Laine Welch

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.

Commentary: Market forces kick in as 2012 salmon season wraps up

As Alaska’s salmon season winds down, selling the bulk of the harvest gears up for seafood companies that purchased the pack. “This is the season for negotiations, you might say,” said salmon guru Gunnar Knapp, longtime fisheries economist at the University of Alaska Anchorage. “You never know the price until the product is actually sold.” The salmon season runs on different tracks starting with sockeye, and fish sales have varying schedules and market patterns throughout the year. Plus, salmon markets depend on the species and how they are sold. “You can’t just say what is the market for sockeye salmon this year,” Knapp explained. “You have to ask what’s the market for roe, or frozen H&G (headed/gutted), or fillets or canned. Each faces different market circumstances, and the total picture is the sum of those things.” Not a lot of public data on sales is available yet, but there are some bright spots. Salmon roe markets look really strong, due to shortfalls in supply from Russia. Also strong: the canned market, due to strong interest and low carryovers from last season. “That’s really good news, in particular for sockeye and pinks. A very significant share of the harvest goes into producing canned products,” Knapp said. Notably, canned wild salmon and roe do not face competition with farmed salmon. What does compete directly is frozen H&G salmon — the bulk of the Alaska pack — and fillets. But despite huge volumes of cheaper farmed salmon pushing down prices in the U.S., Europe and Japan, the impact on Alaska fish sales seems less than expected. Prior to the season, all the news from Japan indicated the market for frozen H&G sockeye was going to be down significantly because farmed salmon imports were way up and prices were down. “That led to a sort of self-correction of the problem,” Knapp said. “If processors had the option, instead of producing frozen H&G, they canned more of the salmon or made fillets. So the amount of frozen H&G produced and sent to Japan was lower than expected.” Prices today are still lower than last year but not as much as people had feared, Knapp said, adding that the fillet market is uncertain as those sales continue over a year. Overall, Knapp said salmon markets appear a bit better than people expected going into the 2012 season. “I think the key,” he said, “is the diversity of products that Alaska produces.” The fact that there will be less wild salmon available from Alaska also will come into play in global markets. As of Sept. 7, the statewide catch topped 118 million salmon, just 1 million more from the previous week. The pre-season forecast for Alaska’s 2012 salmon was 132 million fish, down from 177 million salmon last year. Besides salmon Alaska’s halibut fishery has 6 million pounds remaining in its 24 million pound catch limit. Kodiak is topping the charts for landings at just more than 3.5 million pounds, followed by Homer just less than that amount. For sablefish (black cod), nearly 8 million pounds remain in the 29.5 million pound quota. Both fisheries run through mid-November … Fishing for cod reopened on Sept. 1 in the Gulf and is ongoing in the Bering Sea. Also, the pollock fleet was approaching its catch limit this year of more than three million billion pounds, or 1.2 million metric tons … Fishing for golden king crab continues along the Aleutian Islands where there is a healthy 6 million pound catch quota … Small boat crabbers at Norton Sound had one of their best summer seasons ever, fetching $5.25 to $5.60 per pound for nearly 500,000 pounds of red king crab. Prices also were up for Dungeness crab at Southeast Alaska where fishermen averaged $2.55 per pound for 1.8 million pounds, slightly below last summer. Dungies reopen in the Panhandle on Oct. 1. Dive fisheries for sea cucumbers and urchins also open in Southeast and Kodiak that same day.

Humpy harvest is key to forecast as season winds down

Salmon season is winding down and it’s still a guess if the statewide catch will reach the 132 million fish forecast. Achieving that all comes down to those hard to predict pinks, whose catch makes up more than half of the total harvest. “I think it’s going to be close. It all depends on what happens with the pink salmon runs in the three major producing areas: Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast,” said Geron Bruce, assistant director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commercial fisheries division. This summer a catch of 70.2 million pinks were forecasted, down 40 percent from last year. So far, the Kodiak pink catch has topped 15 million; 16 million at Southeast; and nearly 25 million pinks were taken at Prince William Sound. That brings the total Alaska humpy harvest to more than 56 million so far. “But all of the three areas are past their peak it appears. So we’ve got maybe a couple weeks left of decent fishing if these pink salmon runs have a nice tail on them and stretch out a little bit,” Bruce said. Looking at other salmon catches: Alaska’s sockeye take will tick up slightly, but still will come up short of the nearly 35 million sockeye forecast, a 4 percent decline from last year. Likewise, Bruce said chum salmon catches will also be down a bit. “But it’s been a good year for chums, and we are definitely going to hit 16 million and might hit 17 million. So that’s a good harvest,” he said. Good summer and fall chum runs appeared on the Yukon River and at Kotzebue, while the Kuskokwim chum returns were disappointing. For coho salmon, Bruce said the catch outlook for coho salmon, “looks kind of mediocre at best.” Overall, except for the major fishing upheavals caused by fishing closures in major rivers to protect low chinook returns, Alaska’s salmon catch is panning out pretty much like managers expected. “We expected a down year and this is going to be one of the smallest harvests we’ve had in a while. We’ve been at 30 million salmon or above that pretty consistently,” Bruce said. While the lower salmon catches might be good in the short term, Alaska needs to maintain a fishery that is as robust as possible to satisfy its growing customers. “One of the things we have going for us is our large production. There’s so much competition out there from farmed fish that (as) Alaska’s supply shrinks, there are all sorts of competitors waiting to step into any opportunities we offer,” Bruce said. “It’s not like the old days when there was a lot of price elasticity with salmon because there were not a lot of alternatives. Now there are a lot of alternative salmon sources and also all kinds of other proteins competing as well.” Salmon finder Two Alaska fishing groups are using social media to build more awareness and customers for their salmon brands. Starting this summer, locator apps were introduced to help customers find where salmon from Copper River and Bristol Bay are sold or served. “The point is to allow people across the country to find Bristol Bay sockeye and if it is not already in our locator, to tag it as well so that other people will know where they can purchase our salmon,” said Bob Waldrop, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which is operated and funded by the fishermen. The app directs users to a Facebook page where typing in an address or zip code will locate nearby Bristol Bay salmon sellers. Restaurants or retailers not listed can be tagged and added to the larger list. Waldrop said that’s been a good selling point to get retailers on board. “When they learn that we are driving customers to them if they will call out their locations, it’s become a sort of virtuous cycle, one hand washing the other,” Waldrop told KDLG in Dillingham. Copper River fishermen were the first to use a salmon locator app this year. Their “find it/tag it” page touts “full season flavor” with kings in the spring, sockeye in summer and cohos in the fall. Along with Facebook, the group also uses Twitter to get in touch with restaurant followers to make sure they’ve been added to the data base. “The app has been very successful,” said Jessyka Dart-McLean, a spokesperson for the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. The locator app uses Google mapping so little information is needed to make a positive identification of the restaurant or market, she explained. “We had quite a rush at the beginning of the season of markets and restaurants who wanted to get involved. To populate the locator app we developed a program called the Fresh Catch Crew that enlists bloggers throughout the country to search for our salmon in their city,” she added. Salmon lovers today really want to know the source of their fish, said BBRSDA’s Waldrop. “It means a lot to consumers now to know where their food comes from,” he said. “When it’s Alaska, that’s great – when it’s a particular part of Alaska, that’s even better. What we are doing is taking them to the place where their product is being caught and harvested.” Ice revolution NanoICE is coming to Alaska! The ice-making technology that was invented in Iceland more than a decade ago is newly available in the U.S. The product is made up of tiny ice “fractions” that immerse fish completely, and unlike flake ice, eliminate air pockets that allow bacteria to grow. The ice quickly brings the core temp of the fish down to 31 degrees and holds it there for as long as needed. Instead of shoveling ice into a fish hold or container, NanoICE can be pumped into the fish storage area; likewise, in a processing plant, it can be pumped from a central icehouse to wherever it’s needed instead of scurrying flake ice to and fro with forklifts. At-sea processors also could dip fish in the ice solution to reduce freezing time aboard the vessels. “It’s a holistic approach to the whole cold chain in terms of seafood quality,” said Dan Strickland, a longtime Alaska fishermen who is now working with the NanoICE company. “It begins at the harvest to the tender through to the processors to cold storage and shipping, all the way to retail displays. So from start to finish we can improve quality every step along the way can make dramatic improvements.” NanoICE will make its first Alaska appearance at the Kodiak Marine Science and Research center where more testing will occur along with workshops for local processors. Processors at Bristol Bay have expressed interest in the new technology, where Strickland said it could put an end to trip limits. “People could bring their fish into a processor and put it in a NanoICE tank for storage and bring them out 2-3 weeks later. The fish would literally be like they were brought out of the water that day,” Strickland said. As an added plus, the machines use up to 70 percent less energy than conventional ice machines and up to 90 percent less refrigerants. The cost for a NanoICE generator and installation into an engine room or fish hold is $30,000 - $40,000 and can be customized to fit the size of any operation. “I really believe this will change the face of the seafood industry in Alaska,” Strickland said.

BBNA lands job training grant; U.S. oceans No. 26 in new survey

Jobs are being put on the fast track in Bristol Bay, with a focus on careers that go hand-in-hand with the region’s culture and economy: commercial fishing and seafood processing. “The fishery is our largest industry; it’s the backbone of the economy here,” said Patty Heyano, Program Development Director for the Bristol Bay Native Association in Dillingham. “So it made a whole lot of sense to concentrate on that. It seemed like we could make the biggest impact in the shortest amount of time because the industry is already here.” Heyano is referring to a $405,000 Rural Development grant that BBNA has received from the U.S. Dept of Agriculture. In collaboration with the Southwest Alaska Vocational and Education Center, the money will help ramp up industry related training programs. “The Rural Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge can be summed up to say job accelerator,” said Larry Yerich, Public Information Coordinator at the USDA Rural Development office in Anchorage. BBNA was one of just 13 out of 62 applicants nationwide to win a Challenge grant, which allow recipients to craft programs designed to fill the needs of their own regions. It is also the first award of its type in Alaska. “The first one in Alaska, and the first in the nation to a Native organization,” Heyano noted proudly. The grant will be used to develop curricula and a cluster of training and certification programs at the Voc/Ed Center focused on two tracks: helping more people enter the region’s fisheries or start small fish processing operations. “They will teach a wide range of things fishermen need – navigation, boat maintenance, engine repair … and then there’s things like compliance with management and US Coast Guard regulations,” Heyano said, adding that the program will also help existing fishermen with their operations. BBEDC also has a salmon permit loan program and training will help people meet the requirements for loans. The grant money also will enable instructors to be based in the Bristol Bay region. “They have a state of the art facility for training, but they don’t have instructors and their own curriculum. Other training programs bring their programs to SAVEC,” explained Heyano. Developing the curricula and training clusters for the jobs accelerator program will begin this fall, she said, and it should be up and running by next year. “They didn’t call it a challenge for nothing, because implementing this program is going to be a big challenge,” she said. “But I think it’s going to be great because with SAVEC being located here in the region, they are in a really good position to be responsive to the needs of the people.” Ocean Index The world’s oceans get a grade of 60 out of 100 according to new Ocean Health Index, or OHI. The mediocre grate indicates we are not “managing our use of the oceans in an optimal way,” according to index creators at Conservation International, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit focused on “a healthy and productive planet and smarter paths to development.” Its members include a who’s who of planet advocates such as National Geographic. The OHI “provides for the first time a comprehensive, science based measurement of what’s happening in our oceans and a global platform from which to evaluate the implications of human action or inaction,” said Dr. Greg Stone, a co-author of the paper in Nature. The index evaluates the health of the oceans adjacent to 171 countries and territories out to 200 miles. The rankings are based on an average of 10 ecological, social and economic “goals” such as fishing opportunities, clean water and coastal protection. The U.S. ranked No. 26 with an OHI of 63. Positive upward trends for U.S. oceans were providing a “sense of place,” food provision, natural products and local fishing opportunities. Trending down in U.S. oceans were carbon storage, biodiversity, clean waters, coastal protection and coastal livelihoods and economies. Coming in at No. 1 with an index of 86 was uninhabited Jarvis Island in the South Pacific. Germany ranked No. 4, the Netherlands and Canada both came in at No. 9, Japan at No. 11 and Australia ranked No. 14 for the health of oceans off its coasts. The statewide salmon catch topped 107 million fish by Aug. 17 (up by 16 million fish from last week) on its way to a preseason forecast of 132 million salmon. Pink catches will tell the tale – they were nearing 55 million (a weekly increase of 16 million fish); a catch of 70 million is projected. Other tallies: 217,000 kings, 15.7 million chums, 1.4 million coho and 35 million sockeye. Golf fights hunger America’s food banks were the big winners in the annual Ocean Beauty Benefit Golf Tournament, which raised $10,000 last week to help feed hungry families. The money goes directly to SeaShare, which has linked the seafood industry and suppliers to food banks across the country since 1994. Through SeaShare the seafood industry has become one of the largest private sources of protein for hunger relief in the nation.

State seeks input on how marine trades are faring

With 82 percent of Alaska’s communities unreachable by roads, water is the way to go. Businesses that serve the marine industry, including ports and harbors, are a lifeline for coastal communities. State economic specialists want to highlight the importance of the marine trade sector, and the jobs it provides, which are often overlooked. In March they launched an online Business Retention and Expansion questionnaire hoping to get feedback from coastal residents on how their marine businesses are faring. “Ship building and repair businesses, all modes of transportation, marine vendors, such as welders or automotive folks, marine construction people, anyone dealing with logistics or fuel, harbormasters and the infrastructure associated with that, and marine professional services we forget about such as engineers, banks, insurance companies, and seafood processors,” said Kevin O’Sullivan, a specialist with the Division of Economic Development. The goal is to identify immediate problems challenging businesses as well as future opportunities. Deadline to participate in the brief online survey is Aug. 15th. Results will be released in September. Skins state side! Salmon skins have finally made it to the U.S. in a line of clothing and accessories set to make the fashion scene this fall. Los Angeles designer Lindsay Long features the salmon leather on jackets and cuffs, bracelets, belts, yokes and collars on dresses. “It is a very interesting textile and it’s a good eco-friendly, sustainable alternative to other exotic skins, like snakes and things like that,” Long told KMXT. She said it’s still rare in the US, but the supple, durable salmon leathers are used widely in Europe as upholstery in luxury cars, yachts and jets, as well as in the high fashion world. “Givenchy has used it on this killer pair of shoes I would love to wear,” Long said. “But other than that it’s new to the US. It’s kind of a cross over material – branching its way out into different industries. So we are the first that we know to be using it on the whole range – jackets, dresses, belts and everything like that. The salmon skins come from an organic fish farm in Ireland; they are tanned and sold by a German company called Nanai, which recently opened an office in LA. The company, reportedly wants to source more salmon skins state-side. “They researched an ancient tanning method that uses no harsh metals or chemicals and creates these beautiful, colorful pieces of leather. I just couldn’t resist,” Long said. See Long’s $88 salmon belts at www.Lindsaylong.co. Salmon surge Alaska’s wild salmon harvest was nearing 60 million fish by July 27, increasing by 18 million salmon in just two weeks. Here’s the statewide tally: Chinook: 198,000; sockeye: 33.7 million (nearly 21 million from Bristol Bay); coho: 536,000; chum: 11 million; pink: 13.1 million. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bristol Bay salmon surge; Gov seeks disaster declaration

The red salmon catch at Bristol Bay is on its way to 20 million fish and will very likely go higher, due to a strong run of more than 30 million fish. The reds were still surging into the region’s five big rivers and should serve to boost the harvest beyond the forecast of nearly 22 million fish. With all the salmon fisheries going on every summer all across Alaska, you might wonder why so much attention is 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. Sockeye is by far Alaska’s most valuable salmon fishery — and well more than one third (sometimes as much as half!) — of the state’s total salmon fishing earnings come from Bristol Bay. The Bay also has the most fishermen, with more than 2,800 salmon permit holders. Whereas other fishing regions like Copper River, Prince William Sound, Southeast, Kodiak, Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula might get sockeye catches ranging from 1 million to 5 million fish, Bristol Bay’s harvests typically fall into the 20 million to 40 million range. Here’s how it stacks up in terms of value, based on the 2011 season: Last year’s ex-vessel (dockside) value of Alaska’s total salmon catch last year was $603 million, the third-best ever. Chinook salmon (kings) rang in at just more than $20 million; cohos (silvers) were worth $23.4 million; and chums topped $93 million at the Alaska docks. The pink salmon catch had a value of just more than $170 million. Here’s the biggie: Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch was worth $296 million at the Alaska docks last year, on a catch of nearly 40 million fish. More than half of the sockeyes came from Bristol Bay. Help for kings and ports King salmon returns are so low to the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers, almost no fishing is being allowed for anything, even for subsistence purposes. Alaska Sen. Mark Begich last week asked Gov. Sean Parnell to declare a fisheries disaster in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, including the interior region of the Yukon River watershed. By doing so, it will allow Begich to pursue federal help, such as happened during a similar salmon situation in 2009. Begich told Parnell in a July 9 letter that in visits to the region this month, he saw firsthand the hardship endured by residents from the lack of salmon, especially combined with the high costs of energy and other goods and services. “Because of the area that these fish are in, the State has a huge obligation here,” Begich said at a media teleconference, adding that, “the State has to do more to ensure food security for the far west regions. “The state has to do more in terms of research and analysis of the fisheries. We have a role, but the federal government has limited resources in this area and we are calling on the state to do more work in this arena — to have more consistent data, and to start strategizing on a long term plan for fisheries sustainability in those regions, especially for subsistence users.” On July 14, Parnell officially requested a disaster declaration from acting Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank. Begich also said the state needs to pay more attention to Alaska’s ports. “We need to prepare Alaska for what is happening and what is coming,” he said. “Oil and gas development in the Arctic, the mineral development around the state, or the fisheries expansion — all these require our ports to be more robust than they are today.” Fish watch Lots of fishing in Alaska besides salmon: halibut and sablefish are still being targeted in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Nearly half of the 24 million pound halibut catch limit has been caught. About 12 million pounds remain in the sablefish (black cod) quota of just more than 29 million pounds. Alaska’s scallop fisheries opened July 1, panning waters from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. … Pollock and cod fisheries also occur in the summer. … The Bering Sea squid fishery is close to reaching its nearly 800,000 pound quota. … The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fishery opens Aug. 15 with a catch topping 6 million pounds … Find tickets for three days of Salmonstock, August 3-5 in Ninilchik. Find out more at www.renewableresourcescoalition.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact [email protected]

Sea otter study ongoing

Sea otters are expanding throughout Southeast Alaska and dining on crab, sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and more as they go. An ongoing study aims to track the otters, what they’re eating and where they are going — and researchers hope to get “grounds truth” from Southeast residents. For the past two years, Sea Grant marine advisory agents have spearheaded a project to learn more about the region’s sea otter diets and behaviors. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided aerial surveys and otter tagging to track their movements around Kupreonof Island, and Alaska Department of Fish and Game helps with logistics and data. “This is just for Southern Southeast Alaska,” said Sea Grant’s Sunny Rice in Petersburg. “It includes Kupreanof Island, Prince of Wales Island, Kuiu Island and inside in the Ketchikan, Petersburg, Wrangell areas. We’ve sort of drawn a line at Frederick Sound, although we will be interested in how they’ve moved up the north shore.” Aerial surveys have provided snapshots of otter activity but Rice wants to hear about otter sightings from longtime residents. “We want to learn when they first saw otters entering the areas they use on a regular basis, when they started seeing bigger groups if they did, and if they noticed what those otters were eating,” Rice said, adding that it’s most important to hear from people with a long term perspective. “People who frequent those areas continually year after year, so commercial fishermen will be great sources as well as recreational or subsistence users who to the same place time after time and have witnessed an influx of sea otters,” she said. The resident surveys will be combined with other research to make some otter predictions. “Hopefully, we can use that information and add it to what we know and come up with a good model on how the sea otter population has expanded, with the long term goal of being able to predict how it will continue to grow so people can make decisions based on more information,” Rice said. Sea otters were reintroduced to the southern regions in the late 1960s. Best estimates peg the population at about 19,000 animals in 2011. The animals are able to reproduce at any time of the year, and have a population doubling time of about five years. The otters are predators of almost every species that fishermen target. They have completely wiped out urchins and sea cucumbers in several areas, and are making inroads into some prime geoduck areas, according to Phil Doherty, director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fishery Association. Out of 15 Dungeness crab districts, six have large otter populations and Dungie pots have lost nearly 3 million pounds to otters in a decade, based on ADFG estimates. A report last year by the Juneau-based McDowell Group said otter predation has cost Southeast’s economy more than $28 million since 1995. Sunny Rice hopes to interview as many people as possible this summer and will travel to Prince of Wales Island and Ketchikan later this month. Ray reflects on ASMI After 10 years at the helm of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, executive director Ray Riutta is stepping down. “It’s time to bring in some new blood and new ideas,” he said. Prior to ASMI, Admiral Riutta spent 38 years in the U.S. Coast Guard. Now, retirement is looking pretty good. During his tenure, Riutta said he is most proud of ASMI’s role in helping to revitalize Alaska’s salmon industry. “We’ve participated in seeing the resurgence in value of the Alaska salmon fishery by orders of magnitude. I think of all the things that have happened through the 10 years I’ve been here, seeing that value come back to the fishermen is probably the thing I am most pleased with,” he said in a phone interview. Riutta said the power of the Alaska seafood brand has gotten stronger over the years. “We spent a lot of money on that – separating Alaska from the pack and we’ve carved out a pretty good niche for salmon and all Alaska seafood products,” he said. “The resulting value in the market demonstrates that. “The industry is putting a lot more time, money and effort in adding more value to products and there is far more respect for frozen products.” Riutta added that the biggest challenge will be holding onto that position in world markets. “We are the highest priced commodity on the shelf and we’ve got a special niche — fortunately ‘Alaska’ sells people and they are really excited about it, but holding that position and holding our value is going to be a big challenge,” he said. “And with the growth of all these certification programs and some of the restrictions that come with those, the ability to hold our market access and keep our name out there will be a challenge to us in coming years.” Riutta said what he has liked least about ASMI the job is all the necessary bureaucracy. His favorite part of the job is the people. “It has been a lot of fun and there’s a lot of really talented and sharp people and a lot of characters,” he said with a laugh. “This is really a fun industry to work in. I’ve just had a ball the last 10 years.” Riutta is quick to credit the state for its strong backing for ASMI, in both funding and support. “The administration and the legislature have joined the seafood industry as true partners in marketing our products,” he said. “The state is now putting up matching funds that come to almost 50 percent of our core budget up to $9 million, depending on what the industry brings to the table. That’s pretty remarkable considering it was zero when I first came to town.” In spite of tough competition in world markets, Riutta believes Alaska seafood will continue to have a bright future because “cream rises to the top.” “We have the best fish and the best industry in the world,” he said. “Certainly there will be bumps in the road but as long as we keep focused on producing terrific products and take good care of our fish, we’re going to be fine.”

Agenda dominated by halibut in Kodiak; Trident launches eco-box

Nobody wants to waste fish – least of all those who make their living from the sea. Fish harvesters want and need to be able to catch as much as they can to sustain their families and livelihoods. And as upstanding citizens, they obey the law when they discard “prohibited species” taken while they’re fishing for their “target catch.” When fishing seasons open, it’s impossible to not catch a mix of fish when they blanket the sea bottom, and fish of all kinds and sizes will go after a baited hook. So certain amounts of “prohibs” are allowed to be taken in a fishery, and there are strict limits on how much. When it comes to setting the rules, the buck stops with fishery managers. Rules about halibut bycatch will be the 5 million pound question when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes June 6 to June 11 in Kodiak. The NPFMC sets the catch and bycatch limits for all federal-water fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska, which produce 80 percent of the state’s seafood landings. Since the mid-1980s, managers have allowed 2,300 metric tons, or about 5 million pounds, of halibut bycatch each year in Gulf of Alaska groundfish fisheries. Meanwhile, commercial fishermen have had their halibut catches reduced 63 percent in recent years due to dwindling numbers of legal sized halibut, and sport charters are being limited to one or two fish per day. “I think the basic fact is that for so long there hasn’t been any adjustment for bycatch. Yet for both commercial and sport charter fisheries, there have been huge adjustments based on shifts of halibut biomass. That on its face is not quite equitable,” said Denby Lloyd, Kodiak fishery advisor and a former NPFMC member. There’s plenty of finger pointing to go around. Most of the halibut bycatch (2,000 mt) is taken in trawl fisheries, with 300 mt for the hook and line cod fleet. A big unknown is the amount of fish discarded by the halibut fleet, which unlike the others, is not required to have onboard observers and/or vessel monitoring coverage. Analysts estimate that due to 32-inch size restrictions for retention, for every 10 halibut the commercial fishermen catch, they must throw six smaller ones away. (A restructured observer program set to be in place next year will include coverage of the longline halibut fleet as well as vessels less than 60 feet.) Fishery managers have clearly gotten the message. Halibut bycatch was the first order of business on the NPFMC agenda when it convened June 6, and 20 hours were allotted on the topic. At the get go, the group is poised to reduce the bycatch level by up to 15 percent. “It’s a small cut at this juncture, but it’s a first step to continually reducing halibut bycatch,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, a member of the Council Advisory Panel. At the same time, Council staff have compiled a discussion paper on comprehensive approaches to bycatch control beyond setting caps. “There are a lot of options, but it’s in the early stages and not even in the initial review of an analysis,” said Lloyd, referring to the glacial pace of Council processes. “The really important part comes later on. And people should make sure that the Council doesn’t impose a 10 or 15 percent reduction and then go on to other business. It’s got to be step one of a comprehensive approach.” Options in the Council document include voluntary bycatch cooperatives (without share allocations) modeled after the Bering Sea pollock fishery, where members share real time information on avoidance measures, and have “rolling hot spot” closures in areas where “prohibs” are appearing. “That’s been very successful and the trawl fleet has done it for themselves,” said Lloyd. “They established a structure where the co-op limits bycatch and applies individual boats with their own penalties. That was pretty darn creative,” Other possibilities listed are fixed area closures, individual bycatch quotas and electronic monitoring, both of which are used in Canada, with great results. The Gulf trawl sector advocates for a catch share program as the best way to slow down their groundfish fisheries and reduce bycatch, but that has met with some resistance. “Gulf trawlers have needed catch shares as a tool for years, yet many of the folks who are howling the loudest about halibut bycatch reductions are the same ones who don’t want rationalization for the trawlers,” said an industry stakeholder. At a recent workshop convened by the NPFMC and the International Pacific Halibut Commission, 19 presentations were given on halibut bycatch estimation, halibut growth and migration and effects on harvest strategy. All concluded that halibut bycatch is reduced with individual vessel responsibility.  Trident launches Eco-Box Trident Seafoods introduced 100 percent recyclable fish boxes to the world with its shipments of some of the first fresh Copper River reds. Trident is the first to use the no-wax, wetlock fiber boxes made by engineers at International Paper. The “AquaSafe” boxes meet criteria for airline shipment and are fully recyclable. They can also be wet-iced, containerized and shipped by barge or truck. “Most importantly, the boxes maintain the integrity of the product,” said John van Amerongen, Trident’s chief sustainability officer. A panel that reads “DON’T BOOT OUR NEW BOX!” on the bright red and blue fish boxes encourages customers to recycle them along with other cardboard. “It’s another pearl in the sustainability string,” van Amerongen said. “People are really paying attention to packaging and to us it is synonymous with our commitment to sustainability. We are proud to provide healthy products and innovative packaging to seafood lovers based on those foundations.”

Inlet up, Bay permits down; hot demand for herring

The value of Alaska fishing permits has see-sawed over the past year with Cook Inlet prices heading upward and Bristol Bay on the down side. “Cook Inlet had a really good year last year, and they’re expecting another strong fishery this summer,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Salmon drift permits have taken off with sales made at $80,000 compared to around $50,000 last year.” Prices have headed the other way in Bristol Bay. “The Bay permits are not so hot. They ran way up last year on expectations of good fish numbers and a good price, but it didn’t really pan out the way folks were hoping it would,” Bowen said, adding that Bristol Bay drift permits that fetched $165,000 right before last season are now selling for $110,000 to $115,000. Elsewhere, Prince William Sound seine permits are selling at $172,000, and drift permits at Copper River are trading at around $180,000 with strong demand. Bowen said there’s been little sales action at the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik and Kodiak, where seine permits are at $40,000. Brokers are busy in Southeast, says Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. Hand and power trolls have been in demand all year with power permits jumping from $33,000 to $40,000. Southeast seine permits are wanted but none is available due to the recent buyback and reorganization of the seine fleet, and gillnet permits have slacked off at around $85,000. Olsen said interest has really picked up for Dungeness permits as well as for other crab fisheries, “There’s really good interest in red king and Tanner crab permits for the last two years, and those had been very slow,” she said. “Stand alone permits for red king crab are at about $60,000 to $65,000 and they are hard to come by and very few. Tanners are at $160,000 to $175,000. A full package deal for red, brown, blue king crab and Tanner runs about $200,000. There are only two on the market and there’s lots of interest.” Also hard to come by are Southeast dive permits — sea cucumbers have jumped from $11,000 in January to $19,000 now, “and people would pay more,” Olsen said. Permits for geoduck clams are averaging $88,000. While permit values are up and down, prices for shares of halibut and sablefish (black cod) continue to climb but the market is very tight with little sales action. “Only small amounts are available so it has pushed the price up,” said Olsen. Halibut quota in Southeast is in the $35 to $39 range depending on the amounts and category, sand has gone as high as $43 per share; Southeast black cod shares are fetching about $35, compared to $22 to $32 last year. Whereas the black cod stocks have ticked upwards along with prices, Bowen said holders of halibut quota shares are, “quite depressed over all the cuts over the past few years and the general feeling that the stocks haven’t been managed as well as they could have been and what that means for the future. There is a lot of worry, and rightly so.” “If you’re a buyer and you’re looking at recent trends, do you really want to spend $37 to buy into something that you’re concerned could be cut again and significantly next year? For the sellers they are trying to figure out if they should sell or hold on. There is so much uncertainty,” Bowen said. Halibut managers need some fixin’ Major changes are recommended for managers that oversee Pacific halibut fisheries and being more open to the public tops the list. For the past year the International Pacific Halibut Commission underwent an extensive performance review by CONCUR, Inc., a San Francisco-based consulting firm specializing in complex natural resources and infrastructure disputes. The IPHC is the world’s oldest regional fisheries management organization, set by a U.S./Canada treaty convention in 1923. The group has six commissioners, three each from the U.S. and Canada. While it has been largely successful at managing the halibut stocks through surveys, modeling and conservative catch limits, CONCUR said the way the IPHC operates is outdated and out of touch with most stakeholders. “It’s a 19th century model that’s not been allowed to evolve using present-day processes,” said one respondent. Some commenters also view IPHC staff as too “ivory tower,” and too heavily preoccupied with modeled results at the expense of valuing observations from the field. Trust with the IPHC is at an ebb, the review said, especially among Canadians and many other stakeholders who are frustrated with the decades-long failure by U.S. managers to address trawl halibut bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska. The performance review identifies 12 steps the IPHC can take to improve its governance and build on its good work to date. Topping the list was conducting more deliberations in public instead of behind closed doors, “It’s a bit of a black box,” said one comment, noting that the commission doesn’t even put out minutes summarizing its executive session deliberations. Other recommendations include using a set of practices and protocols for halibut meetings. Other recommendations include expanding the Commission to represent more user interests and to elevate the importance of Tribes and First Nations, leadership at the commissioner level, and improving public communications. The CONCUR report also says the IPHC staff is “well led” and its scientists are skilled and experienced. Fish watch The fish beat the boats last week to Alaska’s biggest sac roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay, where the forecast calls for 21,622 short tons. Depending on its quality, the roe herring should meet a market eager for fish. Catches came up way short in San Francisco, British Columbia, and Sitka — where seiners took less than half of the nearly 29,000 ton harvest. That has Sitka prices soaring, according to Seafood.com, with first contracts in the range of $1,500 per ton, more than double last year. The shortage has combined with strong demand for herring processing in China. Reports from Japan, where all the roe ends up, say the dramatically cheap prices in past years has resulted in a huge expansion of new customers. Speaking of shortfalls: Alaska salmon fishermen won’t face competition this summer from sockeyes at British Columbia’s Fraser River. Managers say the run there is expected to be so weak a commercial fishery is unlikely. And with near record ice and snow packs still to melt, they are concerned that the returning reds will struggle to get upstream against strong freshets in the Fraser River. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact [email protected]

Voting begins for 'Ultimate Fishing Town' title; IPHC in the classroom

Several Alaska towns are vying for the title of “Ultimate Fishing Town,” which comes with a $25,000 check for local fishing projects. The annual competition is sponsored by the World Fishing Network, “a 24/7 television network dedicated to all segments of fishing,” according to its website. WFN, which focuses on sport fishing, originally launched in 2005 and is now seen in more than 20 million North American households via cable, satellite and the internet. As of May 11, nine Alaska towns were among the hundreds of hopefuls on the leaderboard — but they have a lot of catching up to do. In the lead for the best fishing destination was Waddington, N.Y., (on the St. Lawrence River) with 18,645 votes. Ranking No. 6 with 2,307 votes was Dillingham, touted as “The hub for Bristol Bay, nicknamed America’s fish basket, and home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run.” “How could the wildest fishery in the world be losing to the east coast!?” Dillingham artist and activist Apayo Moore told the Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman. “We deserve to be the ultimate fishing town because our life is fish, and we attract people from all over the globe to our world-renowned fishery.” Coming in at No. 8 with 1,228 votes was Petersburg — “Alaska’s Little Norway, king salmon and 300 pound halibut…home to the largest salmon ever caught at 126 pounds!” Other Alaska towns on the list include Igiugig with 41 votes — “Gateway to an angling paradise on the Kvichak River, which runs through town and feeds Bristol Bay”; Seward — “Alaska starts here,” 38 votes; and Cordova “Home of Copper River salmon” —10 votes. Soldotna — “Known for the world famous Kenai River, home to the world record king salmon,” 7 votes; Kodiak — “Anywhere and everywhere, from 400 pound halibut to king crab and king salmon,” 3 votes; Anchor Point — “The most western location of the North American highway system,” 2 votes, as did Valdez — “Absolutely the best salmon fishing there is!” Sitka — where “Everyone in town dresses like a fisherman and the biggest tourism sector is sport fishing. On a bad day you catch fish” — had one vote. WFN will hold the official $25,000 check presentation in the winning fishing town. Second place winner gets $5,000 and $2,500 for third place. Halibut in schools Teachers can now put math and science skills to the test using Pacific halibut as the subject. The new school series is a first try for the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which oversees stocks for the west coast, British Columbia and Alaska. Throughout four lessons students play roles that range from ocean organisms to fishery managers, said Heather Gilroy, program manager at the IPHC. “Students are asked to think of the entire ocean ecosystem and be an organism, an industry person, a biologist and a manager,” she told KDLG. The free halibut program, complete with colorful Power Points, integrates math, economics, technology, geography and civics. Lesson plans are geared to fifth through eighth graders, but can be adapted for high school. More plastic Tiny pieces of plastic floating beneath the ocean’s surface are most worrisome because fish are believed to suffer liver damage from eating the particles. While working in the Pacific Ocean, oceanographer Giora Proskurowski from the University of Washington noticed that while the water was covered with tiny pieces of plastic, most disappeared the moment the wind picked up. He discovered that the wind was pushing lightweight particles below the surface — meaning that decades of research conducted by skimming the surface have been producing the wrong results. Proskurowski believes the amount of plastic in the water has been underestimated by two and a half times, and by as much as 27 times in high winds. Fish watch NOAA Fisheries will unveiled its annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report on May 14, reporting that six stocks were declared rebuilt in 2011, including Bering Sea snow crab. Commercial and recreational fishing generates $183 billion per year to the U.S. economy and supports more than 1.5 million full and part-time jobs. Fully rebuilt fisheries are expected to add an estimated $31 billion to the economy and an additional 500,000 jobs, an advance notice said.

Tsunami debris hitting Alaska coasts, next year could be even worse

Soccer balls…motorcycles…reminders of the massive tsunami in Japan a year ago are now appearing along Alaska’s coastlines. “It’s safe to say that tsunami debris is here,” said Merrick Burden, director of the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation. Since January the MCA has been tracking where and the kinds of debris that is coming ashore, and whether it is radioactive (none so far), at Kodiak, Yakutat, Sitka and Craig where the wreckage was first likely to hit. “What we’re finding are wind driven objects like buoys, Styrofoam, and large containers, some of which contain materials that are potentially toxic,” Burden said. “We’re finding drums full of things that we don’t know what they are yet. So we’re looking at a potential large scale environmental problem, and what we’re dealing with now is just the start of it.” Debris has been found in every area they’ve looked, Burden said, and mysterious sludge is washing up on some beaches, apparently from opened containers. Just days ago, an enormous amount of floating debris was spotted off the southern reaches of Prince William Sound, making national headlines. But the worst is yet to come. “Next year is when we expect the larger debris that is driven by currents rather than wind,” he said. “That should be comprised of entirely different types of materials, and it might even follow a different trajectory through the water and end up in different locations. “Part of the problem is that we don’t know what we’re dealing with, and it looks bad. It’s obviously tragic, and it looks like it’s a pretty major environmental hazard as well.” Some references are being made to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill, saying the impacts of tsunami debris could be worse and more widespread. “We are dealing with something that will be scattered across the majority of the Alaska coastline as it sweeps across Southeast, through the Gulf, out to the Aleutians and spits up into the Bering Sea. And it looks like some of these containers and canisters contain toxic materials that may be hazardous to human health. There is sludge washing up on some of these beaches, and we can’t know what it’s comprised of, but it’s near a container that was recently opened.” Alaskan mariners, fishermen, pilots and beachcombers can play an important role in tracking the oncoming tsunami debris. “Let us know about the debris you’re finding – where it is, what it is comprised of, take a photo, and send to us,” Burden said. “We are also sharing the information with NOAA and we’re all just trying to get a better understanding of what’s out there and what’s coming.” Marine trades move Alaska With 82 percent of Alaska’s communities unreachable by roads, water is the way to go. Businesses that serve the marine industry, including ports and harbors, are a lifeline for coastal communities. State economic specialists want to highlight the importance of the marine trade sector across Alaska, and the jobs it provides, which are often overlooked. “Research shows that about 80 percent of new jobs are created by existing businesses in a community, rather than businesses attracted to a community. Our goal is to try and retain and expand existing businesses, and doing so is a surer economic development bet than recruiting new ones from other places,” said specialist Kevin O’Sullivan at the Division of Economic Development. To identify the challenges facing businesses, as well as future opportunities, DED needs to get input from Alaskans via an online Business Retention and Expansion questionnaire on how local marine businesses are faring. “Ship building and repair businesses, seafood processors, all modes of transportation, marine vendors, such as welders or automotive folks, marine construction, anyone dealing with logistics or fuel, ports and harbors and the infrastructure associated with that, and the marine professional services we forget about – engineers, banks, insurance companies, accountants,” O’Sullivan said. A survey targeting fishermen will follow in the fall, he added, along with follow ups over the years to track any trends. “It is valuable to look at results over time because the information will show not only how well businesses are doing, but where the businesses are shifting and relocating to, and why that might be occurring, and the reasons for that might be important,” he said. “We hope through efforts like this it will become clear how vital and valuable this overlooked and very much under promoted economic sector is to the state’s economy and to the people who work in these places.” Comments wanted on observer program The public has until June 18 to comment on the proposed rule for the restructured observer program set to start up January 2013. The new program will change how observers are placed on fishing boats, paid for, and for the first time, they will be aboard the halibut longline fleet and on vessels less than 60 feet. People affected by the new rules can really help shape the new program, said Martin Loefflad, director of the Fisheries Monitoring and Analysis Division of the North Pacific Fishery Observer Program at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. “It is really helpful when people read the rule very carefully and think of how it is going to impact them, rather than saying ‘I like it or don’t like it’,” Loefflad said. “Give us some concrete suggestions on how we can improve the language to make it work better. That really helps us because the final rule will be adjusted based on public comments. It’s the people who are out there who will be impacted that can help us create it to work at the start.” NOAA Fisheries also is seeking a contractor to oversee observer training and deployment to shore side debriefings. Here comes Copper River! Southeast trollers have been providing Alaska king salmon all year, and small fisheries opened May 1 on the Stikine and Taku Rivers in Southeast, but it’s the Copper River salmon opener that officially signals the start of Alaska’s salmon season. The famous fishery opens May 17 and the River is expected to produce another robust run of reds and kings. “Last year was a big surprise with over two million reds and we expect another good year. Kings are on par with last year, with a somewhat higher forecast. Over 20,000 were caught caught last season,” said Beth Poole, director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association. “Cordova is filling up with fishermen who’ve come to get their boats ready,” Poole said of the fleet of 540 salmon permit holders. “We had so much snow and winter is still lingering, but we’re looking forward to the first opener and a great season.”

Halibut bycatch cuts at June council meeting; snow crab harvest continues

It has taken a quarter of a century, but fishery managers are finally poised to take action to reduce the five million pounds of halibut taken as bycatch in Gulf of Alaska fisheries. Industry watchers are hoping that public comments will sway them to make the largest cuts under consideration. Currently, 2,300 metric tons of halibut bycatch, a prohibited species catch, or PSC, is allowed in the GOA groundfish fisheries. That is further broken down to 2,000 metric tons for the trawl sector and 300 metric tons for hook and line fisheries, primarily the cod fleet. Those are the two fisheries that have the highest amounts of halibut bycatch. At its June meeting in Kodiak, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will vote to cut the Gulf PSC bycatch limits by 5, 10 or 15 percent. “These are fairly small cuts at this juncture but it’s a first step to continually reducing halibut bycatch,” said Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, who is a member of the Council’s Advisory Panel. “It has been 25 years since the bycatch limits were established and they have remained relatively unchanged since then. In this same time period the commercial halibut catch in the Gulf has been reduced 63 percent. There are a large number of people that depend on that resource and these cuts have had and will continue to have dramatic effects on our fisheries and businesses and community economies.” The International Pacific Halibut Commission, which manages the halibut fisheries, estimates that each pound of bycatch results in lost yield ranging from 0.9 pounds to 1.1 pounds, depending on the region. This means one pound of halibut caught as bycatch results in 1.5 pounds to 1.7 pounds of lost spawning biomass, according to the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Because the IPHC manages the halibut fisheries based on the biomass of the halibut stock, bycatch has a direct impact on all halibut harvesters. Sport fishermen also are feeling the pinch. The annual bycatch total exceeds the combined harvest level for the sport halibut fisheries in Southeast and Southcentral Alaska, which together totaled more than 4.4 million pounds in 2010. “Many people in Alaska and around the nation are concerned with the condition of the halibut stocks and council members need to hear from people,” Peterson said. The AMCC has generated a sign on letter that provides an easy way for people to show their support for the 15 percent halibut bycatch reduction. It will be presented as a petition to the NPFMC when it meets in Kodiak in early June. Kodiak is the fishing community that will be most affected by the Council’s bycatch decision. “Halibut bycatch is first up on the agenda and it is critical that the voting Council members hear from people when they are in Kodiak,” Peterson said. “Every testimony matters and they really like to hear from community members.” Alaska vs. World Most fishing and seafood processing is done out of sight and it can be easy to lose track of what’s crossing the docks – and where Alaska fits in the global seafood picture. Data from 2010 by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute show that pollock makes up 44 percent of the landed tonnage, other groundfish at 22 percent, salmon at 17 percent, Pacific cod at 11 percent, shellfish and herring both at 2 percent and halibut and black cod produced one percent of Alaska’s total seafood tonnage. Salmon made up 30 percent of the total seafood value, followed by pollock at 25 percent, shellfish at 15 percent, halibut at 10 percent, cod at 9 percent, sablefish at 6 percent and herring was worth 2 percent of Alaska’s total seafood value. Broadening the picture: Alaska produces over half of all seafood landings in the US and 90 percent of the nation’s wild salmon. Globally, 12 percent of salmon comes from Alaska and 10 percent for crab. In all, Alaska produces just 2 percent of the world’s total seafood harvests. Speaking of world seafood harvests Thousands of tons of wild fish are caught each year to feed farmed fish. Spanish researchers at the University of Oviedo for the first time analyzed DNA fragments from fish-based feeds used in aquaria and salmon farms. The results showed that eight species high on the food chain are used, including anchovies, whiting, cod, herring and mackerel. Some of the feeds are made from byproducts produced from seafood processing, but much comes directly from fisheries. The researchers said using fish from commercial fisheries as feed does little to minimize the exploitation of natural fish populations. . They “urgently” suggested replacing wild fish in fish feeds with other proteins. Fish watch It has been a long winter for Bering Sea crabbers who since January have taken about 75 percent of their 88.9 million pound snow crab harvest. Crabbing also continues for blue kings at St Matthew Island, where there is a 2 million pound quota this year. There is little to no jig effort for cod around the Aleutian Islands, but the fishery will remain open until the 5.5 million pound quota is caught or till June 9, whichever comes first. In the Gulf, jigging for cod is going strong, and 117 boats have caught nearly half of their 7.8 million pound allocation. Kodiak herring also is more popular this year with up to 35 boats on the grounds, double last season. Halibut fishing continues slow but steady. So far about 12 percent of the 24 million pound catch limit has been landed. Sablefish deliveries are at 16 percent of the 29 million pound quota. At Prince William Sound, trawlers are targeting side stripe shrimp with a quota of 145,000 pounds. All herring fisheries remain closed in PWS again this year. Shrimping opened in Southeast May 1 along with the spring troll season for kings. (The winter fishery closed April 27.) A lingcod fishery opens May 16 with a regional harvest of more than 330,000 pounds. Southeast Divers are finally back in the water after almost a two-month hold, due to high PSP levels in geoduck clams. Just more than 100,000 pounds of clams remain for harvest in two regions. The first salmon openers for 2012 are kicking kick off at the Stikine and Taku rivers in the Panhandle on May 7, with Copper River following in mid May. And once again, there will be no commercial fishery this summer for Yukon River kings.

Farmed fish flood, exchange rate shifts will impact salmon markets

A resurgence of farmed fish and shifting world currencies could shake up salmon markets this year. “There are two trends going into the current salmon season that we haven’t seen for several years,” said Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist at the University of Alaska at Anchorage. “Exchange rates look to be weaker, not stronger, and perhaps more importantly, farmed salmon prices, rather than rising or holding steady, have fallen significantly. So we will be selling into a market where there is a lot more competing product available at a lot cheaper price.” There has been a huge rebound in world farmed salmon production over the past year — notably, by Chilean producers who have recovered from a killer salmon virus that devastated their industry four years ago. Chile pegs farmed salmon and trout production this year at 700,000 tons, or 1.5 billion pounds (round weight), just slightly less than Alaska’s total salmon poundage last year.  “I absolutely think what is happening in farmed salmon production and markets is the critical thing for the Alaska salmon industry to be paying attention to going into this salmon season,” Knapp said.  Norway, the world’s other major farmed salmon producer, also is ramping up sales of whole salmon to the U.S., now that a 24 percent import tax imposed 20 years ago has expired, said Seafood Trend’s Ken Talley. Talley pointed to total farmed Atlantic salmon imports (all products) for the first month of the year, when volume hit 37.4 million pounds, an increase of 16.1 percent over January 2011. The strong increase in volume has had the expected result, he said. The value and average price of imported farmed salmon has taken a hefty tumble: the value is down 6.2 percent to $118.7 million; the average price of $3.17 per pound was a drop of 19.3 percent to from $3.93 per pound in January 2011. Knapp said over the past six months there have been significant declines in farmed salmon prices in the European, U.S., and Japanese markets. At the same time, the currency values of Alaska’s biggest salmon customers – Japan and Europe – have shifted. “The two currencies that matter a lot to Alaskans are the Japanese yen and the Euro,” Knapp said. For the past three years, the value of the yen has been significantly stronger compared to the dollar and that was one of the factors that helped boost salmon prices, he added. Over the winter that trend has reversed and the yen has weakened about 9 percent since January. Meanwhile, political and economic turmoil in Europe has pushed down the value of that currency by about 9 percent. Of course, many other things affect varying cost structures for Alaska’s processors and fishermen – how the catches come in, fuel and labor costs, and this year, the question of visas for foreign processing workers. “Nothing is ever certain about fish prices,” Knapp said, and global financial and economic situations can change markets quickly for better or worse. “That said, there is still strong demand for Alaska salmon, and we are widely diversified in our markets compared to where we used to be, so we’ve got a lot going for us. But I do think this year is somewhat different in that several other things that play into the pricing equation don’t look as favorable as they have for the past several years.” On a historical note he added: “It is important to remember that every decade in the Alaska salmon industry has brought very significant changes since statehood. In the 1970s, we had very low runs and limited entry, in the ‘80s the runs and markets rebounded and things looked extremely promising. Then the price crashed in the ‘90s, and 10 years ago things looked terrible. “Over the past decade we have seen a dramatic rebound and a much better sense of optimism. This decade is no different. All you can do is be aware that there is no guarantee of stability in this industry and pay attention.” Fish watch Spring fisheries are in full swing from the Bering Sea to the Panhandle. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery has about 30 million pounds remaining in its 89 million pound quota. Fishermen report the crab are large and of excellent quality. Crabbing also continues around St. Matthew Island for blue king crab with less than 500,000 pounds remaining in the 2 million-pound quota … Jigging for cod in the Gulf has really picked up and fishermen are bringing in boatloads of fish … In Prince William Sound, shrimp fisheries open April 15 with a quota of 145,000 pounds of side stripes for trawlers and more than 51,000 pounds for pot gear. The PWS sablefish season also opens April 15 with a 242,000 pound harvest level … Kodiak’s roe herring fishery begins April 15 … The Sitka Sound sac roe fishery is in full swing right now and nearing the 29,000-ton quota … Also in Southeast, geoduck clam divers have been out of the water for more than six weeks now due to high levels of paralytic shellfish poisoning …The Southeast winter chinook troll fishery is about over, but will reopen in July. The forecast for this summer calls for about 198,000 chinook salmon for trollers, a decrease of about 21,000 thousand fish … More than three weeks into the halibut fishery, only about 1.3 million pounds were landed, mostly in Homer. Sablefish landings were higher, topping 1.8 million pounds, mostly at Seward. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit alaskafishfactor.com for more information or contact [email protected]

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