Laine Welch

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.

US seafood haul hit 9.9B pounds; salmon sleuths sought

The just released “Fisheries Economics of the U.S.” by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries covers the commercial and recreational fishing industries from 2002 to 2011 and is loaded with descriptive seafood industry stats by region.  The report, sixth in a series, tracks the economic impacts, price trends, payroll and annual receipt information for fishing-related businesses, from the dock to dinner plates. The impacts also are reported in terms of employment, sales and value-added impacts.   Some highlights: Commercial fishermen in the U.S. harvested 9.9 billion pounds of fish/shellfish in 2011, earning $5.3 billion for their catch. Pacific salmon ($618 million) followed by sea scallops ($585 million), shrimp ($536 million), and American lobster ($423 million) contributed most to total U.S. revenue. In terms of poundage, pollock (2.8 billion pounds), menhaden (1.9 billion), and Pacific salmon (780 million) comprised over half of total pounds landed in 2011. Prices per pound for seven of the key species were above the average annual price for the decade. When comparing 2011 dock prices to 2002, and accounting for inflation, the largest changes occurred in Atka mackerel (378 percent increase), salmon (114 percent increase), Pacific halibut (109 percent increase), and sablefish  (80 percent increase).  Of the top ten key species, sea scallops paid the highest price per pound in 2011 ($9.9 dollars), followed by Pacific halibut ($4.98), and sablefish ($4.56). Pollock was the lowest at $0.13. For Alaska, the seafood industry generated $4.7 billion in sales impacts, $2 billion in income and over 63,000 jobs in 2011. Seafood processing and dealer operations contributed 26 percent to in-state sales for Alaskan businesses, with over $1.2 billion generated in 2011. Over 286,000 recreational anglers spent nearly 811,000 days fishing in Alaska in 2011, with 56 percent of them non-residents. Pacific halibut was the most caught fish. Coho salmon and razor clam also were caught in large numbers at 474,000 and 436,000 fish, respectively. Find the Fisheries Economics report at www.noaa.gov.  Salmon sleuths wanted State salmon managers are seeking a contractor to help solve the problem of disappearing king salmon in Cook Inlet. The Inlet is home to one of Alaska’s largest salmon fisheries, with mixed  harvests of all five species of Pacific salmon. The project, which includes attaching acoustic telemetry tags to salmon in the Lower Inlet, aims “identify differences in the migration patterns of chinook and sockeye salmon” in the eastside setnet fishery; and “determine potential alternative management strategies to reduce chinook harvests.” Test fishing has shown that most sockeye salmon migrate northward near the center of the Inlet, but it is not known if chinook salmon follow the same pattern. The research contract is worth $693,000. Contact [email protected] Atka’s open Bering Sea fishermen can catch a break with an April 27 opening of Atka Pride Seafoods. The early opener provides a jump on deliveries of IFQ sablefish and halibut, as well as cod, and saves about 400 miles off the trip to Dutch Harbor. Atka Pride is co-owned by Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, Joint Ventures and the Atka Fishermen’s Association. The company added a deep-water dock last year and Atka Pride plans to soon be open year round. Contact:  [email protected]  (907) 771-4200. Taking the ‘stream’ out of streamlining What the Governor and Legislature call “streamlining,” others call pulling the teeth out of Alaska’s laws. The Alaska House last week passed a bill (HB 77) that will ax the entire statutory scheme for in-stream flow protections. The bill removes the rights Alaskan Tribes and residents currently have to apply for water reservations in order to maintain or protect water levels for fish habitat protection, recreation and water quality. The wide sweeping measure deals with such issues as land exchanges and permitting procedures. Proclaiming that Alaskans deserve more “timely, consistent permitting decisions,” Gov. Sean Parnell said he introduced the bill in order to streamline the permitting process. In his transmission letter to the House, Parnell outlined that the bill “reforms the current land exchange statutes to simplify the procedure for the Department of Natural Resources to authorize exchanges. “It would modify the Alaska Water Use Act and modify the procedures for appeals from DNR decisions.  “The bill also modifies and clarifies public notice and comment procedures for certain best interest finding decisions and ‘small changes’ that otherwise streamline existing procedures of DNR.” It also includes limiting administrative appeals to those ‘substantially and adversely affected’ by a decision, and who ‘meaningfully participated’ in the public comment process.  Critics claim the “streamlining” is a thinly disguised attempt toward blocking opposition to large development projects such as the Pebble Mine or the Chuitna coal mine in Cook Inlet.  According to an Associated Press report, of the 35 pending water reservation applicants from individuals or groups now at DNR, 22 are in the vicinity of or could affect the Pebble project; while three applications could affect the Chuitna coal project. The measure is now in the Senate Finance committee as SB 26.   Find fish news For over two decades I have wished I could find information about Alaska’s fishing industry in a single place. My new web site attempts to do that — it provides links to public comments, surveys, meetings, catch stats, fish prices, openings and closures, reports, etc. It’s a one-stop shop for Alaska fish news. It’s still a work in progress, but please visit the site at www.alaskafishradio.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG Managers predict 30% increase for 2013 salmon harvest

More wild salmon from Alaska will reach world markets this year if forecasts hold true for the 2013 season. State salmon managers are projecting a total catch of nearly 179 million fish this year, 30 percent higher than the 2012 harvest of 127 million salmon. Pushing the higher catch is a robust return of pink salmon that could yield a harvest of 118 million fish, 73 percent higher than last summer’s harvest of 68 million humpies. The catch breakdown for other salmon species is 110,000 chinooks in areas outside Southeast Alaska; for sockeye salmon, the big money fish, a harvest of 34.3 million reds is projected, down just one percent from last year. For coho salmon, a catch of 3.9 million is just slightly higher, and a chum catch of 22.7 million is an increase of one percent. In terms of total harvests last year, Southeast Alaska led all other regions at nearly 37 million salmon landed, followed by Prince William Sound at about 35 million. Bristol Bay placed third with a catch of just over 22 million salmon. Kodiak placed fourth topping 20 million salmon and Upper Cook Inlet was a distant fifth for salmon catches at about 4 million fish. For total salmon value in 2012, Southeast came out on top for the second year running at $153.2 million; Bristol Bay ranked second at $121 million; and Prince William Sound was third with a total salmon value of nearly $111 million. That was followed by Kodiak at $46.5 million; Cook Inlet at $36.2 million; Alaska Peninsula/Aleutians at $17.5 million; Chignik at $13.8 million; Yukon at $3.1 million; Kuskokwim at $2 million; Norton Sound at $759,000 and Kotzebue with a total salmon value of $568,000. Find all the salmon projections for this year and a wrap of last season at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website, adfg.alaska.gov, under commercial fisheries. Some salmon sales soar Much of Alaska’s salmon pack gets sold long after fishermen hang up their nets. The Alaska Department of Revenue Tax Division tracks sales throughout the year by region for canned, frozen/fresh fish and salmon roe. Sales from September through December of 2012 show big gains for some products compared to the prior year. Canned sockeye salmon, for example, wholesaled for more than $193 per case of talls in 2012, an increase of more than $12 from 2011. For canned pinks, a case of talls topped $103 last year, up more than $15. Roe prices really surged for all salmon, especially for the most popular roe species: pinks and chums. For pink salmon, over 5.5 million pounds of roe fetched nearly $12 per pound, compared to about $8.50 in 2011. For chums, over 3.2 million pounds were sold from September through December at $18.76 per pound, an increase of $5 dollars per pound. Most of Alaska’s salmon is sold headed/gutted and frozen. Those prices decreased across the board last year. Sales show that Alaska processors are continuing to ramp up fillet production – notably for sockeye salmon. In 2011, about 7 million pounds of sockeye fillets were sold in the last four months of the year, valued at nearly $42 million. In 2012, fillets totaled nearly 9 million pounds valued at over $51 million. For Bristol Bay, the world’s largest sockeye salmon producer, fillet sales reached $15.5 million from September thru December, double the value for the same time in 2011. Find the Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports at tax.alaska.gov. DNR denied The Alaska Superior Court ruled Feb. 25 that the Department of Natural Resources violated its own rules by denying Alaskans’ their right to keep water in streams to protect wild salmon runs. The decision in Chuitna Citizens Coalition vs. DNR Commissioner Dan Sullivan is especially important as the Alaska legislature considers bills introduced by Gov. Sean Parnell (HB 77/SB 26) that will ax the entire statutory scheme for in-stream flow protections designed to ensure salmon have enough water to survive before other out-of-stream uses are permitted. “It’s sad when Alaskans have to spend time and money suing our own government in order to uphold the states constitution which mandates that we sustain our salmon fisheries,” Ron Burnett of the Chuitna Citizens Coalition wrote in a press release. The Coalition is a group of property owners, fishermen and hunters concerned about protecting wild salmon habitat in the face of proposed large-scale coal strip mining in Upper Cook Inlet. Where is the fishing? Many people are surprised to learn that 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood landings come from federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore. Management falls to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which has compiled a user-friendly booklet profiling the fishing fleets through 2010, with an addendum for 2011 that includes names of every boat. Hundreds of other vessels fish for salmon, herring and crab in state waters, which are not included in the profile. Some highlights for 2011: 81 trawl boats and 16 catcher processors fished in the Bering Sea, and 98 trawlers fished in the Central and Western Gulf. There were 67 groundfish longline vessels, 137 pot boats, and 118 vessels in the jig fleet. Seventy-seven boats made up the Bering Sea/Aleutians crab fleet, four scallopers and a combined 1,457 boats fished for halibut and sablefish. The largest fleet was the charter halibut boats at 1,090 vessels. While most people imagine huge vessels participate in the federal fisheries, 80 percent are less than 60 feet. By far, most of the boats were built in the 1970s and 1980s. Most of the catch in 2010— 54 percent — was pollock, followed by flatfish at 18 percent and cod at 15 percent. Halibut and sablefish were just 1 percent of the total catch, and shellfish at 2 percent. As to where the fleets call home— most of the large catcher processors report Seattle as their homeport, while most of the catcher boats hail from Alaska. Major ports for groundfish are Kodiak, Homer and Sand Point. For halibut and sablefish, homeports are Homer, Kodiak, Juneau, Petersburg and Sitka. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Volunteer fishing vessels sought for energy-saving project; bycatch shared

Volunteers are needed to test drive some new money-saving methods for “do it yourself” energy audits on fishing boats. “Just as with a home audit where you try and understand where your energy is going, you can learn how your vessel is consuming energy and find places where it might be wasted or not used as efficiently as possible, and frankly, most fishing vessels are not very energy efficient,” said Terry Johnson, a marine advisor with Alaska Sea Grant in Anchorage. Johnson is part of a team working on a three-year project to find ways to reduce fuel and energy needs by fishing businesses. The project, led by Julie Decker, is administered by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation with a $250,000 assist from the State of Alaska. Starting this spring, the group plans to test various fuel catalysts and additives, and perhaps hydrogen generators on volunteer vessels. Meanwhile, Johnson is focused on do-it-yourself ways to get better energy performance with existing boats. “Look for heat and vibrations and smoke — we think of those things as normal, but those are all wasted energy and they shouldn’t exist. Look for ways to minimize that,” he said. Checking drive lines, being sure all bearings are in good condition and properly lubricated, tightening up steering and better route planning also can reduce energy demands. Johnson said propellers also are a big “frontier” in improving efficiency. “Most traditional fishing vessel propellers are of a very old design and often mismatched to the boat. There are lots of ways they can be tuned to be more efficient,” he said. In other countries, fishing boats rely heavily on auxiliary sails. Johnson said, which also have a great stabilizing effect. Paravane stabilizers commonly used by longliners and seiners are tremendous energy sinks, sapping about 15 percent of fuel. “They suck a lot of energy out of the engine. If you can reduce the use of stabilizers by using a sail, you get a significant savings right there,” he said, adding that active fins are another energy drag. Find out more about the energy audit program at www.afdf.org. Caught in Alaska, distributed in Alaska The bycatch to food bank” program by Bering Sea trawl fishermen and processors has come full circle. Twenty years ago, the fleet began a program that let them retain salmon, halibut and other species taken as bycatch instead of discarding the fish, as required by law. The fish was processed, frozen and packaged and sent to food banks across the nation. Now, the fish is staying in the state and feeding Alaskans. The Western Alaska Community Development Association, or WACDA, comprising the region’s six CDQ groups, led and funded the program starting last year. WACDA urged all Bering Sea fishing companies to retain all bycatch, and share the cost to deliver the fish to food banks and feeding centers in Alaska. “That added up to 300,000 seafood meals in Alaska last year, from fish that would otherwise be thrown overboard,” said Jim Harmon of SeaShare, which connects the seafood industry to national hunger relief efforts. A similar bycatch to food banks program also is under way in the Gulf of Alaska. Fish farmers pan Frankenfish Fish farmers and fish harvesters can find common ground when it comes to opposing genetically tweaked salmon, or Frankenfish. “I think we absolutely don’t need it,” said Josh Goldman of Australis Aquaculture, the world’s largest producer of barramundi, a sea bass that is Australia’s most popular fish. Australis has won numerous high standards awards for its growing operations in Massachusetts and Vietnam. Fish health and growth rates can be improved with “good old fashioned selective breeding,” Goldman said in a phone interview. “We can make fantastic gains in the productivity of fish without resorting to genetic modification.” Goldman added that it’s clear that consumers don’t like the idea of manmade fish. That’s backed up by more than 35,816 public submissions to the Food and Drug Administration by Feb. 1, nearly every one strongly opposed to manmade fish. “I think it is pretty clear that the consumers do not want genetically modified animals, and the industry would be wise to stay away from it,” he said. “Anyone who is going to do well in business will listen to their customers very carefully. Many in the salmon industry have been quite clear that they are really not interested in that GM technology today. Another common ground fish farmers and fishermen have is getting Americans to eat more seafood. Despite an aging population and an obesity epidemic, American consumption of seafood has been static or declining in recent years. “Collectively, farmed and wild producers should be doing more to make seafood attractive and presentable to the consumer,” Goldman said. The fish grower had high praise for Alaska’s seafood industry, saying that Australis “emulates” the way Alaska highlights the health benefits of its seafood and the way it is produced, and its commitment to sustainable fisheries. “It is regarded very, very well because at its foundation, Alaska  has done a better job than most other parts of the country and the world in having sound management of its fishery resources, and the fact that it’s been more science than politics. That has really set an example — and I think that message rings through to the consumer about well-managed fisheries. So there is a lot to be proud of,” Goldman said. The sustainability message has definitely caught on and is expanding, he added. “It’s not always clear to what extent it translates to the consumer making the buying decision, but the industry as a whole is taking it very seriously,” he said. Most large retailers today have some means of communicating their sustainable seafood support   to customers, and the movement got a huge lift last week when McDonald’s would be the first national chain to put an eco-label on packages of its fillet of fish sandwiches and new Fish McBites, made from Alaska pollock. Most of Alaska’s seafood goes to market frozen — another notch on the sustainability niche. Goldman said an emerging area in the movement is more sophisticated analysis of carbon footprints. “It turns out that is probably equally or more important than how we grow or harvest the fish,” he said. “So we put a lot of emphasis into frozen products because there is such a large reduction in the carbon content required to get it to market.” The deadline to comment to the FDA on genetically modified salmon is Feb. 25. To comment, go to http://regulations.gov. The docket is FDA-2011-N-0899. Fish watch The 2013 Pacific halibut fishery begins March 23 and ends Nov. 7. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut limits cut; gov's cruise discharge proposal criticized

Halibut catches weren’t slashed as badly as people feared, although they still continue on a downward trend — and the outlook is grim. A coast wide catch of 31 million pounds was approved Friday by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, a decline of 7.5 percent from last year, and far better than the 30 percent cut that was widely anticipated. Alaska’s share of the Pacific catch is 23 million pounds, down 2.5 million pounds across the board. The IPHC commissioners, three from the US and three from Canada, each said the 2013 annual meeting last week was the toughest one ever. “I vote for the fish,” said US Commissioner Ralph Hoard of Icicle Seafoods at the close of the meeting via webinar. “Many questions remain about halibut bycatch and migration. While I am extremely sympathetic about the impacts on fishermen’s economics, I am equally concerned about their future in this fishery. We don’t want to end up like the East coast halibut fishery. There is none.” Along with setting the catch limits and fishery dates (see below), the IPHC addressed several regulatory proposals, none of which were approved. A recommendation for less invasive circle hooks to be the only legal gear was tanked due to “regulatory difficulties.” Circle hooks do less damage to the fish as they are hauled aboard. “The commissioners are anxious at any possible time to reduce damage to fish and prevent needless mortality. So we are going to ask the IPHC staff to work on a public outreach mode, and to develop materials working with fishing groups to provide education on how circle hooks might be used more efficiently and more broadly through the industry. We have problems regulating it so we are going to focus on that for the time being,” said Commissioner Jim Balsiger, who also is director of NOAA Fisheries in Alaska. Halibut charter operators, who often remain out for a few days with clients, again proposed that frozen fish held on board should not be part of the possession limit. Balsiger said he agreed that the regulation does provide some hardship for that sector, but added: “Unfortunately we have not been able to find a way to deal with the enforcement issues, so we have asked staff to continue working on this.” The 800-pound gorilla in the room remains the millions of pounds of halibut taken as bycatch in other fisheries. While the halibut fleets have seen their catches cut by 70 percent over three years, and the sport sector is now limited to a single fish in Southeast Alaska (two in the Central Gulf), the allowable bycatch limit tops 5 million pounds a year just in the Gulf of Alaska. (Bycatch limits are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, not the IPHC.) The halibut managers outlined four bycatch objectives to be undertaken by a “project team” - examining current amounts, better understanding of bycatch on the fishery and the resource, looking at options to reduce bycatch, and exploring options for mitigating the impacts of bycatch on “downstream” areas. Seven longer term options will be explored as to feasibility and practicality, and a report will be available this summer. Paul Ryall, a commissioner from Canada seated at his first meeting, pointed out that “bycatch mortality is the second largest source of removals coast wide, after the directed halibut fishery.” “At a time of low halibut abundance in the North Pacific, and at a time when the stock assessment warns of low recruitment coming at us, we do think bycatch mortality of all halibut, and in particular juvenile halibut, is critical,” he said. “I urge all stakeholders to keep the pressure on their respective governments and management agencies to adopt the best practices and the newest technologies, and I know that we can bring bycatch mortality down substantially in the next few years.” Bycatch aside, Commissioner Balsiger put the industry on notice that the outlook for future halibut fisheries is quite bleak. “We made a small step in a conservation direction this year and reduced the catch by some 2 and a quarter million pounds – but I don’t think it is likely that we will be able to retain those small steps towards conservation into the future,” Balsiger said. “The likely risk in a one year period with these long lived animals is not that great, but in multiple years that risk gets greater. So we have some difficult years ahead of us.” The 2013 halibut fishery will run from March 23 through Nov. 7. Here are the Alaska catch limits by region in millions of pounds. Last year’s catches are shown in parentheses. Southeast Alaska is the only area getting an increase: Area 2C (Southeast): 2.97 (2.62) Area 3A (Central Gulf): 11.03 (11.98) Area 3B (Western Gulf): 4.29 (5.09) Area 4A  (Alaska Peninsula): 1.33 (1.56) Area 4B  (Aleutian Islands): 1.45 (1.86) Area 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.93 (2.46) Cruise crud Discharge laws for cruise ships will be watered down if Gov. Sean Parnell gets his way. Senate Bill 29 and House Bill 80, introduced by Parnell, would delete a statutory requirement for the ships to meet Alaska Water Quality Standards at the point of discharge. Current law requires that the vessels cannot discharge untreated sewage, treated sewage, gray water or other wastewaters in a manner that violates limits under state or federal law. According to the Cordova Times, the proposed legislation would allow cruise ships to discharge their wastewater into “mixing zones,” which would be allowed in any area through which the cruise ship is traveling. The Parnell bills would overturn the provision of the cruise ship discharge law passed by popular vote in Alaska in 2006, Gershon Cohen of Haines told the Times. Cohen co-sponsored the 2006 Cruise Ship ballot measure that created the current rules. “The governor is going after the initiative to undo what the people of Alaska put in place, and simply has no concern for the democratic process that created the existing statute,” Cohen said. Weakening the regulations comes at the request of the cruise ship industry, according to international maritime attorney Jim Walker of Miami. “The cruise industry bullied Alaska, threatening the state with pulling ships from Alaska if the wastewater standards were not relaxed,” Walker wrote on his blog www.cruiselaw.com. “The real issue has always been the issue of whether the cruise industry would permit a state like Alaska to regulate it,” Walker wrote. “Cruise lines don’t pay any federal taxes on the $35,000,000,000 they collect on fares each year from tax paying Americans. They don’t want to set a precedent of allowing states to impose standards to protect their natural resources. It’s cheaper to pollute.” Cohen added that fishermen should be “outraged” by the cruise ship crud proposal, as it will besmirch the “wild and natural/taken from pristine waters” brand for Alaska salmon, which the industry has worked tenaciously for decades to create. “If I were in the farmed fish business, I would be posting photos of cruise ships discharging into waters where these fish are caught,” he said. The 2011 cruise season was expecting 27 ships to visit Alaska, cruising 447 voyages and carrying 887,000 passengers, according to the latest data from the Resource Development Council. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Extra time sought to comment on AquaBounty salmon

Fishing groups, consumers and health organizations are launching a final push to prevent genetically modified fish from getting the nod for American dinner plates. During the holidays the Food and Drug Administration issued its environmental assessment concluding that the fish, tweaked to grow at least three times faster than normal, will not have any significant impacts on the human environment and is unlikely to harm wild stocks. The FDA’s environmental green light is the last step before AquaBounty, the creators of so-called Frankenfish, can send the mutant to markets. The public has until Feb. 26 to send comments to the FDA. Alaska Sens. Mark Begich and Lisa Murkowski have written to the FDA asking for a 60-day extension to the comment deadline, citing the holiday timing and new transitions in Congress. Senators from Washington, Oregon and Maryland also signed on to the comment extension request. No word yet on if the request has been granted. Meanwhile, Begich said the agency is moving, “full steam ahead with fine-tuning its Frankenfish regulations,” and he is not optimistic that public opinion will sway the federal OK.   Indeed. Late last year the federal government awarded a coveted $500,000 research grant from the National Institute of Food and Agriculture to AquaBounty when the company disclosed it could run out of cash early this year. Over the past 16 years, AquaBounty has spent $67 million to genetically tweak its “AquaAdvantage” Atlantic salmon and navigate the permitting processes. Begich called the FDA’s support of the mutant fish “totally misguided.” “I think the FDA is not equipped to understand the impacts this genetically engineered fish will have on the environment and ecosystem,” he said in a recent teleconference. That echoed earlier comments by Rep. Don Young and Murkowski, who called the FDA’s actions “especially troubling since the agency is ignoring the opposition of fishing groups as well as more than 3,000 consumers and health organizations.” As of Jan. 18, there were 3,209 comments posted on the FDA regulation page — of the 15 pages of comments posted, not a single one spoke in support of the GM fish. The Alaska Legislature and state fishing groups have come out strongly against Frankenfish as has the National Humane Society, Center for Food Safety, among others. “Can they move forward even with so much opposition by so many diverse groups? The sad answer to this is probably,” said Begich. “Still I encourage more people to make comments. I think the more comments the agency gest on the official record may slow them down or prevent them from moving forward.” According to AquaBounty documents, the company plans to grow the modified Atlantic salmon eggs at a lab in Prince Edward Island, fly them to Panama where they will be raised at inland fish farms, and then shipped back for sale in the U.S. Prospective fish farmers are lined up in South Dakota, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Ohio. Meanwhile, Alaska’s Congressional delegation intends to keep pressure on the FDA.    “We intend to reintroduce legislation that will deal with not allowing this product to come to market,” Begich said. “We will also deal with the labeling issue and some others. So if they think we are just going to roll over because they think they are a regulatory agency that just gives a check off and that’s good enough, they are mistaken.”   The Guardian newspaper in the UK quipped: If approved, the fish would be the world’s first modified animal “to make its way into the food chain, clearing the way for an entire menagerie of redesigns, from fast-growing trout and tilapia to the ‘enviro-pig,’ genetically altered to produce less polluting poo.” Comments on Frankenfish can be sent to www.regulations.gov, Docket No. FDA-2011-N-0899. Money for “Made in America” Federal grants are available for Alaska companies that are getting pinched by competing imports. “We look to assist firms that produce products or services made in America and in doing so, save and create as many U.S. jobs as possible,” said Gary Kuhar, director of the nonprofit Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce Economic Development Administration. If Alaska companies have lost sales or production to foreign competitors, they are eligible for up to $75,000 in matching grants for projects of their choice. Smaller companies, for example, can get up to $30,000 with a 25 percent match of $7,500 for the company and the grant covers the rest. Large companies have a 50/50 split with a maximum grant of $150,000. The money can’t be used to buy equipment or pay salaries, but it can cover consulting, training, website development and marketing. “We do a lot in the marketing field,” Kuhar said. “We help develop a marketing strategy and then help produce the tools needed to implement the strategy.” The TAA grants can help producers in manufacturing, agriculture, seafood and service firms such as fish brokerage companies. Co-ops and trade groups also may apply. Kuhar said his staff assists from the get-go, from submitting applications and preparing and implementing projects through completion. He added that the trade grants also are a tool for Alaska legislators. “In some states we have very good success where the legislators refer clients to us. We are a tool to help their constituents,” Kuhar said. Learn more at www.nwtaac.org. Fish switch Arni Thomson, one of Alaska’s best known fishery advocates and policy wonk has joined the new Alaska Salmon Alliance as its first executive director. The ASA was formed in late 2011 to promote policies that protect fish and ensure long term fishing benefits at Cook Inlet. Its membership includes Inlet fishing organizations, fishermen, and the region’s four major processors. Thomson is well known for his decades-long work at state and federal levels with Bering Sea crab fisheries and as recent president of United Fishermen of Alaska. Thomson says the ASA will not focus on salmon fishing disputes between Cook Inlet user groups. Another focus is the loss of salmon habitat due to encroaching development and land uses.  “We want to stay out of allocative issues as much as possible. The objective is public education, communication and outreach to all user groups in the Cook Inlet salmon fisheries,” he said in an interview. The Alliance aims to make sure that the commercial fishing sector retains access to the resource. Both sport charters and Inlet setnetters were completely shut down last summer to protect king salmon returns, along with closures in the Mat Su drainage. Thomson said at a recent meeting of a new Board of Fisheries task force “there was a serious effort by all the parties to start exchanging real proposals” and that “some interim solutions could be tested this summer.” Fish watch The nation’s largest fishery opened Jan. 20 – Alaska pollock. This year’s total catch from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska is 1.38 million metric tons, or more than three billion pounds. Alaska pollock accounts for 30 percent of all US seafood landings. Fish bucks American Seafoods Co. is accepting applications for its Alaska community grant program. A total of $30,000 will be given out by the company’s Community Advisory Board for projects addressing issues such as hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. Deadline to apply is Feb. 6; recipients will be selected on Feb. 14. Request forms are available at www.americanseafoods.com, by contacting [email protected] or call (206) 256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon permit values varying, market slow for pricey halibut shares

There’s lots of movement in Alaska’s salmon permit markets, but sales of catch shares are in a stall. Permit values are up and down depending on region, and interest reflects how the salmon runs have been coming in. At Bristol Bay, where sockeye runs for two years have been down and another lackluster season is expected this summer, salmon drift permit values have nosedived from a $165,000 high water mark in 2011 to around $90,000 now. “It’s hard to imagine they will go up a lot with a catch forecast of 16 to 17 million salmon this year,” said Doug Bowen at Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. Likewise, drift permits at Alaska Peninsula fisheries (Area M) that topped $150,000 in 2011 now are also priced around $90,000. The value of Kodiak seine permits also has dropped to below $40,000. “There has been just a general lack of interest in those permits and there are quite a few on the market and very few interested buyers,” Bowen said.  On the upside, driven by robust sockeye returns in recent years, the value of drift permits at Cook Inlet is ticking upwards to the $80,000 range. A scan of broker sites shows Prince William Sound seine permits have dipped a bit to the $140,000 range. The priciest card at the moment is at Southeast Alaska where salmon runs have been robust.   Mike Painter at Permit Master said Seine permits “have completely dried up with the announcement of another buyback round,” and have topped $250,000, with driftnet permits at $110,000. Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg has a Southeast seine permit listed at $306,000. Catch share crunch It will cost a fisherman more than that to get his hands on 100,000 pounds of halibut in prime Alaska fishing regions. Not surprisingly, that side of the broker business is slow and there’s not much to sell, especially for halibut where catches have been slashed by 70 percent over three years and more cuts are coming. “That’s taken some of the excitement out of the IFQ market for sure, and then we also saw lower prices in 2012 for both halibut and black cod. We lost a dollar or two at the docks on both, so that didn’t help the quota market either,” said Bowen. Brokers are posting halibut shares in the central Gulf of Alaska at $32 to $38 per pound, the Western Gulf at $23 to $30 and $20 a share in the Bering Sea. Halibut shares in Southeast are even higher, due to speculation that fishing there might dodge double digit cuts.    “We sold a small 3,000 pound block in 2C for $45 a pound, again with the anticipation that the area has bottomed out and is heading back up,” Bowen said. “We’ll see.” Shares of sablefish, or black cod, also are pricey, ranging from $28 to $34 in the Central Gulf and Southeast. Some brokers list Bering Sea sablefish at $2 to $3 per pound. Dock Street Brokers is the go-to place for the buying/selling/trading Bering Sea crab shares —which are almost never available. The one listing is for 21,000 pounds of St. Matthew blue king crab at $18 per pound.  Big meetings this month Lots of fish meetings are in the January line up where decisions affect the fishing industry’s bottom lines.  The state Board of Fisheries, or BOF, meets Jan. 15-20 at the Anchorage Sheraton Hotel. The BOF will take up 70 proposals for commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, or AYK, region. Audio of the meeting will be streamed online. Meetings on the new expanded observer program will be in Southeast Alaska starting Jan. 15 in Ketchikan, Jan. 16 in Sitka and Jan. 17 in Juneau. Alaska halibut fishermen will find out how much, or better put how little, fish they can catch this year when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets the week of Jan. 21 in Victoria, British Columbia. Coast wide halibut catches could be cut by more than 30 percent this year, meaning about 17.5 million pounds for Alaska. Only seven public comments were submitted to the IPHC on catch limit concerns by the end of year deadline. Fish shuffle One seat on the state Board of Fisheries became available last week with the sudden resignation of Bill Brown of Juneau. Brown was first appointed to the board in 2008 and his second term was due to expire on June 30, 2014. The governor has 30 days to fill the seat and is soliciting applicants. The terms of BOF members Vince Webster of King Salmon and Tom Kluberton of Talkeetna also expire at the end of June. All appointments must be confirmed by the Alaska State Legislature. Two seats also are opening on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council this summer.  Terms are expiring for Duncan Fields of Kodiak and Sam Cotten of Eagle River. The National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, also is seeking applicants for two U.S. seats on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Nominations can be sent to the NMFS.  Fishing film fest Even if you missed the screening of films at the 2nd annual Commercial Fishing Film Festival Jan. 11-13, you can catch the videos online. Host Dave Clark of Juneau said the audience was to select winners from three hours of submissions ranging from ‘raw and unedited ’to highly produced pieces. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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