Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon season ready to kick off in Cordova

Alaska’s salmon season officially gets underway in less than two weeks!

The first fishery for sockeye and king salmon is set for May 18 at Copper River and the town of Cordova is buzzing, said Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association.

“The mood changes at the start of May with all the folks back in town and boats going in and out of the water,” she said.

Enthusiasm among the fleet of more than 500 drift gillnetters has not been dampened by a reduced harvest projection.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits slide, but quota shares skyrocket

The values of Alaska salmon permits are on a downward slide, while prices for quota shares of other catches continue to skyrocket.

Despite an optimistic outlook this year for Alaska salmon catches and markets, buyers and sellers are still feeling a hangover from last year’s tough fishing season.

FISH FACTOR: Legislation takes on ‘graying of the fleet’

Numerous studies over the past decade have highlighted Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” (the average age of permit holders is 50), and the lack of opportunities for younger people to launch a career in commercial fishing.

State data show that between 1975 and 2014, more than 2,300 limited entry permits (nearly 28 percent) migrated away from Alaska’s rural fishing communities to non-residents.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon outlook looks bright for 2017

A brighter outlook for Alaska’s upcoming salmon season just got even better.

Markets are looking good, the statewide salmon catch forecast of 204 million is up by a million fish, and the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay is breaking records for chilling its fish.

Last year nearly 40 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value came out of Bristol Bay. When its fish fetch a better paycheck for boosted quality due to chilling, it is felt throughout the entire salmon industry.

FISH FACTOR: Electronic monitoring rollout coming soon

Automation is coming to Alaska fishing boats in the form of cameras and sensors to track what’s coming and going over the rails.

Starting next year, electronic monitoring systems, or EM, can officially replace human observers as fishery data collectors on Alaska boats using longline and pot gear.

Vessel operators who do not voluntarily switch to EMS remain subject to human observer coverage on randomly selected fishing trips.

FISH FACTOR: Retail seafood sales up sharply led by wild choices

Seafood sales at American retail stores are on an upswing and should remain that way for the foreseeable future. Better yet — demand for fish captured wild in the U.S.A. showed the biggest gains of all.

That’s good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 65 percent of wild-caught seafood to our nation’s supermarkets (95 percent for salmon!).

A new survey by trade magazine Progressive Grocer showed that retail seafood sales rose nearly 40 percent over the past year, and 56 percent predicted an upturn in seafood sales this year.

FISH FACTOR: Coastal communities want Navy’s Gulf training moved to fall

The required permits are not yet in hand, but the U.S. Navy is moving full steam ahead on its plans to conduct war training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska for two weeks in early May.

Meanwhile, nine coastal communities have so far signed resolutions asking the Navy to instead conduct its training between September and mid-March, times that are less sensitive to marine life. Several more communities have indicated they will do the same by month’s end.

FISH FACTOR: Humpies drive higher salmon forecast for 2017

Alaska salmon fishermen could haul in a harvest that nearly doubles last year’s catch, due to a projected uptick in the number of pinks.

An Alaska Department of Fish and Game report on 2017 salmon run forecasts and harvest projections pegs the total catch at 204 million fish. That compares to just more than 112 million salmon taken by fishermen in 2016.

The catch last season included 53 million sockeye salmon — the fifth-largest harvest since 1970 — but only 39 million pink salmon, the smallest harvest since 1977.

FISH FACTOR: Reduced catches send crab prices soaring

Alaska crabbers are hauling back pots from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea, and reduced catches are resulting in record prices for their efforts.

The year’s first red king crab fishery at Norton Sound has yielded 17,000 pounds so far of its nearly 40,000 pound winter quota for more than 50 local fishermen. The crab, which are taken through the ice near Nome, are paying out at a record $7.75 per pound. A summer opener will produce a combined catch of nearly half a million pounds for the region.

FISH FACTOR: Seldovia fish jobs; salmon ice cream wins Seafood Symphony

Puppy Love will soon be putting more people to work in Seldovia, a town of less than 300 people at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula.

The love comes in the form of salmon pet treats, formerly made in Anchorage and now ready to come home, thanks to funding from the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry set to bloom; Board of Fisheries set to battle

Shellfish, sea cucumbers, geoduck clams, seaweeds and biofuels are crops envisioned by a group of Alaskans who are crafting a framework for a statewide mariculture industry expansion.

An 11-member task force created last February by Gov. Bill Walker has wasted no time advancing its mission to put a comprehensive report on Walker’s desk by next March. The group, which has been meeting regularly, also has attracted wide interest from Alaskans who want to serve on advisory committees as the plan takes shape.

FISH FACTOR: Looking for salmon fellows and fish entrepreneurs

Salmon is the heart of Alaska’s fisheries — it almost singlehandedly spawned the push for statehood nearly 60 years ago. A new Alaska Salmon Fellows program wants to make sure Alaskans are poised to “shape the future” of the cultural fish and it is investing in the people to do so.

In its call for applications, the Fellows program is described as a means to “facilitate demanding conversations about salmon issues among leaders from a cross section of salmon policy, management, industry, activism, research and cultural sectors.”

FISH FACTOR: Halibut gets bump; salmon prices soar

More Pacific halibut will be going to market this year due to an overall boost in the harvests for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. The coastwide catch of 31.4 million pounds reflects a 5.1 percent increase, and for the first time in decades, not a single fishing region met with a decline in halibut catches.

The heartening news was released on Jan. 27 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, overseer of the stocks since 1923.

After years of cuts, ADFG budget gets slight bump for FY18

As lawmakers convene this week in Juneau, Alaska’s fishing industry sees a glimmer of hope that its budget won’t be gutted again.

Under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 (beginning July 1), the Commercial Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reflects a 0.3 percent increase to $70.7 million. It’s a big relief for an industry whose oversight budget has been slashed by more than 30 percent over two years.

Annual picks and pans from the year that was in Alaska fisheries

The start of 2017 marks the 26th year for this weekly column that targets news for and about Alaska’s seafood industry. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic and cultural importance of our state’s first and oldest industry.

Today, Alaska fishermen and processors provide 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood; it is also Alaska’s most valuable export to more than 100 countries around the world. The seafood industry puts more people to work throughout Alaska than oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined.

Bering Sea groundfish looks strong as warming Gulf sees cuts

Bering Sea fish stocks are booming but it’s a mixed bag for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska.

Fishery managers will set 2017 catches this week (Dec.7-12) for pollock, cod and other fisheries that comprise Alaska’s largest fish hauls that are taken from three to 200 miles from shore.

More than 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood poundage come from those federally-managed waters, and by all accounts the Bering Sea fish stocks are in great shape.

Market for Alaska salmon is positive for 2017

Alaska seafood goes to roughly 120 countries around the world and competes in a rough and tumble commodities market. Looking ahead to next year, sales conditions are looking positive for Alaska salmon, with some mixed market outlooks for other main species.

Alaska produces more than 65 percent of our nation’s wild caught seafood; seafood also is Alaska’s top export to other countries.

Here are some highlights from the Alaska Seafood Industry Updates prepared each fall by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute:

The next generation of ocean specialists

Alaska’s university system is ramping up programs to train the next generations of fishery and ocean specialists — and plenty of jobs await.

Since 1987, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, or CFOS, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fisheries Science, complete with paid internships to help prepare them for positions in the state’s largest industry.

King crab harvest was fast, but cuts make crabbers furious

It was fast and furious for Alaska’s premier crab fishery with the fleet catching the nearly 8 million-pound red king crab quota at Bristol Bay in less than three weeks.

The overall take was down 15 percent from the 2015 fishery and will likely fetch record prices when all sales are made.

Halibut share prices soar

As Alaska’s iconic halibut fishery wraps up this week, stakeholders are holding their breath to learn if catches might ratchet up slightly again in 2017. Meanwhile, prices for hard to get shares of the halibut catch are jaw-dropping.

The halibut fishery ended on Nov. 7 for nearly 2,000 longliners who hold IFQs, or Individual Fishing Quota, of halibut. The Alaska fishery will produce a catch of more than 20 million pounds if the limit is reached by the fleet.

Last year, the halibut haul was worth nearly $110 million at the Alaska docks.


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