Laine Welch

Beach cleanup efforts reach million-pound milestone

Marine debris cleanup efforts in Alaska reached a milestone this year. The Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance Foundation removed more than a million pounds of debris from Alaska’s 34,000 miles of shoreline since its program began in 2003. “People ask how much is a million pounds? Think of it as getting four 747 cargo planes full of trash off the beach. It’s a lot of junk and a real accomplishment,” said program coordinator Bob King, adding that the group picked up almost 150 metric tons of trash this year alone. The foundation has partnered with more than a dozen groups and communities to pick up debris from the panhandle to points far west. The group had cleanups this year in Juneau, Prince William Sound, Sitka, Kodiak, the Pribilof Islands, Aleutian Islands, Bristol Bay, Shelikof Strait, Yakutat and Port Heiden. “We had one of our biggest projects in Norton Sound,” King said. “We pulled almost 100,000 pounds of trash off of St. Lawrence Island with crews from Gambell and Savoonga hired by the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. And on top of that, they picked up another 20,000 pounds off of Golovin.” One innovative partner is the Alaska Brewing Co., which provides “brew crews” and donates 1 percent of certain Alaska sales to a program called the Coastal CODE (Clean Oceans Depend on Everyone). The marine debris in Alaska differs from other places in the nation, King said, where 60 percent comes from land-based sources, such as beach litter or urban storm drains. Roughly 30 percent is cigarette butts and other smoking-related trash. In Alaska, it is mostly fishing related - but not necessarily from Alaska fishing operations. “There has been intensive fishing going on in the Bering Sea for over 50 years, and there also are currents that bring over a lot of debris from Asia. So many of the nets picked up are scraps from old high seas drift nets, and trawl nets that are not a type used by our domestic industry,” King said. Disposal varies depending on the location, King said, as certain communities have landfill capacity but many in rural Alaska do not. “We are working with some recyclers in the Seattle area, and the Port of Seattle has been very helpful in putting together a program where fishermen can drop off their old nets and have them disposed of for free or at a low cost,” King said. The MCA Foundation has so far invested about $1 million in Alaska clean up projects, most of which comes from federal funds as part of a nationwide effort. “It’s hard work, but it is so gratifying to see the improvements to the shoreline, and also to reduce the threats to marine mammals, sea birds and fish,” King said. Despite the accomplishment of removing a million pounds from Alaska’s shoreline beach, “there is still a lot more out there and it continues to come in, which is very troubling,” King said. “But more people are realizing that marine debris is a huge problem and we are committed to continuing this clean up effort in the years to come.” Amid the growing chant of “drill, baby, drill,” one of the first areas that could be affected in 2011 is the nation’s “fish basket” - the nearly 6 million acres of the North Aleutian Basin, including the Southeast Bering Sea and Bristol Bay. The region yields 40 percent of the nation’s wild seafood harvests, worth more than half a billion dollars to Alaska fishermen. “The biggest red crab fishery happens there, it’s the catcher vessel operations area, it’s the halibut nursery grounds for the area and the major migratory salmon area,” said Joe Childers, president of United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 37 fishing groups. UFA is not opposed to oil and gas development, but worries that it poses big threats to Alaska’s fishing industry. The group has created an official position that claims Alaska’s seafood production is an integral part of our national food supply, and needs to be protected. “We think of our operations as part of the national security equation, as well as the oil and gas that might come out of there. And we feel that our property rights to our fisheries are not protected at all,” Childers said. “In a lease sale, the oil companies are very likely to wind up with something akin to a property right and we would just be forced to move. We find that very threatening.” Childers, who grew up fishing at Cook Inlet, said by its very nature, oil and gas development takes over traditional fishing areas. “It involves putting in rigid physical structures, seismic testing, laying pipeline,” he said. “In every case, it is most likely that fishing activity will be changed, impaired or forced to move.” Childers said UFA believes the Alaska fishing industry should be granted the same considerations as local boroughs. “If there is going to be drilling, we want to require that a Regional Citizens Advisory Council be established immediately, and funded by the oil companies,” Childers said. UFA also calls for, among other things, creation of a disaster fund to provide compensation to the fishing industry and coastal communities in the event of disruption of fisheries; research on the potential impacts of oil/gas development to seafood markets; and long-term scientific monitoring to assess impacts to fisheries and the marine environment. National chairman Arni Thomson, director of the Alaska Crab Coalition, said he believes UFA’s position paper “has significant implications for all other U.S. states facing offshore oil development.”

Exxon spill awards could be held up in court for several weeks

Damage awards stemming from the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill were scheduled to be in the mail this week, but the payments could be stalled for a month or more. The settlement, which was slashed in June by the U.S. Supreme Court from $2.5 billion to $507.5 million, will be distributed to more than 32,000 plaintiffs, of which 80 percent are Alaska fishermen. “Some obstacles have arisen and the soonest we will see checks is mid-November, and it may roll over to December,” said Andrew Ott, a plaintiff attorney in Kodiak. Ott defined one of the obstacles as complex accounting procedures over the payment distributions. Another snag comes from a threat by “a very small claimant group that is unhappy with their share,” Ott said. “They are having it reviewed by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and we are waiting for that outcome. In the meantime, they might throw in an objection to any authorization for distribution to the rest of the claimants until they say their share has been confirmed or changed,” he said. “At this stage, the distribution allows for the remaining plaintiffs to receive their portion of the shares, and the objector’s portion can be put in a reserve fund until their issue is resolved. In the meantime, the court has to give process whenever something is filed in court, so there may be a delay of 30 days or so until that ruling occurs. It is a fairly minor issue, but it does eat up a little bit of time.” Whenever the plaintiffs do get their settlements, they will also get some tax relief as part of the $700 billion bail-out package passed by Congress. It will allow plaintiffs to income average their awards over three years, contribute up to $100,000 to retirement plans, and exempt payments of self employment or payroll taxes on any Exxon awards. “We recognize that waiting 19 years to get settlements from Exxon is tough enough, but having to turn a good portion over to Uncle Sam is adding insult to injury. And the timing of this in allowing for some tax relief is just about perfect,” said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, who pushed through the tax relief measure along with Sen. Ted Stevens. Murkowski said in a phone interview that she was not happy to vote for the massive Wall Street bail out package, but she felt it was necessary to provide a financial assist to U.S. credit markets. “Having the Exxon tax relief included made it a bit easier to swallow,” she said. Exxon is appealing an additional $488 million in interest payments on the damages award, and the tax breaks will also apply to that settlement. “That is now on a briefing schedule with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and they may come out with a ruling by year’s end, but more likely in early 2009,” said attorney Ott. A bill by aimed at giving U.S. fishermen a fuel tax break failed to get the nod from Congress this session. The two-year measure would give fishermen an extra tax deduction based on the difference between fuel prices paid on Labor Day 2004, adjusted for inflation, and prices paid this year. “The finance committee was faced with so many different bills that the fuel tax relief bill simply didn’t rise to the top of the stack,” Murkowski said. “I do intend to see what I can do in the next Congress to introduce legislation that would again provide relief to fishermen, whether in the form of fuel assistance, or maybe some kind of consideration if you work, for example, to retrofit an engine.” The nation’s financial crisis derailed many other bills, including one that would allow fishermen to obtain low cost operating loans through the Farm Bill. Likewise, efforts failed again to get the U.S. to sign on to the 1982 Law of the Sea Treaty (LOST). This year the U.S., Canada, Denmark, Norway and Russia adopted a declaration of cooperation in the Arctic, which supports the treaty as the legal framework for governance. But without ratification, the U.S. remains sidelined while the other nations stake claims to oil, gas, fisheries and other resources in the Arctic. One measure that did move forward was the Bush Administration’s push to permit offshore fish farms using converted oil and gas platforms in U.S. waters. That was advanced through the rulemaking process and tagged on to an energy bill as a way to sidestep Congressional hearings. “What they were doing was kind of back door to get offshore aquaculture moving because we have not advance that bill in the way they wanted. And I don’t appreciate that at all,” said Murkowski. “My office has been very vocal in letting folks know that there is a process that needs to be followed, and if not, you can expect strenuous opposition. I am very concerned about this and we are not going to let it get away from us.” The Minerals Management Service has scheduled offshore fish farm public meetings on the West Coast next year and Murkowski said she is insisting that Alaska is included. October marks the start of dive fisheries for sea cucumbers, geoduck clams and urchins. “These are pretty hardcore fishermen diving in the winter weather in the Gulf of Alaska. But for a lot of these guys it’s an important piece to their overall annual fishing livelihood,” said fishery manager Nick Sagalkin of Kodiak. About 14 local divers compete for 140,000 pounds of cukes around Kodiak, smaller fisheries occur at Chignik and along the Alaska Peninsula. Southeast Alaska boasts the biggest dive fisheries; 175 divers are targeting more than a million pounds of sea cucumbers, valued at over $2.50 a pound. Divers can also scoop up 5.4 million pounds of sea urchins, valued at about 33 cents a pound. Giant geoduck clams are the most lucrative dive fishery, and this year’s quota is 869,000 pounds. The clams, which can weigh up to 10 pounds, fetch $3.50 to $3.90 a pound if live, and less than $1 if processed. About 60 divers are on the grounds, said regional manager Bill Donaldson. The combined dive fisheries were valued at $7 million at the Southeast docks last year. Also in Southeast each October: spot prawn and coon stripe shrimp fisheries, fall Dungeness crab, and the winter troll fishery reopens for 45,000 king salmon. “Similar to Kodiak, more and more you get salmon fishermen who also do dive fisheries or shrimp or something in the fall,” Donaldson said. “Fishermen have diversified and they fish a portfolio of different fisheries.”

Water's most unwanted visitors

Atlantic salmon no longer top Alaska’s list of unwanted visitors. Nearly 500 Atlantic salmon were captured in Alaska waters through the 1990s, mostly in Southeast, but as far west as the Bering Sea. The fish were escapees from West Coast fish farms, and Alaskans feared the Atlantic transplants would take hold and taint the gene pool of wild stocks. But good news - just seven Atlantic salmon have been captured in Alaska waters since 2006. “We only can count the fish that are brought in, but the numbers have gone down significantly in the past 10 years,” said Tammy Davis, invasive species project leader for the state Sport Fish Division. “We have to commend the fish farmers in Washington and off the coast of British Columbia for their efforts to contain their stocks.” It’s northern pike that pose the biggest threat to salmon and trout in Southcentral lakes and streams, Davis said. Those voracious feeders were illegally transported from north of the Alaska Range to the Susitna River Drainage in the 1950s. Crayfish also have been released and captured in the Kenai River, said biologist Bob Piorkowski. “They’re like vacuum cleaners and eat everything on the bottom,” he said. Ditto tiny New Zealand mud snails, which often arrive in Alaska on the bottom of boots or other outdoor gear. The snails were called “a serious threat to Alaska’s sport fisheries” in a 2002 Aquatic Nuisance Species Management Plan. “If anyone is coming to Alaska, make sure your wading gear, especially with felt liners, have been in the freezer for five or six hours. It will kill the mud snails,” Piorkowski said. Hundreds of invasive marine species make their way around the world as stowaways in the ballast water of ships. For Alaska, a watch is on now for European green crabs in Southeast and Southcentral waters. The highly adaptable crabs are making their way up the West Coast and have huge appetites for oysters and other crabs. “The farthest north population is off the coast of Vancouver Island, and researchers believe there is a very good chance that green crabs could move up the coast to Alaska,” Davis said. Fishery managers encourage anyone who spots an odd sea creature to bring it to an appropriate office. “You know what lives on your beach. If you find something unusual, we’d love to hear about it,” Davis said. If you suspect you’ve landed an Atlantic salmon, look for spots on the gill plates and a slender, pinched tail. Climate change is the biggest challenge facing Alaska’s fisheries, believes Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich. The U.S. Senate candidate recently launched a series of teleconferences for reporters in remote regions. Begich said it is part of his “full access” promise to keep all Alaskans more engaged in political decision-making. Begich ticked off challenges to the seafood industry: “High energy costs to go out and catch the fish...they need affordable health care...a sustainable financial lifestyle, capital for new vessels and equipment upgrades....” Begich is getting his sea legs by traveling to fishing communities, and said he is hearing “lots of differing philosophies” about Alaska fisheries management. “It’s mixed within the industry, but I do hear concerns that final decisions around fish allocations are not done out in the open, and decisions are not always based on science,” he said. The mayor is on more solid ground with energy issues, a centerpiece of the Begich campaign both in terms of new ideas and criticisms of “our current representation.” “Because of the lack and neglect over the past 40 years to focus on a long-term plan, we have no energy policy for Alaska or the nation. Now people are paying enormous costs for energy, we are dependent on foreign fuel, and we have put ourselves at economic and national risk,” Begich said. “When I see wind farms in rural Alaska producing enough energy so they don’t have to buy 80,000 gallons of diesel - we should step up as a nation and put hard dollars on the table to offset the cost that the consumer has to pay,” Begich said. “If you front load the financing for these energy projects, it’s tough to get them working today.” Begich said he has not taken a position yet on the proposed Pebble Mine, situated at the headwaters of Bristol Bay. “I want to let the process between all the different agencies move forward because that has barely started. I’m one of these guys that believes you have to allow the scientific evidence to move forward before making any policy decision,” Begich said. “That said, I do have grave concerns,” he added. “In this case, the fisheries in the long term, because that is a sustainable, renewable resource that we have to make sure under any circumstances. And I don’t care if it’s Pebble or any other development in our state, we make sure it is protected.” Fishing by wind made history in Hawaii recently, when a 20-pound ono and a 160-pound tuna were hauled aboard kite-powered boats. “Seems like the incubator for this is going to be the fishing industries, you know?” said Ian Fisher, co-owner of a Maui-based start up company called Kite for Sail. Fisher has developed simple kite systems for sport and fishing boats since 1999, tapping into the steady trade winds of the Hawaiian Islands. “The way the kite moves through the wind and the hull moves through the water is a natural combination,” Fisher said, “The pulling instead of pushing force makes it very versatile and really smoothes out the ride. Most boaters will find it very useful.” The kite system can be used off any sized power boat or hull, Fisher said. It includes an inflatable kite (5 to 20 meters), five lines and a winch. When the kite latches on to the powerful winds far above the water, boats can really pull back on the throttle. “If you’re going to travel over a certain course and you have a good wind for an hour or so, the kite can be deployed to save anywhere from 20 to 30 (percent), even 70 to 80 percent of fuel costs, depending on your hull type and your course off to the wind,” Fisher said. He estimated the cost of a kite system for a 30-foot fishing boat at $3,000 to $7,000. “I think fishermen would be the most naturally skilled kite pilots and really help grow the concept,” he said. Kite systems can also power energy solutions on shore, he added. “It can be used to pump water, make compressed air, produce electricity - things of that nature.”

Global network of robots submerged

A global network of 3,000 underwater robots is now measuring how oceans influence fisheries productivity and the world’s climate. According to the Asia Pulse, the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization announced completion of the so-called Argo program in Tasmania. Australian scientists deployed 144 of the world’s first Argos between Australia and Indonesia in 1999. The robots will be able to research oceans that have never been measured before due to their remoteness and stormy conditions. The four-foot tall Argo deep-sea divers measure temperature and salinity in the upper mile and a half of oceans around the globe, and surface every 10 days to upload the data to a satellite. Data canters in France and California analyze the information by climate. The information has already helped researchers track how fast and where the ocean is warming due to greenhouse gases, and aided in ocean forecasting. Scientists said the Argo project would allow them to solve some of the big climate questions, as well as provide insight into how the ever-changing ocean weather affects marine ecosystems. The $905 million project is funded by 26 countries. The report said the U.S. has committed to maintaining half of the robots for the next four years, with other contributing countries covering the remainder. Laine Welch, who lives in Kodiak, can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Warming up to 'iceless' fish shipments could save millions

Shipping live or fresh fish without water or ice would save millions of dollars for seafood companies. A new waterless transport method could soon allow fish shippers to do just that. Waterless transport technology has won several international “best invention” awards for Bonifacio Comandante of the Philippines, who presented the concept as his master’s degree thesis two years ago at a San Francisco university. Since then, investors from Australia and Japan have partnered with Comandante to bring the benefits and savings to their countries. Comandante’s transport process involves bathing fish in a proprietary mixture that puts them in a soothing state of hibernation. “It’s an organic compound found naturally in the water, and I just found a way to trigger a hibernation process in fish,” Comandante said in a phone interview as he was on his way to the International Boston Seafood Show. The hibernating fish are kept at a controlled temperature and shipped upright in a vertical position to ensure that their gill covers remain open. Comandante said he has tested the transport method on 12 species of fish with 100 percent success. “From the Philippines, we’re shipping three kinds of groupers, two kinds of snappers and many crustaceans and mollusks,” he said, estimating the savings from Southeast Asia to Hong Kong at $85 million for live products. The inventor recently signed a $4 million contract to apply the technology to Australia’s top seafood exports to the United States and Japan: tuna, rainbow trout and salmon. “In Australia, we were successful in putting live salmon into hibernation for 10 to 12 hours,” he said. Comandante said his shipping method has an even bigger application for fresh fish because it eliminates the need for ice. “Normally when you send fresh fishes, you need ice to go along with the fish. Without ice, you save somewhere between 20 to 25 percent in freight costs,” he said. “If you figure the volume that is traded worldwide that goes to Hong Kong, China and Japan, the instant savings would be about $248 million.” The mixture can also be applied to fish processing. “You can time the death of the fishes before you process them,” Comandante said. His Philippines-based company, Buhi International Group, is awaiting an international patent before fully commercializing the waterless shipping technology in selected countries. Comandante said he is very interested in networking with Alaska producers. Meanwhile, the inventor is a finalist in a May 21 World Bank competition for another innovative project that boosts the nutritional content of shellfish by 70 percent. “The vitamins and green algae I use make up an acronym for Viagra, but it’s not what you think,” he said with a laugh. Ketchikan counts on shellfish Construction is set to begin this summer on the Oceans Alaska Marine Science Center near Ketchikan. The new nonprofit was created last year when the state and the Ketchikan Gateway Borough donated 28 acres to build the facility, which aims to be the hub for building a global industry for Alaska shellfish. “Economic development is the primary thing. If we look at what the opportunities are for year-round, sustainable jobs in Southeast, Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula and along the Aleutians, the shellfish industry is one of the best options we have. A focus will be on how we can help the industry grow,” said project manager John Sund. Alaska currently has 34 shellfish farms throughout Southeast Alaska and 27 in the Southcentral region — Prince William Sound and near Homer. Values last year, primarily centered on oysters, totaled just more than $676,000, split almost evenly between the two regions. Sund said if the dive fisheries for geoduck clams, sea cucumbers and urchins are included, total shellfish values for Southeast Alaska top $7 million. Research economists estimate the region’s shellfish value could reach $50 million to $100 million if production was increased through aquaculture. Sund believes the state could enjoy similar financial gains and points to New Zealand as an example. “The green mussel industry there struggled for years until they formed a collaboration with the government and researchers, and learned how to freeze the mussels. That took them into the world market from $18 million to a $100 million industry,” he said, pointing to similar successes with cultured scallops in Japan, clams in Florida, and oysters and geoduck clams in British Columbia. Ray RaLonde, an aquaculture expert with Alaska Sea Grant, agrees that shellfish aquaculture provides huge opportunities for Alaska. “Right now there is growing demand for Alaska shellfish — what we lack is enough production,” RaLonde said, adding that co-operative farming is the best way for the fledgling industry to move forward. In Ketchikan, projects are already underway even before the Oceans Alaska facility is built. “We don’t need a building to help move the research projects and our mission forward,” Sund said. The Oceans Alaska board is seeking an executive director. Lost in translation Reports from Japanese newspapers that major buyers were bailing out of Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Bristol Bay were way off base. A thorough canvassing by Dillingham radio station KDLG revealed that five processors have signed up to purchase Togiak roe herring: Icicle, Trident, Norquest, Yardarm Knot and North Pacific Seafoods. A Norquest spokesman said poor prices and reduced demand for herring have forced processors to scale back their operations in the Togiak fishery, and several will be operating with fewer tenders and a smaller fleet. The Togiak herring quota this year is 26,000 tons, but state fishery manager Tim Sands told KDLG that his poll of processors indicates they only intend to buy about 16,000 tons. The Togiak roe herring fishery, which typically gets underway in May, was worth $2.6 million to fishermen last year.

State will soon learn just how well the salmon industry fared in '06

Industry watchers will soon have a more complete picture of how Alaska salmon is playing out in world markets. The state Department of Revenue is expected to release its annual “score card” for the 2006 salmon fishery any day. The Alaska Salmon Price Report will provide first wholesale prices and sales volumes for key salmon products: canned salmon, fresh and frozen/headed and gutted, fresh and frozen fillets, and salmon roe. The annual production report will tell exactly how much salmon was processed by Alaska seafood companies last year. “It allows us to pin down what we produced and what was the real growth in products like fillets, which are of great interest to many people,” said analyst Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Group, which tracks and translates the salmon data in reports to the industry. Looking at some 2006 salmon highlights: Alaska chum salmon continued to show substantial price recovery at the docks, from 19 cents per pound three years ago to 31 cents a pound. The 20-year average is 32 cents. “The dockside value was about $56 million, and 18 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value was chums,” McDowell said. A record chum catch of 24.7 million fish is projected for Alaska this year. Coho salmon was a sleeper that really woke up last year. The statewide average price was nearly $1 per pound, not including bonuses. In Southeast Alaska, troll-caught cohos fetched a record $2.85 a pound. Fewer Alaska pink salmon are ending up in cans, going instead into pricier frozen fillets. Ten years ago, 80 percent of the pink catch would be canned; now it’s closer to a 50/50 split for canned and frozen pinks. Pink salmon are not expected to pull another no-show in 2007, as they did in major Alaska regions last year, notably Southeast. Pink salmon have a two-year life span and return in odd/even year cycles of run strength. “The parent year for the 2007 pink return was 2005, which was the largest pink salmon harvest on record, at 161 million fish,” McDowell said. For the past 20 years, on odd-numbered years, the pink salmon catch has been 23 percent over projections. If that holds true, the Alaska catch could top 130 million pinks in 2007, McDowell said. Another big harvest could be a mixed blessing for Alaska’s money fish — sockeye salmon. “Half to two-thirds of the total dockside value is from sockeye, and we haven’t seen a whole lot of movement in the past year or two,” McDowell said. Last year, 70 percent of Alaska’s sockeye catch of roughly 40 million came from Bristol Bay, where prices remained in the $.55 per pound range. The sockeye were smaller than usual, making them less suitable for fillet production. That meant the bulk of the bay’s red salmon went into cans in an already crowded market. “It appears we’re entering into a time of oversupply for the canned sockeye market. And with high production coming from Bristol Bay, we’re looking at a pretty significant canned pack again,” McDowell said. Alaska king salmon prices continue to reflect the lack of availability of fish from Pacific coast fisheries, closed for conservation concerns. The average dock price last year was almost $2.80 per pound, the highest price in 25 years. Southeast trollers fetched $9.20 per pound for winter kings two weeks ago. “In terms of the price for king salmon, this is ’the good old days’ right now,” McDowell said. State fish forecasters are predicting an Alaska salmon catch of 179 million fish this year, up 21.2 percent from the 2006 harvest of 141 million salmon It soon will be easier to make sure those fish you are buying are the real thing. Fish frauds are at an all time high, and suppliers are too often substituting fakes for higher-value species — farmed salmon for wild, for example, or tilapia or catfish for grouper. A project underway at Ontario’s Guelph University may soon allow people to test their own fish, even while sitting at a restaurant. Called the Barcode of Life, the project aims to a build a genetic sequence database for every known plant and animal species on Earth. Researchers have developed a wireless, handheld device that can analyze a sliver of fish and identify it within minutes. They predict it will be widely used in five to 10 years. The device can also be used to target invasive species at ports. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) wants to hear from the public on what research strategies and priorities it should adopt for the next five years. By law, NMFS must update its strategic plan for fisheries research every three years. Scientists are awaiting the hatch of the first batch of baby king crabs at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Marine Center in Seward. “It’s really exciting. It’s the first time that we have ventured into culturing king crab,” said Brian Allee, director of Alaska Sea Grant and manager of the crab research program. Researchers believe the hatchery program marks the first step in rebuilding wild king crab stocks in Alaska waters. The arrivals will be newborn red and blue king crab larvae, each only about the size of a finely sharpened pencil tip. In all, more than 1 million king crabs are expected to hatch at the facility in coming weeks. Their mothers, 58 in all, were collected from waters around Kodiak and the Pribilof Islands. The first batch of crab will not be released into the wild, but will serve as test subjects for future generations. It will take several years, but the goal is to eventually release the crabs to their home waters. “Then they would contribute to the common-property fishery. First and foremost, the crab will contribute to brood stock that will provide the seed for the future,” Allee said. The Alaska King Crab Research and Rehabilitation Program will be a feature at ComFish in Kodiak in March and at an open house March 24 at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward. Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and Web sites. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 25 stations around the state. Welch, who lives in Kodiak, can be reached via e-mail at [email protected] 

Alaska's most valuable salmon is seeing more of the world

It used to be that the Alaska salmon industry was criticized for "putting all its eggs into one basket," meaning, selling all of its big-money fish, sockeye, to one customer, Japan. That’s not the case any longer. For the past decade, the trend has been a steady shift away from that traditional customer toward eager markets in the United States and Europe. The latest Seafood Market Report from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute reports frozen sockeye salmon exports to Japan so far this year are 27 million pounds, just 33 percent of the total pack. This contrasts sharply with the past two years when production levels were similar, but Japan imported 66-69 percent of Alaska frozen sockeye. Frozen sockeye is by far the most valuable salmon product produced in Alaska, with first wholesale value of nearly $160 million in 2005. The sockeye market is of keen interest for the industry, especially since Alaska harvests have topped 40 million reds for three years running. The export and sales patterns since 2004 are the most relevant for illustrating the changing market destinations for Alaska’s frozen sockeye, the report said. Conversely, the market for canned sockeye is facing a glut. While the sales season for all canned salmon begins in September, all indications point to a large carryover of canned reds from previous years, plus above average volumes coming into the market from British Columbia, Canada. There is a rosier outlook for pink salmon, as fewer of those fish end up in cans. Canned production this year, combined with carryover inventory, add up to the lowest case load in several years, the Seafood Market Report said. "In fact, closer to 55 percent of the pink harvest is now going into cans. That compares to roughly 76 percent in recent years. We’re seeing a big shift into higher-value frozen pink production," said Chris McDowell of the Juneau-based McDowell Group, producer of the market report for ASMI. Salmon fillets continue to be the biggest trendsetter, and Alaska processors are "putting in more fillet lines all over the state, especially for sockeye," McDowell said. First wholesale prices for fresh fillets showed the largest price increase this year with gains between 27 and 36 percent. The total value of fresh and frozen Alaska salmon fillets from May through August jumped from $18 million to $26 million, an increase of 41 percent. Through mid-September, state managers report the total 2006 Alaska salmon harvest at 135 million fish, ranking as the 17th-largest catch on record. Latest sea lion counts The 2006 population counts of westward populations of Steller sea lions showed mixed reviews. Whereas the animals are thriving throughout Southeast Alaska, populations from Kodiak and further west have dropped dramatically since the 1980s, and they are listed on the federal endangered species list. Every two years, federal researchers from the Seattle-based Alaska Fisheries Science Center conduct aerial surveys to assess trends in the numbers of adult and juvenile sea lions at nearly 250 sites, ranging from Cape St. Elias to Attu Island. The mix of sites has been surveyed consistently, some since the mid-1970s and others since the 1990s. Population counts from 2000 through 2004 showed nearly a 12 percent increase in sea lions throughout the westward region, the first increase since the late 1970s. For two weeks in June this year, researchers were able to only survey 159 of the sites due partly to bad weather that grounded survey flights. Researchers were also hamstrung by court-ordered delays stemming from a lawsuit by the U.S. Humane Society that found federal managers had failed to comply with regulations in issuing research permits. A summary memorandum said the June 2006 survey yielded no new information on abundance trends for the entire western stock of sea lions. The counts of non-pups in the eastern and western Gulf of Alaska and eastern Aleutians appear to be unchanged since 2004, suggesting that adult and juvenile populations may have stabilized. The survey indicated, however, that sea lion declines appear to be continuing in the western Aleutians, perhaps by as much as 19 percent. Find the survey summary at www.afsc.noaa.gov. Alaska fish vs. global warming Snow crab stocks are marching farther north, likewise pollock and other fish stocks, as Bering Sea waters get warmer due to global climate changes. Scientists from around the world were to gather last week to discuss the ability of members of a family of fish called gadids to adapt to human and environmental pressures. Gadids include 30 species of cod, haddock, pollock, lings, whiting and hake that inhabit the cold waters of the North Atlantic, North Pacific and Arctic oceans. The conference, Resiliency of Gadid Stocks to Fishing and Climate Change, will include experts from the United States, Canada, Norway, Russia and other fishing nations to discuss what’s needed for gadids to cope with fishing and climate changes. The meeting is the 24th Lowell Wakefield Fisheries Symposium, coordinated by Alaska Sea Grant since 1982 to bring scientists together to discuss research and help improve fisheries management and marine conservation. The series is named after Lowell Wakefield, founder of the Alaska king crab industry. The conference was to take place at the Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, Oct. 31-Nov. 3.

Seafood industry looks to reach the youngest customers

Cruise the baby food aisles of any American supermarket and you’ll see jars of beef, chicken, lamb, eggs - every kind of protein except fish. That could soon change if an initiative by Alaska food scientists and the seafood industry is successful. Fueled by $443,000 in federal funding from the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, a project is underway at the University of Alaska Fisheries Industrial Technology Center in Kodiak to create baby food made from salmon. AFDF is an industry based nonprofit created in 1978 to help provide a bridge between research and the marketplace. "Starting last year we began developing two prototype products - a pate’ form for infants and a chunk-style food for toddlers made from pink and/or sockeye salmon, with or without fish oil additives. We may also use ground up salmon bone as a source for organic calcium," said FITC director Scott Smiley. Another project will focus on using salmon roe as a baby food ingredient. Smiley said it will be two or three years before the salmon products are ready to hand off to baby food manufacturers. But that is something that is beyond the realm of science. "We can tell seafood processors what they need to do to make a product that is 100 percent pure salmon and meets specific nutritional standards. It’s up to them to sell the idea to baby food manufacturers and to market researchers to try and make it fly in the market place," Smiley said. Smiley displayed jars of seafood baby food from Japan adorned with labels showing colorful pictures of flounder and cod. He said infant formulas throughout Asia also contain fish oils to meet minimum requirements for omega 3 fatty acid levels. With all the health positives surrounding fish, why is the same nutrition not available to American babies? "We can’t get it past the gate-keepers. Parents just seem to have a bias against fish," was the response 10 years ago by Gerber spokesperson Nancy Lindner. That attitude holds true today. "At this time, Gerber does not manufacture a baby food containing fish. The selection of products we offer is determined in large part by the preferences of parents," was the reply to a query at Gerber’s consumer questions line. (Other companies did not respond.) One baby food company expressed concern over the "odor" of processing fish at their manufacturing plants, said AFDF director Bob Pawlowski. To that end, AFDF has invited food scientists from major baby food makers to visit processing plants next month in Kodiak and one other Alaska community. "We want to show them that we have the most healthful, all-natural salmon in the world with no bio-accumulation issues of contaminants or impurities. We will try and convince them that we can produce it and they can distribute it," Pawlowski said. He and Smiley have already scheduled follow-up meetings in August with research and development staff at baby food companies headquartered in Urbana, Ill. Both men are optimistic that salmon baby food is an idea whose time has come. "Moms recognize it as healthful, low-fat, loaded with omega 3s, it comes from pure Alaska waters ... there is a whole lot going for fish," Smiley said. "It just depends on how willing people are to make that vision translate into new products on the supermarket shelves." New rules Mariners have long been required to take steps to test anyone involved in a serious accident or incident for evidence of drug and alcohol use. Many might be caught off guard by new U.S. Coast Guard rules that go into effect on June 20 setting specific time limits for conducting the tests and mandating that approved testing equipment be carried on board. The new requirements say that alcohol testing must follow a serious marine incident (SMI) within two hours, and no later than eight hours, following the incident. Drug testing must be done within 32 hour of an SMI. An SMI includes such things as a death, an injury that requires treatment beyond first aid, property damage in excess of $100,000, loss of a vessel, or various pollution incidents. Lt. Randy Waddington said the Coast Guard recognizes that sometimes testing can’t be done within the required time frame, such as when "people are being plucked out of the ocean." "Enforcement will be done on a case-by-case basis," Waddington said. Regardless, mariners must have approved testing devices on board by June 20 and know how to use them. The only exception is for vessels operating within two hours of a location where testing can be done, such as a police station or hospital. Waddington was not sure if the devices will be available from outlets other than the Internet. A list of approved testing equipment, which sell for $100-$150, is available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Failure to comply with the new chemical testing regulations can result in fines of $27,500 for each violation. For more information, contact Lt. Waddington at the Marine Safety Office in Juneau at (907) 463-2444. New sea bird guides An ongoing collaboration between the Juneau-based Marine Conservation Alliance and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has produced a new series of colorful placards showing 51 bird species that might be encountered on the fishing grounds. The guides contain life-size outlines of the birds’ beaks so they can easily be identified by fishermen or onboard observers. The new series follows on a release last year of guides produced in both English and Russian that identify three types of endangered short-tailed albatross. Accidentally catching just four of those in a two-year period can have serious ramifications, potentially closing down a fishery. "Happily, we have not gotten close to those limits. We have not taken a short-tailed albatross since 1998," said Thorn Smith, director of the North Pacific Longline Association and an MCA board member. Alaska’s longline fleet already uses avoidance measures to keep sea birds away from their fishing gear. "The streamer lines we deploy over our baited hooks while we’re setting them out are extremely effective and we have reduced our incidental take of birds eightfold," Smith said, adding that the bird guides have been very popular. "We’ve got some real birdwatching fishermen out there. It tends to raise their consciousness and has been a very successful series." The collaboration also has provided guides to identify and avoid the world’s most endangered whales - right whales. "The series represents a remarkable cooperative effort by industry, government and environmentalists," said MCA director Dave Benton.

Halibut fishermen to start work early, but catch is reduced

Halibut fishermen will hit the water on March 5 this year, a Sunday opening date that will get the fish to market early during the first week of Lent. Harvesters will also take home a slightly lower catch during the halibut fishery, which will last through mid-November. That news was announced Jan. 20 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which sets annual catch limits for Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California and British Columbia, Canada. The commission recommended a coast-wide halibut catch totaling 69.9 million pounds, a 5.4 percent decrease from the 2005 catch limit of 73.8 million pounds. The IPHC said in its 2006 annual report that the halibut stock appears healthy throughout much of its range, but is believed to have declined in the western Gulf of Alaska and parts of the Bering Sea. This is the second year in a row that harvest rates for those areas have been lowered as a precautionary measure, the IPHC said. Here are the 2006 halibut catch limits for Alaska: Alaska total, 53.7 million pounds; Area 2C in Southeast Alaska, 10.6 million; Area 3A in the Central Gulf, 25.2 million; Area 3B in the Western Gulf, 10.9 million; Area 4A in the eastern Aleutians, 3.3 million; Area 4B in the western Aleutians, 1.7 million; Area 4C in the Pribilof Islands 1.6 million; Area 4D, northwestern Bering Sea, 1.6 million; Area 4E, Bering Sea flats, 330,000; Area 4 total, 8.6 million. Get more information at www.iphc.washington.edu. Fishing and flying deaths Fishing and flying still account for most deaths on the job in Alaska. Air transportation and commercial fishing accounted for the most work-related deaths in Alaska in 2004, the latest year for which there are statistics. According to the state Department of Labor’s January issue of Alaska Economic Trends, that has been the case since 1992, when the U.S. first began tracking workplace fatalities. The data are derived from the number of deaths per 100,000 workers. Transportation incidents led Alaska’s deadly list, accounting for 73 percent of job fatalities in 2004. That includes any mode of transportation, from cars and trucks to boats and aircraft. Nearly one out of every three deaths was associated with some type of marine mishap. Twenty percent of Alaska’s workplace fatalities that year, or eight out of 40, were commercial fishermen. Aircraft incidents accounted for one-third of workplace fatalities, or three out of every 10 deaths. In more recent years, the on-the-job death rate has improved dramatically for both fishing and flying. For fishing, it has dropped from 38 percent in 1992 to 20 percent in 2004. The rate has declined from an average of nine deaths per year for aircraft pilots to four. Between 1992 and 2004, some 721 workers died in Alaska’s workplaces, an average of about one every seven days. Alaska’s average annual number of workplace deaths has decreased in the last 10 years, even though the number of workers has increased 10 percent. In all, Alaska had 40 workplace deaths in 2004, down from an average of 55 in a run of previous years. Nearly three-quarters of those who died in Alaska’s workplaces were between the ages of 25-54, and white/non-Hispanics and Asians made up 85 percent of the deaths. While things are improving, Alaska’s on-the-job fatality rate is among the nation’s highest, at 9.2 persons per year. That is second only to Wyoming, with a rate of 13.9 on-the-job deaths. Vegas is wild for "The King" Seafood lovers selected smoked Yukon king salmon as their favorite at the Alaska Symphony of Salmon contest earlier this month in Las Vegas. The popular People’s Choice Award went to Yukon King Seafoods of Marshall, Alaska, for its Smoked Cajun King Salmon. The buttery texture and balanced flavor of the salmon portions bested 18 other seafood entries, and also drew raves from the judges. On its entry form, Yukon King Seafoods said its smoked salmon products - which are also available in lemon pepper, traditional and peppered flavors - are currently sold in villages along the Yukon River. The Seafood of Symphony event now moves to Anchorage, where three winners will be announced in three categories - retail, food service and smoked - along with a grand prizewinner. First-place entries earn a trip to the International Boston Seafood Show, scheduled in March. Now in its 13th year, the Symphony of Seafood was created by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation to showcase new products and introduce them to the marketplace. Exxon vigil An all-night vigil was set for Jan. 26 in front of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Jan. 27 marked the third and probably final round of oral arguments about whether Exxon should pay $4.5 billion, plus interest, in punitive damages to more than 30,000 Alaska plaintiffs whose livelihoods were hurt by the 1989 oil spill in Prince William Sound. Laine Welch has been covering news of Alaska’s seafood industry since 1988. Her weekly Fish Factor column appears in a dozen newspapers and Web sites. Her daily Fish Radio programs air on 25 stations around the state. Welch, who lives in Kodiak, can be reached via e-mail at [email protected]

Halibut fishermen to play key role in decision-making study

How do fishermen make risky decisions out on the water? Researchers are hoping Alaska halibut skippers will help them find out. Quinn Weninger, an economist at Iowa State University, is leading a study called "Decision-Making in Uncertain Circumstances: Learning from Alaskan Halibut Fishermen." He has put out a call for 50-60 halibut skippers to participate in the project for the 2006 and 2007 fisheries. "Halibut fishing is a great example of a process in which decisions have to be made about where fish might be, and the decisions are all subject to various forms of uncertainty. It is a very interesting, natural experiment for us to try and test some of the theories that are being put forth about decision making under uncertainty. That’s the motivation for this study," Weninger said. Researchers suggest that people tend to use simplifications or "rules of thumb" - called heuristics - to aid in the complex task of making decisions under uncertainty. "These rules of thumb can lead to errors or mistakes, and there is tremendous interest in the academic community to try and uncover how these various heuristics influence decisions," Weninger said. For the two-year halibut project, each skipper will be given a hand-held computer and GPS logger, and asked to "point and click" through a short list of questions before they leave for a fishing trip. "They’ll be asked about the thought processes that went into making the decision about where they are going to fish, and in particular, what they expect to catch. At the end of the trip, they’ll do another round of questions, such as what might have changed out on the water, and how they reacted as the trip proceeded," Weninger said. He stressed that all fishing data will remain strictly confidential. Weninger added that getting "real" results from the fishing grounds will be more meaningful than from controlled experiments. "Because we will be gathering data from real decision makers where risks are important and the stakes really matter, we think we’ll have something to say that is new and exciting," Weninger said. Results of the two-year study, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, will help researchers learn how expectations are formed, how choices are made and how the level of risk affects the decision-making process. The work can benefit others who work in high-stress occupations, and those who provide support services, Weninger said. Pollock goes to school The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers is taking the lead to get more fish into the mouths of America’s school kids. The GAPP is an association formed in 2003 that represents every at-sea and shore-based processor in the Alaska pollock industry. It promotes Alaska pollock in markets around the world with a focus on Europe, North America and Asia. GAPP members were recently in Orlando, Fla., for a three-day School and Child Nutrition Industry Conference, which brings together food decision makers and seafood suppliers. The GAPP’s goal is to convince them to use more pollock products in the nation’s school lunch program. According to fishing industry journal Intrafish, GAPP will share results of a pilot project done last fall in three school districts in Seattle, Houston and Virginia Beach. It showed that students were receptive to Alaskan fish tacos, and they would like them to be part of their regular school lunch menus. GAPP president Rick Muir said the group is developing more kid-tested menu items, and they believe children would enjoy fish more if better-quality products were available in American schools. Pollock pays out Speaking of Alaskan pollock, many will be surprised to learn that pollock is the source of the largest privately funded, marine research program for state universities in Alaska’s history. Since 2000, member boats of the At-sea Processors Association have donated a total of $1 million each year to the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center (PCCRC), headquartered at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. "The PCCRC is one of our real delights," said Denis Weisenberg, dean of UAF’s School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences. "Part of their contribution goes to an endowed chair, part to a research endowment, and part of it funds directed research. It is a wonderful arrangement and helps us offset state dollars that don’t seem to be coming as quickly as we need them." The PCCRC research projects are primarily designed to improve knowledge about the North Pacific Ocean and Bering Sea. Studies have focused, for example, on predation of northern fur seals in the Pribilof Islands, jellyfish impacts on food web production, the use of acoustic data loggers on fishing vessels, and the possible relationship between killer whales and disappearing sea lions. The PCCRC is a sponsor of the Marine Science Symposium held Jan. 22-25 in Anchorage. Symphony of Seafood attracts new fish The popular Alaska Symphony of Seafood kicked off on Jan. 19 at the Hyatt Regency Lake Las Vegas Resort. Now in its 13th year, the 2006 event attracted 19 new Alaska seafood products from large and small companies. The entries competed in three categories - retail, food service and smoked - and were judged by a panel that represents diverse segments related to the seafood industry. Of note this year was a new fish entry into the field long dominated by salmon. Prowler Fisheries of Petersburg and Seattle restaurateur Tom Douglas partnered to offer five specially flavored sablefish tenderloin dishes. Except for the Las Vegas People’s Choice Award, all winners were kept secret and announced at a second Symphony event Feb. 4 at the Fourth Avenue Theater in Anchorage. All top winners receive a trip to the International Boston Seafood Show in March.

Fisheries say long and costly eco-label worth the effort

Sometime in May, Alaska halibut and black cod should receive a coveted earth-friendly label from the international Marine Stewardship Council. The bright blue label on packages tells customers their seafood purchases come from well-managed fisheries. Such "purchase with a purpose" programs are becoming more popular with chefs, large seafood buyers and the general public, especially in Europe. All fisheries undergo intense scrutiny by a scientific team and interested stakeholders before being certified to use the eco-label. There’s been some grumbling lately that the process takes far longer than the customary 12 to 18 months originally outlined by the MSC. Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska pollock, for example, took more than four years to get the MSC nod. The halibut and black cod fisheries have been in the pipeline since February 2003. Many blame the hold-up on the independent review teams being over-extended. "It’s been a longer process than I envisioned, and more costly. That’s one of the objections that’s been cropping up," said Bob Alverson, director of the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners Association, which sponsored the halibut/black cod effort. Fishermen have taxed themselves to pay for the certification, which so far has cost roughly $150,000. Alaska salmon, the first fishery in the world to merit the eco-label, is undergoing a required five-year review at a cost that is nearly twice that. The state, however, is picking up that tab. Complaints aside, Alverson believes that being able to boast the MSC label in the marketplace is worth all the bother. "Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing it," he said. The Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery is expecting to get its final OK for the eco-label any day. "We are extremely pleased that the entire Alaska pollock fishery is now proven to be responsibly and sustainability. Alaska pollock producers are excited to be bringing certified fish to environmentally conscious consumers in markets in the U.K., Europe, Asia and the U.S.," said Kevin Duffy, director of the At-Sea Processors Association. In all, 11 fisheries around the world produce products bearing the MSC label: Bering Sea pollock, Alaska salmon, Burry Inlet cockles, Loch Torridon nephrops, Mexican Baja California red rock lobster, New Zealand hoki, South African hake, South Georgia toothfish, South West handline mackerel, Thames herring, and Western Australia rock lobster. Along with Pacific halibut and black cod, 14 other fisheries are applying for the label: Australian mackerel icefish, Bering Sea freezer longline cod, British Columbia salmon, California chinook salmon, Chilean hake, Hastings Fishing Fleet Dover sole and pelagic (mid-water) fishery, Lake Hjalmaren pikeperch, South Australia Lakes and Coorong fisheries, North Sea herring, Oregon Dungeness crab, Patagonia scallops, and Oregon pink shrimp. Fish list follies Americans are starting to scratch their heads over well-meaning attempts to advise them on which fish are safest to eat. It’s a huge issue, as 48 of 50 U.S. states now have mercury warnings for various fish. Headlines about high levels of other toxins and contaminants also have consumers feeling gun shy about eating seafood. To the rescue has come a series of "fish lists" from national medical and conservation groups. They provide colorful, walletsize cards that clump seafoods into categories based on how "safe" they are to eat. The problem is, the advisories are all different, and what is recommended on one list has a "don’t eat" warning on another. For example, a list by the Physicians for Social Responsibility and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals says to avoid all salmon, and includes fish having the highest mercury levels. Yet other lists, such as Audubon, Monterey Aquarium and Environmental Defense, list wild salmon as the healthiest choice. The waters get even murkier because nearly all of the groups mix up their health advisories with ecosystem concerns, like overfishing. No wonder people are confused! And get this, the new Food Pyramid revealed last week actually recommends that Americans eat those fish that the government says are most contaminated with mercury, like swordfish and some tuna. The Food Pyramid is being sharply criticized by food experts and educators because, for one thing, it is completely Internet based, and provides nutritional information only to those who have computers. "Well, that cuts out a pretty significant segment of the population. This is dietary advice for people who have computers. And that is the segment of the population that probably needs it least," said Marion Nestle, author of "Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Health & Nutrition." Michele Simon, director of the Center for Informed Choices, commented in Salon.com: "The nicest thing I could say is that it’s a missed opportunity. The worst I could say is that it’s a joke." The federal government’s response is that information from the Web site can be printed out and handed to low-income people. But critics say that many of the organizations serving poorer communities don’t have access to the Internet, much less a color printer. Adding to the confusion is the fact that the Food Pyramid is only a colorful picture devoid of a single word, with a stick figure running up one side to promote exercise. A click on the color purple, for example, brings up a meat and beans section. And that’s where you’ll find seafood.

British Columbia fish farm tests waters with lucrative black cod

KODIAK -- Totem Seafarms of Jervis Inlet, British Columbia, put some of the first farmed black cod, also called sablefish, onto the market in mid-January. According to the Fish Information Service, Totem’s Gus Angus said that even though the 750, five-pound fish were more of a sample for the market than a real commodity, he believes there is a bright future for sablefish aquaculture. "It’s going great. It is in its absolute infancy. There is a tremendous amount of work to do in hatching and rearing. It’s a great fish," he said. Angus said the quality of the flesh was very acceptable to the market, and the fish fetched about the same price as wild black cod in the seven- to nine-pound range, around $4.50 Canadian a pound. A private firm called Island Scallops Ltd., is also hatching sablefish for sale to grow-out sites. The company supplied 13,000 fish to growers in 2001 and intends to have 100,000 available this year. Spokesman Robert Saunders said there are other marine species under consideration by the aquaculture industry, but right now sablefish is what he calls the "prime candidate." With wild black cod being one of the most valuable fish on the market, interest has been high to develop a farmed version. Commercial fishermen in British Columbia are alarmed by the government’s support of black cod aquaculture in the province. Chris Acheson of the Canadian Sablefish Association told FIS the government is not taking into consideration the economic and environmental impact such aquaculture could have on the wild industry. A recent study prepared for the government of British Columbia stated that once farmed black cod is produced in large volumes, it could cause a price drop of 40 percent in the price of fish. The report predicted that aquaculture could be producing potentially up to 16,000 tons by 2021 with revenues of $22 million to $114 million Canadian. Flying squid destined for Japan After years of quiet preparation, a handful of U.S. vessels has begun jigging for neon flying squid in the North Pacific. Several former Bering Sea crabbers have been outfitted with jig machines for flying squid, an abundant high seas resource that has been harvested only slightly since the international ban on high seas driftnetting went into effect in 1993. Until then, the Asian driftnet fishery yielded 300,000 metric tons per year worth roughly $1 billion in 1990. Industry reports said that about 15 Japanese vessels are already jigging in the region, as well as some from British Columbia. Nearly all of the catch is destined for Japan. Several species are considered of primary interest: red flying squid, neon flying squid, purpleback flying squid and diamond-back squid, which often exceeds three feet in length and weighs up to 50 pounds. Its large, tender, muscular mantle commands a premium price in Japan. Fishermen on watch Thousands of fishermen and lobstermen are being asked to join a new floating security network to help spot terrorist threats along Maine’s craggy coastline. The Kennebec Journal reports the Coast Guard is mailing notices to 9,000 Maine fishermen as part of its Coastal Beacons Program. "They’re the guys that are out all the time. They know when things are out of the ordinary," USCG spokesman Arn Heggers told the Journal. It is hoped that fishermen will tell them about anything suspicious, such as unfamiliar vessels transferring cargo on the water or unfamiliar people taking pictures of bridges or waterfront facilities. Demand for U.S. pollock increases Alaska longliners got a boost in their halibut catch to nearly 62 million pounds, up from roughly 58 million last year. The fishery will also open three days later than usual on March 18 to accommodate market opportunities. The season will end on Nov. 18. Pollock from the United States has become the major supplier to world markets. The director of the U.S. Surimi Commission said that declines of nearly 45 percent in Russian catches have resulted in a general shortage of both surimi and fillet blocks in the global market. Demand for U.S. pollock by European buyers has increased dramatically. Imports of fillet blocks to Europe last year were five times higher than in 2000. In order to respond to the increased demand, processors are focusing more on fillet blocks, which food manufacturers turn into fish portions and fish sticks, than on producing surimi. This year’s pollock quota in the Bering Sea is roughly 3 billion pounds, with an additional 1.2 million pounds coming from the Gulf of Alaska. That’s 3 percent higher overall than last year, "but this is not enough to compensate for landing declines seen in other fisheries," the director said.  

Salmons packs more omega-3s than tuna's 'Viagra of the Sea'

KODIAK -- The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish have been credited with everything from reducing heart attacks and some cancers to improving eyesight. Now, the U.S. Tuna Foundation is gleefully comparing canned tuna to "Viagra of the Sea." The group was referring to a new book by dietitian Ellen Albertson, "Temptations, Igniting the Pleasure and Power of Aphrodisiacs," which claims that diet changes can "awaken a sleepy libido." Albertson says one way to improve your love life is to eat more tuna fish sandwiches. In reviewing the book, the February issue of Prevention Magazine said: "If you use white albacore tuna, you up your intake of omega-3 fats. More and more researchers now believe that omega-3s help ward off depression, surely one of the worst enemies of feeling sexy." Thus the conclusion that eating more canned tuna lifts your spirits, resulting in a better love life. Canned tuna is the most widely consumed seafood product in the United States. Alaska’s salmon industry could easily ride on the coattails of the tuna folks’ sexy claims. For more than a decade, reports by health scientists all list salmon as containing more omega-3s than tuna. International Health News, for example, states that all fish are not created equal, and it’s important to choose fish with high levels of polyunsaturated fat. "Salmon scores well here. By comparison, albacore tuna and cod have considerably less of the good fatty acids and may not produce the result you need," a recent report states. Fatty acids are basic units of fat molecules, arranged as chains of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. Fats are mixtures of different fatty acids. Essential fatty acids are not made by the body, but must be supplied by the diet. Omega-3 fatty acids are highly polyunsaturated and are found mostly in higher-fat fish, such as salmon. It’s estimated that 85 percent or more of the people in the Western world are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. If canned tuna can turn you on, eating canned salmon should result in a sexual revolution. Unwanted aliens Bio-invaders cost billions of dollars in damage to marine ecosystems, and if they take hold, in some cases, they can eliminate native marine and plant species. The unwanted aliens are, for the most part, tiny hitchhikers that are dumped along with the ballast waters of ships that traverse the world’s oceans. They are credited with being involved in 70 percent of native aquatic species extinctions in the last 100 years. Cornell University scientists reported three years ago that more than 30,000 non-native species cost the United States roughly $123 billion a year in economic loss. This includes $35.5 billion for alien weeds, $20 billion for insects, $19 billion for rats and $3 billion for zebra mussels alone. A more recent report by the Pew Oceans Commission said, "At least 7,000 different species of marine life are likely transported each day around the world. ... Ballast water carrying this wide array of non-native life arrives in the U.S. at the rate of 2 million gallons per hour." Studies around the world reveal a remarkable array of invaders, representing all of the major and most of the smaller groups of life. Certain viruses and the bacteria that cause cholera have also been detected in ballast water. The commission urged the government to quickly develop mandatory programs to attack the problem. There are some regulations already on the books to prevent introduction of exotic species into U.S. waters, but they are largely voluntary and mostly ignored. The Invasive Species Act of 1996 provided ships entering American ports with a three year window to undertake a voluntary program whereby coastal derived ballast water would be exchanged on the high seas, followed by re-ballasting with midocean water. The program went into effect in July 1999; however, during the first year only 12,170 of the 58,000 vessels arriving in U.S. ports had filed a mandatory reporting form. Attempts to stave off these stowaways have included in-hull filtration systems, heat treatments and biocides, all of which are either too expensive or harmful to the environment, or both. Now, the Fish Information Service reports that a group of industrial engineers at Sumitomo Heavy Industries in Japan has come up with a simple solution. The one element that sustains safe passage for the invasive stowaways, and which also promotes hull corrosion, is oxygen. Pumping nitrogen into the ballast tanks would displace the oxygen. One test showed that after introducing nitrogen for two days, the diminished oxygen environment resulted in significant population reduction: 79 percent of the tubeworms, 82 percent of the zebra mussels and 97 percent of the green crabs. On top of that, the rust and corrosion rate dropped by 90 percent, which translates to an average annual reduction in maintenance costs of $70,000. "It’s not perfect and it doesn’t kill everything," Mario Tamburri of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute told FIS. "But until international law mandates that ballast water contain no living organisms, why not require this technology that saves industry money and is also good for the environment?" Alaska’s waters are not exempt from the foreign invaders. "Up to a dozen species from Asia have been identified in the waters of Valdez and Prince William Sound from all the oil tankers over the years," said Bob Pierkowski, former head of Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Mariculture Division. He added that state biologists are on the lookout for green crabs, which since 1990 have migrated from California to Washington. The tiny crab have wiped out all other crab they’ve encountered, including much larger species like Dungeness. "We expect to see them in Southeast Alaska. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when," Pierkowski said. Interestingly, the Pew report considers the thousands of Atlantic salmon escaping from fish farms in the Pacific Northwest among the bio-invaders.  

Bering pollock a fishing success story; Kodiak Tanner crab is not

KODIAK -- Late January marks the start of America’s biggest fishery, Bering Sea pollock. It’s also one of our nation’s best fish stories. Bering Sea pollock not only does great in world markets, but more importantly, thanks to good stewardship by fish managers, the stocks are healthy and at all time highs. Starting Jan. 20, Alaska’s trawl fleets set out their nets to gather a bounteous harvest of more than 3 billion pounds of pollock from the Bering. That accounts for roughly 30 percent of all fish landed in the United States and last year pumped about $800 million into Alaska’s seafood industry. That’s a lot of fish sticks. Trawl fisheries for pollock open on the same day in the Gulf, where another 220 million pounds are available for harvest. In other Alaska fisheries so far this year, by nearly all accounts, Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery was a big blow out, both in terms of bad weather and scratchy catches. "It’s as close to being a rout as you can get," said Dave Woodruff of Alaska Fresh Seafoods. To make matters worse, much of the catch was "dirty crab," meaning very dark and covered with algae or barnacles. Woodruff, who advanced $2 a pound for the crab before he knew how bad it would look, said that price "was going to stretch him to the limit," as he scrambled to sell the crab to Japanese buyers, who purchase nearly all of the Kodiak catch. Meanwhile, the Bering Sea snow crab fishery also opened Jan. 15. By the following weekend, a fleet of 186 boats had hauled back about 2 million pounds out of a roughly 30 million pound quota. Fish managers in Dutch Harbor said the fishery was uneventful so far, although everyone was bracing for worsening weather. Crabbers there were getting $1.40 a pound for their catch, which will add up to a value of around $42 million at the docks. Alaska’s halibut harvesters will soon find out how much of the big flats will be up for grabs when that fishery opens March 15. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will decide if the Pacific coastwide catch in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, will be boosted to 74 million pounds, up from 73 million last year. Alaska longliners always get the lion’s share of the catch, and this year could be 61 million pounds, up from just more than 58 million in 2001. The pricey black cod, or sablefish, fishery also opens March 15, and an abruptly canceled season in Canada could boost the value of Alaska’s catch. Citing so-called "significant declines in abundance," the Department of Fisheries and Oceans ordered all gear off the water by Jan. 18. The department will assess the situation and decide if fishing for the roughly 8 million pound catch can resume at the end of the month. Alaska longliners typically get more than $3 a pound for their black cod, virtually all of which goes to Japan. There is a very limited supply of only about 25 million pounds of wild black cod each year in the whole world, most of which comes from Alaska. Seafood ratings The 16th annual survey done by SeaFood Business Magazine indicates that chefs, restaurants and grocery stores throughout the United States are optimistic about seafood sales this year. Here are some facts and figures: The supermarket industry posted its highest profits in 30 years for the 2000-2001 fiscal year, according to the Food Marketing Institute. Despite a slowing economy and increased competition from convenience and superstores, 128,000 supermarkets nationwide took in more than $453 billion in 2000. Kroger is the largest retailer with 2,328 stores, and operates full-service seafood departments in 1,500 of its stores. In all, seafood contributes 1.96 percent to total sales in our nation’s supermarkets. The National Restaurant Association projected that, even taking the economic slowdown into account, sales approached $400 billion last year, up more than 5 percent from the previous year. It’s the industry’s 10th straight year of sales growth. People in the food service industry predict that seafood sales will continue to strengthen because the population is getting older, and older folks eat more fish. Shrimp and farmed salmon are the two best selling seafood items in U.S. restaurants. What do restaurant operators look for when buying seafood? In order, they look for quality, service, price, variety and reputation. Their top five seafood sourcing issues are: availability, buying quality seafood, price, consistent supply and service.

Chicken of the Sea's pinks in a pouch bode well for Alaska salmon

The new line of pinks in a pouch being launched by Chicken of the Sea is good news for Alaska’s struggling salmon industry, as virtually all of the fish will come from Alaska waters. The San Diego-based international corporation announced that it would begin shipping premium pink salmon in 7.1 ounce vacuum-packed, foil pouches to U.S. retailers starting in January. The product follows on the heels of Tuna Salad Kits, which Chicken of the Sea introduced earlier this year. And as with its tuna, the company will support the launch of its new pink salmon pouches with a multimillion dollar, all-media advertising and promotional campaign. Chicken of the Sea pioneered skinless/boneless pink salmon in cans in 1985, and 80 percent of that product is eaten in the United States, said marketing director Van Effner. He added that the company buys millions of pounds of frozen pinks from Alaska each year for the canned pack, and they’ve already increased purchases to accommodate the new pouched product, a trend Chicken of the Sea expects to continue. "From time to time we buy fish from Russia if we run short of product, but more than 95 percent of the pink salmon we purchase comes from Alaska. We prefer doing business in Alaska," Effner said in a phone interview. Effner, who has made many visits to Alaska’s remote fishing sites, had some hopeful words for the wild salmon industry. "Like you, we’re in it for the long haul. We want it to work out for everyone. We’re committed to new products and into seafood in a big way, and that’s what Alaska is all about," he said. Actually, Chicken of the Sea is stealing a bit of Alaska’s thunder with its pouched salmon product. Kodiak-based Alaska Pacific Seafoods has been producing Gourmet Pink Salmon in a Pouch for six years and selling it primarily to food distributors across the United States and overseas. Alien aquatic weed alert The Fish and Wildlife also reports that a rapidly growing, invasive aquatic weed new to the United States could harm fishing, hunting, hydropower production and other industries. Salvinia molesta is already causing havoc in 12 states from California to North Carolina, and could spread to coastal inland waters of Oregon and Washington. "The weed floats on the water surface and grows at phenomenal rates, doubling the area it covers in less than a week," the agency told the Fish Info service. "Mats of Salvinia molesta may reach three feet thick, blocking sunlight to waters below and killing plants, bugs and fish. Small lakes could be covered in a matter of days, water works clogged, and eradication is no easy matter." Fish and Wildlife added: "Mechanical removal is nearly impossible, given the dense mats weigh around 36 tons per acre; shredding plants is not effective either given the plant’s ability to continue to grow from the smallest living portion. Herbicides have some promise, but are costly and most effective on younger plants and require repeated treatments, which underscores the need for the first line of defense: prevention." Lobsters as stolen property Police in Maine got a lot more than they bargained for when they recently stopped a car for speeding. According to the Bangor News, "Around 11 p.m. Wednesday, police stopped Doreen Beerman of Rockland for speeding and discovered 136 unrestrained live lobsters inside her car." Beerman, who was celebrating her 44th birthday, was arrested for allegedly operating a car while intoxicated and driving without a license. The police believed the lobsters were part of 245 pounds stolen from Maine Coast Seafood. Beerman was also charged with receiving stolen property and possession of lobster without a license. After her arrest, the roughly 200 pounds of live lobsters were removed from the car and put into crates, awaiting their rightful owner. Kodiak-based free-lance writer Laine Welch can be reached via e-mail at ([email protected]).  

Nearly 700 million pounds of seafood make Dutch Harbor top port for 12th year

For the 12th straight year, the port of Dutch Harbor/ Unalaska netted the top spot last year in terms of seafood landings. The National Marine Fisheries Service announced earlier this month that commercial fishermen delivered 699.8 million pounds of fish to Dutch Harbor, making it the port with the highest volume of landings in the nation. That’s an increase of 20.5 million pounds over 1999 landings. Cameron, La., was ranked as the No. 2 port for the quantity of landings in 2000, with 414.5 million pounds. New Bedford, Mass., claimed the title of the port with the greatest value at $146.3 million, an increase of $16.4 million from the 1999 value. Dutch Harbor/Unalaska was second with landings valued at $124.9 million -- a decrease of $15.9 million, while the Kodiak catch value was third at $94.7 million last year -- down from $104.8 million in 1999. The large increase in value of New Bedford landings for the second year was primarily because of sea scallops, with a landings value increase from about $70 million in 1999 to $83 million in 2000. New Bedford returns to the top value port, after a nine-year absence in part because of the 1994 collapse of the New England groundfish fishery and declining numbers of sea scallops. Part of the landings value decrease in 2000 at Dutch Harbor was because of a decrease in the opilio, or snow, crab catch. The all-time record landings for volume was 848.2 million pounds in Los Angeles in 1960, and the record for value was $224.1 million in Dutch Harbor in 1994. Chum salmon projections According to market analyst Bill Atkinson, the Hokkaido Fisheries Committee recently announced its projection for this year’s fall chum salmon fishery. The forecast calls for an estimated run of 36.7 million fish for the season, with the coastal catch about 21 percent higher than last year. Atkinson said importers only expect about 32,760 tons of frozen sockeye salmon to be available for the Japanese market from operations in North America this year. The majority of the supply will come from operations in Alaska -- about 28,640 tons -- with the balance expected from fisheries in British Columbia and Puget Sound. "The poor runs in most regions in Alaska are partly behind the limited supply of frozen sockeye in Alaska, although canned production also cut into the overall supply," Atkinson said. "The larger packers reportedly canned between 55 percent and 60 percent of the fish that they purchased this year. "This compares with preseason projections that only about 40 percent of the sockeye purchased would go into the can. With the increased canned production, only about 15,800 tons of frozen sockeye salmon is expected to be available from the Bristol Bay fishery this year." Farmed fish surge It’s a sad fact that farmed salmon from Chile continues to clobber wild fish in world markets. To get a steady dose of how dismal the situation really is, check out "Finning News," which provides daily updates on Chile’s fish farming operations. In July, for example, the report showed that farmed salmon and trout exports increased nearly 56 percent through May of this year, totaling nearly 150,000 metric tons, or a whopping 330 million pounds. "That means a lot when you consider that Alaska commercial fishermen harvested a total of 711 million pounds during all of last year -- that includes all species, even chums and pinks. Those 330 million pounds of farmed fish came from one country in five months," wrote John Van Amerongen, editor of the Alaska Fisherman’s Journal. Most of the Chilean fish -- 97,000 tons or more than 213 million pounds -- went to Japan, with the next biggest customer being the United States. The report also pointed out that Norway produced 470,000 tons of salmon last year, or more than 1 billion pounds. "Say what you want about antibiotics, pale flesh, lousy taste, polluted water and potential for massive die-offs, but somebody is buying these fish and eating them, especially when the supply is so huge and the price is so low," Van Amerongen said. Needless to say, the effect on Alaska’s wild salmon industry is a continued downward press on fish prices. That has a negative effect on everyone in Alaska, because there is a direct relationship between prices paid to fishermen and revenues collected from the seafood industry. According to the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development, every two-cent decline in the dockside price of fish represents about a $1 million loss in state and local revenues. View from the East Coast An informal survey of seafood lovers on Cape Cod drove home the point that farmed fish is indeed dominating East Coast dinner plates. Not a single Alaska salmon was seen on major supermarket retail counters during a recent two-week vacation during July. Instead, customers were lined up to buy beautifully presented farmed salmon fillets, priced at $4.99 a pound. "We sometimes have salmon from Alaska," said a fish counter clerk at Stop & Shop, although he had no idea what kind of salmon it was, nor its origin. "But the quality is inconsistent and it looks kind of sad next to the farmed fish. Plus, most of our customers want fillets," he added. I posed a few questions to 10 individual seafood buyers, and here’s a sample of their answers: "When you think of Alaska seafood, what comes to mind?" Without hesitation, eight of the people responded "king crab," one said "scallops" and the other said "salmon." "If you’re buying salmon, do you care if it’s farmed or wild fish?" All said it doesn’t matter, and nine out of 10 said they wouldn’t know the difference. "Do you ever see Alaska salmon labeled as such in your local supermarkets?" The answer was a unanimous "No."

Here's what halibut and salmon, farmed and wild, bring at the retail counters

Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen continue to make lots of headlines, so it’s interesting to look at what the fish is fetching at retail counters across the Lower 48. Urner-Barry is the primary source that most market watchers turn to because it has been tracking U.S. food commodities since the early 1900s. A glance at its retail features over the July Fourth holiday showed these price trends per pound at major supermarkets for fresh salmon, both farmed varieties and Alaska wild, which includes salmon and halibut. In New York and New Jersey, Alaska salmon "silverbrite" fillets were priced at $2.99, farmed Atlantic steaks were at $3.99 and fillets at $4.99. In the New York metro region, farmed fillets were fetching $5.99. In Philadelphia and southern New Jersey, Alaska salmon steaks were featured at $3.99. In Boston stores, boneless farmed salmon fillets were priced at $3.99-$5.99, while bone-in salmon steaks were retailing at $3.99-$4.99. No Alaska salmon was mentioned. In Chicago, Atlantic-farmed salmon fillets were fetching $4.99-$7.99. Halibut steaks were listed at $7.69-$7.99. In Florida, both farmed Atlantic salmon and wild Alaska salmon were priced at $4.49 for steaks and $4.99 for fillets. In Atlanta, farmed salmon steaks were retailing for $4.99; Alaska halibut steaks were priced at $7.99. Finally, in Los Angeles, farmed Atlantic salmon was on retail counters at $4.99 for steaks and $5.99 for fillets, while Alaska halibut was bringing $6.99-$7.99 per pound. State forecasts on mark Projections for Alaska’s annual salmon harvests have "been in the ballpark more often than not" over the last decade. That’s according to the latest Salmon Market Bulletin, which reveals that in seven of the last 10 years, Alaska Department of Fish and Game forecasts have been within 17 percent of the actual harvest. Last year’s projection missed by only 10 percent, and the Bristol Bay forecast was within 8 percent of the actual harvest. The bulletin said that according to 2001 projections, chum catches are expected to decline from three years of record and near-record volume. The statewide projection is 15 million, down from a record 24 million last year. Pink catches are expected to rebound to 93 million, though there is uncertainty about the impact of massive over-escapement in 1999. The king salmon harvest is projected at 419,000, a 15 percent improvement from last year’s weak harvests. The coho projection is 4.8 million fish, more than half of which are expected to be caught in Southeast Alaska. License to krill Krill could soon become a source of oil for the fish feed industry. According to Fisheries Information & Services, Norwegian researchers have brewed up a first batch of fish oil and fish meal using krill and will test it at several of the country’s salmon farms. Snorre Tilseth, managing director of Norsildmel, the organization for sales and marketing of all fish meal and fish oil produced in Norway, stated recently that in five years, there won’t be enough fish oil on the market for fish feed producers. "Last year 866,000 ton of fish oil went to the aquaculture industry. This year I expect the figure to increase to 900,000 tons, while the total global production will be 1.1 million tons," Tilseth told FIS.com. "It is very interesting to look at krill as a source of marine oil for future requirements. We have done research into krill before, but that was 20 years ago." However, other researchers believe that due to the present lack of adequate large-scale harvesting methods and catch preserving problems, it would be a couple of decades before krill is harvested properly. It’s estimated that there are around 200 million tons of krill and other harvestable large zooplankton in Norwegian waters. Some krill fisheries are presently carried out in Antarctic waters, where it is processed on fishing vessels and sold as krill-meal. "It is an expensive product," said Tilseth, adding that some fishermen are interested in obtaining a "license to krill." Test kit clarification Ray RaLonde offered this important clarification to last week’s article on the new paralytic shellfish poisoning field test kit: The Jellett Biotek Mist Alert kit is a yes-or-no test set at 40 microgram of PSP toxin per 100 grams of tissue, one-half the level required by the Food and Drug Administration. The portability of the kit for field application makes Mist Alert useful for screening shellfish to determine toxin levels before harvest and a valuable research tool for beach monitoring of toxin levels in shellfish. The Mist Alert does not replace the mouse bioassay test required for all commercially harvested or farmed shellfish. The mouse bioassay remains the only FDA-approved test for detection of PSP, and commercial harvesters, processors, and shellfish farmers will still be required to follow existing regulations for submitting shellfish samples to approved laboratories for toxin testing. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation Seafood and Food Safety Lab is the only approved laboratory in the state for PSP testing.  

Japan imports record volume of salmon -- but it's farmed, not wild Alaska fish

Japan imported a record volume of salmon in the first four months of this year, increasing 33.5 percent compared with the same time last year. The Internet site Fish Information Service reported that most of the increase was because of a 33 percent increase in imports of farmed coho. The second largest increase came from farmed trout imports, which totaled 13,100 tons, an increase of more than 53 percent. "The United States is the absolute loser in the Japanese market, with exports down almost 40 percent during this period," FIS said. "The ’winners’ were Norway with 38.7 percent and Chile with 37.8 percent. In general, prices in the Japanese market are far lower this year than one year ago. The average price for frozen imported sockeye for the first four months of this year is the lowest average seen during the last five years." University of Alaska Anchorage fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp said that sockeye salmon last year accounted for only 20 percent of total Japanese salmon imports, down from 57 percent in 1993-94. Business mission planned The World Trade Center Alaska is planning a business mission to Chile, designed for seafood harvesters, processors, policymakers, transportation/logistics professionals, seafood product suppliers, educators and related industry professionals. The trip, which is scheduled for Nov. 3 to 11, will review supply chain and food distribution models, including site visits and executive briefings with professional associations, harvest sites, processing facilities, marketing and distribution companies, technology and telecom related and logistics companies in Santiago and Puerto Montt, according to a press release. For more information, contact the center at 907-278-7233. Farmed halibut update Intrafish reports that Norway’s investments in halibut farming is starting to pay off. According to the newspaper Aftenposten, the company Nutreco will produce 1,000 tons of farmed halibut to markets in the next two years. Another company, Nordic Seafarms, is reportedly producing halibut at a cost of $2.93 a pound and plans to sell it for $4 a pound. The newspaper said Stolt Sea Farm expects its halibut operation to break even this year after many years of running at a loss, and pegs production at 300 tons this year. "Developing a new species into a commercial product takes eight to 10 years," said Stolt’s Niels G. Stolt-Nielsen. According to the Norwegian Seafood Export Council, 37 percent of the halibut produced in Norway is distributed on the national market. The bulk of Norwegian halibut exports is sent to Great Britain, Germany and Sweden. Seal lions like herring Seafood.com reports that the scientific journal Nature has a report from the Prince William Sound Science Center stating that Steller sea lions avoid pollock and instead seek out herring. Infrared scanners tracking sea lions in their nighttime feedings in the Sound revealed the animals only preyed on herring, which gathered at night at depths of 32 to 105 feet, but never touched the pollock, which swim at depths of more than 325 feet day or night. "Despite the much greater abundance of pollock, the infrared system revealed that foraging by Stellers was exclusively on herring and was conducted only at night," said Gary Thomas and Richard Thorne of the Prince William Sound Science Center. According to Seafood.com, "This finding supports other evidence that the decline in the population of the endangered sea lions is not related to the Alaska pollock fishery."  

Some of season's Copper River reds, kings fetch higher-than-negotiated price

The season’s first reds and kings from Copper River returned higher prices to fishermen and saw buyers throughout the Northwest scrambling to be the first to feature the prized fish at their restaurants and retail counters. Red salmon fillets were reportedly flying out of Seattle stores at $12.99 a pound, while kings were bringing an unbelievable $19.99 a pound. Meanwhile, Copper River fishermen received $2.25 a pound for their red salmon and $3.25 for kings, which is up a dime from last year’s starting price. Those were the season’s minimum prices that the United Salmon Association and the Copper River Salmon Producers Association negotiated with two small Cordova buyers Copper River Seafoods and Prime Select Seafoods. CRSPA board member Bob Martinson said larger buyers had not agreed to those minimums; however, they were paying $2.75 for reds and $4.50 during the first opener on May 17 "because they wanted to get some of the early fish." "We’re hoping the majors will realize how cohesive our fleet (of 500 boats) is, and negotiate in good faith with us," he said. Looking ahead, he added that USA and CRSPA are also negotiating the state’s "first ever" chum contract, which would pay fishermen 38 cents a pound with extra one-cent bonuses depending on chum roe content. The mid-May harvest of salmon at Copper River makes a huge contribution to the local and state economy. Last year, there was concern that a push by urban, newly defined "subsistence" users, mostly from elsewhere in the state, would result in a delay of the first fishery until June 1 to allow more reds and kings up the river. A study done by University of Alaska/Sea Grant economists for the city of Cordova showed that delaying the early season fishery would result in a loss in volume of 79 percent of the commercial harvest for kings, or 34,143 fish, and 39 percent for reds, or 504,904 fish. Further, harvesters would lose 85 percent of the value of the kings, or $3.7 million, and 55 percent of the value for reds, or $9.8 million. In all, loss to fishermen, tender men, processing companies and workers, and freight and support services was pegged at more than $13.5 million. This "first tier" profile did not include losses to other local businesses and services. The state Board of Fisheries last December ruled against delaying the start of the Copper River fishery, and upriver "subsistence" users have vowed to fight the decision in court. In testimony before the board, one longtime local decried the expanding number of urban dwellers who descend upon upriver regions like Chitina in new SUV’s hauling trailers laden with four wheelers. "True subsistence users don’t require guides," he said. White House salmon As the worldwide controversy surrounding genetically modified fish and other foods continues, the White House is reportedly planning to serve genetically modified salmon at official functions. The Web site AlterNet reports that the move is intended to head off criticism by environmental and consumer groups that the altered foods are unsafe. "You really can’t tell the difference. It may be genetically altered, but it tastes just the same," White House chef Daniel Arreido told AlterNet, adding that the first family already consumes milk containing bovine growth hormone. The White House reportedly plans to debut pan-seared genetically altered super salmon and Texas-style corn pudding at a state dinner next month for French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin. AlterNet quoted Naomi Jurgen-Stoors, a spokeswoman for the activist group Healthy Planet, which supports mandatory labeling on all products containing genetically modified ingredients, as saying: "Our main problem with GM food, what we call ’franken food,’ is that its long-term impact on humans has never been tested. Now I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens to the first family." The idea to serve GM foods is credited to Vice President Dick Cheney. Retirees wanted A bill allowing retired state Department of Fish and Game staff to return to full-time work is awaiting the governor’s signature. Sponsored by Rep. Pete Kott, R-Eagle River, House Bill 242 was prompted by a steady loss of workers to federal and other agencies. The bill would allow retired employees to come back to work while keeping their current retirement benefits. According to Commercial Fisheries Director Doug Mecum, the department is experiencing a serious shortage of experienced fishery scientists and technicians, due in part to regular and early retirement. Mecum said repeated state budget cuts and the lure of better paying federal jobs have cost the division more than 20 employees in the past two years. Eighty percent of those workers have signed on with the Federal Subsistence Board or other National Marine Fisheries Service jobs, particularly those related to Steller sea lion studies. Mecum said some of the jobs pay nearly three times what state jobs pay. Sea lion survey Preliminary survey results indicate economic losses attributed to Steller sea lion conservation measures top $46 million for the Aleutian Island pollock and mackerel fisheries, and more than $17 million for the Gulf of Alaska pollock fishery during the past two years. These losses include wages, fish purchases from catcher vessels and tax revenues. Data from the National Marine Fisheries Service suggests that about 200 harvesting vessels, 20 shore-based processors and 35 at-sea processors may have been directly affected. As a result, Congress provided $30 million in disaster relief funds to help mitigate economic losses incurred among coastal communities throughout the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea and Aleutian Island areas. In an effort to quantify the economic losses, the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference retained Northern Economics, an economic consulting group based in Anchorage. Marcus Hartley presented the early findings at SWAMC’s spring conference in Unalaska in mid-May.

Halibut to tell scientists their secrets when first tags transmit data in mid-June

Defining "critical habitat" is a complex task these days, as fishery managers are required to take an entire marine ecosystem into account when making management decisions. Next month, information from tagged halibut could bring researchers increased understanding, at least for the big flats in the Gulf of Alaska. As part of a project to assess critical marine habitat in the gulf, the U.S. Geological Survey’s Alaska Biological Science Center is conducting an experiment on halibut using satellite pop-up tags. The $77,000 project, funded by the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, began last fall when 10 large halibut were captured in Resurrection Bay and taken to the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, where the special tags were attached. The 3-inch, cigar-shaped tags, attached to the halibuts’ backs by a tungsten wire, resemble fishing lures. But that’s where any resemblance stops. Inside the tags are digital memory cards, along with sensors that can record water pressure, light and temperature for up to three years. In this case, however, the devices on five of the halibut are programmed to corrode their tungsten wires with acid on June 15 and float to the surface, where they will begin transmitting their stored information to passing satellites. The remainder of the tags are scheduled to detach from the fish in mid-November. According to project director Jennifer Nielson, researchers will then use the information to figure out where the halibut have been swimming all winter. The tags have been used on tuna and marlin nearer the equator, but this is the first test ever conducted so far north. The data that the tags yield will tell something about halibut behavior, especially their migratory patterns. If the prototype project proves to be successful, the satellite tags will eventually be applied to other fish species like ling cod and king salmon. Free streamers Longliners can take advantage of free streamer lines, thanks to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s goal of helping fishermen avoid accidental takes of seabirds. While supplies last, paired streamer lines are available for free in Seward at Resurrection Bay Seafoods and Seward Fisheries, the Auction Block in Homer, Kodiak Marine Supply, the Department of Fish and Game in Sitka and from the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association. On a related note, the Washington Sea Grant Program is preparing research results from a two-year study evaluating the effectiveness of seabird avoidance measures, as well as recommendations for changes to the current seabird regulations. The presentation will be made to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council at its October 2001 meeting, according to Jim Balsiger, director of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Alaska. Help stop hoaxes Eleven search and rescue hoaxes in Alaska last year cost taxpayers an estimated $134,500, or an average of $12,300 per episode. That was part of an estimated $18 million in false alarms nationwide. The Coast Guard takes every mayday call seriously, and hoaxes could cause some devastating problems if a real emergency were occurring elsewhere. To try to stem the tide of prank calls, the Coast Guard is urging coastal states to pass their own laws to supplement federal rules that punish prank callers. Such legislation is pending in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In New Jersey, creating "false public alarms" is illegal and punishable by up to five years in prison. The Coast Guard says Connecticut has penalties for maritime hoaxers, and Ohio also makes such calls illegal. "The situation is getting worse," said Commander Jim McPherson, a Coast Guard spokesman stationed in Washington, D.C. "It’s for the same reason people pull fire alarms and make false 911 calls," he said, but instead of trucks, "we send out jets and boats." The Coast Guard investigates an average of four suspected hoaxes a day nationally, with summer the busiest season. According to Sue Jorgensen, Alaska Fishing Vessel Safety Coordinator, very few of the pranksters are caught and even fewer are punished. The biggest problem is that many prank calls are done by juveniles, and such cases are rarely prosecuted in federal court. For example, New England’s top Coast Guard official cited a case on Cape Cod last April. "Two youths, ages 14-15, made a 45-minute hoax call costing taxpayers $14,500," said Rear Admiral George Naccara. Despite having signed confessions, the Coast Guard’s enforcement options were limited by the lack of a state law, he said. The hoaxers were given community service. About three in 10 distress calls in Rhode Island and Massachusetts are hoaxes, according to the Coast Guard. Without state penalties, it’s often hard for the Coast Guard to even threaten punishment.

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