Laine Welch

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.

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

Shellfish, sea cucumbers, geoduck clams, seaweeds and biofuels are crops envisioned by a group of Alaskans who are crafting a framework for a statewide mariculture industry expansion. An 11-member task force created last February by Gov. Bill Walker has wasted no time advancing its mission to put a comprehensive report on Walker’s desk by next March. The group, which has been meeting regularly, also has attracted wide interest from Alaskans who want to serve on advisory committees as the plan takes shape. The advisory committees include research and development, the environment, regulatory issues, investment and infrastructure, workforce development, and public education and marketing. “I get several calls a week from interested parties who want to participate,” said Barbara Blake, Walker’s point person on the task force. “People are charged up for this. It’s a new concept that allows our communities to engage in a way that allows them to maintain their residence in our rural coastal regions. Everyone participating is really committed to developing something that will be beneficial for the entire state.” Sen. Lisa Murkowski also has gotten onboard with the hiring of Charlotte Regula-White, a marine biologist who will be the Murkowski’s mariculture point person. Globally, shellfish and seaweeds add up to multi-billion dollar sustainable industries and in Alaska, much of the necessary infrastructure is already in place from the seafood industry and hatchery programs. Task force member Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, believes mariculture could become a $1 billion industry for the state in less than 30 years. At a Feb. 17 public meeting in Juneau, the Task Force will advance its report, and also get an update on a U.S. Department of Energy grant program that moves mariculture into the macroalgae biofuel sector. “It not only contributes to small operations in our coastal communities, there also are huge benefits by it being a green industry and cleaning our oceans,” said Blake. “There are not any down sides to it. We just need to keep engaging the public so they will see this is something that will potentially benefit all Alaskans.” Interested? Call 1-800-315-6338/Access code 29660 to participate in the Feb. 17 mariculture task force meeting starting at 8 am. Sign up to receive ongoing information by email at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game home page. Fish finesse One of the year’s biggest fish gatherings occurs in two weeks when the state Board of Fisheries meets to sort out Upper Cook Inlet issues with often fractious groups of salmon users. The fish board sets policy and catch limits for the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport and personal use fisheries, and will consider 174 proposals at the upcoming meeting in Anchorage. The event will attract a huge audience and many are unfamiliar with the process, said board executive director Glenn Haight. To that end, an informal, one-hour lunch meeting on the first day will run people through the ropes. “We’ll walk through the Board of Fish process, the terms, how it moves from staff reports to public testimony to committees and deliberations,” Haight said. “We’ll tell them how to provide more effective testimony, how to speak to board members and make a strong impact, and just make them more familiar with it all.” When you have three minutes to make your case in public testimony, you need to make an impression. “It’s important to plan that out,” Haight added. “And if you’re going to come back and participate in any of the committees, that is the time to save your really detailed discussions. It’s a valuable opportunity for the board to hear from as many people as possible.” The Board of Fisheries meets Feb. 23 to March 8 at the Anchorage Sheraton. The meetings are live streamed on the web. Vacuum invaders Warming Alaska waters are luring all kinds of unusual creatures — and some of the smallest can be the biggest troublemakers. In the eastern Gulf of Alaska, for example, tiny filter feeders called salps are appearing in large numbers. The gelatinous, jet-propelled tubes can asexually bud off clones at a rapid rate. They then form long feeding chains that graze on the phytoplankton and rob it of the microscopic crustaceans, larvae and nutrients so important to small fish. “Just the fact that they are here is different from the usual,” said Wesley Strasburger, chief survey scientist for the eastern Gulf of Alaska, based at the NOAA Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Salp blooms were first spotted in the eastern waters about five years ago and made a big increase in 2015, based on samples taken in tiny, mesh surface trawl surveys that extended from 100 miles out to 200 miles for the first time. Strasburger said the salps also made up a big part of many small fish diets. “Juvenile pink salmon, chums, sockeye, juvenile rockfishes and juvenile sablefishes were all eating these salps. That is not typical, and their regular diets seem to have been at least in part, displaced by these salps.” “They are not an energetically dense diet,” Strasburger added. “The trade-off is that there are a lot of them.” Researchers have a seven-year time series comprising 10 categories of zooplankton, he said, and by rough counts salps were in many cases the largest biomass in the lot. A partnering plankton vacuum bloom called gymnosome also has made an appearance in eastern Gulf waters. “They were very abundant and ubiquitous this year,” Strasburger said. “So not only do we have these salps filtering all the primary productivity out of the waters; we also have gymnosomes doing the same thing.” Strasburger said researchers will be closely watching the impacts of the tiny invaders. “They are squarely on our radar,” he said. “We’re just now trying to figure out how often this happens, when it happens, and what effects it has on the ecosystem.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Looking for salmon fellows and fish entrepreneurs

Salmon is the heart of Alaska’s fisheries — it almost singlehandedly spawned the push for statehood nearly 60 years ago. A new Alaska Salmon Fellows program wants to make sure Alaskans are poised to “shape the future” of the cultural fish and it is investing in the people to do so. In its call for applications, the Fellows program is described as a means to “facilitate demanding conversations about salmon issues among leaders from a cross section of salmon policy, management, industry, activism, research and cultural sectors.” “The goal is to bring people with different perspectives together from all across Alaska, people who care about the future and want to work together, and let them shape strategies and initiatives by learning from each other,” said Kitty Farnham, Director of Leadership Programs for the Alaska Humanities Forum, sponsor of the Salmon Fellows program. Most Alaskans are deeply connected to salmon in some way, but it has some flash point issues, such as allocation and interception grievances among users and the urban/rural divide. One thing everyone has in common, Farnham said, is a desire to preserve and protect the fish, and the importance of dialogue is core to the purpose of the Humanities Forum. “We often don’t see each other’s perspectives very well because we’re mostly talking to people who have a similar relationship to the world of salmon, whether it’s commercial fishermen, or sport users or subsistence. We want to create stronger connections across all those boundaries,” she explained. “We really believe it takes all thinkers and all residents to be part of different solutions. So this notion of holding a space where we can learn with and from each other will broaden our understanding of how our salmon is going to remain sustainable and acceptable to all Alaskans for generations.” Each Salmon Fellow will receive $10,000 to support their participation in the program and use of the money is open ended. “Truly, there are no restrictions on that. It may be used to cover childcare or elder care for someone’s participation. They might choose to use that money to invest in their existing work; they can spend the $10,000 however they want individually,” Farnham said. A determination of success of the Fellows program could be as simple as seeing more people involved in “dialogues that matter, so there is a higher level of inclusion across all parts of our community,” she added. Salmon Fellows will be required to attend four gatherings starting in May through next April; all travel costs are covered from a separate pool of funds. Fellows also are expected to fully participate in readings, connections between events, and development of innovative projects that promote a strong future for Alaska’s salmon and people. “Projects they come up with as a result of listening and talking with each other,” Farnham explained. “Things they can do together that they can’t do alone. Those initiatives will be separately funded later this year.” A webinar on the Salmon Fellows program scheduled for Feb. 8 is limited to 50 people and will remain on the Alaska Humanities Forum website. Deadline to apply for a Salmon Fellows award is Feb. 28; recipients will be notified in April. See www.akhf.org/alaska-salmon-fellows Fish business builders Applications also are now open to entrepreneurs who want to compete for access to global investors, advisors and partners to help grow their businesses. Fish 2.0 began two years ago as a way to connect producers and investors in the sustainable seafood sector. “We noticed that investors in the field were having a hard time finding fisheries deals, and fishery business owners were frustrated that investors had no interest. We created Fish 2.0 to build connections between the groups,” said Monica Jain of Manta Consulting and Fish 2.0 Founder. “Our goal is to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain.” The mix makes for a mutually beneficial trade off. Fish 2.0 competitors learn to improve their business savvy and access; in turn, participating investors gain early advantage to new deals that can help build their sustainable seafood portfolios. The Fish 2.0 competition takes place online over several months with participants paired up with investors/advisors to develop better business and promotional strategies. The top three businesses from regional tracks and the top five from global tracks then compete for more than $50,000 in cash prizes at a final pitch in November at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. “As a past participant and winner of Fish 2.0, I would highly encourage Alaskans looking to grow a seafood business that values the triple bottom line of environmental, social and economic impacts to consider competing,” said Kelly Harrell, executive director of the Alaska Marine Stewardship Council. Harrell bested 170 others in the competition two years ago with AMCC’s Alaska Community Seafood Hub concept, an expansion of its Catch of the Season program that provides special orders of salmon, rockfish, cod and crab direct from local fishermen to Alaska restaurants, wholesalers and seafood fans. “The competition’s process is thoughtfully designed to help entrepreneurs strengthen their business model, and the connections were extremely valuable,” Harrell added. “Overall, it was a great experience and it would be wonderful to see more Alaskan seafood businesses participate.” More than 60 percent of finalists in the Fish 2.0 2015 competition gained new investment, partners or customers, according to Fish 2.0 The application period of 2017 is open through April 29. http://fish20.org/ Hoonah goes high end Smoked salmon bites in snazzy bags and jars are “made to put Alaska in the palm of your hand” — and the new items are flying off the shelves in over 400 specialty stores and online. Launched last year in a partnership of the Huna Totem Native Corp. and Dear North of San Francisco, the coho and sockeye salmon is caught and prepared locally and seasoned with wild ingredients. “Our best seller is the salmon with savory sea kelp and sesame,” said Anne French, Dear North President, adding that other flavors include spicy fireweed honey, wild Alaska spruce, and salted rhubarb and raspberry. French said the partnership provides an opportunity to honor the unique place where the salmon comes from and appeals to a “magical interest and curiosity about the Alaska lifestyle.” “People down here are crazy about Alaska. Whether they know anything about it or not, they are just completely crazy about it,” French added. www.dearnorth.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut gets bump; salmon prices soar

More Pacific halibut will be going to market this year due to an overall boost in the harvests for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska. The coastwide catch of 31.4 million pounds reflects a 5.1 percent increase, and for the first time in decades, not a single fishing region met with a decline in halibut catches. The heartening news was released on Jan. 27 by the International Pacific Halibut Commission, overseer of the stocks since 1923. Halibut catch limits are determined by summer surveys at more than 1,200 stations from Oregon to the Aleutians. In 2016, the results showed the stock had remained stable over a span of three years, although the fish remained small for their ages. Alaska always gets the lion’s share of the Pacific halibut catch and a take of 22.62 million pounds this year adds up to an extra million pounds for longliners who hold quota shares of the fish. The good news has been dampened somewhat by a potential delay to the March 11 start of the fishery due to the bureaucratic freeze by our new president. On Jan. 20, Donald Trump issued a memo to all federal departments and agencies to freeze new or pending regulations until his administration has time to look them over. That includes the rules for running the federally managed Pacific halibut fishery. Also potentially stalled is the use of pots to catch sablefish, or black cod, in the Gulf of Alaska. That gear was ok’d starting this year by federal advisors to prevent sperm whales from snatching the fish from hooks. “The National Marine Fisheries Service is working to determine the impacts of the Executive Order on our Alaska Region rule making actions,” said Rachel Baker of NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. Here are the 2017 halibut catch limits for Alaska in millions of pounds, provided by the Halibut Coalition: Southeast Alaska: 5.25m, a 6.1 percent increase Central Gulf: 10m, a 4.2 percent increase Western Gulf: 3.14m, a 15.9 percent increase Aleutians regions remain flat at 1.39m and 1.14m Bering Sea: 1.70m, a 2.4 percent increase Salmon squeeze A rising tide lifts all boats and a global shortage of farmed salmon is increasing fish prices across the board. “We’re looking at several years of either lower or constrained supply growth for farmed salmon. That is important because farmed salmon production has typically grown around 5 percent a year over the last 20 years,” said Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst with the McDowell Group. The farmed salmon shortfall stems from a double whammy: tens of millions of fish have been lost in Chile due to an ongoing virus caused by toxic algae in warming oceans. At the same time, sea lice are ravaging fish farms in Norway with increasing frequency and intensity. Norway is the world’s biggest farmed salmon producer, and its exports last year fell by five percent. Sea lice are the farmed Atlantic salmon industry’s most expensive problem, costing around $550 million in lost output each year. Fish farmers also are coming under increasing criticism for the thousands of tons of antibiotics and/or pesticides they use to control the outbreaks of disease and parasites in the cramped salmon net pens. Despite the dousings, the farmed salmon shortfall has pushed prices to record highs. Twice last year spot prices of Norwegian fish for export approached $21 per pound, according to the Nasdaq Salmon Index. Limited supplies of wild salmon also continued to strengthen prices into the new year. Tradex Foods reports four to six pound sockeye salmon are holding steady in the $3.60 to $3.75 per pound range. And despite the abundance of salmon fillets, wild sockeyes continue to move steadily at $6.75 to $7.00 per pound at retail counters, “largely influenced by the lack of chum and pink salmon in the market,” Tradex said. The report added that in coming weeks “expect to see a rush for inventories as buyers analyze end user contracts to determine a need or a surplus of materials,” and “some processors mentioned strong refresh programs for sockeye, indicating that large volumes of raw materials would be destined for that. Expectations across the board for 2017 wild salmon pricing right now seem strong.” Fishing facts United Fishermen of Alaska has released its latest popular Fishing Fact sheets that highlight the seafood industry’s economic importance for each fishing town/region in Alaska, statewide, and for West Coast states. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization, representing 33 diverse groups ranging from small skiff operators to big at-sea processing and crab boats. Find the fact sheets at www.ufafish.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

As lawmakers convene this week in Juneau, Alaska’s fishing industry sees a glimmer of hope that its budget won’t be gutted again. Under Gov. Bill Walker’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 (beginning July 1), the Commercial Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game reflects a 0.3 percent increase to $70.7 million. It’s a big relief for an industry whose oversight budget has been slashed by more than 30 percent over two years. “All regions show slight increases,” said Tom Gemmell, a numbers guru and executive director of the Halibut Coalition in Juneau. “It was a nice surprise this year to get a little bit of a plus up.” Fishery management offices in the Central, Westward and Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim regions show budget increases of less than 1 percent and Southeast’s proposed budget boost is 1.7 percent. One component of the fish budget that could take a 0.7 percent hit is at statewide management headquarters in Juneau. “The budget over the years has gone back and forth between what’s run out of the central office in Juneau and by the regional supervisors. Most recently, they’ve tried to identify projects in the specific regions. However, there still are statewide things like the genetics laboratory that have to be funded,” Gemmell explained. The governor’s budget also proposes to cut back on so called test fishing in which a portion of fishermen’s catches are used to fund critical management tools such as salmon counting towers and weirs. Those receipts totaled nearly $3 million in fiscal year 2016. The state’s lone marketing arm — the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute — appears poised to receive a paltry $1 million from the general fund. ASMI, which promotes Alaska seafood in the U.S. and more than 120 countries, is funded primarily by the seafood industry and lawmakers already have put the group on notice that state support will be zeroed out by 2019. (Compare that to Norway’s Seafood Council that is funded by a tax on all seafood exports and had a budget last year of $55 million.) While the early budget news is encouraging, there’s still a long way to go before it gets the nod from Alaska lawmakers. Gemmell believes it will be tough to cut an already barebones budget. “I think we’re at a point where if there is no management, there is no science. Fishery managers have to be conservative, and that means reduced fishing time and harvests with the net result being job losses for the harvesters, processors and communities,” he said. “They’ve cut all of the fat already and we’re down to bone. It would be very hard to cut the budget further without having dramatic impacts on fishermen.” Kodiak backs fish bucks Kodiak already has mustered strong backing for a sustained fisheries budget by rallying the Alaska Municipal League to unanimously support a resolution calling for no more cuts. The AML comprises 164 cities, boroughs and municipalities that “represent a unified voice for over 97 percent of the state’s residents.” The resolution also has the strong support of the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. “If the division of commercial fisheries doesn’t have adequate money to monitor and assess the fish stocks, they will close a fishery or they won’t open it, or it will be opened at a lesser level to maintain a safety buffer. All of those things reduce fishing opportunity and that hurts our small fishing businesses, communities, municipalities and the state,” said Rebecca Skinner, a Kodiak Island Borough Assembly member and co-author of the resolution. As a prime example, Skinner pointed to Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay. “The allowable catch for that fishery was reduced for this year because the surveys to assess how many herring were available couldn’t be done,” she said. Kodiak officials also are pushing for a plan that would have new fish taxes or fees go to support commercial fishing, as is done with licensing and other fees in the sportfish and wildlife management divisions. Fish interest The Alaska Legislature’s Fisheries Committee had to turn away interested legislators this session because the seven member seats filled so fast. “We are going to be busy this year,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, chair of the Fisheries Committee.  “We intend to educate not only legislators, but also the residents of Alaska that there is not one community in this state that is not impacted by fisheries in a positive way.” Stutes, who also represents Cordova and several communities in Cook Inlet, is Majority Whip in a new bipartisan coalition that will lead the Alaska House when lawmakers convene on Jan. 17. The new group takes House leadership away from Republicans for the first time in more than two decades. Protecting commercial fisheries from further budget cuts also will be a priority. Stutes said some dollars may be shuffled to make sure they are targeted to maintaining ongoing fisheries. “Such as stock assessments and weir counters — we need them to maintain a sustainable salmon fishery. There’s just no question about that,” she said. Work will continue on reorganizing the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission, as well as tweaking the formula that sets fees for permits in open access fisheries, such as whitefish. That system has not been updated for more than 20 years. “Right now if you have a 58-footer that can hold 200,000 pounds, and you have a 125-footer fishing the same resource in the same area that can only carry 100,000 pounds, the 125-footer is going to pay a much higher permit fee than the 58-footer that can out fish them. It is not a fair and equitable situation,” Stutes explained, adding that the issue will include lots of public input. Stutes, who is in her second term, believes Alaska’s seafood industry is gaining more recognition for its contributions to the state, especially since for several years one king salmon from Southeast has been worth more than a barrel of crude oil. (currently $108 vs. less than $53). “In my opinion it is no less important than oil. We must look at it and treat it as such,” she said. “The difference is, if we treat our fisheries appropriately, they are renewable; oil is not.” The seafood industry is second to oil in the revenues it puts into state coffers at more than $250 million in taxes and fees last fiscal year. Stutes says many don’t understand that half of those fish bucks go into the state general fund and are distributed at the whim of lawmakers.  “Particularly coastal communities or places where fish are landed — they are paying a 50 percent raw fish tax that goes directly into those communities,” she said. “Those are dollars that the state is not putting in. Those dollars are supplied by the resource and the fishermen and the stakeholders. And for that not to be acknowledged is criminal.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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

The start of 2017 marks the 26th year for this weekly column that targets news for and about Alaska’s seafood industry. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic and cultural importance of our state’s first and oldest industry. Today, Alaska fishermen and processors provide 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood; it is also Alaska’s most valuable export to more than 100 countries around the world. The seafood industry puts more people to work throughout Alaska than oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined. The bulk of Alaska’s fishing fleet of nearly 10,000 vessels is made up of boats under 50 feet. Each is a small business that supports several families. For fishing towns like Kodiak, Cordova and Homer, where 500 to 700 vessels are home ported, those boats are the majority of our downtown storefronts. I call it a mall in a marina. Here are my Fishing Picks and Pans for 2016 – a no holds barred look back at the best and worst fish stories of 2016, in no order, and my choice for the biggest story of the year. Biggest new industry potential: Seaweeds. Kelp alone is a $5 billion global industry. A task force has one year to provide Gov. Bill Walker with a statewide mariculture plan for producing more seaweeds and shellfish. Canada, California and Maine have already come knocking. Biggest fish hurry up already: Getting Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Credit Saltwater, Inc. of Anchorage, Kenai Peninsula Fisheries Association and Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association of Sitka for getting EMS onboard in 2017. Best Fish Entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer. Best fish sigh of relief: Gulf fishermen can use pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their sablefish catches. At fish prices ranging from $4 to more than $9 a pound, depending on size, “getting whaled” makes for a payday bust. Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention. Best Fish Legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes (R) Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon (D) Dillingham Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for “on the go” courses in boat hydraulics, electronics, repairs, fishery technicians and more. Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents. Best Fish Giver: Sea Share, 225 million fish servings to food banks since 1994 Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into oils and meals at a plant owned by local processors.  Biggest fish WTF? Recreational Quota Entities that will let halibut charter operators buy commercial shares of the catch – up to 15 percent from Southeast and 12 percent from the Central Gulf, making the RQE the largest halibut shareholders in the N. Pacific within 10 years. Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is already documented in Pacific waters. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) Best global fish story: The US and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported (IUU) catches by fish pirates—more than 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com Best fish watchers: Cook Inlet Keeper, Salmon Beyond Borders Most encouraging fish talks: Alaska and British Columbia officials meeting for the first time to implement cooperation aimed at protecting transboundary waters in Southeast from mining accidents up stream Best fish economist: Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst, McDowell Group Best go to bat for fishing: The fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and eight processors for ponying up $250,000 to cover salmon management budget shortfalls. Otherwise, more than 1.6 million sockeye salmon would have been taken as “cost recovery” from the fishery to fund counting stations, weirs and other required oversight. Biggest fish flop: Putting the onus on fishermen to cover the research and management costs of going fishing (see above) Best fish connectors: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans program. Best fish mainstream push: Alaska herring showcased as smoked, pickled, pated and filleted by 40 Seattle restaurants for Northwest Herring Week. Credit Bruce Schactler of Kodiak and ASMI’s Herring Development Project. Most ill timed fish story: U.S. Navy war games held again in May as Alaska’s salmon season gets underway. The area covers 60,000 square miles off the tip of the Kenai Peninsula. Requests to move the war games to September have been dismissed. Biggest fish bust: The no show of pink salmon was the worst since the 1970s to major regions and prompted a call for emergency relief from Uncle Sam. Biggest fish booboo: Forty-four percent of Bristol Bay’s 1,500 active drift netters still don’t chill their salmon. That pushes down fish prices in the Bay and beyond. Fish story of the year: On the final day of its December meeting, the North Pacific Council turned its back on plans to reduce chinook salmon and halibut bycatch taken by trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska. The program, under discussion for years, aimed to slow the race to catch up to 25 different kinds of whitefish (cod, pollock, flounders, etc.) that comprise more than 80 percent of Kodiak’s annual landings. Stakeholders were pushing for a mix of catch shares and cooperatives to help them avoid bycatch while catching their full quotas. Now, trawlers face strict bycatch caps that shut down various fisheries when the caps are reached. The closures result in an idled waterfront and no steady, year round work for Kodiak’s large seafood processing workforce. But calling it “too divisive,” the council, led by Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, tabled the entire program and just walked away, bycatch and whitefish landings be damned. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Bering Sea groundfish looks strong as warming Gulf sees cuts

Bering Sea fish stocks are booming but it’s a mixed bag for groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska. Fishery managers will set 2017 catches this week (Dec.7-12) for pollock, cod and other fisheries that comprise Alaska’s largest fish hauls that are taken from three to 200 miles from shore. More than 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood poundage come from those federally-managed waters, and by all accounts the Bering Sea fish stocks are in great shape. “For the Bering Sea, just about every catch is up,” said Diana Stram, Bering Sea groundfish plan coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. There are 22 different species under the Council’s purview, along with non-targeted species like sharks, octopus and squid. For the nation’s largest food fishery — Bering Sea pollock — the stock is so robust, catches could safely double to nearly three million metric tons, or more than six billion pounds!  But the catch will remain nearer to this year’s harvest of half that, Stram said, due to a strict cap applied to all fish removals across the board. “That means the sum of all the catches in the Bering Sea cannot exceed two million metric tons,” she explained. With all stocks so healthy, catch setting becomes a tradeoff among the varying species, Stram said. The Council also sets bycatch levels for the fisheries, which makes catch setting even more constraining. “For the Bering Sea, it is really going to be a tradeoff between halibut bycatch in the flatfish fisheries with the increases in pollock and other species,” Stram said. The halibut bycatch limit for Bering Sea groundfish fisheries for 2016 and 207 is nearly 7.75 million pounds. 
 Looking ahead, Stram said fish scientists are concerned about impacts from warming ocean conditions for the third straight year, with both Bering Sea surface and bottom temperatures registering the highest temperatures in 35 years. Federal data show a 2016 mean surface temperature of 49.1 degrees compared to an average of 43.5 degrees over the time-series. The mean bottom temperature in the Bering Sea was just below 40 degrees, compared to an average of 36.3 degrees.
 Warming oceans are being blamed for a big decline in Gulf of Alaska pollock catches for next year. “Overall, it will be about a 20 percent Gulf-wide decrease,” said Jim Armstrong, plan coordinator for Gulf groundfish. “If you add up all the catches, the whole thing is down by about 60,000 tons, with 50,000 tons coming from pollock and a 10,000 ton-decrease from cod.”  The downturn in pollock is particularly troublesome because recent harvests have been sustained by a single strong year class from 2012. “We have zooplankton that in cold years have a lot more lipids (fats) and are more nutritionally valuable to pollock, and we need those cold years to create big year classes,” Armstrong said. “Based on this year’s survey, it doesn’t appear it is being followed by even an average year class.” The 2017 pollock catch will likely be around 200,000 metric tons and cod in the 150,000-ton range. Alaska managers oversee 25 fish stocks in the Gulf, which add up to nearly 130 different fish types when various complexes, such as rockfish, are broken out. One bright spot next year is black cod, or sablefish; catches will increase in all four Gulf fishing regions and in the Bering Sea. The North Pacific Council meets December 6 through 14 at the Anchorage Hilton. All sessions are streamed live on the web. Halibut falls flat  The Pacific halibut stock appears to have stabilized, but that isn’t likely to equate to higher catches in 2017. That was a take home message last week when International Pacific Halibut Commission staff unveiled summer survey results showing that the overall stock abundance declined a bit, and the bulk of the fish remain small for their ages. But the fact that halibut removals have remained relatively stable over three years is encouraging news for a stock that was on a downward trend for nearly two decades. IPHC biologist Ian Stewart described the Pacific halibut fishery as being “fully subscribed” among diverse users. “Today across the entire coast, 60 percent of the removals from the halibut stock are coming from directed fishery landings, about 17 percent are coming from both recreation and from mortality due to bycatch in non-halibut fisheries, and about three percent each are coming from wastage and personal use and subsistence,” Stewart said. Another survey finding: notable drops in halibut bycatch across all regions. “We’ve seen a substantial reduction in bycatch from almost nine million pounds in 2014 to about seven million pounds in 2016,” he said. That is little comfort to halibut fishermen who could see a 12.6 percent coastwide (US/Canada) drop in catches next year, from 29.89 million pounds to 26.13 million pounds. For Southeast Alaska, the catch could decrease by 17.4 percent to 3.24 million pounds. For the Central Gulf, a 0.8 percent drop to 7.28 million pounds is projected. The Western Gulf could see a 17.4 percent increase just over three million pounds. Catch estimates for Bering Sea halibut fishing regions show a 1.8 percent increase, according to data from the Juneau-based Halibut Coalition.  Stewart stressed that the preliminary catch estimates are not recommendations, but show outcomes based on scientific rolls of the dice. “We produce the entire decision table which is a risk analysis, and it’s up to the commissioners to do risk management and make the appropriate decisions,” Stewart said. The IPHC will make final decisions at its annual meeting January 23-27 in Vancouver. Comments and proposals on 2017 catch limits will be accepted through December 31. The halibut fishery will reopen in March. Mariculture momentum  Alaska advocates are wasting no time forming guidelines to expand homegrown shellfish and seaweeds into a multi-billion dollar mariculture industry. “We’re not talking about fish farming when we talk about mariculture. We’re talking about shellfish and aquatic plants — also wild fishery enhancement and aquatic farming restoration,” said Julie Decker, co-chair of Gov. Bill Walker’s Mariculture Task Force Initiative created by Administrative Order in February. Walker said he believes the industry is a viable means to diversify the state’s economy in a field where Alaska already dominates: seafood. Decker, who also is director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, believes mariculture could jump from its current $1 million value to growers to $1 billion within 30 years. Currently, there are 56 shellfish farmers in Alaska producing primarily oysters. Based on AFDF and Oceans Alaska/Ketchikan data, if just three-tenths of one percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters, it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 50 cents each, adding up to $650 million per year, Alaska also aims to cash in on the $12 billion global seaweed market by growing seaweeds, especially kelp. Sea Grant already has six pilot projects in the water in parts of the Gulf. Another effort is helping existing farmers become more efficient and profitable by planting kelp crops, which can provide a steady cash flow while they are waiting up to three years for their shellfish crops to ripen. “You can stagger your planting and lengthen your season from three to six months or more; they only take about 90 days to grow,” Decker said.  Seaweeds also act as a climate cleaner, absorbing excess carbon, nitrogen and phosphates from the ocean. And one day, seaweed might replace oil as Alaska’s top energy resource engine. The U.S. Department of Energy is looking at seaweed as a source for biofuels and has its eyes on Alaska. Applications for aquatic farms are accepted by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game each year from Jan. 1-April 30. All of Alaska’s mariculture happenings will be open to the public at the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association annual meeting Dec. 9-10 in Anchorage. www.alaskashellfish.org, and sign up to receive updates from Alaska’s Mariculture Task Force at the ADF&G home page. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Market for Alaska salmon is positive for 2017

Alaska seafood goes to roughly 120 countries around the world and competes in a rough and tumble commodities market. Looking ahead to next year, sales conditions are looking positive for Alaska salmon, with some mixed market outlooks for other main species. Alaska produces more than 65 percent of our nation’s wild caught seafood; seafood also is Alaska’s top export to other countries. Here are some highlights from the Alaska Seafood Industry Updates prepared each fall by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute: The value of Alaska seafood at the docks dropped 7 percent from 2011 through 2015 to $4.3 billion. Salmon was tops for dockside values for 2014-15 at $541 million, or 29 percent of the value of all Alaska seafood catches. Pollock ranked second for Alaska seafood value at $477 million, or 26 percent of the total dockside value and 54 percent of the volume. Alaska’s total salmon supply picture for 2016 is down 58 percent. Global farmed salmon production won’t regain steam until 2019, and reports are circulating widely that the prized omega-3s are down by half in farm grown fish due to their plant-based diets. At Bristol Bay, the preliminary value to salmon fishermen increased 66 percent, due to a big sockeye catch and higher prices. Alaska salmon prices continue to increase at wholesale and the fresh market is growing stronger, especially for sockeyes. Markets for pollock, cod, flounders and other “whitefish” are likely “to remain steady, but with low prices.” Prices for king and snow crab are expected to set records, but will face stiff competition from Russian imports to the U.S., up 58 percent and 38 percent last year, respectively, valued at more than $220 million. The halibut market is likely to remain flat, or may go down a bit after sustaining fishermen’s prices in the $6 to more than $7 per pound range all season. Global currency markets remain challenging for seafood trade, but have improved. A concern cited by the report is budget cuts to the commercial fisheries budget that shift the onus to fishermen and processors to fund critical management projects through test fisheries. Another is the ongoing U.S. food embargo by Russia, now entering its third year. For Alaska, the seafood shutout adds up to a $60 million hit each year, primarily from lost sales of pink salmon roe and Alaska pollock products. Almost 90 percent of the king crab eaten in the U.S. comes from Russia, according to market expert John Sackton, much of it caught illegally. The U.S. also buys thousands of tons of pollock, cod and salmon from Russia each year. “If Russia won’t buy our seafood, we won’t buy theirs,” has been the way Alaska processors and crabbers hoped to hit back on the ban. They have been urging Congress and the President to enact a retaliatory ban on seafood coming into the U.S. from Russia, so far, to no avail. Fish Gifts!  The Salmon Sisters of Homer have partnered with Silver Bay Seafoods to get more Alaska seafood into the mouths of needy Alaskans. For every purchase of Salmon Sisters clothing, accessories or home goods, a can of salmon is donated to the Alaska Food Bank. The canned fish is pink salmon caught by Silver Bay Seafoods’ seine fleets at Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska. “It’s shelf stable, it’s delicious and it is easy to get around the state,” said sister Claire Neaton, adding that the food bank is supplying more than 60 Alaska communities. “As fishermen we have constant access to Alaska seafood. We forget that it’s not the case in the entire state. We wanted to share our salmon with other Alaska communities, and what better way to get our catch on their plate,” she said. The Give Fish Program is a “forever project.” The team’s first donation of almost 15,000 cans was distributed in late summer and they plan on another shipment for the holidays. Look for Salmon Sisters goods at local gear stores and online. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

The next generation of ocean specialists

Alaska’s university system is ramping up programs to train the next generations of fishery and ocean specialists — and plenty of jobs await. Since 1987, the College of Fisheries and Ocean Science, or CFOS, at the University of Alaska Fairbanks has offered undergraduate and graduate degrees in Fisheries Science, complete with paid internships to help prepare them for positions in the state’s largest industry. “It’s a degree path preparing students for what I call fish squeezers — they’re going to go to work for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or NOAA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service or some other type of agency where they’re going to be primarily out doing field work, traditional fish biologist types,” said Trent Sutton, a Professor of Fisheries Biology and Associate Dean of Academics. Due to student interest, the college broadened the fisheries degree this fall to include ocean sciences, and opened more oceanography and marine biology classes to undergraduate students. The new degree combo program attracted 53 students, Sutton said. The college also is a center for ocean acidification studies, which is a big student draw. “You hear all the concerns regarding climate change and marine mammals and fisheries and sea ice — all of those garner interest from students because there are job opportunities down the road to deal with these issues,” Sutton explained. The CFOS also is the only school in the nation to offer a Bachelor of Arts degree in fisheries for students interested in seafood sciences and technology, and marine policy. Another focus of the B.A. track is in rural and community development where students can get the degree at home. “A student in Bethel or Dillingham can stay home and take 100 percent of their courses either through video conferences or online or by some other distance delivery technology. They can get a degree that is tied to fisheries and it will help them have a good career and become leaders in their communities,” Sutton said. Starting next fall, CFOS plans to offer the degree programs in partnership with the University at Southeast Alaska, or UAS, and eventually to the Anchorage campus and other regions. A shorter career track for fisheries technologists also is offered through UAS/Sitka to train students for jobs as fishery observers, surveyors, culturists and hatchery technicians. Fish tech certification and associates degree courses are offered remotely, with classes fully loaded onto iPads and no internet is required. There is a dire shortage of fish techs in Alaska and that trend is expected to continue for at least a decade, according to university data. In fact, good careers await fisheries and ocean science grads in Alaska, as state agencies are steadily losing workers to retirement — 20 percent from ADFG alone over the next few years, and a similar amount from federal fisheries agencies. Of the nearly 700 graduates the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences has produced over 30 years, nearly half have gone on to careers at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries, Sutton said. “These students are not only staying in the state,” he said, “but they are working for the agencies that are making the management and policy decisions that impact our fisheries and marine resources.” Bait bites Baits are critical to most fishermen’s catches and it can be a scramble to find ample supplies that change with the times. “Things change over the years. We always try to find what is the new best thing and try and stay ahead of the curve,” said Justin Hackley, vice president of sales and marketing for International Marine Industries of Newport, Rhode Island, a global bait provider for over 30 years. Alaska is one of Hackley’s biggest customers and bait favorites have shifted due to changing weather patterns and cyclical availabilities of the fish. For decades it was east coast herring that kept Alaska fleets out fishing — until a better fish surfaced. “It was herring for halibut or black cod longlining, or for crab or pot cod until a cheaper alternative came around — Pacific sardines caught off the coast of Astoria. That fish had fat content at 18 percent, way higher than you can get out of east coast herring,” Hackley said. But the Pacific sardine fishery closed three years ago, and Hackley scrambled to find another bait replacement. It took some convincing, but last year Kodiak fishermen and processors agreed to bite. “Pacific saury is the new up and coming bait that last year we got them to take, and it’s been quite successful,” he said. Saury will be soaking in Tyler O’Brien’s pots when he sets out on the 58-foot Odin’s Eye for cod in January. At $1.00 a pound (up from 50 cents last year), he estimates the bait cost will be $4,500 for each three-day fishing trip. Fishermen use different baits depending on the fishery, and often mix up their own blends from scraps to save money, O’Brien said. “For crab we’ll catch and use fresh herring or cod and salmon roe. In the fall, we’ll get pink salmon discards from processors for halibut bait. We try and follow the seasonal tastes of the fish,” he explained. Pacific saury already is feeling pressure from increasing demand, Hackley said, and bait prices for short supplies of squid have increased to $1.35 a pound at Dutch Harbor, up from 85-90 cents a year ago. “Prices can double or triple in a year and some guys are buying 10.5 million pounds of squid for a calendar year,” he added. A newer bait alternative gaining traction in Alaska is pollock. “I used to sell a lot of longline herring to halibut guys and everyone seems to want pollock now,” he said. So why aren’t Alaska fisheries using local species as bait? In the case of herring (65 cents a pound) for halibut, at least, Hackley said size matters. “These longliners want a certain size. Typically, herring from Sitka is too small and the Dutch Harbor herring is too big. But it is good for the pot guys,” he said. Hackley credits Alaska for its sustainable management practices and believes he’ll have a good customer long into the future. “As long as people are out there fishing and pots and hooks are going in the water,” Hackley said, “I’ll be there throwing frozen bait at ‘em.” Fish watch The total salmon harvest for the 2016 season came in at 112 million fish, based on preliminary numbers from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The value to fishermen of $406 million is the lowest since 2002. The 2017 catch of sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay is pegged at 27.5 million; that compares to a harvest of 37.3 million reds this year. State managers predict Upper Cook Inlet fishermen will see a much lower commercial harvest of just 1.7 million sockeye salmon next summer, one million fish below the 20-year average. The forecast for pink salmon in Southeast Alaska is for a “strong” catch in the 43 million range; that compares to just 18 million pinks taken in the region this summer. The halibut industry will soon get a glimpse of next year’s potential catches when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. The IPHC also will take up 13 requests for management changes to the fishery, including whether it will be legal to catch halibut with pots in 2017. The fishery will reopen in March. The state Board of Fisheries meets in Homer November 30-December 3. The focus is on commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries in Lower Cook Inlet. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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