Laine Welch

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.

Prince William Sound holds top spot for salmon landings

Prince William Sound topped all other Alaska regions for salmon catches last year — but not by much. Fishermen in the Sound, or PWS, squeaked by their colleagues in the Panhandle by just 44 fish to get the No. 1 ranking for the 2012 season. The tally: 34.4 million salmon crossed the docks at PWS compared to 34.34 million for Southeast. For the second year running, Southeast Alaska beat out Bristol Bay for the most valuable salmon catch. According to preliminary numbers from the state, Southeast landings totaled $153 million at the docks, compared to $121 million at Bristol Bay. Bristol Bay can still lay claim to being home to Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery by far with the sockeye catch valued at $117 million. Alaska’s second most valuable salmon catch in 2012 was chums in Southeast worth about $83 million ex-vessel. Prince William Sound ranked third for salmon value at $111 million; Kodiak was number four with a salmon season worth  $46 million. Cook Inlet’s fishery rang in at $36 million; at the Alaska Peninsula the value was $17.5 million, $2 million for the Kuskokwim, just more than $3 million at the Yukon, and the 2012 salmon season brought in less than $1 million to fishermen at Norton Sound and Kotzebue. In all, 124 million salmon were caught in Alaska in 2012, the smallest volume since 1997, but third largest by value ($505 million) since 1992. It also marked the 25th year in a row that Alaska’s salmon catch topped 100 million fish. Cod crunch Pacific cod kicks off Alaska’s commercial fisheries each January, but an anticipated glut in global supply pulled the bottom out of the market this year. When the dock price dropped a dime over the holidays to around 25 cents per pound, fishermen wondered if they could even afford to head out.  Cod, which accounts for 11 percent of Alaska’s total fish landings, is Kodiak’s second largest fishery, after pollock. In 2011, 85 million pounds of cod fish crossed the Kodiak docks, valued at $30 million. In the big picture, Kodiak is a small player, and this year its catch is facing a huge competing harvest of more than 1 million tons from Russian fleets in the Barents Sea, along with a cod comeback in the North Sea. “There is simply an oversupply of cod in the world market,” said John Whiddon, general manager at Pacific Seafoods in Kodiak. “And we also are competing against pollock and tilapia and Pangasius. And for the consumer, it all comes down to the fact that it is whitefish protein, and cod is just one component of that.” A portion of Kodiak’s cod catch goes to the U.S. market as fresh or frozen fillets, but most goes to China to be reprocessed and packaged for markets around the world. Whiddon said Kodiak’s remote location makes it tough to compete due to added freight costs.     “Right now the transportation cost to get the same cod from Russia to China is about half the price of the cost from Kodiak to China,” he said. “So you have the high volume of cod coming out Russia, the lower cost to get it to China, and it makes it very, very difficult for us to compete.”   Going into the 2013 season Whiddon said the worldwide first wholesale price for headed and gutted cod to China was down 30 percent and, “that would correspond with a reduction of the boat price here in town.”  “We’re off to a slow start. But before anyone gets truly alarmed, I think we need to wait and see how the cod market settles out,” he cautioned. “If the fish comes in slow from Russia, for example, then there will be a high demand for Alaska cod. The Chinese are also waiting to buy and seeing how prices play out.” For now, most Kodiak boats have begrudgingly set out for 27-28 cents a pound. “My hope is that as we start to see the cod flow from all around the world, there might be adjustments to the price that will allow fishermen to make a margin, and on the buying side too,” Whiddon added. “I want to emphasize that the prices paid in Kodiak for every species, but particularly for cod and pollock, are driven by global factors that are well beyond the control of any one entity here in town,” said Whiddon, who is also a Kodiak City Council member. “Cod is a global commodity, so we are always reacting to the changes and adjustments in the world market, both on the buying and selling side.” Fish watch Along with P-cod, lots more Alaska fisheries got under way with the start of the new year. Lingcod seasons opened in Southeast with a catch topping 300,000 pounds. Longliners and jiggers also set out for about 75,000 pounds of seven different kinds of rockfish. A few t-pot shrimpers were still out on the water in Southeast, along with trollers targeting winter king salmon.  Tanner crab seasons open Jan. 15 around Kodiak Island with a 660,000 pound quota. The Bering Sea snow crab fleet heads out this month for a 66 million pound catch; they are concerned again about an early ice pack covering the crab grounds. Pollock, Alaska’s largest fishery, begins Jan. 20, for trawlers in the Gulf and Bering Sea. Nearly 3 billion pounds of pollock will come from Alaska waters this year. More salmon forecasts: The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye catch is projected at nearly 5 million fish for all users. The Copper River catch is pegged at 1.3 million sockeye salmon and just less than 20,000 kings. Halibut cuts Pacific halibut fishermen will know in a few weeks if they will face double digit cuts again in their catches again this year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will announce the catch limits at its annual meeting Jan. 21-25 in Victoria, British Columbia.  The catches could be cut by 30 percent, meaning a coast wide harvest of just 22.7 million pounds for fisheries in California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch would be 17.4 million pounds, down from about 25 million this year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

2012 Picks and Pans from a year in Alaska seafood news

Alaska’s seafood industry worked hard this year to ramp up its message to policymakers, especially those from rail belt regions who tend to overlook the industry’s economic significance. How important is the seafood industry to Alaska and the nation? At a glance: nearly 60 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska and 96 percent of all wild-caught salmon. Seafood is by far Alaska’s No. 1 export, valued $2.4 billion last year. Alaska ranks 9th in the world in terms of global seafood production. The seafood industry is second only to Big Oil in revenues it generates to Alaska’s general fund each year, and it provides more Alaska jobs than oil/gas, mining, tourism and timber combined. Here are some fishing notables from 2012, in no particular order, followed by my annual “Fish picks and pans”: • High winds, frigid temperatures and a record ice pack put the brakes on Alaska’s winter fisheries; ice forced the snow crab fleet to extend its season into June. • The U.S. became the first country to put catch quotas on every fish/shellfish species it manages in waters from three to 200 miles from shore. For Alaska, that means 80 percent of the total annual catch. • Construction of the first Bering Sea-sized fishing boat built in state got under way at Alaska Ship and Dry Dock in Ketchikan — a 136 foot, all steel catcher processor for Alaska Longline Company of Petersburg.  • The world’s first portable floating dry dock was launched at Allen Marine in Sitka; the modular dock can stretch to 160 feet and handle vessels up to 1,000 tons. • Western Alaska CDQ group vessel owners started making plans to homeport their big Bering Sea boats in Seward instead of Seattle. • For the first time, China emerged as the top market for Alaska exports, led by seafood.  • Halibut catch limits declined again by 20 percent and the outlook is for a similar reduction in 2013. Since 2004, the Pacific halibut commercial catch has been trimmed 54 percent coastwide. • Pollock skins were cited as a new source for nano-fibers that have a similar tissue structure to human organs and skin. Studies show that fish gelatin improves tissue cell growth better than mammalian gels. • Gov. Sean Parnell changed the mission statement of the state Department of Natural Resources and removed the word “conserve.” (He changed the governor’s mission statement too.) It was news to the Alaska legislature, which is supposed to approve such changes. • Bristol Bay fishermen continued to get improved grades for improving the quality of their salmon using a “report card” system and lots of ice.  • The industry braced for new rules that will place observers aboard fishing boats smaller than 60 feet, and for the first time, include the 2,000-plus boat halibut longline fleet. The expanded program begins in January. • Alaska’s salmon season came up short, topping 123 million fish, 7 percent shy of projections. • Chile’s farmed salmon industry came back on track after fighting disease outbreaks for several years, and flooded markets with fish. Still, Alaska’s wild catch held its own in world markets. • It took a quarter of a century, but fishery managers finally began putting the brakes on the 5 million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch by trawl and longline fisheries in the Gulf of Alaska. The North Pacific Council agreed to phase in a 15 percent reduction plan starting in 2014. The annual Gulf bycatch allotment exceeds the combined harvests for sport halibut fisheries in Southeast and South central Alaska. • Soccer balls, motorcycles and mounds of buoys and Styrofoam began washed ashore in Alaska from the massive 2011 tsunami in Japan. The worst is yet to come, but it remains a head scratcher as to who picks up both the debris and the tab. At least 750,000 tons of debris is expected to hit Alaska’s coastline. • Another head scratcher: Growing populations of sea otters continued feasting on Southeast Alaska’s stocks of sea cucumbers, crabs, urchins and clams. Estimates peg commercial fishing losses from the otters at $30 million since 1995. • Trident Seafoods introduced 100 percent recyclable “AquaSafe” fish box starting with its shipments of some of the first Copper River reds in mid-May. • A first ever accounting of bycatch in US fisheries was unveiled by federal scientists, setting a baseline for the accidental takes of fish, marine mammals, and seabirds by fishing gear. The Southeast region of the U.S. (Gulf of Mexico) led all others with total fish bycatch, Alaska ranked second for fish bycatch and nearly last for marine mammals. • The state gave a $3 million show of support for University of Alaska Fairbanks researchers to buy high tech buoys to measure ocean acidity levels in Alaska waters year ‘round. Alaska fishermen will play an important role in the water sampling research. • More research backed the fact that the tiniest traces of copper in water affect a salmon’s sense of smell and changes their behavior. A University of Washington/NOAA project confirmed that as little as five parts of copper per billion made the salmon unable to detect predators and were attacked in a matter of seconds. • Dutch Harbor-Unalaska held onto the title of the nation’s top fishing port for seafood landings. • Shrimp, canned tuna and salmon remained as America’s top seafood favorites; Alaska pollock bumped farmed tilapia for the No. 4 spot. Overall, Americans ate slightly less seafood at 15 pounds per person per year. • The no-show by Alaska chinook salmon merited a federal disaster declaration for the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Kenai  Rivers. The State ramped up research for king salmon rehab statewide, and believe ocean factors are causing the salmon declines. • Despite outpourings of opposition from Congress and constituents, the Food and Drug Administration gave a “clean bill of health” to genetically tweaked salmon. That clears the way for Frankenfish to become the first scientifically altered animal approved for human consumption anywhere in the world. The 60-day public comment period is going on now. • The “graying of the fleet” continued in Alaska. State data showed that 45 percent of all Alaska permit holders were between the ages 45 and 60, with an average age of 47.  • A grassroots effort to bring back Alaska’s coastal zone management program failed to get enough votes to get the measure on the ballot. • Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell certified the Bristol Bay Forever citizens’ initiative, which aims to protect wild salmon from any new, large-scale mining in the Bristol Bay region. Citizens have one year to gather 30,169 signatures to get the measure on the 2014 general election ballot. • Ever-savvy Copper River salmon producers launched a Locator App to help customers easily find the famous salmon at restaurants and markets across the nation. Bristol Bay salmon fishermen quickly followed suit and launched a locator app.  • It was back to the drawing board for a widely criticized federal “biological opinion” on the impact of Western Aleutian fisheries on Steller sea lions. The opinion was used to justify closures of cod and Atka mackerel fisheries, although many felt the conclusions were not supported by the data. The BiOp will be peer reviewed by the Center for Independent Experts. • More local seafood started making its way to Alaska’s school lunch trays with the help of a USDA funded Fish to Schools program launched at UAF. 2012 Fish Picks and Pans Best Fish Samaritans: UFA’s Alaska Fishing Industry Relief Mission, or AFIRM  Fondest fish farewell: Ray Riutta, leaving the helm of ASMI after 10 years Best fish gadget: SCraMP app for iPhones, a Small Craft Motion Program that tracks vessel stability Biggest fishing change: The expanded observer program that includes coverage of small vessels and the 2,000+ halibut longline fleet. Worst fish omission: tens of thousands of pages of documents on the proposed Pebble Mine — but no images to be found anywhere of what the mine area might look like?    Most savvy fishing town: No town promotes its salmon better and with more pride than Cordova. Least savvy fishing town: No town promotes or celebrates its fisheries less than Kodiak. Biggest fish adjustment: The expanded onboard observer program Best Alaska fishing icons: Bering Sea crabbers Biggest fish fiasco: NMFS Steller sea lion BiOp blunders Best hungry fish feeders: Sea Share, Ocean Beauty Best fish to school boosters: GAPP, the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers Biggest fish blunder: setting a precedent by removing 11 miles of salmon streams to accommodate a coal mine at Upper Cook Inlet Scariest fish story: ocean acidification Best home spirit fish move: CDQ boats home porting in Alaska Worst global fish story: Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported, or IUU, catches by fish pirates. UN estimates say IUU catches amount to 20 percent of the global harvest. Best fish news site: www.seafood.com Best fish advocates: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, Renewable Resources Foundation Biggest fish mix up: Alaska spends $20 million on Peruvian fish feed for its 33 hatcheries while sending 200,000 tons of Alaska-made feeds to Asia. Best fish bash: Symphony of Seafood Biggest consumer fish snub: No labeling will be required for genetically modified salmon. To be sure you are getting the real thing and not a manmade mutant look for the Alaska or wild salmon label! Best seafood advocate: Ray RaLonde, Alaska Sea Grant aquaculture specialist Trickiest fishing conundrum: What to do about sea otters in Southeast Alaska Best fish invention: NanoICE. Created in Iceland, it’s a frigid slurry of ice “fractions” that immerses fish completely, and can be pumped into storage areas on fishing boats and in plants. Biggest fish WTF? Millions of pounds of halibut tossed as bycatch (by law) while sport and commercial catches get clipped well below their bottom lines.  Biggest fish story of 2012: Alaska’s disappearing chinook salmon and the anguish and heartbreak, not to mention economic hardship, it has caused for so many.  This year marks the 22nd year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites. A daily spin off – Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations in Alaska. The goal of both is to make people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s seafood industry, and to inspire more Alaskans to join its ranks.

Seafood contest is underway

Alaska’s Symphony of Seafood will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year and the call is out for new entries to be introduced in the annual competition.  The Symphony, hosted by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, showcases new Alaska seafood products in three categories: retail, food service and smoked. Top winners in each receive booth space at the international Boston Seafood Show in March.     A unique and fun thing about the seafood contest is that it provides a level playing field with entries from major seafood companies and small Mom and Pop’s.  “The expert judges don’t have any idea who enters the products. They vote purely on taste, presentation and other criteria,” said Jim Browning, AFDF executive director. Between 15 and 20 new seafood items are usually entered into the annual competition. Fred West and his small, family-run business of Tustumena Smoke House in Soldotna took home the 2012 grand prize for his Kylee’s all-natural Alaska salmon bacon, made from pinks and chums.  Past winners include a wide range of innovative seafood items: cold smoked halibut, salmon chorizo, chowders and “ultimate” fish sticks. The 2013 seafood judging will take place in Seattle on Feb. 13; all winners will be kept secret and announced at a gala tasting bash on Feb. 23 in Anchorage. Deadline to enter the Symphony is January 16. Dine out, Eat fish Americans eat most of their seafood in restaurants, and trend watchers predict more offerings on menus next year. That’s good news for Alaska, which provides more than half of all U.S. caught seafood, and 90 percent of wild salmon.      A poll by the National Restaurant Association asked its 2,000 members for their calls on the hottest trends for 2013 menus. Topping the list: locally sourced meats, seafood and produce.   Another top trend for restaurants is healthful kids’ meals. Also popular are environmental sustainability as a culinary theme, gluten-free cuisine, using new cuts of meats and sustainable seafood.  When asked how to best handle the increasing cost of ingredients, one-third of the chefs said changing menus, one-quarter said adjusting plate composition, and another quarter said exploring new sourcing options.   Social media are trending at the dining table — 27 percent of the respondents ranked tablet computers, such as iPads, as the hottest technology trend in restaurants in 2013, 25 percent said  Smartphone apps, followed by  mobile/wireless/pay-at-the-table at 19 percent. Score one for Frankenfish Genetically tweaked salmon just got one step closer to American dinner plates. The Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, released its environmental assessment of the “AquaAdvantage salmon” Dec. 21 concluding that the fish “will not have any significant impacts on the quality of the human environment of the United States.” The FDA also said the fish, which grows three times faster than normal, is unlikely to harm populations of natural salmon. If federal regulators clear the salmon, as expected, it would be the first scientifically altered animal approved for food anywhere in the world. No labeling will be required to alert human consumers that the salmon is not the real thing, as it is classified under ‘veterinary medicine’ and is therefore exempt. The FDA will take comments from the public for 60 days before making it final. 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.

Deck ergonomics studied; herring could have hidden value

Making some easy changes to a boat’s deck lay out, or simply modifying knives and scrapers can reduce the strains, sprains and pains of fishing. Doing so applies the science of ergonomics. “Ergonomics is the science of adapting your workplace, your tools, equipment and work methods to be more efficient and comfortable and error free by humans. It’s basically how a human body interacts with their work environment,” explained Jerry Dzugan, director of the Sitka-based Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, or AMSEA. AMSEA is using a $100,000 Occupational Safety and Health Administration grant to design an ergonomics program that “fits the work to the user instead of forcing the user to fit the work.”   “The goal is to reduce the muscular and skeletal disorders that are pervasive in the fishing jobs,” Dzugan said. “When I used to fish, and everyone I know who fishes, can all tell me about their   carpal tunnel, their tendonitis, their shoulder problems or their lower back problems.” Data from the Alaska Fishermen’s Fund show that 40 percent of all claims are due to strains and sprains, such as carpal tunnel syndrome. The AMSEA program will show how those injuries happen, proper lifting and moving techniques, and how simple stretching exercises before going out on deck can minimize the impact of repetitive motions and hard work. It also will show how to make deck space more ergonomically friendly, and how modifying tools of the trade can help. “Having a tool that fits your hand instead of making your hand fit the tool,” Dzugan explained. “Things like knives with angles so you can keep your wrist in a neutral position, or fish scrapers that have the bend in the scraper, not in your wrist. All those things make a big difference on tendonitis and carpal tunnel.” The new ergonomics program will be tacked on to safety drills and training by AMSEA instructors, who also will work with local physical therapists to include the techniques. The program will launch early next year. “We’re looking forward to getting it out to the fleet,” Dzugan said, “and getting feedback and fishermen’s ideas.” Big opportunities for herring  The roe herring quota at next spring’s first fishery at Sitka Sound could drop by 60 percent next year to just over 11,000 tons if survey numbers hold true. That’s down from nearly 29,000 tons last March, although the actual catch was a lackluster 13.5 thousand tons. Also plummeting have been Alaska herring prices — virtually all the roe goes to Japan and that market has shrunk considerably in recent years. Lower inventories in Japan mean prices are ticking up slightly from the 58 percent decline in the dockside value for roe in herring in 2011. For Sitka, that meant a drop from over $800 a ton to under $300 a ton; at Kodiak prices went from $440 to $220, and at Togiak from $350 to $164. Alaska’s herring fisheries occur into June all along the westward coast to Norton Sound. A fascinating new report by the Juneau-based McDowell Group points out that although Alaska is the world’s second largest producer of Pacific herring (following Russia), with annual harvests of roughly 40,000 tons, it accounts for just 1 percent of global production. In Alaska, the only real value comes from the roe-bearing female fish, meaning fully half of the catch – the males – is worth next to nothing. The male herring are mostly ground into fish meal, and may actually cost processors and fishermen more than the fish meal is worth. “Male herring are regarded as a cost of doing business in sac roe fisheries... It is estimated that 11,800 short tons, or 23.7 million pounds, of male herring were taken in Togiak and Kodiak sac roe fisheries in 2011,” according to the report. It’s much different for the world’s leading herring producer, Norway, where harvests can top one million tons a year. Fishermen there averaged 47 cents per pound in 2012 as nearly all of Norway’s herring are sold fresh or frozen, smoked, pickled or preserved for human consumption.  Only about one percent of Norway’s herring harvests are turned into fish meal or oil. The McDowell report said frozen herring fillets can range from $1.04 to $1.35 per pound, and some canned fish can fetch prices equivalent to that of canned Alaska salmon. The report said if male herring from the Kodiak and Togiak fisheries were made into frozen fillets the wholesale value last year would have been about $15 million.  Catch ups and downs Last week the North Pacific Fishery Management Council approved next year’s catch limits for Alaska’s largest fisheries. Some highlights for the 24 different fishes under the Council’s purview. Alaska 2013 groundfish catches: • Alaska Pollock: 1.2 million metric tons (about 3 billion pounds), a 5 percent increase in the Bering Sea. Another 267 million pounds of pollock will come from the Gulf of Alaska, a 4 percent increase. • For Pacific cod in the Bering Sea, the catch is down slightly to 260,000 mt (500 million pounds). Cod catches in the Gulf took a sizeable hit to just over 133 million pounds, down nearly 8 percent. • Catches for Alaska sablefish (black cod) will decline in both regions: in the Bering Sea a take of 3,700 mt (8 million pounds) is down 13 percent; in the Gulf, the sablefish quota of 27.5 million pounds is a 3.5 percent decrease. • All combined, Alaska’s 2013 groundfish catches total nearly 2.5 million metric tons, or about 5.4 billion pounds of fish — more than all the rest of the U.S. combined. Fishing life photos The deadline is Dec. 31 to submit photos that highlight the fishing life to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI. Winners in five categories get an Apple iPad. ASMI will use the photos in its multi-media outreach to 21 countries

Latest fish facts show Anchorage tops for permit holders

Ask an Alaskan what community is home to the most commercial fishermen and they will respond Kodiak or Dutch Harbor, or maybe Petersburg or Bristol Bay. Wrong! Anchorage ranks No. 1 for total fishing participation, with 994 permit holders and another 1,216 crew license holders who fish year round. The Anchorage–based fishermen brought home an estimated $52 million from the fishing grounds last year. The Mat-Su Valley with 396 permit holders and 420 fishing crew also is home to more harvesters than many coastal regions. Those are just a few of the latest “fish facts” compiled by United Fishermen of Alaska, which profiles the jobs and business taxes generated in 2011 by seafood harvesting and processing in 18 Alaska communities. By far, most commercial fishing operations in Alaska are small LLCs or family businesses, and each fishing boat is like an individual storefront. Alaska’s harbors can be likened to a “mall in a marina.” UFA is “alarmed” at the lack of public awareness about the economic contributions of the Alaska’s seafood industry, said president Arni Thomson of Anchorage. “Out of sight, out of mind. Commercial fishing and seafood processing is increasingly forgotten in discussions about the relative importance of Alaska industries among policy makers and the public,” Thomson said. Often forgotten (or unknown) is that all of the fish bucks don’t just benefit the towns where the catches come in. The taxes generated by fish crossing the docks is split 50/50 between the town or borough, the rest goes into the general fund to be distributed at the whim of the Alaska legislature. In fact, the seafood industry is second only to oil/gas in the dollars it provides to the State general fund. State coffers received more than $25 million in its share of fisheries business and landing taxes last year. Speaking of the docks – that brings up another big misconception that badly devalues the economic impact of the seafood industry. When people talk about the value of a fishery, they commonly refer to its “ex-vessel value,” the price paid to fishermen at the docks prior to the seafood being processed. This represents only half of the value after the catch is processed, boxed and shipped to markets – called the “first wholesale value.” Speaking of shipping to markets: Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export, accounting for nearly half of the state’s total exports. The seafood exports were valued at $5.2 billion last year, a 24 percent increase from 2010. Find the Alaska community fishing facts at: www.ufa-fish.org. Bait and switch Halibut scientists use more than 300,000 pounds of chum salmon as bait when they do annual stock surveys each summer. The bait, which is procured from local ports, is staged at more than 1,200 survey stations stretching between Oregon and the Bering Sea with the help of up 15 chartered fishing boats.  Bait is one of the most expensive parts of the project, and increasing chum prices have pushed up the processed/frozen cost to nearly a half million dollars. Last year that prompted a study using less pricey fish that might work just as well – herring, pink salmon and Alaska pollock. “We found that herring was the worst so we dropped that, and pinks performed about the same as chum salmon,” said Bruce Leaman, executive director of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which staffs the surveys. In tests this summer, pollock and pink salmon baits were on hooks alongside chums at every survey area. The results were mixed, Leaman said. “In the Gulf of Alaska, in general the pollock caught more halibut and less bycatch, but that wasn’t the case in the Bering Sea. We didn’t see the same results everywhere,” he said. The testing showed some clear linkages between bait and catches, Leaman added, but said they aren’t consistent enough to draw good conclusions.” Halibut scientists will repeat the bait experiment next year, and for now chum salmon will remain the bait of choice.  “We may have a recommendation for the Commission in 2014 in terms of a change to the bait,” Leaman said, “but that remains to be seen.” Frankenflop Attempts to get genetically modified, or GM, salmon approved for U.S. dinner plates are having trouble staying afloat. The Associated Press reports that Aquabounty, the Massachusetts-based company that has tweaked Atlantic salmon to grow twice as fast as normal, is on its last legs financially. At issue is the more than two decades it has taken to try and get the nod from the Food and Drug Administration. Two years ago the FDA concluded the GM salmon was safe to eat but it has yet to approve the so-called Frankenfish. The agency is still working on an environmental impact report, which could take years to conclude. Aquabounty has burned through $67 million so far and has put all of its investments in the Frankenfish basket. CEO Ron Stotish said the company only has enough money to survive until January. He blames the stall on “partisan bickering and people who oppose new technology.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Another harvest drop likely for halibut; coverage fees up

Halibut catches could be cut by 33 percent next year if proposed numbers get the nod by the International Pacific Halibut Commission next month. That would mean a coastwide harvest of just 22.7 million pounds for fisheries in northern California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch would be 17.4 million pounds, down from about 25 million this year. Unlike past years, staff scientists are not making catch limit recommendations by separate areas. Instead, they are providing “assessment and advise frameworks” to the commission that embody the risks and benefits associated with choices for harvests in certain areas. “We are trying to provide a link between previous years and this year using what’s being called a Blue Line out of the decision table,” explained Bruce Leaman, IPHC executive director, after an interim meeting last week. “That is the application of our current harvest policy using the rates in each area to the results of this year’s stock assessments. So that is what the Blue Line represents — but it is not a recommendation by the staff, it is just one of the choices we are putting forward for the Commission to decide on in January.” Leaman said the most significant thing that came out of this year’s halibut stock assessment was the solution to a “retrospective problem” that has been plaguing the stock for the past several years. “That means we were continually overestimating the stock size and having to reduce that estimate over time, and we were not capturing the correct level of estimated biomass,” he said. “The result of that has been the trends we have been presenting to people has shown this upward bend to the trend of stock biomass that is not there. In solving the retroactive problem, it essentially unfolded the end of that curve and so it’s now in a fairly flat phase and the stock decline has been fairly continuous from there. But we have made some big steps towards getting back to a correct harvest rate.” If the proposed numbers hold for 2013, it will add up to a nearly 70 percent reduction in Pacific halibut catches over the past three years. The outlook for the immediate future is grim as stock assessments appear to be on a very flat trajectory. Here are the low ends of the 2013 ‘blue line’ catch assessments by Alaska region in millions of pounds with comparisons to this year in parentheses: Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 3.12 (2.624) Area 3A (Central Gulf): 9.24 (11.9) Area 3B (Western Gulf): 2.73 (5) 4A (Aleutian Islands): 850,000 (1.567) 4B (Aleutian Islands): 620,000 (1.869) 4CDE (Bering Sea): 850,000 (2.465) See the complete halibut reports at http://www.iphc.int. Pay up time Alaska fishermen who hold Individual Fishing Quotas (also called catch shares) of halibut, sablefish (black cod) and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover the management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The coverage fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices and averaged across the state. Fishermen determine how much they owe by multiplying the annual fee by the dockside value of all their landings. The percentage is slightly higher this year at 2.1 percent, compared to 1.6 percent last year. According to Troie Zuniga, fee coordinator at National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries in Juneau, bills were sent to 2,114 Alaska longliners, 49 less than last year. The 2012 halibut and black cod fisheries yielded $5 million for coverage costs. This year’s average price for halibut is $5.87 per pound compared to $6.56 last year. For sablefish, the dock price averaged $4.11 per pound, down from $5.15.   The overall values for both fisheries took a big dip — for halibut, a value of $137 million is down $57 million from last year. For sablefish, a value of $109 million is a drop of $15 million. Longliners have until the end of January to pay their fishing bills. For Bering Sea king and snow crab, the 2011/2012 coverage fee was 1.23 percent for a dockside value of $262 million, a decrease of about $25 million from the previous season. Zuniga said bills went out to 20 Bering Sea crabbers who have until the end of July to pay their coverage fees. Fish prices The first thing fishermen want to know is the base price for their fish, but sometimes it can be tough to come by. The state Department of Revenue Tax Division compiles prices for every kind of fish and shellfish caught by Alaska fishermen by region. The prices are not in-season; they show a snapshot of each previous year. Here’s a sampler from the 50 species tracked in 2011, not including salmon: Alaska halibut went from a low of $6.37 a pound in the Bering Sea to a high of $6.96 in the Ketchikan/Craig area. The highest price for sablefish was $8.28 at Petersburg/Wrangell to a low of $7.40 at Kodiak.  Octopus fetched 63 cents at Kodiak, 7 cents per pound for squid and 44 cents per pound for big skates. Gray cod got the lowest price at just 11 cents per pound at Petersburg/Wrangell to a high of 58 cents at Juneau/Yakutat. Lingcod went for a low of 41 cents at Kodiak up to $1.98 at Sitka/Pelican, a 97-cent increase from the previous year. Alaska pollock averaged 17 cents at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Of the 13 different types of rockfish listed, yellow eye (red snapper) paid fishermen the most at $1.60 per pound at Sitka/Pelican. The low was a nickel for northern rockfish in the Bering Sea.  Sea cucumbers paid $6.21 at Ketchikan/Craig, up nearly $4 per pound. For crab, Kodiak paid the most for Dungeness at $2.39; the dungy price was $2.24 at Petersburg/Wrangell. Kodiak also paid the most for Tanner crab at $3.04. Snow crab averaged $2.71 at Dutch Harbor, up from $1.34 last season. The priciest Alaska seafood in 2011? Bristol Bay red king crab priced at a whopping $10.80 per pound, a 30 percent increase. Geoduck clams were next at $10.43 at Ketchikan, up nearly $4. The lowest valued Alaska species were rex sole and sculpin, both fetching 2 pennies per pound. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fishing fleet still graying; pollock harvest could increase

The “graying of the fleet” continues in Alaska as fewer young folks obtain permits for various fisheries. Data from 2011 show that 45 percent of all Alaska permit holders were between the ages 45 and 60, with an average age of 47. That was roughly twice as many permit holders as there were between the ages of 30 and 44. Crewmembers were much younger, averaging around 21 years old. There also was a higher incidence of crewmembers in their mid-30s, dropping off in the older age range. This may be due in part to aging crew eventually purchasing their own permits. Those are just a few of the findings by the state’s Department of Labor in its November issue of Economic Trends, which focuses on Alaska fishing and processing jobs. The harvesting sector also continued to grow, with the salmon and groundfish sectors each adding more than 200 jobs last year, while halibut, crab, and herring fisheries all had drops in employment. Overall, the seafood industry provides more jobs in Alaska than the oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism industries combined.  A breakdown shows that roughly 10,000 permit holders went fishing last year, along with more than 22,000 crewmembers. Salmon represents more than half of the total fishing jobs, and more than 60 percent of Alaska’s total harvesting employment takes place from June through August. The salmon sector averaged more than 16,000 jobs a month during those months, 80 percent of the total summer harvesting employment. Three gear types accounted for almost 60 percent of total harvesting jobs in the state in 2011: longliners, gillnetters and set netters. In terms of gender, 85 percent of the fish harvesters last year were men. Of that, 7,253 were permit holders, or 23.9 percent. Male crew totaled 18,678, or 61.6 percent. Just over 1,100 women held fishing permits, or 3.7 percent. Women crew numbers topped 3,200, or 10.8 percent of Alaska’s fishing jobs.   Alaska remains the nation’s leaders for value of fisheries at nearly $2 billion of the $5.3 billion US total. The Economic Trends report also includes analyses of seafood processing, fishermen’s other jobs and a focus on the Aleutians West region. Find the full report at http://labor.alaska.gov/trends/nov11.pdf Eat more fish The American diet includes the second lowest percentage of seafood in the world – about 15 pounds per capita per year, compared to 110 pounds of red meat and 73 pounds of poultry. The lack of essential nutrients from seafood (notably, omega 3 fatty acids) causes tens of thousands of preventable deaths each year, according to health professionals. “It has just been in the last few decades as we’ve industrialized our food supply that we’ve almost eradicated this nutrient from our diet. When you don’t get it, all kinds of bad things start happening,” said Randy Hartnell, a former Bristol Bay fishermen and creator of Vital Choice Seafoods. Now U.S. nutritionists are getting serious about turning that deficit around.  “New federal dietary guidelines in 2010 promote eating seafood twice a week, but unfortunately today Americans eat less than half of that,” said Linda Cornish, director of the Seafood Foundation, a new nonprofit launched this month as part of the National Fisheries Institute.  The Foundation will focus on building awareness of the health benefits of seafood to a wider population using a three-pronged approach. “An education component teaching about the benefits of eating seafood; getting our moms, dads and children to understand the great tastes seafood has to offer, and helping Americans understand how to incorporate seafood meals into their daily routine,” Cornish said. “We need to help Americans become more confident seafood buyers, and to show how easy it is to cook seafood at home. That, she said is the biggest hurdle. “The biggest obstacle will be to overcome the routine of the daily meal, and the notion that fish is smelly and harder to prepare,” Cornish said. “When in fact fish is so easy and quick to prepare you can get a meal on the table in well under 30 minutes. It is a matter of just showing how easy it is to incorporate that into their daily meals.” The Seafood Foundation is forming partnerships with health organizations, seafood companies and industry stakeholders to help fund media and hands on campaigns, such as cooking demonstrations in supermarkets, hospitals and community centers. Cornish said the seafood effort is very timely, as more people care about what they are eating. “I think there is definitely an awakening among our American citizens in terms of what our food system looks like. People want to be more aware of what we put into our bodies,” she said. “So often in our busy daily lives we run to pick up something fast and we don’t realize how detrimental that is to our overall health. I don’t think the average American understands what nutrients they really do need to function well. They take lots of supplements to get a feeling of well-being when in fact, they need to find and buy the best seafood and produce they can to have an overall wellness that is natural.” Omegas can’t be produced by our bodies and must be obtained from foods, notably fish and some plant sources. ROV tops divers Urchins, sea cucumbers and giant geoduck clams are some of Southeast Alaska’s most lucrative, albeit dangerous, fisheries. Divers go down to pluck the creatures from the bottom, using long hookah-like devices that provide air supplied from attending boats on the surface. Now a new device from Norway could remove the dangers of diving. A remotely-operated underwater vehicle, or ROV, called a Seabed Harvester has performed extremely well in some of Northern Norway’s most remote and frigid waters. According to World Fishing, during testing in January, the ROV harvested nearly two metric tons of urchins, or 4,400 pounds in four days. The average take by divers was about 200 pounds per day. The ROV is undergoing more testing with a goal of using it to harvest other species, including scallops and other crustaceans. Scientists said the device is very gentle on the seabed, and they are anticipating a significant improvement in the harvest rate when the operators become more experienced. The ROV also may be used to inspect seabed conditions and stocks over larger areas. The research is financed by the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund. Fish watch Alaska pollock — the world’s largest food fishery — could see an even bigger catch next year!  Scientists are recommending a harvest of 1.375 million metric tons for 2013, a 13 percent increase. That adds up to more than three billion pounds of pollock. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will set the catch limits for more than 25 fisheries under its purview at its Dec. 3 to Dec. 11 meeting at the Anchorage Hilton. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon harvest, value drops in 2012; Kodiak top halibut port for 2nd year

Alaska’s salmon harvest and value for 2012 came in well below last year, dropping 21 percent and 30 percent, respectively. According to preliminary state tallies, the value of the salmon catch totaled nearly $506 million at the docks this summer on a statewide catch of 124 million fish. That compares to a 2011 take of 177 million salmon valued at just more than $641 million. A breakdown shows that the 2012 chinook harvest of 333,000 was worth $17.6 million; sockeyes came in at 35.2 million valued at nearly $246 million; the coho catch of 3 million rang in at about $22.5 million; pinks totaled 67 million fish valued at over $105 million; and the chum catch of 18.3 million was worth $114.5 million at the Alaska docks. In terms of average prices, there were ups and downs. Chinook salmon brought fishermen $3.99 per pound, compared to $3.53 last summer. Sockeyes dropped to $1.16, a drop of 15 cents per pound. Coho salmon also paid out at $1.16 on average, up a penny; pinks averaged 43 cents per pound compared to 46 cents last season, and chums at 66 cents decreased by 18 cents a pound. Some highlights: Prince William Sound had the highest prices for chinook salmon, averaging $5.33 per pound; sockeyes at $1.70 and pinks at 48 cents. Sockeye prices at Southeast averaged $1.55; at Cook Inlet reds were worth $1.51 and sockeyes averaged $1 per pound at Bristol Bay. Kodiak reds averaged $1.41; $1.05 at Chignik; it was 84 cents per pound at the Alaska Peninsula; 85 cents in the Kuskokwim region, $1.45 at Norton Sound and 75 cents per pound for sockeye at the Yukon.   The Yukon paid the highest price for chums at $1.18, and Norton Sound paid the most for coho salmon at $1.47 per pound.  Here are the 2012 dockside values by region with 2011 values in parentheses:  Southeast Alaska: $153.2 million ($206.6 million); Prince William Sound: $110.8 million ($103.3 million); Cook Inlet: $36 million ($52.4 million); Bristol Bay: $121 million ($160.4 million); Kodiak: $46.5 million ($50.2 million); Chignik: $13.7 million ($25.6 million); Alaska Peninsula/Aleutian Islands: $17.5 million ($33.8 million); Kuskokwim: $2 million ($3 million); Yukon: $3.1 million ($3.4 million); Norton Sound: $759,000 ($1.2 million); Kotzebue: $568,000 ($864,000). The prices do not reflect bonuses or other increases based on post season sales agreements. Find the complete breakdown at the ADF&G Commercial Fishing page. Halibut haul If Homer hasn’t done it already, it’s time for the town to take down its “America’s #1 Halibut Port” sign. For the second year running, Kodiak topped Homer for halibut landings, this time by nearly 40 percent. The eight-month long fishery closed on Nov. 7 and final catch data shows more than 5 million pounds of halibut crossed the Kodiak docks from 729 landings. Homer had 450 deliveries totaling just over 4.4 million pounds. Seward ranked third at 2.6 million pounds, followed by Dutch Harbor/Unalaska at about 2 million pounds; Sitka and Petersburg each had halibut landings of just more than 1 million pounds.  In all, Alaska longliners landed 97 percent of the 24 million pound halibut catch limit this year, leaving 700,000 pounds in the water.   Speaking of catch limits – fishermen will get a first glimpse of what they can expect in 2013 when the International Pacific Halibut Commission holds its interim meeting later this month.  The IPHC sets the catches for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. Most fishermen are bracing for more bad news, as the harvest has been slashed by nearly 40 percent in the past two years.  Scientists say there are a lot of halibut out there, but the fish are smaller than they should be at age and slow to enter the fishery. Most troubling, scientists believe they have overestimated the Pacific halibut biomass for years. The IPHC also will consider four regulatory proposals for the halibut fishery. One asks for a modification on certain vessel categories; a second requests that harvest tickets be required for all sport caught halibut and sablefish, saying it would provide more complete data for managers. A third proposal recommends that circle hooks be designated as the only legal gear for halibut, saying that J-hooks and treble hooks tend to get swallowed by fish and are difficult to remove. A final proposal asks that sport charter operators be able to retain halibut on board their vessels.  The IPHC staff has made changes to make the meeting sessions more open and transparent. More time has been scheduled for the public to ask questions and except for the finance and administration segments at the end of the second day, all sessions will be webcast. (In past meetings, only the initial staff presentations were webcast.) The IPHC meets Wednesday and Thursday, Nov. 28-29 at its offices in Seattle. Looking ahead:  the annual meeting where final decisions will be made is scheduled for Jan. 21 to Jan. 25 in Victoria, B.C. (See more at iphc.int/home.html) More fish meetings The catch quotas for pollock and cod, Alaska’s largest fisheries, will be finalized by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its meeting Dec. 5 to Dec. 11 in Anchorage. For Bering Sea pollock, the proposed catch is just slightly above the 2012 limit of 1.2 million metric tons, or roughly three billion pounds. Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands Pacific cod harvests could also see an upward tick to nearly 263,000 tons, an increase of 7 percent.  Catches in the Gulf of Alaska also are set to go a bit higher next year. Gulf pollock could increase by nearly 8 percent to more than 125,000 tons. For cod, the proposed catch tops 68,000 tons, up 4 percent. On the down side, Gulf sablefish could see a 166 ton reduction with a proposed catch of roughly 12,800 tons. Back in state waters (out to three miles), the Board of Fisheries begins its meeting cycle with a nine-day marathon from Dec. 4 to Dec. 12 in Naknek. The board will hear 87 proposals that suggest changes to regulations regarding commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries in the Bristol Bay region.  All meetings will be available via webcasts.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Western salmon study results to be released this month

The results of a six-year study on Western salmon will be unveiled this month and the conclusions are not what people of the region had hoped for. Some background: the Western Alaska Salmon Stock Identification Project (WASSIP) was created in 2006 by a group of 11 signers to a memorandum of understanding including Aleut Corporation, Aleutians East Borough, Association of Village Council Presidents, Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, Bristol Bay Native Association, Concerned Area M Fishermen, Kawerak, Lake and Peninsula Borough, Tanana Chiefs Conference, Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association and Alaska’s Department of Fish and Game The mission: to sample commercial and subsistence chum and sockeye salmon fisheries from Chignik to Kotzebue. The goal: to gain a better understanding of the origins and composition of harvests in westward fisheries, and the effects that these fisheries have on salmon stocks across the vast region. The driving issue: identifying the origins of chum salmon migrating through Alaska Peninsula waters to Western regions. Over four years, nearly 320,000 samples were collected and 156,000 samples were analyzed by Fish and Game’s Gene Conservation Laboratory. It took a full year of dedicated laboratory time to do the genetic studies. “It is unprecedented. You are not going to find any salmon genetics project in the world that even comes close to this,” said Eric Volk, chief scientist for Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division. Genetics stock identification projects typically reveal the salmon stocks that are harvested in a particular run, and the proportions of those stocks that make up a catch, Volk explained. “We not only look at each fishery and which stocks are contributing to that fishery, but we also look at it from the other side - which is, for any given stock of interest, which fisheries are catching that stock.” he added. The study has yielded a wealth of information on chum and sockeye salmon migrations, estimating escapements, genetic markers and baselines and more is sure to come. But it came up short in terms of the big question surrounding chums. “We were hoping that we could recognize genetically the chum stocks that originate from Norton Sound or the Yukon or the Kuskokwim or Bristol Bay. That would be very informative for people to look at a fishery and be able to discern which of those stocks are caught in what proportion,” Volk said. “Unfortunately, we turned over every stone but we just can’t genetically separate out those groups over that broad stretch of coast. That was a major promise of the project and we were not able to do that.” Volk called the WASSIP “a model of stakeholder participation” that is “unprecedented in our fisheries arena.” “I felt honored to be sitting at the head of the table,” he said. “This was such a diverse stakeholder group that operated by consensus. Let’s face it; these results are potentially impacting these people’s lives. So the idea that we were able to get everyone to agree on how and where to sample a fishery, how we would do the analyses – that’s incredible and a fascinating example of how it can work.” Alaska pollock brand expands When you bite into a fish sandwich at your favorite fast food restaurant, more than likely it is pollock from Alaska. Now the popular whitefish is soon set to be menued as Fish McBites at McDonalds, and other quick-serve outlets are following suit. Burger King, Jack in the Box and Arby’s also are ramping up demand for frozen blocks of Alaska pollock fillets for their own fish items. “It’s only good news for us and the Alaska industry,” said Pat Shanahan, program director for the trade group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers. The group promotes pollock that is caught and processed in Alaska to markets around the world. “What we are seeing now is with their commitments to sustainability programs and to offer more healthy fish items, they are including even more Alaska pollock on the menu.” Customers prefer Alaska pollock because, unlike product from Russian fisheries, the fish fillets are deep skinned and only frozen once. “What restaurants are looking for is a completely white piece of fish, and the deep skinning removes the fat line,” Shanahan explained. Being certified as a sustainably managed fishery also is a strong selling point. Fast food giant KFC in France, for example, has taken its support for good fishing practices to a whole new level by getting its own eco-label, and will only serve Alaska pollock at its 143 outlets. GAPP also has led the charge to get more fish onto lunch trays, by pushing for Alaska pollock to be added to the school commodity foods list. Last year more than three million pounds of Alaska pollock were purchased by schools through the USDA Food Program, and nearly 2.25 million pounds in the first three months of this school year. The pollock poundage is actually higher due to additional product sold to schools through regular channels, but Shanahan said those figures are not made public. Fishing photos wanted A call is out for photos that highlight the Alaska fishing life. Winning entries will receive an Apple iPad. “We want to show off more of the great folks and fisheries and scenery and everything going on up here, first hand from the people out there doing it,” said Tyson Fick, communication director with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, sponsor of the photo contest. Photos can be entered in several categories, and the winning images will be featured in ASMI’s global outreach programs. “We are active in 21 different countries as well as throughout the US, as well as online and on Facebook. So it’s a great way to show ourselves off,” Fick said. Creating more awareness of Alaska seafood responds to peoples’ desire to know more about where the food comes from and how it gets to their plates, and Fick believes “Alaska has the very best story in all of food.” A big part of the story is all of the people working together to get Alaska seafood to customers around the world. “It’s the people who catch and process the fish, the scientists and managers and the ones who ship it and distribute it to chefs or retail counters,” Fick said. “They all are a part of the Alaska fishery.”

United Fishermen of Alaska focused on sea otters and the Arctic

Sea otters and the Arctic are two focal points for Alaska’s top fishing group at state and federal policy levels. United Fishermen of Alaska, or UFA, is the nation’s largest industry trade group representing nearly 40 organizations. At its recent annual meeting, UFA outlined several policy watches prior to the legislative session; the group also gave out awards and made a job offer. UFA is working closely with state and federal overseers to craft a management plan for exploding populations of sea otters in Southeast Alaska. The mammals, which were reintroduced to the region in the 1950s, are feasting on fishermen’s shellfish catches and completely wiping out stocks in prime areas. Sea otters are protected under the Endangered Species Act and may only be hunted by Alaska Natives for traditional uses. “I think there are opportunities for Alaska Natives to more readily use sea otters in their art, and there also is the need for a management plan,” said UFA Executive Director Mark Vinsel. “One thing that is lacking in the U.S. policy is consideration for exploding species. That is a situation that all parties see happening here with sea otters in Southeast Alaska.” UFA also is closely tracking new rules and provisions being debated by Congress in the 2010 Coast Guard Reauthorization Act. UFA also backs development of a deepwater port in the Arctic and increased presence by the Coast Guard at ‘high latitude’ regions. “As more commerce is going on up north, the Arctic and North Pacific is the place to be. We need the Coast Guard there to help with enforcement and response capabilities,” Vinsel said. The fishing group also maintains an ongoing dialog with Alaska mining interests. “UFA has had a long standing position against Pebble Mine, and we also currently are in opposition to the Chuitna Mine’s plan to basically obliterate a salmon stream,” Vinsel said. He pointed to the Kensington Mine near Juneau as an example of good communication benefiting both industries. “There was opposition from local fishing groups, but they were able to work out their concerns in the planning stages of the Kensington Mine and ended up with changes that accommodated those concerns. That is the way both industries can move forward successfully,” Vinsel said. UFA also awarded Ray Riutta its Man of the Year award. Riutta is stepping down as director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute after 10 years. “If we had a title of UFA man of the decade that’s probably what it would’ve been,” Vinsel said. “During his time virtually all of the Alaska species that ASMI represents have really carved out their territory in the world markets and Ray is a big part of that.” UFA Hall of Fame honors went to John Winther and Eric McDowell. Both passed away this year. The Fishermen of the Year award went to Alaska scallop harvesters and industry advocates, Jim and Mona Stone. UFA also offered the job of executive director to Julianne Curry of Petersburg. Vinsel is leaving the position but will remain as UFA administrator. Curry has two weeks to decide if she will take the job. For more information on the meeting, go to http://www.ufa-fish.org/index.htm. Shellfish growers need seed Blue mussels, oysters and the need for seed top the agenda for Alaskan shellfish growers when they gather for workshops, training and annual meetings next week in Ketchikan. Alaska’s aquaculture industry continues to grow slowly but steadily in Southeast and Southcentral, primarily for farmed oysters. So far 67 farms are permitted but only 29 are producing. About 900,000 Alaska oysters were sold last year, valued at $500,000. A new focus for growers is blue mussels, which will be field tested in a state-backed pilot project at Kachemak Bay near Homer. “Mussels from Kachemak Bay are just incredible, so I’m really looking forward to this,” said Ray RaLonde, a Sea Grant aquaculture specialist and technical advisor for the project. “There is a huge demand for mussels in the US, and there is a shortage – we have to buy our mussels from Canada or elsewhere in the US.” One big challenge will be keeping the tasty mussel crop away from sea otters. RaLonde said the project will test wire meshed netting to foil the pests. “At a world aquaculture conference they showed netting used for marine pen reared fish and it is shark proof. So the hope is that our otters won’t be able to get through it,” RaLonde said. Oysters are by far Alaska’s biggest bivalve crop, and the small industry is poised for expansion. The biggest hurdle, RaLonde said, is getting enough seed to start them off. “We can’t get enough seed and neither can the entire west coast, because the hatcheries in Washington that produce most of the seed have been hammered with ocean acidification problems, and the oyster larvae aren’t surviving,” RaLonde said. Ketchikan’s new Oceans Alaska Center built an oyster starting facility, and is growing geoduck larvae seed as well. The Alutiiq Hatchery at Seward also plans to begin doing seed soon. The ultimate goal, RaLonde said, is to ‘close the loop’ in Alaska. “We’ve got to move our production away from reliance on Outside sources. But we are in a transitional phase right now and it is not an easy time for farmers to make adjustments,” he said. “Industry wide, we are trying to help each other out as much as we can. We’re at that stage now where we want to raise the whole ship.” Shellfish workshops and training sessions begin Nov. 7-8; the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association annual meeting is Nov 9. All events are at the Cape Fox Lodge in Ketchikan. More info is available at http://seagrant.uaf.edu. Congrats, Ray! RaLonde merited the 2012 National Sea Grant Superior Outreach Program Award “for his extensive work with Alaska Native tribes, shellfish farmers, coastal communities, and state agencies in (1) enhancing safe harvest of shellfish statewide and (2) diversifying the economies of isolated coastal communities through mariculture.” Eat it all! Some of the best and healthiest parts of a fish don’t make it into the American diet. An e-book called “The Whole Fish - How Adventurous Eating of Seafood Can Make You Healthier, Sexier, and Help Save the Ocean” shows simple ways to use fish heads, skins and bones in appealing new ways. “Omega 3s increase serotonin levels and they really do work as aphrodisiac,” said author Maria Finn. “Plus fish adds healthy vitamins and minerals, so it actually does help increase your sexual desire and sensitivity.” Finn is a former Homer fisherman who said her whole fish philosophy stemmed from years of fieldwork with Fish and Game. “When I was on the Yukon delta I worked with a lot of Yup’ik people at their fish camps. They showed me how to use the whole fish – the heads, the eggs and milt, the bones, and what they didn’t use was pickled or fed to the dogs,” she said. Now Finn lives near San Francisco where using the whole animal is the trend in high-end restaurants. “It’s considered very environmentally friendly and it shows respect for the animal -it’s not just taking a few prime cuts and tossing the rest away. So you might get pig face pasta here or trotters,” she said. Finn has seen salmon bellies featured as entrees, salmon roe as garnishes, tuna heart grated over pasta, and salmon bones ground with salt to provide calcium and omega 3s. The e-book has recipes and also draws attention to sustainability issues and food webs.

State seeks answers to salmon shortage; cod stocks rebound

State fishery managers are asking for input from Alaskans to help solve the case of disappearing king salmon. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell has invited stakeholders to a two-day symposium in Anchorage this month titled Understanding Abundance and Productivity Trends of Chinook salmon in Alaska. The goal is “to increase understanding and develop the most complete research plan possible.” A draft analysis by a newly-appointed fisheries research team represents initial efforts by the state to better understanding the causes for Chinook declines. The report, titled “Alaska Chinook Salmon Knowledge Gaps and Needs,” says that from 1994 through 2011, chinook catches have decreased 7 percent for subsistence users, 40 percent for commercial fishermen and 12 percent for sport users. Chinook salmon make up only about one percent of Alaska’s annual commercial catch. The analysis states that the Alaska-wide downturn in chinook abundance “has created social and economic hardships” in many regions and that “there is a significant need for Fish and Game to better characterize and understand changing productivity and abundance across the state to identify actions that could be taken to lessen the hardships.” While there are hundreds of individual chinook salmon stocks throughout Alaska, the research team recommends that the department establish a suite of “indicator stocks” that will “provide an ongoing index of statewide chinook salmon productivity and abundances trends across a diversity of drainage types and size representing a wide range of ecological and genetic attributes from Southeast to Arctic waters.” The team has selected stocks from 12 rivers: Unuk, Stikine, Taku, Chilkat, Copper, Susitna, Kenai, Karluk, Chignik, Nushagak, Kuskokwim and Yukon. The report also accounts for bycatch in groundfish fisheries and says the average number of chinooks taken in the Bering Sea from 2008-2011 has been about 19,000. In the Gulf of Alaska, bycatch takes peaked in 2010 at nearly 55,000 king salmon – the North Pacific Council adopted a hard cap of 25,000 kings in 2011. The registration form for the chinook symposium asks for input in planning the event, and what questions should be considered in three sessions that cover chinook stock assessments in Alaska, ecology and stock assessments in the marine environment, and the role of hatchery production and research in addressing observed trends. Cod rockets Call it gray cod, true cod or P-cod – it’s arguably the most popular fish in the world. And catches are set to increase as stocks rebound around the world. Alaska boasts one of the biggest and most robust cod fisheries – combined harvests from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska next year could see slight increases to 331,000 metric tons, or nearly 730 million pounds. But that pales in comparison to the amount of cod coming out of the Barents Sea, which straddles Norway and Russia. Cod stocks there are considered the largest in the world and next year’s quota is set at a record one million metric tons, or 2.2 billion pounds. Adding to that will be another 56 million pounds from the North Sea, where cod stocks have been on an upward swing for six years. The increasing numbers of cod from those waters have already pulled Europe from Alaska’s fish market and put a downward press on dock prices to between 30-35 cents a pound, down about a dime. Alaska fishermen get a double whammy because most of the cod they’re pulling aboard are smaller sized; European fishermen have the same complaint, according to the Joint Norwegian/Russian Fisheries Commission. Researchers believe cod could get even smaller because of rising sea temperatures. University of British Columbia fish scientists studied 600 species of fish across the world’s oceans. “This is the first study that looks at the changes in the maximum body size of fish on a global scale,” said William Cheung, co-author of the study. Using computer modeling, the scientists concluded that fish sizes could shrink by 14 to 24 percent over the next 40 years. Cheung explained that as water warms, cold-blooded fish will see an increase in their body temperature, which speeds up their metabolism. While the demand for oxygen increases as fish grow, their ability to obtain it slows down and triggers a stop to their growth. Lost pots sought Skipper Oystein Lone of the Catcher/Processor Pacific Sounder has decided to do something about the high number crab pots lost under the record ice pack during last winter’s snow crab fishery. It’s estimated that 800 pots were lost, valued at over $1 million. Lone has set up an email address where any vessels fishing in the Bering Sea can report the ADFG tag number and position of lost crab pots they come across. Lists of pot sightings and locations will be posted at the fish and game office in Dutch Harbor. That way other crab boats can pick up the pots as they pass through an area, or boat owners can find out where they are and retrieve them. It also provides an opportunity for catcher processors and longliners to help recover the gear, Lone said.

Commentary: Dutch Harbor holds down title for top fishing port once again

Dutch Harbor-Unalaska held onto the title of the nation’s top fishing port for the 15th year in a row, with more than 700 million pounds of fish and crab crossing the docks there last year, a 36 percent increase from 2010. New Bedford, Massachusetts remained the priciest port with landings, mostly scallops, worth nearly $370 million at the docks. Dutch Harbor ranked second again for seafood value at $207 million, an increase of $44 million. The numbers come from the annual Fisheries of the United States Report just released by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service. Overall, the report paints a healthy picture of the nation’s fisheries. Landings of edible fish topped 10 billion pounds, a 17-year high and up 21 percent from 2010. This increase was led by bigger harvests of Alaska pollock and cod, as well as increases in shrimp landings in the Gulf of Mexico, and lobster and crab landings in the Northeast. The dockside value of the U.S. catch also jumped to $5.3 billion, an increase of nearly $800 million. In all, a dozen Alaska ports made the Top 50 ports list for either landings, values, or both. Akutan made a big debut on the charts, ranking third for U.S. seafood landings (431 million pounds, up from 302 million in 2010), and fourth for value at $114 million, a $30 million increase. Kodiak ranked fifth in terms of landings (372 million pounds compared to 325 million) and third for value at $168 million, an increase of $40 million from 2010. Other Alaska ports with top seafood landings include Sitka (No. 14), Petersburg (No. 15), Ketchikan (No. 16), Naknek-King Salmon (No. 19), Cordova (No. 20), Seward (No. 22), Kenai (No. 29), Juneau (No. 43) and Homer (No. 44). Nearly 60 percent of all U.S. seafood landings come from Alaska, where last year deliveries topped 738 million pounds (down 2 percent), valued at almost $565 million (a 12 percent increase). Other report highlights: U.S. salmon landings in 2011were 780 million pounds valued at $618 million—a 1 percent decrease in poundage, and an 11 percent increase ($63.5 million) in value. Alaska provided 95 percent of the U.S. wild salmon catch. Pollock provided the most U.S. seafood poundage; crabs were the most valuable at $650 million, followed by salmon. Seafood exports surged last year with U.S. producers exporting 3.3 billion pounds, up 19 percent. The average price paid to U.S. fishermen last year was 53 cents, down from 55 cents. Alaska fishermen fared better, averaging 77 cents per pound across the board, up a dime from 2010. U.S. per capita consumption of fish and shellfish in 2011 was 15 pounds, a drop of .8 pounds per person. The fisheries report also includes recreational fishing. It’s a great read. Catch watch Catches of Alaska pollock, cod and other groundfish could climb higher next year if fishery overseers agree with the scientists. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will take a first look at the catch recommendations at its meeting next month and make the final decisions in December. For Bering Sea pollock, the proposed catch of 1.2 million metric tons is just slightly above this year’s limit. Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Pacific cod could also see an upward tick to nearly 263,000 tons, a 7 percent increase. In the Gulf of Alaska, the pollock catch could increase by nearly 8 percent to 125,000 tons; for cod, the proposed catch tops 68,000 tons, up 4 percent. Also in October: The council is set to make a final decision on a Halibut Catch Sharing Plan for charter and sport fishing. There’s a chance that 5 percent of the annual halibut allocation will be shifted from commercial fishing to those groups. Bering Sea crab fisheries also dominate the agenda. The council will discuss findings in a special report “as a first step in its consideration of a variety of measures to address issues related to share purchase opportunities for persons active in the crab fisheries, high lease payments in the fisheries, and the effects of those payments on active participants.” The North Pacific council meets Oct. 3-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. If you can’t make the Anchorage meeting you can participate online.. Quality kudos No town tops Cordova when it comes to touting their salmon, and this summer fishermen and processors took bragging about fish quality to a whole new level. For the past two summers fishermen have partnered with the region’s nine processors to use strict handling guidelines to improve salmon quality. “Everyone in the chain of custody agreed to participate in the project,” said Beth Poole, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, operated and funded by over 550 salmon fishermen with a 1 percent tax on their salmon catches. “Having nine independent processors working together on a project is pretty unheard of, and we are proud to have that support from all of them,” Poole added. The guidelines require using short soak times, proper bleeding and chilling, proper sanitizing, delivering often and quick transport from tenders to shoreplants. The extra time and effort really pays off, said Gary Johnson, plant manager at Peter Pan Seafoods. “The program exceeded my expectations quite a bit… there were very few fish we couldn’t fillet,” he said. This year the program called out fishermen for their salmon quality by giving awards and recognition to the top producers. “We asked each processor to track their fishermen over the season and at the end of the year to nominate their top quality harvester and their most improved,” Poole said. Along with the recognition, the fishermen get added bonuses for the higher quality salmon. The first “Top Quality Harvester Award” went to Mike Webber on the F/V Amulet. Crab calls Reports from the industry/agency crab plan team meeting in Seattle indicate the Bristol Bay red king crab quota may be between 7 and 8 million pounds; for Bering Sea snow crab the catch quota will likely be around 70 million pounds. Managers will announce the catch numbers in early October. No red king crab fishery in Southeast Alaska this winter.

Falling halibut prices add to woes from harvest cuts

Alaska fishermen are feeling the squeeze of lower prices at the same time that their operating costs continue to spiral upward. For halibut, in a reversal of trend and fortune, prices have dropped by 70 cents per pound in recent weeks. Dock prices usually peak from September until the halibut fishery closes in November, but that is not the case this year — overstocked freezers and resistance from buyers has put a downward press on fish prices. “Buyers simply aren’t buying,” said several Alaska fish processors. Prior to the start of the season in March, processors believed carryover halibut from last year would be sold out by May, but that didn’t happen. Now they are still holding the fish in freezers and selling it at a loss, while at the same time the high-end fresh market has fizzled. Prices at Kodiak were reported at $5, $5.40 and $5.80 per pound, depending on size. At Homer, halibut prices dropped as low as $5.25 but were up slightly to $5.40. Last year’s average halibut price for the season was $6.61 a pound. Those prices still might seem high, but they don’t balance out when you factor in the millions of pounds in lost catch. Pacific halibut catch limits have been reduced by 40 percent in the past two years resulting in an Alaska take of just 24 million pounds for 2012. So far 79 percent of the Alaska halibut catch has been landed, with 5 million pounds remaining in the catch limit. Kodiak was the leading port for landings at nearly 3.7 million pounds, with Homer a close second with 3.6 million pounds. That’s followed by Seward (2.2 million), Dutch Harbor (1.7 million) and Sitka (1 million pounds). The market also “stinks” for sablefish (black cod), said major buyers. As with halibut, freezers also are still full of sablefish from last year. An added downer — most of the fish crossing the docks this season are small, and Japan, the No. 1 customer for black cod, wants larger sizes. Sablefish prices were ranging from $2.25 for 1- to 2-pounders to $7.50 a pound for “seven ups.” Prices for large fish reached $9 per pound earlier in the season. The sablefish fishery also ends in November. Prices for Pacific cod also took a dip to between 32 to 35 cents per pound, down about a dime. That’s due to good catches in the North Sea, where cod has been rebounding for six years. That’s pulled Europe out of the buying equation for Alaska cod, there is less demand from China, and nearly all the catch is now going to U.S. markets. Looking ahead – the cod catch next year in the Barents Sea off of Russia was increased 25 percent to 940,000 metric tons (more than 2 billion pounds), the highest quota in 40 years. Finally, Gulf of Alaska pollock boats remained tied to the docks until Sept. 12, although the fishery reopened Sept. 1. The trawlers wanted 18 cents per pound for pollock – the usual price is closer to 12 cents. The fleet settled for 15.5 cents before heading out. Coral caution Many of Alaska’s fisheries have been booted out of areas to avoid Steller sea lions and various bycatch – now corals loom as a red flag for traditional fishing grounds. A petition by the Center for Biological Diversity is asking the federal government to list cold water, deep sea corals as either threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. “This has great potential in the future to affect a lot of fisheries in the Gulf, the Bering Sea and in the Aleutian Islands,” said Denby Lloyd, Kodiak fishery advisor, at a joint Kodiak Island Borough/City meeting. “I and a number of industry observers see this as having the same potential as Steller sea lions initially had in the early 1990s where it was speculative, and a side issue that soon became an extremely major issue and had dramatic impacts on fisheries.” Alaska corals don’t form reefs like tropical varieties – instead, they grow into dense gardens and can live for hundreds of years. Scientists point to climate changes and ocean acidification as the biggest threats to coldwater corals, Lloyd said – but as usual, fishing would bear the brunt of any restrictions. “The only thing other than climate change that the federal government could control would be fishing activity,” Lloyd said. “And it’s very similar to the results of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service having declared polar bears as threatened. The cause of that was labeled as climate change, but the only thing that could be controlled was immediate human activity and therefore, polar bear hunting and import of trophies and things like that were the way the federal government exerted control. “In this case it’s probably going to be fishing activity that is going to be the outlet for control if corals are declared threatened or endangered.” All fisheries in federal waters (3 miles to 200 miles offshore) with bottom contact gear would be targeted if the corals are listed, said Linda Kozak, a Kodiak-based fishery consultant. “This would be despite clear evidence that the fixed gear fisheries (longline, pots) have been fishing in these areas for many years with no impacts to coral. The Aleutian crab fisheries are targeting the same grounds they have fished for 20 years and their interactions with coral are extremely minimal,” Kozak said. Lloyd added: “If the agencies are persuaded, people are projecting that in 50 years, there is great potential that the acid environment and the temperature environment are going to impact corals to the point of making them threatened or endangered.” The North Pacific Fishery Management Council will discuss the coral issue at its upcoming meeting Oct. 3-9 in Anchorage. Salmon planners Chinook salmon numbers have been declining steadily in major regions throughout Alaska since 2007. Gov. Sean Parnell announced in July the formation of a team of fishery scientists to develop a research plan for the disappearing kings. The team was finally announced by the governor’s office. According to Wesley Loy’s Deckboss blog, it includes Alaska Department of Fish and Game fisheries scientists Eric Volk and Bob Clark, Andrew Munro and Steve Fleischman, fishery biologist Ed Jones, geneticist Bill Templin and Jim Fall from the subsistence division. The U.S. Department of Commerce last week announced a disaster declaration for the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, and for the Cook Inlet region south of Anchorage, including the Kenai River. That means commercial fishermen will be eligible for disaster relief. Eastside setnetters on the Kenai River lost nearly 90 percent of their annual income when the fishery was restricted and closed this summer. Same for Salmon fishermen at the Kuskokwim; the Yukon was closed completely to king Salmon fishing. No one is sure what is causing the declines; most blame ocean factors. The research team is drafting an analysis that will be discussed at a symposium next month in Anchorage.

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