Laine Welch

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.

Salmon permit values take a nosedive after poor year in ‘16

Values of Alaska salmon permits have taken a nosedive after a dismal fishing season for all but a few regions.

“No activity for drift gillnet or seine permits in Prince William Sound…No interest in Southeast seine or troll permits…Nothing new in Area M (the Alaska Peninsula),” wrote Mike Painter of The Permit Master.

And so it goes.

Changing climate could help or harm salmon

A changing climate is altering rain and snowfall patterns that affect the waters Alaska salmon call home, for better or worse. A first of its kind study now details the potential changes for Southeast Alaska, and how people can plan ahead to protect the fish.

One-third of Alaska’s salmon harvest each year comes from fish produced in the 17,000 miles of streams in the Tongass rainforest. More than 50 species of animals feed on spawning salmon there, and one in 10 jobs is supported by salmon throughout the region.

Popular fish forum set for Oct. 12 in Kodiak

Fish on! The lure of reaching a statewide radio audience has once again attracted a full slate of political hopefuls to Kodiak for its popular fisheries debate.

On Wednesday, Oct. 12, five candidates for U.S. Senate will travel to the nation’s No. 2 fishing port to share their knowledge and ideas on a single topic: Alaska’s seafood industry.

Cod Crunchies come to Costco

Alaskan Cod Crunchies begin a national roll out this week with a debut at Costco’s two stores in Anchorage. The dog treats are one of the newest products stemming from Alaskan Leader Seafood’s commitment to complete “head to tail” usage of their catches.

“It’s pure, 100 percent human grade trimmings coming right off the cod fillets,” said Keith Singleton, president of the company’s value added division.

Walker requests disaster declaration for humpy fishery

Gov. Bill Walker has officially requested that the federal government declare a disaster for four Alaska regions hurt by one of the poorest pink salmon returns in decades.

In a Sept. 19 letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Walker said fishery failures that occurred this summer at the Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik management areas are having a “significant impact on those who depend on the fishery for their livelihood” and asks for the “soonest possible review” due to the economic importance of these fisheries.

Cordovans want serious look at Tanners

Cordovans are hoping to revive a long lost Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound as a step towards keeping the town’s waterfront working year round.

The crab fishery produced up to 14 million pounds in the early 1970s and had declined to about half a million pounds by the time it was closed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.

State managers believe the Tanner stock remains depleted and cannot provide for a commercial fishery, but locals believe it’s time to take a closer look.

FISH FACTOR: Pinks end season on a low note as other fisheries heat up

It surprises many people across the state that fall is one of the busiest times for Alaska’s fishing industry from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea. As salmon season gets tucked away, hundreds of boats of all gear types are still out on the water, or gearing up for even more openers in just a few weeks.

Here’s a sampler:

FISH FACTOR: Crab harvest to take a nosedive; Bristol Bay rocks Boulder

Bering Sea crabbers were stunned last week when the outlooks for the upcoming fall and winter fisheries were revealed.

Results of the annual summer surveys by state and federal scientists showed that numbers of mature male and females dropped sharply across the board for the big three: opilio (snow crab), their larger cousins, Bairdi Tanners, and red king crab.

“I don’t think anybody was expecting the numbers to be as low as they ended up. That was a shock,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers.

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon

Wheels are already in motion to provide two measures of relief for Alaska’s pink salmon industry, which is reeling from the lowest harvest since the late 1970s.

Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, began the process last week to have the Walker Administration declare the pink salmon season a disaster, which would allow access to federal relief funds.

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon is not in the pink; seafood recipe contest open

Alaska’s 2016 pink salmon fishery is set to rank as the worst in 20 years by a long shot, and the outlook is bleak for all other salmon catches except sockeyes.

“Boy, sockeye is really going to have to carry the load in terms of the fishery’s value because there’s a lot of misses elsewhere,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group.

FISH FACTOR: Website launched to monitor ocean acidification off Alaska

Alaska is one of a handful of U.S. states to launch a go-to website aimed at keeping ocean acidification in the public eye.

The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a collaboration of state and federal scientists, agencies, tribes, conservation, fishing and aquaculture groups, went live last month. Its goal is to provide a forum for researchers to share their findings, and to connect with coastal residents concerned about future impacts on their communities.

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