Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: UFA getting message out through tech; ‘Frankenfish’ sales loom

As state lawmakers mull ways to update permitting laws to protect salmon habitat, a dual sweepstakes is using text messaging and social media as the means to keep more fishermen informed. “One of the things we’ve learned over the past two years is that most fishermen are getting almost all of their information on their phones,” said Lindsey Bloom, program manager for United Fishermen of Alaska’s Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP. “Since the start of this program we have heard from thousands of Alaska fishermen who say they care deeply about all issues related to salmon habitat, from ocean acidification and water quality to in-river impacts such as dewatering and blocked fish passage,” Bloom added. They also have learned that fishermen have a variety of preferred communication styles, and Bloom said the sweepstakes were created “to increase our reach to fishermen through multiple channels.” To test the waters, SHIP is encouraging fishermen to text “ufaship” to 313131, and UFA will send back four chances to win gift cards of up to $200 from Alaska Airlines or LFS, Inc. A second “Predict the Bay” contest at SHIP’s Facebook page invites guesses of this year’s Bristol Bay’s total sockeye catch and offers similar prizes. “Highlighting Bristol Bay is intentional, as it’s an incredibly prolific fishery that is based on superb quality habitat,” Bloom added. Fishermen who opt in will receive monthly SHIP updates, as well as alerts about other issues. “We are trying to incentivize participation and get the numbers up a little higher,” Bloom said. “Throughout the year we’ll be able to send out messages about what’s going on with certain policies, whether it’s at the federal level or state issues with the Board of Fish or the legislature or something else.” “We have a vast range of age groups who are participating in fishing and we’re trying to get a better sense of how to best communicate and get the farthest reach for our efforts,” she added. Various state and federal agencies, such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also are interested in bettering communication with fishermen, and Bloom said they are closely watching the SHIP outreach efforts to mirror what is most effective. The sweepstakes also aims to boost membership in UFA, the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group. “If habitat is as important of an issue as fishermen are telling us it is, it would be excellent if they would put some money where their mouths are and support UFA by signing up through the SHIP program,” Bloom said. Winners of the SHIP sweepstakes will be announced in September. ‘Frankenfish’ moves forward Plans are in the works to send genetically modified salmon to markets in the U.S. and Canada by next year. Despite an outpouring of nearly two million messages opposing the manmade fish, in 2015 it got the nod by the Food and Drug Administration. That followed a more than 20-year push by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts for approval of what will be the first GM animal OK’d for human consumption. Health Canada approved the fish for consumption last year saying that fillets derived from so called AquAdvantage salmon “are as safe and nutritious as fillets from farmed Atlantic salmon.” Lab technicians at Prince Edward Island currently are creating fertilized Atlantic salmon eggs that include growth-enhancing DNA from two other fish that make them grow twice as fast as real salmon. The eggs will be shipped to growing tanks in Panama, and then transferred to a land based aquaculture system in Albany, Ind. A second facility also is planned in Canada. AquaBounty said they plan to produce 1,300 tons of Frankenfish annually starting in 2018. Meanwhile, last week a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators from Alaska, Washington and Oregon filed a Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act that would require any manmade salmon must be labeled as such. The act also requires an independent third-party review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA. “The primary purpose of this bill is to ensure that consumers have all the facts and can make an informed decision when they are purchasing salmon,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “There’s a huge difference between ‘Frankenfish’ and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing — and I want to make sure folks are aware of that. I will not accept that this ‘fake fish’ will be sold in stores without clear labeling.” “Additionally, this bill would create a much-needed review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA for the approval of these new species that are being created in labs,” Murkowski added. No matter how it pans out, the salmon will be a tough sell. More than 80 grocery chains and restaurants have stated they will not sell the genetically modified fish. Wisdom on the airwaves Older Alaska fishermen are taking to the radio airwaves to offer career advice to new and younger industry entrants. It’s part of a wrap up of a three-year study that has attempted to define the problems associated with the “graying of the fleet” and to find ways to turn the tide. The average Alaska fisherman today is older than 50, a decade older than the average of a generation ago. Since limited entry programs began in state fisheries in the late 1970s, permit holdings by local rural residents have declined by 30 percent. The trend is similar in federal fisheries since the mid-1990s, with Gulf of Alaska communities showing a 53 percent decline in individual fishing quota holdings. The lack of recruits threatens the healthy succession of fishing as an economic and cultural mainstay in Alaska’s communities, and creates a public policy concern for Alaska, concludes the “Next Generation of Fishermen Study” done by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Sea Grant. “It is getting more and more challenging for young people to enter into our fisheries and once they are there, to make sure their fishing businesses are viable and successful,” said Danielle Ringer, a UAF researcher. The project, which targeted Kodiak and the Bristol Bay region, included more than 130 interviews with permit holders, processors and other stakeholders to identify problems and come up with ways to attract more industry participants. The group has compiled a white paper that speaks to policy solutions called “Turning the Tide — How Alaska can address the Graying of the Fleet and Loss of Fisheries Access.” “It summarizes current efforts in Alaska, as well as in other U.S. fisheries and other nations to address access problems,” Ringer said. The researchers also have launched a serious of public service announcements for Alaska radio stations in which fishermen pass along tips on how to improve their success in a fishing career. Throughout the three-year project, Ringer said there was one agreement among all fishermen. “They love fishing!” she said. “And they want people to keep doing it and they want it to continue to be a thriving industry.” Learn more at fishermen.alaska.edu. Correction Fishermen in Southeast averaged 70 cents a pound for chum salmon last year, not 25 cents as was reported last week. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon surge to Bay as prices rebound

As predicted, Alaska fishermen are getting higher prices for their salmon this year. It’s good news following a 2016 season that saw lackluster catches in all regions but Bristol Bay, a failure of pink salmon runs, and paltry paychecks nearly across the board. Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen depend on the region, the species, the type of fishing gear and, most importantly, global market conditions. Salmon prices also reflect bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries and other agreements between a buyer and seller. As a fishing season unfolds, details can be sketchy as buyers watch the strength of the salmon runs. Until the fish are actually sold at the wholesale level, prices are in flux, and it’s tough to determine what a final outcome will be. It all adds up to a lot of uncertainty, making it tough for sellers and buyers to pencil in a bottom line. That said, a canvassing of fishermen, processors and managers shows that early indicators are good. Bristol Bay started the optimism when Copper River Seafoods in late June posted a price of $1.35 per pound for top quality sockeyes. Bay reds averaged 93 cents per pound last summer. No word yet from other buyers as the sockeye run blows past the 27 million forecast with no end in sight. At Kodiak, sockeye prices were posted at $1.40 for bled and chilled fish, compared to a 96 cents average last year. Chums, which are arriving in record numbers at parts of the island, were posted at 40 cents per pound for bled and chilled fish, up from 29 cents on average at Kodiak last year. For early Kodiak pinks, a price of 35 cents was on the board for bled/chilled fish, a 20-cent increase from 2016. Icicle Seafoods at Kodiak’s Larsen Bay has chums posted at 55 cents per pound for bled/chilled fish and $1.40 for sockeyes. Troll caught kings from Southeast’s four-day July fishery fetched nearly $7 per pound according to fish tickets, up $2 from last summer’s average. Trollers now have switched to coho salmon and are averaging $1.40 per pound. Other Southeast fishermen also are seeing some record chum catches which are fetching 80 cents per pound for chums compared to just 25 cents on average last year. Gillnetters so far have caught nearly five times as many chum salmon this year compared to last year. Similar chum prices were reported from Prince William Sound, up from 32 cents. It’s the demand for roe that’s driving the interest in chums, most of which goes to Japan. Steady declines of Japan’s local fishery over a decade, which normally accounts for 70 percent of total chum roe supply, have sent prices soaring 30 to 40 percent over the past year. The news site Seafood.com reports that salted chum roe is selling at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market for $30 to $35 per pound, the highest prices in 30 years. Seafood Symphony switch The timeline for Alaska’s most celebrated seafood bash has been advanced by several months to broaden the exposure for new products. The 2018 Alaska Symphony of Seafood is switching its popular events from the traditional winter unveilings to the fall. “We heard from a number of companies that the timeline was a bit late for preparing new products and participating in national and international competitions. It will give winners more time to plan their travel and to enter their products in the Seafood Expo North America contest in Boston in March,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 25 years. The annual contest showcases new products in four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Egg and Beyond the Plate, which features items made from seafood byproducts. The judging now will occur during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, set for Nov. 16-19. The November event also will feature a Hall of Fame that highlights winners over the past quarter of a century. “It will be a really interesting opportunity for everyone to see product development trends over time,” Decker said. “With some of the winners, people will recognize common, everyday items that were actually Symphony winners many years ago. It will be a really fun way to encapsulate what 25 years has meant to the industry.” An official awards ceremony is planned at a special seafood soiree set for February in Juneau. For 2017, Coppa of Juneau took home the grand prize and tops in food service for its candied salmon ice cream. Dear North Alaska Salmon Bites, a product of the Huna Totem Corp., won first at retail. Bruce Gore Coho Salmon Bottarga by Triad Fisheries won in the Beyond the Egg category, and Tidal Vision of Juneau’s Crystal Clarity pool cleaner made from crab shells was the winner of Beyond the Plate. The call for products is set for mid-August with an entry deadline of Oct. 6. Get more info at the AFDF website. Bay brand expands The world’s biggest sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay is living up to its name with a catch already topping the 27 million fish forecast with no end in sight. Many of the reds will soon be showcased during an expanded program that builds on the success of a three-month pilot project last fall in Boulder, Colo. “During that time our retail partners saw an 8 to14 percent lift in sales compared to year over year. Based on those results, we decided to move forward and continue with some expansion and keep building our brand in other markets,” said Becky Martello, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The fisherman-run group is bankrolling the “Wild Taste, Amazing Place” branding program with a one percent tax paid by drift netters on the landed value of their catch. Details of the expanded promotion are still being worked out and Martello could not disclose the regional chains that plan to participate. “We’ll be focusing on larger areas rather than retailers in one city as we did in Boulder,” she explained, adding that a big push will include National Seafood Month in October and during Lent. In partnership with Anchorage-based Rising Tide Communications, the group has created in-store videos and digital images, recipes, chef specials, even fish wrapping paper and stickers bearing the Bristol Bay logo. The most important component, Martello said, is training the people behind the seafood counters. “We educate the retail staff so they can be champions of the brand and really sell it to customers. They are able to talk about why Bristol Bay salmon is a good choice, and explain how they are supporting small boat fishermen,” she added. Support for the program has been strong all along the supply chain, including Bay processors. “I feel like we’ve really opened the door for communication and collaboration between us as a fishermen’s group and the processing sector,” Martello said. Five Bristol Bay processors this year also will send out their fresh and frozen sockeye salmon with 200,000 labels featuring the Wild Taste, Amazing Place brand which directs customers to learn more at www.bristolbaysockeye.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Robotic technology emerging as tool for fish processing

Robots are cutting up snow crabs in Canada in a sign of things to come in the seafood processing industry. Overall, seafood processing has a relatively small robotic involvement compared to other sectors. Robots have yet to make it into any of Alaska’s 176 fish processing shops, but the lure of reduced production costs, increased fish quality and crews of worker-bots is turning the tide. The CBC reports that the world’s first crab plant robot began work this spring in a plastic chamber about the size of a shipping container in remote Newfoundland. The robot receives crabs on a conveyor belt and quickly dismembers each with a buzzing blade. The crab legs then tumble into a tub below, all sorted, sectioned and ready to go. Another robot in the works will soon shuck all the meat from the crab for a better financial return. “Instead of sending our crab out as sections with the meat in the shell, we thought we could attract a higher price if we sold the meat instead,” said Bob Verge, director of the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation where the crab cutting robots were created. The meat extraction used to be done by hand in Newfoundland plants, but years ago that job shifted to China where the labor is cheaper. Bringing that step back to Newfoundland, Verge said, would make more money for plant operators and get more value from the resource. And for the first time robots also are deboning and filleting cod fish on Norwegian processing lines. New Atlas reports that a machine called APRICOT (automatic pin-bone removal in cod and whitefish) is using x-ray technology to locate the tiny pin bones in the fish and neatly trim them away using water jets. “Unlike farmed salmon, which are similar in size and shape and therefore suitable for automated machine filleting, the variability of wild-caught white fish such as cod has kept filleting of these fish a manual affair,” said a spokesman for Marel of Iceland, the world’s biggest fish processing equipment manufacturer. The APRICOT robot system is expected to be ready for commercial use by year’s end. As the U.S. seafood industry becomes more reliant on products from aquaculture, equipment makers are designing machines for processing those more predictable fish. Complete lines are now operating, for example, where whole farmed salmon enter at one end and portions ready-packed for supermarkets leave at the other. Norwegian processor Nordlaks described the Marel-made system as “a seamless flow of salmon portions without manual handling.” “A robot places the fish pieces directly into the packaging and the system reduces labor costs by up to 20 percent,” a spokesman said. Robot makers say they are hoping their machines will help solve workforce problems in fish plants caused by changing demographics and global markets, and labor shortages. In the near future, they predict more highly skilled humans will work on sophisticated machines and computers, and not on the slime lines. “If we are going to attract young people we need better jobs, not more jobs,” said the crab robot’s Bob Verge. “We have to offer them a better deal. We’ve already demonstrated this technology to young people and they are very impressed with it. They say I’d like to do this.” Robots also are making inroads into the big freezers that hold the bulk of Alaska’s seafood before it goes to markets. A Netherlands company called NewCold has partnered with Trident Seafoods to build one of the nation’s biggest cold storage warehouses outside of Tacoma. Wash. The companies call it “a solution for increased labor, land and energy costs.” Seafood products will be stored on a robot-run system of tiered trollies and racks in low oxygen and in pitch dark, and then transported to the loading area by conveyors and worker-bots. When the $50 million project is completed at year’s end, it will have storage capacity of more than 25 million cubic feet. Fishing updates Alaska’s salmon catch by July 7 was nearing 32 million fish on its way to a forecast of 204 million, with fishing in many regions just getting serious. Fully half of the harvest so far is sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, where buyers were struggling to keep pace with the surge of fish and most boats were on limits. In other fisheries: Low catches mean Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab fishery will close July 25, an unprecedented three weeks earlier than usual. Alaska’s first red king crab fishery for the year is underway at Norton Sound with a 400,000-pound limit. Shrimp fisheries closed in Prince William Sound last week but opened in parts of Southeast, and lingcod fisheries are now open in both regions. Scallop fisheries opened July 1 at Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula, Dutch Harbor, and a portion of Bristol Bay. Cook Inlet will open to scalloping in mid-August, for a combined Alaska catch of 306,000 pounds of shucked meats. Fishing for pollock, cod and other whitefish is ongoing in the Bering Sea; the Gulf reopens to pollock Aug. 25. Halibut fishermen are about half way to their 18 million-pound catch limit. Kodiak is leading all ports for halibut deliveries followed by Seward and Petersburg; Homer had yet to top one million pounds. Seward and Sitka are the leaders for sablefish landings, each at well over two million pounds. Fishermen have pulled up 53 percent of the 22.5 million-pound catch quota. Stories help salmon Stand for Salmon is calling for photos and stories depicting the role salmon plays in Alaskans’ lives. The grass roots group is working to change salmon habitat laws that haven’t been updated since statehood in 1959, and believes a contest will help spread the word. “It’s always exciting to see where people fish, how they fish, how their families are impacted, how they cook and smoke their fish - the list goes on. I think photo contests like this give us a great opportunity to work with Alaskans and learn why salmon matter to them,” said SFS spokesman Samuel Snyder. Contest deadline is Aug. 31. Learn more at www.standforsalmon.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon spawn unusual research

Salmon skin, heads, bones and other body parts have long been popular in cultural usages around the world. Now add salmon sperm to the list of desirable byproducts being hailed by specialists in two diverse realms of research. A team of Japanese researchers is calling dried salmon sperm a miracle product for its ability to extract rare earth elements, or REEs, from ore. An ore is a type of rock that contains minerals with important elements and metals that can be extracted from the earth through mining. The rocks are refined, usually by smelting, to extract the valuable compounds. Retrieving the REEs involves an expensive process that uses toxic and sometimes radioactive chemicals which often end up polluting the environment. To the rescue: salmon sperm! The Japanese scientists discovered that salmon sperm has phosphate in its DNA. Previous studies showed that phosphate on the surface of some bacteria extracted rare earth elements from ores. To test the idea, the researchers poured dried salmon milt into a beaker containing liquid ore waste. The semen did indeed absorb several rare elements from the solution, which were easily extracted using a centrifuge. The process was accomplished 10 times more efficiently than the more hazardous and costly conventional methods. The scientists claim salmon sperm could someday replace the toxic brew of chemicals currently used to extract REEs. But before it can be used for extraction on a commercial scale, the researchers said an economically viable process would have to be put in place to capture it from commercial fisheries. The team noted that in its dried form, salmon sperm is very easily stored. Salmon sperm also is the first bio-material used to help turn on the lights. LEDs (light emitting diodes) brighten the numbers in digital clocks and every kind of appliance and electronics. Scientists recently discovered that LEDs can be intensified by using biological materials — notably, salmon sperm. It is the unique shape of the salmon DNA that produces the bio-magic, said Dr. Andrew Steckl, a photonics expert at the University of Cincinnati. “The salmon’s double helix has some interesting properties regarding light. Because of the way it is shaped, you can insert light emitting molecules within it that operate more efficiently than in other host materials,” Steckl said in a phone interview. Steckl’s studies, in collaboration with U.S. Air Force researchers, used sperm taken from wild salmon in Japan, where it is widely harvested for its DNA. In Steckl’s lab, researchers refined the DNA molecules into pure fibers, then into thin films of tightly controlled dimensions that produce light. “Starting with this material, you can actually make a competitive, if not a superior device,” he said, adding, “People in the semi-conductor and in flat panel display industries are quite concerned that certain specialty metals that are critical to device fabrication are going to begin to run out. And this is not 100 years from now, this is maybe as soon as 10 years from now.” Steckl said bioorganic materials are abundant and readily available, and reduce the need for heavy metals and other hazardous materials. “We have the biggest and most competitive industries in America in agriculture and fishing, producing huge amounts of biomaterials that have many technologically important qualities — electronic, optical, structural, magnetic and more,” he said. Steckl believes the trend towards “biomimetics” is inevitable. “Mother Nature’s bounty is widely available and renewable,” he said. “We can use the naturally occurring molecules as a model to learn how they operate. They’ve had millions of years of refining their operations. If we understand how they operate, maybe we can mimic them using man-made materials. We are just scratching the surface.” Crabs can hear Creepy soundtracks of noises made by predators had mud crabs running for shelter and proved, for the first time, that the animals can hear. Marine acoustic experts at Boston’s Northeastern University made the discovery in lab tests on 200 mud crabs during a two-year study. When they piped in certain noises, the crabs didn’t dare venture out to eat juicy clams placed in their tanks and their skittishness lasted for several hours. The scientists said the crabs hear through a small sac at the base of their antennae called a statocyst. It contains thousands of sensory hairs important for the animal’s balance but also, the study found, for responding to sounds. Might it be the same for Alaska crab? “That’s unknown. I’m not aware of any studies that have gone into that level of detail on the sensory organs or abilities of any of the commercial crab species in Alaska,” said Bob Foy, director of NOAA Fisheries’ top crab lab at Kodiak. “I would not be surprised if it was the same,” he added. “Sound is just a pressure wave, so I’m not surprised that the crab can hear the sound. The interesting fact is how they are reacting to a predator or to another organism, and being able to measure the stress that the animal is undergoing at the same time.” Other studies showed that ship sounds affected foraging behavior of shore crabs. Foy said all of the findings can be important for crab scientists and managers on a couple of fronts. “Just knowing that the animals have that additional sensory capability is huge for us to understand how they are interacting with their environment. Crab communication is very important,” he explained. “We are trying to understand the behavior of the crab, such as how the males and females find each other. Crabs don’t broadcast spawn like a fish does; they have to find each other in a very large ocean. So knowing more about their hearing behaviors would be critical for understanding how these animals are moving throughout their environment.” The impacts of sonar usage for oil/gas exploration, ships and other kinds of ocean noises also could be assessed, Foy said. “Knowing that crabs do have this hearing sensitivity helps us think about how we might test for these things,” he said. Foy called the crab hearing studies “fascinating” and hopes they continue. “If you had asked me if crabs can hear prior to this, I probably would have said they probably have a way of detecting sound,” he said. “But seeing how they are detecting it and then responding to noises and other predators is very intriguing in terms of how we might be able to use this in the future.” Codfish creamsicles, anyone? Coppa in Juneau proved that seafood can add to a winning confection. Its Candied Salmon Ice Cream took home the grand prize in the 2017 Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition, and could follow dessert a la mode that is trendy throughout Asia. Ice cream with seafood chunks has become popular in Japan, where the Kagawa fishery cooperative has been scooping it up for customers for 10 years. The ice cream is available in six flavors — yellowtail flounder, baby sardine, seaweed, octopus, crab and shrimp. According to the Japan Times, the makers have developed a way to remove as much of the fishy smell as possible, while keeping the delicious flavors. The ice cream is sold at some airports, highway parking lots, and resorts. The co-op also sells its ice cream by mail. Although some tend to think of it as a joke product, the sellers take their ice cream very seriously. The Kagawa makers said they developed the desserts because more children and young women are shifting away from a healthful fish diet, and seafood ice cream is one way to draw them back. People in Taiwan also have gotten a taste for seafood ice cream. For about a dollar a scoop you can select from 13 flavors including strawberry tuna, wasabi cuttlefish and pineapple shrimp. The savory ice cream comes in stark colors like orange, green and black and is topped with sprinkles of dried fish, roe or chopped squid. The novel dessert was created by Liny Hsueh, who sells under the brand name “Doctor Ice.” She is expanding to a second outlet and adding scallops as the newest flavor to her seafood ice cream line up. Since the baby food makers won’t do it, perhaps the ice cream industry will lead the charge to get more seafood into the mouths of American kids. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: China poised to snap up even more Alaska seafood

China holds big promise to become a top customer for Alaska salmon, and not just for the bright red fillets. Since 2011 China has been the No. 1 customer for Alaska seafood with purchases nearing $800 million and comprising 54 percent of all Alaska exports to China. In Chinese food culture, fish symbolizes abundance and prosperity, which plays into a growing middle class that now earns the equivalent of about $25,000 in U.S. dollars a year. That gives buyers significant disposable income to spend on more high-end foods, such as salmon. Add in increasing public concerns about food safety and pollution, and it means Alaska is well poised to send even more salmon to China. A photo-filled Alaska Sea Grant report — called Consumer Preference and Market Potential for Alaska Salmon in China — gives a glimpse of that potential in a country with 1.4 billion people. Researchers from the University of Alaska/Fairbanks and Purdue spent over three months surveying more than 1,000 urban supermarket shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to get their results. Here’s a sampler: While nearly 40 percent of Chinese consumers said they eat seafood at least once a week, only about 9 percent eat salmon that often, and 7 percent have never eaten salmon. The most popular fish consumed by Chinese is carp. More than 66 percent considered seafood to be healthier than other foods, and more than 25 percent preferred wild-caught seafood. Nearly the same number did not pay attention to or understand the difference between wild and farmed fish. Almost 40 percent of Chinese consumers said they eat salmon in restaurants and prefer it raw, as sashimi or sushi. Nearly 18 percent eat salmon in the same uncooked ways at home. On average, consumers ranked the method of harvest as the most important salmon attribute, followed by environmentally friendly certificates, color, the method of preservation, country of origin, and fat content. More than 68 percent said they would be more likely to buy Alaska salmon after knowing it comes from a clean environment and is sustainably harvested. Nearly 59 percent of Chinese urbanites said they definitely or probably would buy Alaska salmon if it were available at an acceptable price. They also find appealing parts of the fish that most Americans toss in the trash. Chinese culinary traditions include cooking fish heads, tails, and bones for various soups and stews. Supermarket prices showed salmon heads selling for $4.99 (U.S.) per pound, salmon skins at $2.46, and salmon bones at $5.10 per pound. The report said those low-value parts can add significant value to Alaska seafood exports to China. “The survey responses show that consumers, if presented with more opportunities to purchase Alaska salmon, would favor the wild fish because of its health benefits, pristine source waters and sustainability,” said Quijie “Angie” Zheng, a study co-author along with H. Holly Wang, Quentin Fong, and Yonggang Lu, all professors within Alaska’s university system. The salmon potential has not been lost on Norway, the world’s top producer of farmed fish. The national fish news site Seafood.com reports that Norway plans to export 343 million pounds of farmed salmon to China by 2025, worth about 4.4 billion yuan, or $646 million (U.S.). Salmon at sea Alaska is the second-largest salmon harvester in the North Pacific, topped only by Russia, and leads all other nations for releases of hatchery-reared fish. That’s according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission which revealed last month that salmon catches reported by its member countries — Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. — remain at all-time highs. Since 1993, the commission has tracked the abundance and origins of chum, coho, pink, sockeye, chinook, cherry salmon and steelhead trout in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Salmon abundance is based on the aggregate commercial catches of the five nations which in 2016 totaled nearly 440 million fish, just slightly less than previous years. Russia ranked No. 1 for total salmon catches at 51 percent (967 million pounds), U.S. fleets took 33 percent at 617 million pounds, and all but 19 million pounds of the U.S. catch came from Alaska! That was followed by Japan at 13 percent (245 million pounds), 3 percent from Canada (47 million pounds) and less than 1 percent of the North Pacific salmon catch was taken by Korea. Pink salmon made up 41 percent of the total catch by weight, with Russia hauling in 75 percent of the pink pack. That was followed by chums at 33 percent, sockeyes at 21 percent, coho at 3 percent and Chinook salmon made up 1 percent of the North Pacific catch. Hatchery releases of salmon from NPAFC member countries topped 5 billion fish in 2016 (38 percent of the total salmon catch), similar to numbers over the last three decades. The U.S. released 37 percent of the hatchery fish (1.9 billion fish), followed by Japan at 37 percent (967 million), Russia at 19 percent (282 million) and Canada at six percent (22 million fish). Sixty-five percent of the hatchery releases were chum salmon, followed by pinks at 24 percent. Chinook, sockeye and coho salmon releases were 5 percent of less. Pinger paybacks Alaska salmon fishermen can get rebates on pingers aimed at keeping marine mammals away from their gear. The six-inch, battery operated tubes are tied into fishing nets and transmit animal-specific signals every five seconds. “Pingers can be really helpful to alert the whales to something in front of them, so you have less entanglements, explained Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fisheries Alliance. SEAFA received a $25,000 Hollings Grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to fund the pinger program, which pays out $25 rebates for up to five pingers per permit per vessel. The pingers retail for about $100 each, which adds up by the time you put the number needed for the length of a salmon net. “A Southeast gillnet that is 200 fathoms long needs at least five,” Hansen said. The rebates are good for any Alaska salmon fishery. Along with Southeast Alaska, Hansen said, pingers are also used by fishermen at Kodiak and Sand Point. Hansen uses pingers in her salmon gear and swears by them. “It’s not 100 percent effective — kind of like a red stop light. Ninety-nine percent of the people will stop, and there’s that 1 percent that might not. But we’ve used them on our fishing gear for about six years and are completely sold on them,” she said. And, she added, pingers don’t act like a dinner bell for whales, nor affect the salmon catch. “In our personal experience and all the people we’ve talked to say they have not seen any kind of dinner bell effect with the pingers,” Hansen said. “And they do not scare the fish away. We constantly see fish clumped up next to the pingers.” The rebates will continue while the funds last. Get forms from the SEAFA website and at local gear shops. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Government shutdown would slam salmon fisheries

Want a fishing license to crew on a salmon boat this summer? Got friends or family visiting who want to wet a line for a prized Alaska catch? Don’t count on it. If the Alaska Legislature continues to defy its constitutional obligation to pass a budget, those opportunities will be lost because there won’t be any state workers to issue fishing licenses. Layoff notices went out on June 1 to thousands of state employees who will be off the job at the July 1 start of the fiscal year. That’s just one of the lesser impacts of the legislative impasse, hundreds of which are now being outlined by the governor and state agencies as the deadline approaches. Here’s an overview of potential fishery related impacts from various divisions: The Commercial Fisheries Division, which receives nearly all its management money from the state general fund, will be hit the hardest. The budget deadlock would bring all state fisheries to a screeching halt, and thousands of processing workers who live in or come to Alaska each summer would suddenly find themselves out of a job. The biggest punch, of course, would be felt by the salmon fisheries, and the harm could extend well beyond this year. Field staff at remote weirs, towers and salmon sonar counting projects from Southeast to Kotzebue will be pulled, said Scott Kelley, division director with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “A ballpark count is 40 to 50 projects for commercial fisheries. That doesn’t include projects operated by Sport Fish which are oftentimes equally important for overall salmon assessment, as well as aerial and foot surveys,” he said. The stall means that managers’ ability to forecast future salmon escapement goals and collect other critical data also would be significantly compromised. Cancelled harvests also could force too many salmon to head upstream and exceed the carrying capacity of food and oxygen in their home lakes or streams. “That entirely depends on the strength of a given run,” Kelley explained. “In rearing limited systems, where the more spawners we put in the more fry we get, we could see significant impacts in terms of future yields. “If we put a big number of sockeye into a system above the upper end of an escapement goal, the result could be reduced yield when that brood year returns over 3 to 5 years. If there are more fry than feed, they could have reduced in-lake survival, reduced marine survival because they leave freshwater smaller and less fit than normal. Prey densities also take a hit and take a while to recover.” “This is not a conservation issue, but can be a yield issue,” Kelley added. Insufficient sampling also could hinder assessment of the state’s performance for Pacific Salmon Treaty obligations with Canada, ADFG’s ability to manage allocations set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council and the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s stock assessment program. A shutdown will threaten annual production of 4.5 million salmon, rainbow trout and Arctic char at Alaska’s two state-owned hatcheries, and prevent the collection of chinook and coho broodstock. It could take up to four ears to rebuild that mature stock needed to sustain future generations. The Department of Fish and Game’s three patrol vessels and skiffs will be tied up. Also halted effective July 2 would be issuance of Title 16 land and water use permits by the Division of Habitat that protect fish and wildlife areas. Similarly, the Department of Natural resources will be forced to delay issuing various permits and authorizations. Say so long to subsistence harvest surveys done by the Division of Subsistence, and support to the Board of Fisheries and advisory committees. The issuance of subsistence and drawing permits could be delayed, interrupted or even not issued. The budget impasse would delay or prevent fish cargo shipments. The Department of Transportation will tie up all 11state ferries, meaning no passenger service and no fish transports to awaiting mainland customers. Likewise, many state airports will operate with reduced hours, preventing fish from getting delivered to buyers in a timely manner. Core services by the Department of Environmental Conservation will be suspended, including testing for shellfish paralytic shellfish poison, air and water monitoring and permitting and inspections. In a June 9 press release ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten said that the department is working with the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Law to analyze the impacts of a shutdown on the commercial, subsistence, personal use and sport fisheries, as well as hunting seasons. Cotten said the programs and services at ADFG will continue on their normal course through the month of June. Stay stable Fishing boats rock and roll, pitch, yaw, surge, sway and heave. A new iPhone app helps skippers respond to the movements as they navigate rough seas in tough weather. It is called SCraMP — for Small Craft Motion Program, and it has a variety of tools for boat operators. “There is a view that gives them the accelerations they’ve seen so they can have a sense of how bad they are being beat up. There is a screen that will tell them how severe their roll motions have been, and a screen that gives them a choice of three different warning metrics and fishermen can plug in numbers they feel comfortable with,” said app creator Leigh McCue, a professor at Virginia Tech’s Department of Aerospace and Ocean Engineering. She said stability indicators have been talked about for years, but prototypes were too bulky or expensive. McCue said she realized a few years ago that Smart Phones had all the computing power that was needed and fishermen’s input helped her hone the app to their needs. It’s also useful for large vessels. The SCraMP app can be customized to each vessel and downloaded for free or visit www.vesseldynamics.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry gains momentum

Homegrown shellfish and kelp are gaining momentum in Alaska, spurred on by growing markets and the steadfast push by Gov. Bill Walker’s visionary mariculture task force. Applications for more than 1,000 acres of oyster and kelp farms were filed with the Department of Natural Resources by the April 30 deadline, far more than usual. Fifteen are for new farms in the Southeast, Southcentral and Westward regions of which seven plan to grow kelp exclusively. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations. “These permit applications are an indicator that there is developing interest and growth in the mariculture industry in Alaska,” said Linda Mattson with the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development upon announcing the numbers. Along with other state agencies, DCCED is an active part of the 11-member Alaska Mariculture Task Force established by an Administrative Order in 2016. The group’s mission is to provide Walker with a comprehensive report for statewide mariculture expansion by March 1 of next year. Walker believes mariculture of shellfish and seaweeds is a viable means to diversify the economy and provide a $1 billion economy within 30 years. “The timing is right,” said task force co-chair Julie Decker of Wrangell. “It’s exciting that many of the applicants are young Alaska fishermen who are planning to have kelp be an adjunct to help diversify their fishing portfolio. Plus, shellfish are filter feeders and clean the waters and seaweed are a carbon sink and also produce really healthy products. I think we’re on a good path.” For existing aquatic farmers who are growing shellfish, kelp can provide them with a ready cash flow while they are waiting for up to three years for their bivalve crops to ripen. “Kelp only takes about 90 days to grow so you can stagger your plantings and lengthen your seasons,” Decker added. The latest data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that 54 aquatic farms, seven shellfish nurseries and two shellfish hatcheries are operating in Alaska, primarily growing Pacific oysters, with sales topping $1 million in 2014 and 2015. Production in 2015 of 10.6 million oysters fetched an average price of $9.84 per dozen, up 24 cents, or 2.5 percent, from 2014. “If just three-tenths of a percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters,” Decker said, “it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 80 cents adding up to over $1 billion a year!” For blue mussels, production in 2015 showed a 74 percent increase to 16,688 pounds with a value of $5.27 per pound (down 47 cents from 2014) for a total of $70,800. In terms of the fledgling kelp industry, a first 15,000-pound harvest last month on a one-acre plot at Kodiak owned by Nick and Stephanie Mangini paid out at roughly $10,000. Their business, Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed, plans to expand to 17 acres by next year. Find links to Alaska’s Mariculture Task Force at the ADFG home page. Salmon at a glance Want to know the values of Alaska’s salmon catches by every region? Or what products the fish are made into and where each goes to market? Find it at a glance in the latest Seafood Market Bulletin from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. It’s compiled by the McDowell Group and also includes dockside values over a decade, and the rank of each species as a percent of Alaska’s harvests. Here’s a sampler: The projected pink salmon catch this summer of 142 million is up by more than one million fish over last year. The average pink price paid to fishermen last year was 34 cents per pound. Frozen fish accounted for 44 percent of the pink salmon value last year with canned pinks at 37 percent. Chum catches this year should increase to about 17 million due to higher catches in Western Alaska. Chums accounted for 15 percent of the Alaska salmon harvest and value over the past two years. The average dock price in 2016 was 61 cents price per pound. Globally, chum production dropped by 30 percent due to decreased catches in Japan. That pushed up roe prices to over $14 per pound. Roe accounts for 37 percent of Alaska’s chum salmon value. Coho catches are expected to increase to 4.7 million this year. The average coho price to fishermen last year was $1.17 per pound. Coho are the latest running of all Alaska salmon species and account for 3 percent of the harvest and 5 percent of the value. Alaska’s sockeye catch is expected to decline 23 percent this year to about 41 million fish, and prices are expected to increase. Fishermen averaged $1.05 per pound last season, up 23 cents from the previous year. Sockeye accounted for 34 percent of Alaska’s salmon harvest over the past two years and 55 percent of the value, ringing in at $302 million in 2016. The chinook harvest is projected to drop by 27 percent this year and produce the smallest harvest in state history. The average Alaska price last year was $4.88 per pound, for a value of nearly $24 million. Ninety-nine percent of Alaska’s king salmon go to markets in the U.S. Alaska’s 2017 salmon harvest calls for 204 million fish, up nearly one million from last year. A mighty wind A warmer than average April could mean an early return of chinook salmon again to the Yukon River and fish watchers are on alert for signs of the first pulse to arrive around June 10. While low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the kings are crucial for subsistence users. Even with 56 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river — everyone knows that, young man,’” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen said the same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume,” he added. “Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the saltwater. I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix the fresh and salt water to make it brackish. They will pile up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006, Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to saltwater and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into saltwater because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even tops early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today, satellite readings from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make predictions easier and more reliable. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trump budget dumps NOAA funding

The 2018 budget unveiled on May 23 by the Trump Administration is bad news for anything that swims in or near U.S. waters. At a glance: the Trump budget will cut $1.5 billion from the U.S. Commerce Department, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, taking the hardest hit. The NOAA budget for its National Marine Fisheries Service operations, research and facilities would be slashed by about $43 million. It would eliminate NOAA’s coastal research programs and the Sea Grant program. The Trump dump also includes pulling the budget from NOAA’s Coastal Zone Management Program and the Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Fund, which targets recovery of West Coast and Alaska salmon runs. Funding for management and enforcement of U.S. catch share programs, such as halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab, would be cut by $5 million. The budgets for Coastal Ecosystem Resiliency Grants, Interjurisdictional Fisheries Grants, the Chesapeake Bay project, the Great Lakes Restoration Project and the National Estuary Program also would be eliminated. Another $193 billion would be cut over 10 years from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that is used by over 42 million needy Americans to supplement food purchases and often includes government-purchased seafood. Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, told McClatchy News that the Trump administration “looked at the budget process through the eyes of the people who were actually paying the bills.” Next up, pollock patties A freezer van is portside again at Dillingham, this time filled with frozen Alaska pollock patties. It’s the third fish van to tie up at Dillingham in the past year from SeaShare a nonprofit that brings seafood destined for needy families throughout the region. “We’ve distributed about 200,000 pounds of seafood to needy Alaskans over the past year, but it’s very hard to reach some of the western Alaska communities because of transportation coordination and it gets really expensive,” said Jim Harmon, director of the nonprofit group. “Last year we purchased a freezer container and filled it with frozen seafood in Seattle and shipped it north on an AML barge to Dillingham and installed it at the port there.” SeaShare is the only non-profit in the U.S. dedicated to bringing seafood to food banks. Since 1994 when it began as a “bycatch to food banks” effort, the group has donated over 210 million servings of seafood and provided the logistical framework to get it to needy Americans across the nation. At remote places like Dillingham, Harmon said a true partnership helps pull it off. “The Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation was the champion that helped pull this together,” Harmon said. “They issued a grant to pay for the labor that the Bristol Bay Native Association needed to coordinate the downstream distribution for us. Peter Pan came through with a van load of sockeye and Chinook salmon and Ocean Beauty has made donations. It’s community helping community.” “SeaShare’s seafood will feed many low-income families. Currently, we are feeding roughly 272 households in 15 communities in the Bristol Bay region,” said Barbara Nunn, Food Bank Manager at BBNA. The first two Dillingham shipments included salmon; the van tied up now holds 7,000 pounds of lightly breaded, four-ounce portions of frozen Alaska pollock. “Pollock is the biggest fish in the world that nobody knows about. It’s not something we normally send to Alaska,” Harmon explained, “but the At-Sea Processors Association donates 250,000 pounds of whitefish blocks every year and Trident converted them into breaded portions.” Bethel is the next Western Alaska seafood hub that SeaShare is eyeing for hunger relief. “A lot of these coastal communities have fisheries, and they ship all the fish out. Then they import expensive food that, if it’s frozen, has to be air freighted out there which is very expensive,” Harmon said. “If we can help with a distribution framework by putting a freezer there and use surface freight rather than air, we can ship larger quantities and let them distribute it to outlying communities.” Have some herring! Reintroducing mild-tasting, nutrient-packed herring to American menus is the goal of Seattle restaurateurs during next month’s Northwest Herring Week. The event, which began with just eight chefs three summers ago, has nearly doubled last year’s participation. “I think we’re going to cut it off at 60,” said Bruce Schactler, food aid director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, an event sponsor. “I believe there are eight different James Beard Award winners taking part with their restaurants. So it’s turning out to be quite the high profile thing. That’s good when you’re trying to recreate a market.” Herring Week also has spread beyond Seattle to restaurants in outlying regions this year. “We’ve been able to add more people over on the Bellevue side and as far north as Woodinville,” Schactler said. Five thousand pounds of herring fillets are being donated to the restaurants by North Pacific Seafoods from the recent fishery at Togiak. Alaska’s total herring catches top 30,000 tons each year and are valued primarily for the roe from the female fish, The herring also is used as bait, but much of it, especially the males, is turned into fish meal. Globally, herring catches can top four million tons and the fish is a meal staple in other countries. A McDowell study showed that Norwegian fishermen can fetch over $1.40 a pound for herring. Last year in Alaska the average price of bait fish to fishermen was 18 cents a pound and just one penny a pound for roe herring. Herring Week gives diners the opportunity to experience herring in a wide array of high end dishes. “Everything from fritters to pickled and cured to grilled and everything in between,” Schactler said, adding that the annual event could soon expand on the west coast and to Chicago and beyond. Northwest Herring Week runs from June 19 to the 25. Learn more and see a lineup of herring dishes at www.nwherringweek.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Managers deploy across state amid budget impasse

Alaska salmon managers are hoping for the best and planning for the worst as lawmakers extend into a special session to try and agree on a state budget. It is the third year in a row they have not finished their legislative session on time due to budget differences. The haggling, which could last up to 30 days, means pink slips could go out to all state workers in less than two weeks in advance of job layoffs. “It’s similar to what happened last year. Pink slips go out on June 1 and then we have to start getting people out because they cannot be on salary effective July 1,” said Scott Kelley, director of the commercial fisheries division at Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game headquarters in Juneau. “At this point, we are acting under the assumption that we are going to have a budget,” he added. Kelley admits he’s closely watching the calendar as salmon fisheries get underway. Fish and Game differs from most state departments because so many workers must be flown or boated to remote salmon counting sites across the state. Orderly field camp setups and shutdowns take several weeks of advance planning. “Day by day we are already increasing our field presence. The Chignik and Karluk weirs are supposed to go in this week, the Miles River sonar at the Copper River and other things across the state. We will be scrambling,” Kelley said, adding that about 670 fishery workers are on the job each summer. The budget impasse also would stall other summer fisheries, and derail stock assessment surveys for Tanner crab in Prince William Sound, red king crab in Southeast and black cod at Chatham Strait, to name a few. The governor’s operating budget for the commercial fisheries division for the next fiscal year is just more than $70.7 million, which reflects a net gain of $670,000 to cover contracts and inflation costs. Kelley said the extra money was spread to projects across the state that “are most closely linked to opportunities for fishing,” such as aerial surveys for Southeast salmon, the Coghill Lake project at Prince William Sound and Igushik salmon counting towers at Togiak. But not having the money to manage the salmon season is the biggest concern caused by the legislative lollygagging. Alaska’s salmon fisheries are tracked on a daily basis during the season to make sure enough fish can make it upriver to sustain future stocks. If that can’t happen, the result would be lost harvests from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. “The economy of the state would take an enormous hit if we had to pull stock assessment projects, and that is obvious to everyone who lives here,” Kelley said. “That’s why I’m optimistic because it is just too big to ignore. And the legislators know that.” Fish Expo for a good cause The first annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo that will occur next month at Naknek has a dual purpose. The event is summed up by its theme of “Bridging the Bay: Connecting the Community and the Industry.” “So many people come into our community each summer but they never get to be a part of it, and they really want to be,” said Katie Copps-Wilson, an Expo organizer. The town of Naknek swells from a population of about 400 to 12,000 when the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay gears up and gets underway each summer. But there is little contact between local fishermen, residents and those who come to work in the Bay. Copps-Wilson, who is a physician’s assistant at the local Camai Community Health Center and a clinic liaison with the processing companies, said she discovered the disconnect a few summers ago. At a “meet and greet” dinner last year with local processors, she said it was clear more people wanted to bridge the divide. “Every year people come here who are yoga instructors and swim teachers and artists and carpenters. Some people spend every summer here their whole lives. We have a vast collection of talent sitting around our community. How can we capture that and make it a part of our summer?” Copps-Wilson said. The idea for a local Fish Expo evolved over the winter and really picked up steam when it added another purpose: raising money for the Little Angels Child Care Academy. “The lack of child care in our community is causing families to leave,” Copps-Wilson explained. “Every day you see listings on our local Bristol Bay Exchange by people who are desperately seeking child care. These are young families with young kids that just want to support their families. And right now they can get work, but there is nothing available or very limited as to what they can do for child care.” Last fall the grass roots effort received an $80,000 start-up grant from the Bristol Bay Borough to secure a building and furnishings. But the money cannot be used to cover payroll for a small staff. “The school room is ready. We need to raise $13,000 to open the doors,” Copps-Wilson said. The Fish Expo is likely to make that happen. Already more than 30 vendors, agencies, associations and “Made in the Bay” businesses have signed up for exhibitor booths and the list grows daily. The Expo also will feature local artists, movies, foods, a fashion show, raffles, swag bags and a job fair. “It’s a time to talk fish, advertise, recruit, sell products, celebrate salmon and simply get to know each other,” the Expo announcement exclaims. Copps-Wilson said one of the best things “is to see how excited people are,” and donations (tax deductible) are arriving daily from near and far. “A fish company in New Mexico did a salmon taco feed and donated over $700 to us. It’s really humbling to see how businesses that aren’t here year round love our community and want to give back,” she said. “This will mean so much to everyone,” Copps-Wilson added. “Our hope is to really connect the community and the industry. The bottom line is that we all need each other.” The Bristol Bay Fish Expo is set for June 9 and 10 at the Borough school in Naknek. Find more information on Facebook and sign up to participate or donate to Little Angels Academy at [email protected] Copper River haul Fishermen fetched high prices for the first salmon catches from Copper River. Grounds prices were reported at $7 to $8 per pound for sockeyes and $10 to $10.50 a pound for kings. That compares to starting prices last summer of $6.50 and $9.50, respectively. The prices will drop when more Alaska salmon fisheries come on line. Roughly 77,000 pounds of sockeye and king salmon were flown by five Alaska Airlines cargo flights from Cordova to Seattle on May 19 after a 12-hour opener on May 18. Every year the airline partners with Ocean Beauty, Trident and Copper River Seafoods to bring the season’s “first fish” to eager retailers and restaurateurs in Anchorage and the Lower 48. Ocean Beauty donated the first fish of the season — a 45-pound king salmon —to the eighth annual Copper Chef Cook-Off held on the tarmac at Sea-Tac airport. During the competition, three chefs from Seattle have 30 minutes to prepare and serve three salmon dishes to an audience of Alaska Airlines customers and guests. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood values stable, new crab surveys and a fish promotion

The U.S. seafood industry’s contribution to the nation’s economy sank a bit, while Alaska’s output increased slightly and dollar values held steady. An eagerly anticipated annual report released May 9 by NOAA Fisheries measures the economic impacts of U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries. It highlights values, jobs, and sales for 2015, along with a 10-year snapshot of comparisons. A second report provides the status of U.S. fish stocks for 2016. The Fisheries Economics Report shows that including imports, U.S. commercial fishing and the seafood industry generated $144 billion in sales in 2015, a six percent decline from the previous year, and supported 1.2 million jobs, a 15 percent decline. “However, it’s important to consider these figures are still above the five-year average. In fact, 2015 represents the second-highest level during that period,” Alan Risenhoover, Acting Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs said at a May 9 press teleconference. For Alaska, commercial fishermen landed more than 6 billion pounds of fish and shellfish in 2015, a 6 percent increase from 2014, while the value of the catch held steady at $1.7 billion. Fishing and processing in Alaska generated $4.4 billion in sales in 2015 and 53,400 jobs, of which 38,000 were fishermen. Other highlights: Pollock accounted for 54 percent of the total Alaska harvest volume. Alaska crab values totaled $284 million, the highest level since 1999. Halibut received the highest dock price at $4.85 per pound in 2015; herring fetched the lowest price, averaging just one penny a pound. Alaska pollock ($509 million), salmon ($413 million), and crab ($284 million) dominated landings revenue. Recreational fishing in Alaska put 5,407 people to work and saltwater anglers spent about $470 million for fishing trips and equipment. A total of 309,000 anglers fished in Alaska in 2015, an 8 percent increase, and spent approximately 975,000 days on the water, a two percent increase from the previous year. Halibut (691,000 fish), coho salmon (578,000 fish), and various rockfish (475,000 fish) were the most frequently caught fish by Alaska anglers. Stock status: Fishery managers continued to notch successes in protecting and rebuilding the 474 fish stocks they oversee. According to the Status of U.S. Fisheries report for 2016, over 90 percent are not subject to overfishing, which is defined as catch rates being too high. For Alaska, blue king crab at the Pribilof Islands is the only stock listed as overfished, meaning a population is too low, whether because of fishing or other causes, such as environmental changes. When asked how the role of climate change is affecting NOAA’s healthy resource projections, Risenhoover said that warming waters and off kilter ocean chemistry can affect fish stocks in a number of ways. “It may change the abundance, the how and where they reproduce and how successful they are at reproducing. It also changes where they live,” he explained. “We see some stocks perhaps moving north to colder waters or offshore for deeper, cooler waters. The management councils and the agency are trying to plan ahead on how to best manage those stocks as they move, and also increasing the science associated with our stock assessments.” Tanner retakes Surveys in June could set the stage for fishermen to once again drop pots for Tanner crab at Prince William Sound. Earlier this year the state Board of Fisheries okayed a new harvest strategy that sets crab abundance thresholds for opening a fishery, based on estimates that will come from trawl surveys next month. Up to 14 million pounds of bairdi Tanners were produced at Prince William Sound in the early 1970s. Then, as with other parts of the Central Gulf, the numbers steadily dwindled. No fishery has occurred in the Sound since 1995. More recently, while crab numbers continue to appear low, a good pulse of recruits has shown up in surveys and subsistence pots. Should a Tanner fishery occur, the shell size of the legal male “keepers” has been reduced from 5.3 inches to 5 inches. “We have a terminal molt condition situation in both Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound where male crabs are not reaching legal harvest size. They reach a maximum size and stop growing,” said Jan Rumble, groundfish and shellfish manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Homer. Rumble cautioned that the summer survey to determine the fate of the Tanner crab fishery could be tanked depending on the outcome of the state budget. Similarly, reopening the Tanner crab fishery in the Bering Sea is the focus of a special May meeting where the board, managers and university biologists also will focus on the harvest rules. The fishery produced the Bering Sea’s biggest crab catch in 2015 at 20 million pounds, but was abruptly closed last year when surveys showed low numbers of females. Bairdi Tanner crab, the larger cousin of snow crab, is the only fishery that uses a female-only indicator for stock abundance. The closure caused a loss of $50 million to the crabbers, and pulled the plug on expanding purchases by Joe’s Crab Shack and Red Lobster. The crab fleets believe lots of Tanners are out there based on their pot pulls, but that the crabs are just not showing up in the surveys. “It’s a challenge when you have a fishery like this where the survey is done with a trawl and it’s a pot fishery. It’s difficult to know what the female population is because the gear is rigged to select for larger male crab on the bottom,” said Tyson Fick, director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We want to think about alternatives to a single open/close threshold, like the on and off switch where it went from almost 20 million pounds to zero.” It’s important to update and verify the best available science, Fick said, adding, “We really value and appreciate the opportunity to discuss this.” The crab meeting is set for May 17-18 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Seafood delivered Local catches of halibut and spot shrimp are new additions to the Catch of the Season program, along with salmon jerky bites by the Hoonah Tribe’s Dear North Salmon Co. It’s part of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s ongoing and expanding “Caught for Alaskans by Alaskans” campaign that delivers boxes of fresh/frozen seafood to customers in Anchorage, Homer, Fairbanks, and most recently, Seward. “It lets buyers know that their dollars are supporting community-based fishermen, and they learn the who, what, where, when, and why of that specific seafood. And all profits go back into marine conservation efforts,” said David Fleming, AMCC seafood sales manager in Anchorage. Find poundages, pricing, pickup locations and ordering info at [email protected] Deadline to order is May 19. Top fish job Chris Oliver, longtime executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has accepted the top job of Assistant Administrator of National Marine Fisheries Service. Oliver received unprecedented support from across the nation. His tentative start date is June 19 after the appointment is approved by the White House. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Fishery managers expect a Copper River salmon catch this season of just 889,000 sockeyes, 4,000 kings and 207,000 coho salmon. “Regardless of the forecast from one year to the next, fishermen just want to have their nets in the water. It’s what they do and they are ready to go,” Hoover said. The marketing group, which is funded and operated by local salmon fishermen, is again working with Alaska Airlines to whisk away the first catches to awaiting retailers and restaurants in Seattle. Every year, images of airline pilots carrying the famous “first fish” off the plane make headlines around the world and add to the media hoopla surrounding the Copper River catches. The salmon are first hand delivered to three chefs who have a cook off on the Sea/Tac airport tarmac. The dishes are served to airline guests who select a winner. The Cordova group also uses the opportunity to promote the fact that Copper River salmon isn’t just a “May event,” Hoover said. “We do a lot of outreach to help people understand that there are five months of wild Alaska salmon coming out of Cordova, especially with cohos into the fall,” she explained, adding that they also are broadening their salmon messages to build more awareness and appeal for the entire Prince William Sound fishery. Alaska’s total salmon catch for 2017 is pegged at 204 million fish, nearly 1 million more than were taken last year. The breakdown for the five species calls for a sockeye salmon harvest of nearly 41 million, a decrease of 12 million reds from last year. Coho catches should increase slightly to nearly 5 million; for chums, a catch of nearly 17 million is an increase of more than one million fish. The projected statewide take of pink salmon is 142 million, an increase of nearly 103 million humpies over last year. For chinook salmon, the forecast calls for a catch of 80,000 in regions outside of Southeast Alaska, where the harvest is determined by a treaty with Canada. The all-gear Chinook catch for Southeast in 2017 is 209,700 fish, or 146,000 fewer than last year. Pass on pinks Alaska salmon fishermen hoping for relief funds from last year’s failed pink salmon fishery appear to be out of luck. The pink fishery, the worst in over 40 years, was officially declared a failure in January by former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, setting the stage for fishermen and other stakeholders at Kodiak, Prince William Sound and Lower Cook Inlet to seek disaster assistance from the federal government. The monetary assistance, however, was not included in last week’s huge $1 trillion-plus spending bill approved by Congress to keep the government operating through September. The bill also did not include disaster relief funds for West Coast salmon and crab fisheries. Congress could choose to appropriate the money separately, but chances of that happening are slim. Antibiotics turn off For 20 years, the movement to use the “power of the purse” to promote and reward sustainably managed fisheries has set a global standard for seafood purchases. Today, it’s nearly impossible for a company to do business without being officially certified as a source for earth-friendly seafood. This month another global effort was launched that uses the same strategy to promote new standards for the use of antibiotics in seafood and other animal products. The Michigan-based National Sanitation Foundation International has tested food products for health and safety since 1944. Its new Raised Without Antibiotics certification program will provide independent verification of claims made on food packages that they are antibiotic-free, including seafood, meats, dairy, eggs, even leather and certain supplements. The campaign follows a NSF survey last year that showed nearly 60 percent of consumers prefer products that are free from antibiotics. That’s backed up by the NPD Group, a market tracker that operates in 20 countries, interviews 12 million consumers each year and monitors purchase data from more than 165,000 stores. NPD said that consumers are demanding “free from” foods with fewer additives, especially antibiotics, growth hormones, tweaked genes, and they are reading labels like never before. Antibiotics are widely used in the farmed fish industry, most notably in Chile (the largest importer to the U.S.), which has come under fire for using more than one million pounds of antibiotics to ward off a fish virus, according to the National Service of Fisheries and Aquaculture. What’s worse, Intrafish reported that 50 Chilean salmon companies refused to disclose the amount and type of antibiotics they used, saying “such disclosure would threaten their business competitiveness.” In contrast, Norway, the world’s biggest farmed salmon producer, uses about 2,100 pounds of antibiotics, mostly to combat fish lice. Sea lice are the farmed Atlantic salmon industry’s most expensive problem, costing around $550 million in lost output each year. “Free from” food labeling requirements and guidelines generally apply to products raised in a controlled environment,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Salmon in Alaska hatcheries may also receive antibiotics on occasion, but there have been no detectable levels of antibiotics found by the time the salmon are harvested in the ocean,” he said. NSF International is now seeking companies to sign on to its Raised Without Antibiotics campaign, saying, “Without an independent protocol and certification process, customers have not been able to verify claims made by marketers — until now.” Good idea grants Gulf of Alaska groundfish are at the forefront for “innovation” grants from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Fisheries Innovation Fund. The Fund is a partnership with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Walton Family Foundation. The grants, totaling $650,000, aim to support projects that help sustain fishermen and coastal communities, promote safety, and support fishery conservation and management. While the Gulf is selected as a target area, the Innovation Fund will consider proposals in all U.S. fisheries, both commercial and recreational. Successful projects should include approaches that promote full utilization of catches and minimize bycatch, develop markets, research and training, and “improve the quality, quantity and timeliness of fisheries-dependent data used for science, management and fishermen’s business purposes,” according to a NFWF statement. Alaska groups and communities have obtained several Innovation grants in recent years. They include Sitka’s Fisheries Trust Network that aims to acquire and keep catch quotas local, the Alaska Marine Conservation Council’s “Every Halibut Counts” project that promotes gentle release methods, and the Southeast Alaska Guides Organization for its sport sector catch share project. The Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association also have received grants to test electronic monitoring systems. Pre-proposals are due May 25 and invitations for full proposals will be sent on June 29. Full proposals are due on Aug. 31 and the NFWF will announce award winners by Nov. 17. Find more information and applications at http://www.nfwf.org/fisheriesfund/Pages/fisheries2017rfp.aspx ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “If you were involved in salmon last year, you probably didn’t have a great year, unless you were in Bristol Bay. There wasn’t a lot of extra money to pick up an extra permit or move into a different fishery, and I think we’re seeing that,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Overall for salmon permits it’s a slower market this year,” agreed Jeff Osborn of Dock Street brokers in Seattle. At the bellwether sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay, drift permits have slumped below $135,000 since last fall. “We’ve had several sales at $129,000 and listings at $125,000. So, for whatever reason, those have slipped by about $10,000 in the last few weeks,” Bowen said. Southeast drift permits have dropped slightly to the $83,000 range. Prince William Sound drift “cards” topped $165,000 but now are trading closer to $150,000. PWS seine permits also come in at the range or slightly above. “It’s supposed to be a great year there, but we’re not seeing it reflected in those prices,” Bowen said. “They’re certainly not going up very far, very fast.” Cook Inlet drift gillnetters have had several lousy fishing years and this year is looking bleak. However, a new rule to allow permit stacking has boosted interest in permits there. A Cook Inlet drifter can now hold two permits in his name and fish the extra gear. It is the first drift gillnet fleet in the state to be able to do so. “That propped up that value from a low of $33,000 and they are trading right now for around $45,000,” Bowen said, adding that the permit price is still down considerably from $90,000 just a few years ago. The lowest value seine card is at Kodiak, reflecting a steady slide from $50,000 not long ago. “We’ve sold a few at $25,000. That’s the lowest salmon seine permit price anywhere in the state,” Bowen said. “People can make good money there, but Kodiak is a tough salmon fishery.” Both brokers agreed that a good salmon season this year will help buoy all boats along with the value of salmon permits. The forecast for Alaska’s 2017 salmon catch is 204 million fish, nearly one million more salmon over last year. Quota share highs Prices for quota shares of Alaska halibut are jaw dropping. “They’re in the $70 per pound range in Southeast and the $60 range in the Central Gulf,” said Doug Bowen. Quota prices are approaching the $45 mark in the Western Gulf, the $30 range for the Aleutian Islands fishery and in the teens for Bering Sea regions. “Even small pieces of Delta class for smaller boats are trading for $51, $52 and $53 a pound. It’s just unheard of,” he added. Halibut quota share prices have gone up about $5 per year for several years as the fish stocks appear to have stabilized and increased slightly. Dock prices for halibut also have remained high, often at $6 to $7 per pound at major ports. The halibut quota shares are not flying off the shelves at those prices, but Bowen points to more movement in small batches. “It’s almost a retail market for fishing quotas, where if a fella holds a fair amount, he will cut away a chunk of 1,000 pounds to be able to complete his boat projects or retire some debt,” Bowen said. The quota share prices for one of Alaska’s most lucrative catches — black cod, or sablefish — also are on an upswing. Shares in the Central Gulf region are at $29 per pound, an increase of $8 over last year. Black cod quota in Southeast Alaska has jumped to $35 per pound. The increase is due in part to dock prices nearing $10 per pound for large black cod over 7 pounds. “There is a really strong grounds price, and there was an increase in the TAC (total allowable catch), which was somewhat unexpected,” said Dock Street’s Osborn. “And, of course, pots.” Starting this year, fishermen can use large pots in the Gulf of Alaska to keep whales from robbing their pricey black cod catches. “Getting whaled” can sometimes cost a boat up to half of its catch on hook and line gear. Nearly 2,000 fishermen hold quota shares of halibut and black cod in Alaska. Crab quota climbs Alaska’s Bering Sea crab fisheries also are managed under a catch share system for a pool of roughly 400 “owning entities.” Prices have gone up on a per pound basis since the catch share system began in 2005, but during the same time, most of the crab catches have been reduced significantly. Catch quotas for Bristol Bay red king crab are listed at $55 per pound; snow crab at $16 to $28 per pound, and Tanners at $8 to $13 per pound. “Sales have been much more limited,” Jeff Osborn said, adding that there “certainly is a fair bit of consolidation” in the crab fisheries. “It’s subject to the same influences as black cod and halibut,” he added. “Guys might be interested in selling, but you’re looking at a catch that’s been cut by 50 to 70 percent over the past few years, or reduced to nothing. They’re not too keen on selling when everything looks down despite the higher prices.” Uncertainty over new rules coming for some crab quota holders also has stalled the market. Crew or skippers who own shares but do not have “active participation” in the crab fishery (or another Alaska fishery) by June 30, 2018, will not receive their quota shares for the 2018-19 season; if they do not have participation by June 30, 2019, their quota is revoked. “In the past, once certain quota purchase requirements were fulfilled, they did not need to stay active in the fishery. That is changing,” Osborn explained. “There are a lot of guys who have participated in the fishery all their lives and are now retired. “They are being forced to either get back in the fishery, even on a minimal basis, or they will have to sell their quota or lose it. It certainly restricts the number of people who are interested in purchasing quota shares.” Alaska is tops on the menu Alaska seafood now tops the list of all other protein brands on the menus of 500 national restaurant chains, besting Angus beef, Kobe beef and Louisiana seafood. Research shows that 94 percent of diners are more likely to order a seafood dish when the word “Alaska” is on the menu. That’s the take away message from the 2016 annual report of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The ASMI report is filled with user-friendly information about Alaska’s seafood industry and how it plays out at home and around the world. Here’s a sampler: about 60,000 people, mostly Alaska residents, work in the state’s seafood industry. More than half (31,580) are fishermen, operating 8,600 vessels and delivering their catches to 176 processing plants around the state. One third of Alaska’s resident commercial fishermen live in Anchorage and the Southcentral region, more than any other region of the state. Pollock is still Alaska’s biggest catch, topping 3 billion pounds last year. Salmon came in as the most valuable catch last year, topping $540 million. China is the number one export customer for Alaska seafood, followed by Japan, Europe, Canada and lately, Brazil. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. A new measure gaining steam in the Alaska Legislature aims to reverse that trend by creating fisheries trusts in which communities could buy permits and lease them to fishermen who otherwise could not afford them. “It’s good to recognize the problem, but it’s even better to try and do something about it,” said Representative Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, sponsor of the legislation (House Bill 188). Under the plan, regional trusts could buy or be gifted a maximum of 2.5 percent of the permits in any given fishery, and lease them for up to six years to fishermen who want to make the transition from deckhand to permit owners. The fishermen must then buy their own permits if they choose to continue in a fishery. The trusts would apply to all limited entry fisheries in Alaska. At the outset, the trusts would be authorized in up to three Alaska regions that choose to opt in, and must be approved by two-thirds of any municipality. Board members would be recommended by cities and boroughs in each region and appointed by the governor. Unincorporated communities may also be included on the board. “Just as people often rent before buying a house, fisheries trusts offer an opportunity to run a boat and gain experience before making the six-figure decision to finance a permit and become an independent small business owner,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. Interested stakeholders, which include Alaska Native groups, state agencies and fishing organizations from Southeast to Nome, have spent more than two-and-a-half years developing the idea. “We are continuing to craft and refine the model in terms of legality and policy,” Kreiss-Tomkins said, adding that the level of interest is very region specific. “Some are very bullish about the opportunity, some are not. That’s totally fine,” he said. “We expect some will watch and see how it goes, and then make a decision once they have more information.” The measure is scheduled for hearings during the current extended legislative session although it is not expected to be put to a vote. “We are taking it slow and steady,” Kreiss-Tomkins said. “In the interim, we are hoping to grow the conversation with fishing communities, economic development advocates and other stakeholders who would benefit from this tool in their tool box. Then we will be ready to revisit it next year.” Voices from the fishing front Fishermen are on the front line when it comes to the impacts of an off-kilter climate, and an ongoing “listening” project by The Nature Conservancy in Alaska is giving voice to what they are experiencing. Called Tidal Change.org, the project began gathering comments last fall from a wide cross section of fishermen on how a changing climate is affecting their lives and views on the future. “Our main intention is to make sure that people have an opportunity to hear stories that are truly authentic and rooted in personal experience that perhaps aren’t otherwise being heard,” said Dustin Solberg, a Nature Conservancy writer based in Cordova. Here’s a sampler: “I’ve noticed a lot of environmental changes,” said Melanie Brown of Juneau, a longtime setnetter at Bristol Bay. “The rivers don’t freeze anymore and the ice floes aren’t there to protect the bluff above where our site is. It’s starting to fill in my site so it goes dry more quickly and I have less fishing time. It’s daunting.” “The last 35 years I’ve noticed the ocean warming in places where the salmon have to navigate up coastal streams,” said Bob Snell who fishes the Washington and Oregon coasts. “It is difficult for them to get up to their spawning grounds, and to survive after they’ve laid their eggs in the warm water.” Eugene Anderson, a lifelong fisherman from Chignik, said most fishermen agree that, “something is not right.” “Over the past years since the waters have warmed up the fish blush earlier. By the first week of August you start getting fish in the river back and they are all red, and the salmon are smaller. Sometimes we have water temperatures as high as 60 degrees, and when the water is warmer the feed is not as prolific. The young people really have to think about what’s going on. It’s a very uncertain time. It’s kind of scary.” Larry Vander Lind, who has fished at Kodiak and Bristol Bay since the early 1970s, said fishermen are seeing more algae blooms in the water and more jellyfish. Peter Andrew of Dillingham, a 45-year fishing veteran added: “Scientists speak about water temperature being a key part of the survival of sockeye and other salmon species. I’ve seen the water temperature go up and it is very alarming to me. Bristol Bay is an absolute wonderful place and it’s going to take some good stewardship and policy makers to make sure this fishery stays as it has been for 10,000 years.” “I don’t care what people say, there is global warming and it’s changing things,” said Jon Gaedke who has trolled for king and coho salmon in Southeast for 26 years. “People look at me like I’m a nut, but I tell them the salmon are confused. The patterns they have followed for years and years — now they don’t seem to know which way to go or where or when to go. That’s pretty scary business.” Find more fishing voices at Then Nature Conservancy in Alaska online and on Facebook. Herring happenings Kodiak’s herring season, which began on April 15, has produced 70 tons so far and is on hold while awaiting a resurgence of fish. Unlike roe herring fisheries at places like Sitka Sound and Togiak that can wrap up after a few short openers, Kodiak’s herring hauls can occur at up to 80 different places and last into June. This year’s herring harvest is limited to 1,645 tons. Togiak in Bristol Bay is Alaska’s biggest roe herring fishery and all signs point to it kicking off at the traditional time in early May. Budget cuts last year had processors pitching in for aerial surveys to spot the herring swarms, and precluded any stock sampling. Now a $61,000 boost will help get herring monitoring back on track. “We need to have information on the age and size of the fish that are harvested,” said Tim Sands, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Dillingham. “Without that we can’t forecast the next year’s return and we have to be much more conservative. That’s reflected in this year’s harvest level of 23,000 tons as we had no data to work on.” This year’s projected Togiak harvest is down by more than 10 percent from the past two seasons. Participation and price, however, are on an upswing and four buyers are expected. “It looks like we’re going to have 19 seine boats and 16 gillnetters. Last year we only had three gillnetters,” Sands told KDLG. “I’m hearing rumors of $100-$150 a ton so the price is back up and that’s bringing them back into the fishery.” Farther west, a lack of buyers has kept herring boats beached for about a decade. Nearly 12,000 tons could be taken from fisheries up the coast from Security Cove to Norton Sound if there was a market. Statewide, Alaska will produce less than 40,000 tons of herring this year. Only the female fish are valued for their eggs, all of which go to Asia; the males are typically ground up for meal or dumped. Last year, the average price for roe herring to Alaska fishermen was just 11 cents per pound. In Norway, where herring are smoked, pickled and canned, fishermen fetch more than $1.40 per pound. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “The size of the Bay harvest has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply,” said Andy Wink, senior seafood analyst with the McDowell Group. “When the base price in 2015 was 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, sockeye prices in other areas fell and we also saw coho prices come way down. It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen,” he said. The 2016 Bristol Bay harvest of 37 million sockeye salmon from the region’s five river systems was the second-largest in 20 years, and both drift and setnet harvesters chilled the largest amount of raw product in the history of the fishery. That’s according to a processor survey done each year by Northern Economics Inc. of Anchorage by contract with the driftnet fishermen-funded and operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “This is huge for the retail potential of Bristol Bay,” said Rebecca Martello, BBRSDA executive director. “The fleet is making great strides to ensure Bristol Bay is a quality product and this definitely ties into all aspects of marketing and making Bristol Bay the premium brand we know it to be.” The 2016 survey captured raw product data, fleet information, ice production volumes, chilling methods, and opinions of trends and priorities within the fishery. Some highlights: Responses by the region’s 12 major processors showed that 71 percent of the Bristol Bay driftnet fleet’s 1,390 participants chilled their catches, compared to the previous high of 59 percent in 2012. Of the total 212 million-pound Bristol Bay salmon harvest that crossed the docks, chilled fish topped an “astounding” 137 million pounds. Drifters delivered a record 123 million pounds of chilled sockeye, a 40 percent increase from the previous year. The amount of salmon chilled by 858 setnetters decreased by 3 percent. The number of “dry deliveries” (unchilled) dropped below 22 percent, down nearly half from 2009. Last year saw a big shift away from putting the reds into cans and focusing instead on more valuable products: fresh and frozen fillets and headed/gutted fish. Canned production dropped by nearly 17 million pounds (just 27 percent compared to over 70 percent two decades ago), while H&G fresh production increased eight-fold to nearly 14 million pounds. Salmon fillet production approached 50 million pounds, a 50 percent increase. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged 76 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon last year. The average chilling bonus has steadily increased since the processor survey began in 2008, from 11 cents per pound to 16 cents per pound in 2016. At an average weight of 5.4 pounds, that makes each sockeye salmon caught last year worth more than $4.75 to fishermen. The sockeye salmon harvest at Bristol Bay for 2017 is projected at 27.5 million fish. Swap Meat for seafood A new marketing angle is designed to lure more Americans to eat wild Alaska seafood. It’s called Swap Meat and the name says it all. “Alaska seafood is incredibly versatile, and Swap Meat is a way to use it in recipes where you traditionally use a different protein like pork or chicken or beef,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau. Swap Meat, he said, aims to make seafood more approachable to American consumers. Studies show that many are hesitant to try fish or shellfish because they don’t know what to buy or how to prepare it. The Swap Meat promotion provides a cartload of familiar recipes aimed at busy families that can go from stove to table in less than 30 minutes. “Halibut corn dogs, quesadillas, sliders, soups, fajitas, cod parmesan, crab mac and cheese — there are so many ways to substitute Alaska seafood,” Woodrow said. Swap Meat is being widely promoted with social media and direct contact with retailers and chefs. The ultimate goal is to get Americans to eat more seafood; federal dietary guidelines advise eating fish at least twice a week. “The USDA recommends that Americans eat a minimum of 26 pounds of seafood a year. That’s only 8 ounces a week. Most Americans are averaging around 15 pounds a year,” Woodrow said. There are some positive trends. Salmon, for example, is America’s top fish favorite. “In the last year or so for the first time, salmon surpassed tuna as the number one fish consumed by Americans,” Woodrow said. “It’s number two behind shrimp still, but salmon is king of fish in the US.” (See more at www.wildalaskaseafood.com.) Young for young fishermen Alaska Rep. Don Young, along with Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., introduced a bill last week to help assure a future for up and coming U.S. fishermen. Called the Young Fishermen’s Development Act, the legislation would create the first ever national grant program through the Department of Commerce to support training, education, and workplace development for the nation’s next generation of commercial fishermen. In a press release, Young called the program “only one effort to preserve fishing heritage and encourage new participation in the industry.” “Young fishermen are facing bigger challenges than ever before — new barriers to entry, limited training opportunities and a lack of support. This legislation is about supporting the livelihoods of fishing communities in Alaska and across the nation,” he said. The program is modeled closely after the successful Department of Agriculture’s Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Development Program. The legislation would authorize up to $200,000 in competitive grants through NOAA’s Sea Grant Program to support training in seamanship, navigation, electronics, and safety; vessel and engine repair and maintenance, fishing gear engineering and technology; marketing, finances, business practices and more. “Congressman Young understands the challenges young fishermen face, and we thank him for his strong leadership on this vital issue,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. “Empowering the next generation of young fishermen is essential to economic opportunity, food security and our way of life.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. The onboard observer requirement originally included vessels 59 feet and longer, but was restructured in 2013 to include boats down to 40 feet and, for the first time, was applied to the halibut fishery. “Those smaller vessels have had a hard time accommodating human observers so we have been focused on that,” said Bill Tweit, vice chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that oversees the program. Smaller boats also had a hard time with skyrocketing observer costs under the restructured program, which in some cases, went from less than $300 to $400 per day to over $1,000. Starting in 2013, 15 pot cod boats aligned with the Homer-based North Pacific Fisherman’s Association and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage to field test EM in the Gulf of Alaska. “We saw EM as a tool that could address many of the issues we had with the observer program. It has moved at a glacial pace, but it is finally moving and much more needs to be done,” said Malcolm Milne, NPFA president. The EM systems were purchased with funding from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, or NFWF, and proved they could track and identify more than 95 percent of species required for fishery management decisions. “Overall, the reception of EM by participants in the pot cod fishery has been positive,” said Abigail Turner-Frank, NPFA project coordinator. “Fishermen have expressed their enthusiasm about the potential cost effectiveness, not having to worry about an extra person onboard and the utility of the cameras showing hi-def deck views of their crew and gear while fishing.” Testing EM on longline vessels has been ongoing since 2011 via the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, in collaboration with NFWF, the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle and Archipelago Marine of Canada. The trials showed the costs, including data analysis, were $198 per day for six Sitka vessels and $332 per day for Homer boats. The EM system most often used costs about $3,500 for hardware and installation, plus an additional $1,000 per year for data transfer fees from Alaska to Seattle. Nancy Munro, Saltwater president, suggests that the data review could be done in Alaska to “create a tighter feedback loop.” She also strongly advocates that instead of losing their jobs, many fishery observers can be integrated into the EM program as data analysts to “keep their talent and experience in the fisheries.” There are currently 458 fishery observers deployed in Alaska’s fisheries. The public has until May 22 to comment on the EM program to federal policy makers. “We want to hear how well we did at tailoring this and secondly, we want to hear what their next priorities are,” said Bill Tweit. Comment at alaskafisheries.noaa.gov. Spring fishing More Alaska fisheries get underway during the spring months while pollock, cod, ocean perch, rockfish, flounders and many more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Here are some highlights: In Southeast Alaska, the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound wrapped up on March 29 after seiners took the 14,600-ton quota after four openers in about one week. The golden king crab fishery just wrapped up throughout the Panhandle with some of the lowest catches in 17 seasons. Pot pulls at Icy Strait and Northern Areas yielded just over half of the 20,000-pound limit for the two regions. Lingcod opens in Southeast waters on May 16 for jig and troll gear with a 310,700 pound harvest limit. At Prince William Sound an exclusive sablefish fishery kicks off on April 15 with a 117,000-pound quota. That same day, a trawl fishery begins for sidestripe shrimp in the Sound with a catch set at just less than 113,000 pounds. Kodiak’s herring season begins on April 15, with a lower harvest this year of 1,645 tons. Managers said they expect an uptick in the herring stock of mostly small, three to five-year-old fish. Thus, the smaller quota. Halibut catches are picking up slightly with more than 1 million pounds taken out of the 18 million pound catch limit. Landings are down 27 percent from the same time last year, while prices are up 10 percent in the $6.50 to $7 range. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery should wrap up its 19-million pound catch quota any day. Hope for climate change A new book that is part fast paced adventure, part philosophy and provides a road map to climate change “hope spots” is drawing rave reviews. “I am a firm believer that you have to find reasons for moving the needle, and being hopeful that you can still make a difference in this world,” said Kate Troll of Juneau, the author of “The Great Unconformity: Reflections of Hope in an Imperiled World.” Troll draws on her 22 years of experience in climate and energy policy, elected office, coastal management and fisheries. As a former director of the Southeast Seiners Association and United Fishermen of Alaska, she was instrumental in getting 100-foot buffers along salmon streams in Southeast Alaska. “That was a monumental step taken in an era of large scale clear cutting. Now we have those streams protected and it serves as a model for other areas. It’s become the norm, and that’s key to the sustainability of our fisheries.” “We have daunting challenges,” she added. “Whoever reads the book, your eyes are going to be opened wide. But I want to arm you with hope and resilience for the future.” One way to seed “hope spots”, she said, is “using our wallets” to support sustainable fisheries and other earth friendly causes. Another already is yielding big results. “Capitalism has progressed in renewable energy and wind and solar are now cost competitive with fossil fuels and natural gas. We’ve reached what is called grid parity with a lot of renewable energies and that’s an important development,” she said. Troll also documents how the “love of place” plays out in making major impacts in the crusade for sustainability. “It’s important to protect the right of regeneration of our species, salmon being one of those most iconic, and to talk about how we have done so in Alaska,” she said. What makes this book unique and fun to read is that Troll combines her messages with amazing adventures. “I’m a firm believer that if I can tell some really entertaining stories, the messages stick a lot better,” she said. “You’re climbing Denali with me, we’re running wild rivers, we’re kayaking among whales, we’re climbing Mount Kilimanjaro — I’m intent on entertaining the reader and taking you on a really good ride.” “The Great Unconformity” is available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble book stores. Troll will do a book signing at the UAA bookstore on April 24 from 5-7. Visit www.katetroll.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. U.S. wild caught seafood topped the list for the highest demand increase by nearly 58 percent of retail respondents, especially products from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico. A breakdown of the 2017 Retail Seafood Review by Seafood Source showed that wild-caught seafood also was perceived as being of higher quality, and 53 percent said wild tastes better than farm raised goods. The review said Americans are buying less beef, chicken and pork due to health concerns, and issues linked to animal welfare and environmental impacts. Analysts at FoodDive said, “This gives retailers an excellent opportunity to grow the seafood category, but much work is needed in terms of advertising and consumer education to get customers to bite.” To lure more seafood shoppers, experts advised sellers to increase in-store signage and make smarter use of digital coupons and promotions. Workers behind the retail counters, they said, should be better trained about fish varieties, if it is wild or farmed, and how to prepare it. The Retail Seafood Review said that temporary price reductions were the most popular and effective form of promotion. Asked what they would like from seafood suppliers to help improve sales, respondents suggested “lower pricing on less popular fish to get people to try it.” Fast food fish flap Here’s a fun take on fast-food fish sandwiches with some biting feedback. Writers at BusinessInsider sampled seven sandwiches, with Arby’s “gummy” Crispy Fish “with no taste or joy” ranking last. Dairy Queen’s Alaska cod sandwich is described as “a fillet slicked by a spill of tartar sauce that would offend even the Exxon Valdez disaster.” Burger King’s fish sandwich is “gray and sad,” McDonald’s is “boring.” White Castle’s fish slider is crispy, but “bland and sorry looking.” Popeye’s Seafood Po’boy has “more breading than fish.” The winner? Wendy’s premium cod fillet that the Insiders said reminded them of an “honest to goodness fish fry.” Salmon center stage Any Alaskan will tell you they want to protect our wild stocks of salmon, but how to do that brings different perspectives. A Salmon Policy Forum in Juneau will advance the discussion, with a focus on the Alaska laws that protect salmon habitat. “This forum is not intended to push any agenda. It is educational and informational and a way to get ideas on the table and have a more in-depth conversation,” said Lindsey Bloom, manager of the Salmon Habitat Information Project for United Fishermen of Alaska, a forum co-sponsor. Panel discussions will include historians, scientists, managers, miners and hopefully, legislators. The forum is set for April 11 from 5:30 to 8 p.m. at the Rockwell Ballroom. It is co-sponsored by the Center for Salmon and Society at the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, and Salmon Connect. Find more information on Facebook. Crew cash Fishermen can get cash back for their crew license fees — if they purchase them online. It’s the first year that the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is providing the online opportunity to replace paper licenses being purchased from vendors. It’s more convenient for customers and switching from paper to eLicenses saves the state lots of cash. “If we were able to achieve 100 percent online sales for licenses, it would save the department a couple hundred thousand dollars. Even at 50 percent sales, it’s a big savings for us,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division in Juneau. Crew licenses are the latest addition to ADFG’s online store, which offers print-at-home options for nearly every Alaska fishing and hunting license and more. The department hopes to lure fishermen to the online store with 10 free crew license giveaways. “If you’re randomly selected the cost of the license will be refunded to you,” Bowers said, adding that the deadline is Oct. 6. Annual commercial crew licenses cost $60 for Alaska residents and $277 for non-residents. Seven day licenses cost $30 for both resident and non residents. Navy training correction The ordnance expected to be used during the Northern Edge 2017 exercises in the Gulf of Alaska are two Navy Destroyers and one replenishment ship. According to a March 27 message from the public affairs office at Alaskan Command, the ordnance is similar to what was used during Northern Edge 2015: 15 inert/non-explosive naval gun shells, approximately 2,100 small arms rounds, five signal flares, six floating targets and 250 active sonobuoys. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “It’s not that we don’t want the Navy to do their training; it’s the time and locations,” said Emily Stolarcyk, program director for the Eyak Preservation Council of Cordova. “The community resolutions say that we are the people who depend on commercial, subsistence and recreational fishing,” she added. “The Navy exercises are planned during the most important breeding and migratory periods for salmon, birds, whales and marine mammals. About 90 percent of the training area is designated as essential fish habitat for all five species of Pacific salmon. May is the worst time to be doing this.” In the 43 years that the Navy has conducted war games in the Gulf, only twice have they occurred in May (2007, 2008). The Northern Edge joint training exercises include nearly 6,000 military participants “on and above central Alaska ranges and the Gulf of Alaska” according to the Alaskan Command Office of Public Affairs at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. The Gulf portion includes an area from 12 miles off the Kenai Peninsula to 140 miles out. Live weapons will be used in and above the water, said Capt. Anastasia Wasem at a Cordova presentation. She could not reveal specifics, but said weapons will include exploding projectiles, sonars, small arms, machine guns and naval gun shells. Three Navy destroyers and a submarine will be on the water. No independent observers will be allowed to participate. The Navy does not yet have a required letter of authorization to proceed from the National Marine Fisheries Service, nor have they published a final record of decision. The paperwork is “forthcoming” according to Navy documents dated July 2016, the most recent updates describing the training exercises. The Eyak Preservation Council is sending letters to all Alaska fishing permit holders asking them to contact decision makers about moving the time of the Navy training. “It contains a letter for fishermen to sign and send to U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski with an option to send a courtesy copy to the NMFS and Pacific Command,” Stolarcyk said. Last September, Murkowski wrote a strongly worded letter to the Secretary of the Navy stating that they needed to do a better job of involving local communities and “listening to stakeholders.” Sen. Dan Sullivan also has encouraged more direct engagement with Alaskans to “clear up some of the confusion and misinformation being circulated.” “As an Alaskan, Senator Sullivan understands the importance of our fisheries and our coastal communities, and would never support an exercise that he believed would adversely affect Alaska’s fish stocks or prevent fishermen from doing their jobs,” Sullivan’s office said in an email message. “The Senator will continue to encourage productive and science-based dialogue between the U.S. military and Alaska’s coastal communities.” Despite the non-committal responses, Stolarcyk remains hopeful that the congressional delegation and the Navy will hear the unified voice of coastal Alaskans. “This is the water that we depend upon at the time we depend on it most,” she said. “I am hopeful they can understand that it’s not just about what they need — it’s about including the needs of communities that depend on these waters for sustenance.” Learn more about the Northern Edge exercises here and at www.summerisforsalmon.org/ High prices for halibut Catches of Alaska halibut have picked up after wild weather got the fishery off to a slow start when it opened on March 11. Catches by March 24 topped 800,000 pounds from 137 landings with Sitka leading all ports, followed by Seward, Kodiak and Homer. The prized flats were fetching big prices, up 30 cents per pound on average, compared to the early weeks of the fishery last year. Halibut prices usually are broken into three weight categories. Kodiak prices were said to be fluctuating quite a bit with reports at $6.45 per pound for 10- to 20-pounders; $6.75 for 20 to 40s and $7 per pound for “40 ups.” Ports at Juneau and Homer were reporting a straight $7 per pound, and halibut deliveries in Southeast were paying fishermen $6.70, $6.90 and $7 per pound. Buyers weren’t beating down the doors, said several major buyers, and there are reports of halibut holdovers in cold storage. It remains to be seen if the prices will remain as high throughout the eight-month season. The best fish story comes from Southeast where halibut fishing is said to be “fantastic” and the fish are robust and big. One major buyer said nearly half of their halibut landings were in the most popular 20- to 40-pound weight class and just 31 percent were smaller sizes. Nearly 2,000 hook and line fishermen hold quota shares of Alaska halibut. Alaska’s share of the coast wide catch this year is just more than 18 million pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery remains open this year through November 7. Herring hauls Sitka Sound traditionally kicks off Alaska’s roe herring circuit and this year’s harvest is lining up to be a good one. The Sound was “boiling” with the most herring they had ever seen, said fishermen on the grounds. A three-hour and 20-minute opener on March 19 was followed by a 15-minute opener on the March 22, bringing the total catch to about half of the 14,647-ton quota. Fishermen were awaiting word of another opener while processors were hustling to handle the herring hauls. The female herring are valued by Asian buyers for their roe as a percentage of body weight, and the Sitka fish were averaging good roe counts of 11 to 12 percent. Fishermen averaged $250 per ton last year and market reports indicate a good chance of higher prices this season. A herring pound fishery could be the next to go near Craig and Klawok. Fishermen there can catch 349 tons this year and place them in enclosures that contain blades of kelp that hold the sticky herring spawn, prized by buyers. Kodiak’s herring season begins in mid-April, and the harvest is set at a conservative 1,645 tons. “We expect an increase in the herring biomass but it will be mostly younger, 3- to 5-year-old fish. Thus, the smaller quota,” said area manager James Jackson at the local Alaska Department of Fish and Game office. Alaska’s biggest herring fishery occurs in May at Togiak in Bristol Bay. The harvest this year is pegged at about 30,000 tons, based on “best guess-timates” by state managers. Money for herring management for all areas but Sitka Sound was zeroed out in the state budget two seasons ago. That has eliminated the sampling necessary to accurately gauge herring stock abundance and age classes. “For us the bigger impact is that we can’t produce a good forecast for Togiak herring because we didn’t do the sampling,” said regional manager Tim Sands at Dillingham. “The data gap will cycle through our whole population estimate. Togiak herring live more than 12 years, so even if we were to start sampling again this year, we’ll have that data gap for at least eight years.” Togiak fishermen in 2016 received just $100 per ton for their roe herring. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. For this year, the forecast calls for an “average” catch of sockeye salmon at 41 million, 12 million fewer reds than last year. For those hard to predict pinks, a harvest projection of nearly 142 million is nearly 103 million more humpies than last summer. For the other three salmon species, managers project a catch this year of 4.7 million cohos, nearly 800,000 more than last year. A chum catch of 16.7 million would be an increase of 1.2 million fish. For chinook salmon, a harvest of 80,000 is projected in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where catches are regulated by treaty with Canada. The total dockside value of the 2016 salmon fishery barely topped $406 million, the lowest in 14 years. The average prices paid to fishermen, however, were up across the board at 88 cents per pound for sockeye salmon; 65 cents for cohos, 48 cents for chums, 24 cents for pinks and $4.40 per pound for king salmon. The 2017 report includes a review of the 2016 salmon season for all Alaska fishing regions. Find it at the ADFG home page. Hatchery hit Last year’s salmon slump also hit state hatcheries hard. Typically, more than one-third of Alaska’s total salmon harvest and value include fish that start out as eggs from wild stocks reared in hatcheries — mostly pinks and chums — and are released as fingerlings to the sea. The annual Alaska Fisheries Enhancement Report shows that last year only about 27 million adult salmon returned to Alaska’s 28 hatcheries that are dotted throughout Prince William Sound, the Panhandle and Kodiak. That was less than half of the forecast and the lowest returns since 1992. That shortfall yielded a dismal hatchery catch of just 24 million salmon, 22 percent of the statewide salmon harvest, the lowest in 24 years. That pushed down the dockside value of the hatchery haul to $85 million, the lowest since 2005. It was poor returns of pink salmon that caused the hatchery crash, which accounted for just 15 percent of the total Alaska hatchery take. Alaska’s hatcheries are operated by private nonprofit corporations, and funded primarily from the harvest of a portion of the salmon returns. The state also operates two sport fish hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks. About 120 schools also participate in educational programs that grow salmon eggs in incubators until they are released to the wild. Operators forecast a return of about 67 million fish to Alaska’s hatcheries this summer. Tax tasks Skippers could become tax collectors if a new law is given a go by Alaska lawmakers. House Bill 115 would require that skippers collect an as yet undefined amount of each crew’s wages and remit it to the state Department of Revenue. Currently, the IRS considers fishermen as conducting “fishing activities” and boat captains are only required to send in a 1099 tax form for their crewmembers. “We don’t want to be tax collectors,” said Jerry McCune, president of United Fishermen of Alaska and a veteran skipper who operates out of Cordova. “We have no idea what their taxes are. Even if I collect the money, I could be under-collecting or over-collecting and the Revenue Department is going to make more work for themselves. It is cleaner the way it is — treating us as contractors, and we are the only ones singled out as that.” McCune added that it is hard to assess the impact of the tax proposal until the Legislature finalizes the state budget. Another bill aims to boost the state marine fuel tax by a nickel to 10 cents, then to 15 cents by 2019. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, has added language to the measure that would give a three-cent rebate, but McCune said there is strong resistance to the tax increase. “We can’t absorb all these taxes as a fishing industry and still stay solvent, so we are keeping a close eye on all the proposals,” McCune said. UFA is the nation’s largest fishing industry trade association, representing 34 member groups from small salmon boats to big crab boats and at-sea processors. Ballots have gone out to select four new UFA members, said administrative director Mark Vinsel. “We had an unprecedented 17 qualified applicants,” Vinsel said, adding that voting ends on March 31 and the board members will be seated on April 15. Fish bits The annual ComFish Alaska trade show set for March 30-April 1 in Kodiak will feature a historical overview of the 66 years of harvesting Bristol Bay salmon from sailboats, seafood market updates, the Navy’s controversial Northern Edge exercises in the Gulf of Alaska scheduled from May 1-12, a contest for the most able fisherman, recognition of the longest serving processing workers by Kodiak’s many seafood companies and much more. See the ComFish line up on Facebook. Trident Seafoods received a gold award from the Northwest Clean Air Agency’s Partners for Clean Air program for 2017. The award goes to businesses that comply with all applicable air quality regulations for at least three years, and employ additional clean air practices in at least two categories, such as energy efficiency and emissions reductions, DJ Summers, one of Alaska’s best fish writers, has left the Alaska Journal of Commerce to write a textbook on the economics, politics and business of cannabis. “I’ll remember covering Alaska’s fishing industry the same way Marines remember boot camp and their first foreign deployment. It really sharpened my teeth covering something as complex, as politically charged, as segmented, and as culturally and economically significant as fisheries,” Summers said. He can be reached in Utah at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Red king crab from Bristol Bay also yielded the highest price ever for fishermen, averaging $10.89 per pound. That catch quota of 8 million pounds was down 15 percent from the previous season. The Bering Sea snow crab fleet has taken 80 percent of its 19-million pound quota, down by nearly half from last year. That’s pushed market prices through the roof, topping $8.30 per pound at wholesale in both the U.S. and Japan, compared to more than $5.50 per pound a year ago. Alaska produces only about 10 percent of the world’s snow crab, with most of the pack by far coming from Eastern Canada, followed by Russia. On the snow crab menu front — McDonald’s has begun testing a new snow crab sandwich in several San Francisco Bay locations. If it’s a hit, the sandwich could advance to nearly 250 outlets this year. Since mid-February, about 100 small boat crabbers in Southeast Alaska have been hauling pots for 105,000 pounds of golden king crab, which can reach as high as $10 a pound at the docks. A local Tanner crab fishery just wrapped up, with a catch that will likely come in at around one million pounds. Tanner crab is the talk of the town throughout Cordova and Prince William Sound, where later this month the state Board of Fisheries could create a harvest plan and regulations to open a fishery for the first time in 27 years. The region produced 13 million pounds of Tanners before the Exxon Valdez oil spill, but locals believe the stock is now strong enough able to support a fishery for commercial and sport users. “It’s largely the opinion of the people around here that the fishery could support an expanded harvest,” said John Whissel, director of natural resources for the Native Village of Eyak. “The goal here is to get away from the boom and bust cycle, where the town doubles in size in May and then shrinks when the salmon fisheries wind down.” “There’s other opportunities around here and with oil prices being what they are and the tax rate being what it is,” he added. “Commercial fishing could play a larger role in the state budget if we gave them more chances to do that.” Currency calculations Along with supply and demand, the value of global currencies has a major influence on seafood sales in world markets. Exchange rates among competing currencies impact all Alaska seafood because they alter the value of the products being exported to foreign markets along with competing products coming into our nation. The U.S. dollar, or USD, value increased 27 percent between 2011 and 2015, tamping down the dockside value of Alaska seafood by 17 percent. Today, the dollar index remains roughly unchanged from last year and signals by our major purchasers are mixed. “The USD bull market has entered its sixth year and we are told to expect the USD to regain broad-based strength in 2017,” reported Poundsterlinglive.com, adding that the British Pound is valued at 1.22 against the dollar. “The Euro also is still weaker and who knows if that will continue, but it has been the trend for the last three years,” said Andy Wink, senior fisheries analyst with the McDowell Group. “One Euro was worth $1.10 in U.S. dollars last year and now it only buys about $1.05. So it takes more Euros to buy things denominated in dollars.” Along with frozen and canned salmon and roe, pollock fillets and surimi are some of Alaska’s biggest exports to Europe. “That’s been under a lot of price pressure and the currency market is not doing us any favors,” Wink said. “A lot of cod also goes to Europe so it’s going to make things tougher for cod. All of those products are going to face a tougher marketing year than the previous year.” The currency outlook is more hopeful for one of Alaska’s biggest customers, Japan. “Right now the yen is getting stronger,” Wink explained. “It was around 120 Yen to the dollar and now it’s closer to 112. So the dollar isn’t worth as many Yen as it was just a few months ago.” Elsewhere, currencies in places like Brazil and Eastern Europe are in the tank. Exchange rates don’t come into play as much with China, Wink said, because the Yuan is pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar. Halibut’s on The Pacific halibut fishery will open as scheduled on March 11. Fears were running wild that a 60-day freeze on all new and pending regulations imposed by President Donald Trump would delay the start of the eight-month season. On March 3, U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan announced that the regulations necessary to open the fishery were posted in federal law books and the halibut fishery will open on time. Sullivan, who chairs the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard, said it is an issue his office has been working on for weeks and credited new Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross for expediting the paper work. The new rules allowing pot gear to catch sablefish in the Gulf of Alaska were also approved. Fishermen have long pushed for the use of pots to prevent whales from robbing the sablefish from hook and line gear. “I will be speaking with Secretary Ross again to express my thanks on behalf of Alaskan fishermen,” Sullivan said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “The goal was always to come back to Seldovia,” said Brendan Bieri, chief operating officer of Seldovia Wild Seafoods. “It’s a value-added product, so it’s not like we’re processing and putting it on ice and shipping it across the bay. We’re making and packaging it here, and we can palletize it and ship it at a cost that makes sense business-wise.” Bieri combines his tech-savvy marketing skills with the cooking knowhow of his father, Michel, a trained chef who grew up in France and moved to Seldovia in 1986. The duo created a special smoked jerky recipe for the dog treats made from minced salmon. “Michel is a great cook because he’s got such a background in food chemistry. We made our own thing and we are really proud of it,” Brendan said. The Puppy Love line includes three items: jerky treats, trainers and sticks. “It’s all smoked salmon, shelf stable; you don’t need to freeze it. Just keep it on the counter and it’s good to go,” he added. The treats so far are sold at several feed and pet stores in Anchorage, as well as boutique shops. Bieri said they have interest from buyers in the U.S. and Asia and Europe. The focus now, though, is getting the new downtown plant operational to ramp up production, The company plans to put at least 10 people to work when it’s up and running, hopefully this spring, and purchase its salmon from local fishermen this summer. Pet treats are a $2 billion dollar business and the Bieri’s hope to bring a small portion of it to Seldovia. The Puppy Love line, Brendan said, is as much about promoting Seldovia as selling the treats. “It’s a beautiful area that we want to get people excited about again,” he said. Ice cream scoops top honors Candied Salmon Ice Cream by Coppa, a retailer in Juneau, took home the grand prize in the 24th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition. The creamy ice cream, dotted with bits of candied smoked salmon, took a first in both the food service category as well as the People’s Choice award. All winners in four categories were announced at a Legislative soiree and awards ceremony Feb.22 in Juneau. Seafood Cakes with Dungeness crab from Odyssey Seafoods took second place in food service, and Orca Bay’s Mexican seafood soup (Albondigas) won third. In the retail category, Dear North’s Alaska Salmon Bites made by Authentic Alaska LLC won top honors. Dear North is a partnership with the Huna Totem Corporation. Second place went to Orca Bay’s Jjamppong, a Korean seafood noodle soup and Bambino’s Baby Food Sockeye Salmon Bites took home third place honors. In the Beyond the Plate Category, which features items made from byproducts, Tidal Vision’s Crystal Clarity, a crab shell-based pool and spa clarifier, won top honors. “It’s a great event for the industry but it also shows how much work and effort is going into developing new products, which is good for everyone because it creates more value for the resource,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, sponsor of the Symphony. “And in the case of Beyond the Plate, it is actually promoting using more of the resources.” Alaska Naturals Salmon Pet Oil from Trident Seafoods won second place in that category, and the Salmon Sisters’ Salmon Leather Clutch took home third. The winner in the Beyond the Egg category was Bruce Gore Coho Salmon Bottarga from Triad Fisheries. Second place went to Trident’s Sake Flavored Pollock Roe. In all, 18 new Alaska seafood products were entered in the popular event. The grand prize and first place winners get a free a trip to Seafood Expo North America in Boston in mid-March. Halibut hold It’s still anyone’s guess whether the Pacific halibut and sablefish fisheries will open as scheduled on March 11. President Donald Trump last month put a 60-day freeze on all new and pending regulations until they are reviewed by people in his administration. The fishery start dates and regulations must be published first in federal rule books, which still has not been done. Trump also is requiring that for every new regulation issued, at least two previous ones must be identified for elimination. That directly hits new rules that allow for sablefish to be caught with pot gear in the Gulf of Alaska to prevent sperm whales from robbing the fish from longlines. At a recent stop in Ketchikan Sen. Lisa Murkowski said she did not know if the halibut and sablefish fisheries would be able to start on time. Washington winning The state of Washington continues to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of Alaska’s fishing industry. According to the United Fishermen of Alaska’s annual Fish Facts, Alaska’s seafood industry puts more people to work than any other private industry, topping 60,000 workers in 2015. Of that, less than half — 27,600 — were Alaska residents. And while 71 percent of active fishing permit holders call Alaska home, most of the gross earnings go to the state of Washington. Alaska resident fishing permit holders and crew made gross dockside earnings of just over $602 million two years ago. That compares to more than $904 million made by nearly 6,580 Washington-based fishermen. Harvesters from Oregon took home more than $126 million from Alaska’s fisheries and Californians pocketed nearly $28 million. That adds up to more than $1 billion flowing out of the state by non-resident fishermen. In terms of poundage, the 2015 harvest by Alaska residents is estimated at 1.4 billion pounds. For Washingtonians, that skyrockets to 4 billion pounds, driven by that state’s dominance in Alaska’s pollock and other whitefish sectors. A McDowell Group analysis revealed that total ex-vessel (dockside) income from Alaska fisheries two years ago was $1.8 billion. Fishermen earned the lion’s share at $920 million, or 38 percent of all direct labor income generated by the seafood industry. Fishing-related taxes paid totaled $250 million, of which 38 percent went to local governments, 55 percent to the state and 7 percent to the federal government. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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