets, or from eLandings,” she said. The loudest and clearest message Kodiak had for Kimball was that any new program should not include permanent groundfish giveaways. She said the Council will explore many kinds of limited duration and allocative quotas, some never tried before. “We are looking at the ability to allocate quotas for a limited duration, and reallocate it after some period of time based on a vessel’s performance in achieving the objective, which is reducing bycatch,” she said. “No one has ever done this, it is uncharted territory, but everyone has talked about it. And so now we are going to take a serious look at it.” Catch shares: A 7-step program Like it or not, catch share programs are a preferred tool for federal fishery managers. (In Alaska, 80 percent of all seafood landings hail from federal waters, from three to 200 miles offshore.) For any fishing town, seven topics should drive the discussions for the new rules that will change local fisheries forever. Here is a sampler from a “nuts and bolts” list compiled by Duncan Fields, specific to Gulf groundfish: 1. Who gets the fish and why. Vessel owners only? Directed species or bycatch species only?  Would you distribute only by history? If so why or why not? 2. What kind of access right would be given to the fishery resource. Would access only be through co-ops? Would any open access fisheries be preserved as a way to address entry-level issues? How will consolidation be limited or restricted. What about caps and leasing and transfer issues? Would the number of vessels be reduced? Would there be a qualification based on vessel ownership, and for experience or active participation. 3. Who gets to process the fish and why. 4. Community interests — what do we protect: infrastructure, jobs, volume, taxes, local businesses, residency, new community opportunities. 5. How do we motivate and integrate gear conversions? As stewards of the resource, we have a responsibility to also think about habitat protections.    6. How will this new fishing program change current practices and the industry relationships built over time, between fishermen and their crews or processors and fishermen. 7. What is the mechanism for programmatic review and change? “These programs are all about tradeoffs,” Fields said. “It is all about making policy decisions on what is possible within the overall structure of the program.” Downsizing drift fleet? Should Alaska’s largest salmon fleet look into downsizing? That’s the question fishermen are posing in an informal buyback poll mailed to Bristol Bay’s 1,800+ driftnet permit holders. “We are not promoting it. We are wondering if it would be a good deployment of some of our time and effort — to learn more about it and how it might apply to the specifics of our fishery,” said Bob Waldrop, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. A permit buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the Bay fishery. That would bring things closer in line with the “optimum number” of between 800 to 1,200 declared nearly a decade ago by the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “There’s no deadline. This isn’t a vote it is just an expression of interest. No one is approving us moving into an advocacy position on this. We are simply looking into it and seeing how it might work in the Bay,” he said.

Legislature funds king research, other bills left in limbo

King salmon research money made it through the Alaska legislature this session but most other fish bills flopped. “The department asked and the legislature funded,” said Kevin Brooks, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “There is a little bit of repackaging, if you will, but there is a lot of money in this budget to do some good work on Chinook, and all species of salmon statewide.” Last November, in response to drastic reductions in king salmon returns and crippling fishing closures, Governor Parnell said his 2014 fiscal year budget would include $10 million as a first installment of a five-year, $30 million research initiative focusing on 12 ‘indicator’ streams statewide. That request was reduced to $7.5 million in the capital budget, Brooks said. “It is a very specific appropriation for Chinook salmon research, and we have a separate appropriation now for $2.5 million for salmon research, restoration and enhancement initiatives for Susitna River drainages, which is one of our indicator streams, so that one has been pulled out separately,” Brooks explained.  “But those projects together still total $10 million. And then we have a third project for $2 million that was added by the Legislature for Chinook salmon enhancement in northern Cook Inlet. We have some projects identified to make an impact in the short term on salmon stocks in the Mat Su Valley.” Only a handful of the other 20 or so fish related measures were passed by the Alaska Legislature before its April 14 adjournment. They included a bill about general procurement rules, a resolution opposing federal approval of genetically modified salmon, or to require labeling if it does go to market; and another urging Congress to fund three national security cutters and home port one in Kodiak. An official request asks the North Pacific Council to further reduce the take of Chinook salmon as bycatch by trawlers.  Fish measures left in limbo include a bill to give a priority to personal use fishing when restrictions are in place, and an act related to controlling aquatic invasive species and related funding.  In other legislative news, Gov. Sean Parnell plans to appoint another Bristol Bay resident to the state Board of Fisheries to replace ousted Vince Webster from King Salmon. The new member will serve during the fall and winter and face legislative confirmation next year. Nominees are being accepted now. Go for the roe Kodiak’s roe herring season got underway April 15 and the bust at Sitka has re-energized the fishery again this year. Boats are expected to top the 35 from last year, compared to just 17 participants in previous seasons. The fleet will compete for 5,410 tons of herring, similar to last year. Unlike other Alaska regions where roe herring fisheries can be over in a few short openers, Kodiak fishing can occur in 13 districts divided into 81 sections around the island, and the herring fishery lasts two months. “Kodiak is a big complicated fishery and it is very different, “said James Jackson, a fishery manager at ADF&G in Kodiak. “At places like Sitka and Togiak, they have large spawning aggregates and they tend to come in all at once, and you can catch the harvest limit really fast. At Kodiak there are so many separate spawning masses, and they spawn at different times, sometimes into late June.” Kodiak herring averaged $300 per ton last year and market reports say the price could be higher. Alaska’s roe herring fisheries occur all along the westward coast to Nome. Fish bug is back Chilean salmon reps are urging fish farmers to “remain calm” over recent cases of fast spreading ISA virus reported in two farming centers. They said rules are in place to fight the outbreaks following the 2008 crisis that ravaged Chile’s farmed salmon industry. Production got back almost to pre-virus levels just last year. There is no treatment for the ISA virus. Chile’s new outbreak protocols require the farming companies to kill all the fish in infected cages within 30 days. Chile is the world’s second largest farmed salmon producer, following Norway. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Prices drop for first halibut; Sitka herring closed early

Absent from supermarket fliers this spring have been ads featuring the year’s first fresh halibut, reflecting the anticipated push back by buyers to the high priced fish. “No ads in the papers. No excitement this year,” said more than one major buyer. In recent years, dwindling supplies of halibut helped push up dock prices to more than $7 per pound at major ports, and halibut fillets topped $20 per pound at retail. That’s not the case this year. The fishery opened March 23 and the prices for first deliveries at Kodiak were reported at $5.25 to $5.75 per pound with a 20 pound split, then after the first week, prices dropped to $4.50 to $4.75 per pound. Southeast’s first halibut prices were reported at $5.25 to $5.50, also well below last year. Lots of halibut is in the freezers and “everyone is holding fish,” said a Southeast processor. ”We’re still not moving a lot of fish even at the lower prices, so it’s a wait and see situation.” At 10th and M Seafoods in Anchorage, there was “not a lot of enthusiasm” for the season’s first halibut, which was fetching $10.95 per pound for headed and gutted, and $17.95 for fillets. “We’re selling lots more cod fish,” said owner Rob Winfrey. Just more than 1 million pounds of Alaska halibut was landed by 172 deliveries through April 5 with about 21 million pounds left to go. Lots of buyers are also still holding onto high priced sablefish, or black cod, and those prices also took a 40 percent dive at the start of the season. Starting prices in Southeast ranged from around $5 to $3 per pound the first week, compared to $8 to $4 per pound last year. Most of Alaska’s sablefish goes to Japan, where the yen value is down 20 percent. For sablefish, 1.5 million pounds was landed by 87 deliveries out of the 28 million pound quota. Sitka spawns out Japan also buys all of Alaska’s herring roe, but they will get less than expected from Sitka. State managers closed the fishery on April 4, leaving more than half of the herring unharvested. In all, the fleet took 5,600 tons of the 11,600 ton quota. This is the second year in a row that spawning has out-paced the commercial harvest at Sitka Sound, dramatically reducing the numbers of unspawned females, whose egg skeins are the money-making product of the sac roe fishery. No word yet on herring price. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery opens April 15 with a 5,410-ton harvest quota. Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery is at Togiak in Bristol Bay in early May. A catch of 30,000 tons is expected to come out of that fishery. Kings sink in Southeast The king salmon all-gear salmon harvest of 176,000 treaty kings is a decrease of 90,800 fish from 2012. The commercial troll preseason Chinook salmon harvest for 2013 of 129,862 fish is a decrease of 67,410 kings, down 34 percent. The numbers are derived from agreements with Canada under the Pacific Salmon Treaty. Hatch this A simple hatch and door monitor with displays in the wheelhouse is now available for fishing fleets. More than half of all fishing fatalities come from vessels going down. For example, the sinkings of the Alaska Ranger and the Katmai five years ago that killed 12 men both stemmed from flooding through open hatches. That highlighted the need for a system that provides immediate status of all openings aboard fishing boats, said Chelsea Woodward, a commercial fishing safety engineer with the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, a research unit. The inexpensive monitor takes feedback from the door sensors that separate water-tight compartments in the bowels of the vessel. “These sensors show up on a display in the wheelhouse that has a red light if the door is open, a yellow light if the door or hatch is closed but not secure, and a green light if the door is both closed and secure,” Woodward said. The monitors were field tested by the fishing vessels Lily Ann and Gladiator during several seasons in the Bering Sea and are now licensed and available to the fleets at Wapato Engineering in Oregon. Also in the works: a pressure type sensor monitor for slack tanks that is mounted in the engine room near the tank pumps, and a flooding monitor for the lazarette, the aft most compartment in a boat where the through holes for the rudder and propeller shaft are located. NIOSH is at ComFish April 11-13 in Kodiak. For more information go to www.comfishalaska.com. Land grown reds The world’s first land based, commercially grown sockeye salmon is headed to market this month from Willowfield Fish Farm in Langley, British Columbia. The farm plans to produce about 1,100 pounds of reds per week under the West Creek brand. The fish going to market weigh two to three pounds, half the size of wild sockeye salmon.  

Gulf catch shares debated; fishing remains deadliest job

A new plan is being crafted by federal managers for Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries that will reduce bycatch by trawlers, and it will very likely result in a catch share plan. Now is the time for fishing residents to make sure the new program protects their access to local resources and sustains, instead of drains, their coastal communities. Currently, the plan includes trawlers and those with pot cod gear in the Central Gulf and Western Gulf. “Catch share programs certainly can benefit the long term viability of the resource in a fishing community, but only if they are designed right and the long term health of the resource, the community and genuine bycatch reduction measures are built-in up front,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, a spokesperson for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s Advisory panel. Peterson added that it is really tough to add in community protections after a privatization plan hits the water. “We’ve all learned lessons from past programs, such as the rapid consolidation of ownership, reduced opportunities for crew and captains and shore support workers, the increased costs of entering into a fishery and the potential for absentee ownership and quota leasing,” she said. Using the same privatization model as with Alaska halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will serve to shrink fishing communities that depend on groundfish, insisted Seth Macinko, a fisheries professor at the University of Rhode Island who has spent decades studying catch share programs around the world. At a recent meeting with Kodiak City and Borough officials, he stressed the importance of being involved from the beginning. “A lot of this is being promoted via a ‘privatize or perish’ message, as if you don’t have any other alternatives. I think that is wrong,” Macinko said. “People are confusing a tool with an ideology, and the tool is simply pre-assigned catch. That is what makes the difference out on the water and you can do that in many ways. My message to you is that you have got a choice between actively designing your future versus saying it is too complicated, it makes my head hurt, and leaving it to others to decide.” One alternative is to assign fishing shares to communities, which then lease the shares to their local fleets. Alaska in 2002 set up a Community Quota Entities, or CQE, program, which allowed for 42 eligible fishing towns to buy quota and lease it to local fishermen. For varying reasons, there has been very little CQE activity. AMCC’s Peterson has been engaging with other fishing communities around the nation to see how they have adapted to the changes brought about by catch share plans. Fishermen at Port Orford, Ore., and Cape Cod, Mass., for example, have formed community associations that secure access to the fish and then redistributed it to active fishermen in their port. Members of those communities and others will make presentations at ComFish on April 11. The NPFMC will move forward with designing new management scenarios for the Gulf of Alaska in June. It will have huge ramifications for Kodiak, where most of the Gulf groundfish catches are landed. “Hopefully we can all work together to craft a program that really looks towards what we want our fishing community to look like fifty years down the line,” Peterson said. Fishing tops work fatalities Commercial fishing still ranks as the nation’s deadliest job – nearly 35 times higher in 2011 than the rate for all US workers. That’s the latest from the Center of Disease Control’s weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report.  For the decade through 2009, 504 U.S. fishermen died on the job. Over half died by drowning when their boat went down, and 30 percent from falling overboard. Another 10 percent were caused by injuries onboard, usually from entanglements in the winch, used for winding ropes.  The Gulf of Mexico shrimp fishery tops the most deadly list with 55 fatalities over the decade. The other most hazardous fisheries in the U.S. were the Atlantic scallop fishery with 44 fatalities; the Alaska salmon fishery with 39 fatalities; the Northeast multispecies groundfish fishery with 26 fatalities; the Alaska cod fishery with 26 fatalities; the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery with 25 fatalities; and the Alaska sole fishery with 21 fatalities. Find a link to the CDC report at www.alaskafishradio.com. Boost to medical benefits The Fishermen’s Fund is a program unique to Alaska that since 1951 has provided medical benefits to commercial fishermen hurt on the job. The Fund’s revenues come from 39 percent of commercial fishing license fees.  Last year the fund helped 700 fishermen and paid over $850,000 in benefits, said Velma Thomas, program coordinator at the Dept. of Labor’s Workmen’s Compensation Division in Juneau. In 2010 the benefit limit quadrupled to $10,000. The Fund also covers transportation, prescriptions and physical therapy and chiropractic treatments.     Thomas said the rules for getting the benefits are very straightforward: “They must have a valid commercial fishing license at the time of the injury. The injury must be directly connected to commercial fishing, and it must occur within Alaska waters. They’ve got to seek medical treatment within 60 days of the injury, and they must file a claim report within a year.”   Information about the Fishermen’s Fund is on the back of every commercial fishing license. The five-member Fund council is traveling around the state to make more people aware of the medical benefits, and will be in Kodiak in mid-April. For more information go to labor.alaska.gov. ComFish time ComFish is Alaska’s longest running fisheries trade show and the 34th annual event is set for April 11 to 13 in Kodiak. Find the lineup of exhibitors and presentations at www.comfishalaska.com. Next year, ComFish will feature its famous “goober debate” when all gubernatorial candidates come to town to share their knowledge about Alaska’s seafood industry in a live, two-hour statewide broadcast. Since 1990, every candidate running for governor has participated in the fisheries event. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut season off to a slow start: 'Just not fun anymore'

It was unusually quiet on the waterfront as the halibut fishery got under way on March 23. Most of the first fish landed goes to Homer, Kodiak and Petersburg, and processors there said there wasn’t “the usual chatter” and none said they had a feel for what’s going to happen yet with prices. Lots of halibut remains in the freezers and some major processors have reportedly unloaded the high-priced fish at a loss. In short, no one appeared very excited — catch limits have been slashed again this year, the fleet is unhappy about having onboard observers for the first time, and processors are not getting much interest from buyers. The term heard a lot is “halibut fatigue” — the high prices for halibut have shrunk processors’ margins to next to nothing, and “it’s a fight to push the fish onto people and demand the prices they are having to pay,” the processors said. Halibut, “is just not fun anymore,” said a Petersburg company spokesman. Last year’s prices started out near $6 per pound for larger sized fish in Homer and Kodiak, and at $7 per pound in Southeast. Within a few weeks prices dropped by 70 cents or more and then held fairly stable all season. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch this year is 23 million pounds, down 2.5 million pounds from last year. Every region except for Southeast is again dealing with big cuts, and the outlook for at least the near future is bleak. Meanwhile, the price to buy quota shares of halibut has reached $40 per pound in prime Alaska fishing regions. Hatcheries boost harvests Homegrown salmon are Alaska’s largest crop — but don’t ever refer to it as farming. Whereas farmed fish are crammed into closed net pens until they’re ready for market, Alaska salmon begin their lives in one of 35 hatcheries and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When the fish return home, they make up a huge part of Alaska’s total salmon catch. The state’s annual Fisheries Enhancement report shows that last year’s catches of 44 million hatchery fish were valued at $149 million dollars at the docks, or 28 percent of the total value of the Alaska salmon fishery. (That’s down from 37 percent of the value in 2011 due to the lowest returns in a decade.) Statewide, last year hatchery fish made up 67 percent of the chum catch, 36 percent for pinks, 19 percent for coho salmon, 17 percent of the chinook and 6 percent of all sockeye salmon. Prince William Sound has the most hatchery activity, accounting for 80 percent of the region’s total catch last year, of which 88 percent were chums and 84 percent were pinks. In the Sound, 44 percent of the sockeye catch was from hatcheries and 5 percent of the cohos. In all, those fish were valued at $71 million, 63 percent of the Sound’s salmon value. Southeast ranks second for hatchery fish, which accounted for 27 percent of that region’s salmon catch. Eighty-four percent of the fish were chums, 27 percent for coho, 21percent for chinook, 12 percent for sockeyes and 1 percent of the pinks. The overall value of hatchery fish was $72 million, or 42 percent of the Panhandle’s value. At Kodiak, hatchery fish made up 12.5 percent of the total salmon catch — 25 percent of the chums, 22 percent of the coho catch, 14 percent of the sockeye salmon and 12 percent of the pinks. Hatchery fish contributed $6 million, or 13 percent of Kodiak’s landed salmon value. At Cook Inlet, just one percent of the sockeye catch is hatchery raised. There are no commercial salmon hatcheries farther west except for one sport fish program located in Fairbanks. This year, more than 65 million hatchery produced fish are projected to return to Alaska.  Find a link to the Fisheries Enhancement report, halibut catches and other information at www.alaskafishradio.com. Begich talks fish It’s tough to handle millions of pounds of seafood when an Alaska fishing town has a population of around 2,000 people. But seafood processing workers will be in short supply again this summer since the J-1 visa program was crimped two years ago. That program was intended to bring foreign students to the U.S. as a cultural exchange program. Instead, it became a way for businesses across the country to bring in temporary workers. After widespread complaints, the U.S. State Department reformed the program and banned its use in seasonal processing plants and other factory jobs. Sen. Mark Begich has introduced a replacement bill called H2O that would let workers come to Alaska during peak fishing seasons. “The good news is that I believe immigration reform is going to happen this year, so we now have a potential vehicle that we can insert this legislation,” Begich said in a phone interview. He stressed that the first priority would be given to local job seekers. “People in the region will be hired first, and then there must be a process that determines if there are no other available people or a non-sustainable workforce, companies can then use this H2O visa to bring in workers to fulfill the needs of our industry,” he said. Hearings on the Magnuson-Stevens Act began in Congress last week and Begich said more will continue after the spring recess. Begich is chairman of the Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. “We’ll have lots of issues — catch shares, and concerns over the expanded observer program and NOAA’s lack of use of (electronic monitoring) technology is an important discussion,” he said. “We’ll talk about issues that are impacting fisheries that are not under our control right now, such as warming oceans, ocean acidification, and won’t prejudge — ocean policy, such as ocean zoning which Alaska is opposed to.” Begich said he is still making the fight to stop “Frankenfish” from going to U.S. markets, and has put forward SAFE seafood legislation to stop fraud within the seafood industry. “This would toughen labeling requirements and include consumer protections, and really focus on getting these seafood bandits who are not telling the truth about where they get their seafood products and trying to get a higher price,” he said.

Halibut surveys to expand; more salmon chilled in the Bay

Halibut scientists plan to expand the yearly Pacific stock assessments by 30 percent next summer, adding 390 survey stations to the existing 1,300 already in use from Oregon to the Bering Sea. Since 1998, the halibut surveys, which occur from June through October, have been conducted in a depth range of 20 to 275 fathoms where most of the fishing was taking place. But that’s been changing in recent years, said Claude Dykstra, survey manager for the International Pacific Halibut Commission. “We’re seeing the catch coming out of the deeper areas, particularly out in Area 4, the Unalaska region, out through the Aleutians and on into the Bering Sea, and we’ve seen shallower water captures being pulled out of various areas as well,” Dykstra said. “Those are probably more concentrated in waters of Area 2B (Washington and B.C.), and a little bit in the Central and Western Gulf.” Dykstra said surveys in 2014 will be added in the zero to 20 fathom range and 275 to 400 fathom range starting next summer. Fifteen stations also will be added at northern California. “There is evidence of more fish coming out of that area than was previously understood. So we will be pushing south this year,” Dykstra said. “It’s always exciting to see what is going to come up in an area you haven’t fished before.” The expanded stock assessments mean at least five more boats are needed to help with the surveys, adding to the dozen already being used. Dykstra said attracting fishing vessels poses a challenge. “Finding boats and a crew that are experienced in fixed gear is one challenge. A lot of the fleet is moving to snap gear and that is currently not standardized to our survey,” he explained. “Another challenge is that a lot of these guys diversify their operations to maximize their boat usage, and as they move off of their sablefish or halibut quota, they move into salmon fisheries in the summer. So there’s some competition there in getting the work.” Any commercial fishing vessels from 57 to 120 feet can apply for the job, but the skipper and crew must fish using standardized skates and longline gear. Each charter region takes about three weeks of fishing and boats can bid for up to three survey regions, Dykstra said. Vessels also get 10 percent of the halibut sales and 50 percent from any other fish retained and sold. Vessels bid for which of the 27 regions they want to survey, and typical payouts range from $70,000 to $120,000 depending on the survey regions.  “It also provides an opportunity for boats struggling with the big halibut quota cuts to halibut   and gives them another few months of work. They can come back from year to year and their experience goes a long way in helping us with our data,” Dykstra said. The 2013 halibut fishery begins March 23 with an Alaska catch limit of 23 million pounds. Get more information about the halibut surveys at www.iphc.int. Big chill in Bristol Bay Bristol Bay salmon fishermen are advancing their goal of boosting the quality of their fish. That was the drive six years ago when the roughly 1,800-member drift fleet formed its own regional seafood association, and voted to fund it with a one percent tax on their salmon landings. So far that has yielded more than $1 million dollars a year. The group partnered with Bay processors and targeted a primary mission: getting more ice to the fleets. The joint effort has definitely paid off. The annual processor survey for 2012, compiled by Northern Economics Inc., showed the driftnet fleet chilled 53 percent of its salmon catch prior to delivery, an increase from just 24 percent in 2008. Since then the drift fleet has reduced its portion of unchilled salmon overall from 76 percent of the catch to 41 percent — a 54 percent reduction. The 2012 season also marked the first year in history where combined drift and set net fleets delivered more than half of their raw harvest in chilled form to tenders or processors. The processor survey also showed more boats are fishing in Bristol Bay. The fleet size increased 12 percent last year to 1,530 vessels, the largest year-to year increase over four years. Alaska has lots of great salmon fisheries, and you might wonder why so much attention gets focused on Bristol Bay. The answer can be summed up in two words: sockeye salmon.  Bristol Bay’s rivers are home to the largest red salmon runs in the world and the fishery is Alaska’s single most valuable salmon fishery – typically producing nearly one third of the state’s total salmon earnings. Last summer, for example, the Bristol Bay sockeye catch of 20.5 million fish was valued at $118 million at the docks; ranking a distant second for reds was Prince William Sound’s at 3.6 million fish worth about $42 million. Bristol Bay also has the most fishermen with more than 2,800 permit holders.  Money watch Global exchange rates refer to a currency’s purchasing power. When the dollar is strong, foreign goods are less expensive, and it boosts buying of imported goods. But the reverse is true: if a country’s currency is weak against the dollar, it is more expensive for them to buy U.S. products. That’s the case today, and it could cut into purchases by some of Alaska’s most important seafood customers overseas. The Japanese yen is down 20 percent from this time last year; likewise, the euro (the currency for 17 of 27 European nations) is also weaker, valued at about $1.29, off its 52-week high of $1.36 hit in February. Pollock products McDonald’s new Fish McBites failed to hook enough diners to get the fast-food chain’s U.S. sales growing. The McBites, made from Alaska pollock, were the first new Happy Meal item in a decade. McDonald’s has shown declines in sales three times in the past five months. The Alaska pollock industry is launching another new Made in America product: omega 3 supplements by American Marine Ingredients, a subsidiary of American Seafoods Company. The new item is called 54° North Omega 3 with Vitamin D3.

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