Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: UFA starts project to collect salmon info from fishermen

Who knows more about local salmon and their habitats than Alaska fishermen?

That’s the impetus behind a new information-gathering project spawned by United Fishermen of Alaska, or UFA, that aims to provide useful and timely news about the health of the state’s salmon runs.

The Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP, launched last week with an online survey to provide commercial fishermen with a way to share their local intelligence.

FISH FACTOR: Bycatch donation program grows; Webber develops netwasher

The decades-old “bycatch to food banks” program has grown far beyond its original Alaska beginnings.

Today, only 10 percent of the fish going to hunger relief programs is bycatch of primarily halibut and salmon taken accidentally in other fisheries. The remainder is “first-run” products donated to Sea Share, the nation’s only non-profit that donates fish through a tight network of fishermen, processors, packagers and transporters.

FISH FACTOR: Fishing in full swing; study finds sunscreen is a coral killer

Salmon takes center stage each summer but many other fisheries also are in full swing from Ketchikan to Kotzebue.

For salmon, total catches by July 8 were nearing 28 million fish, of which 10 million were sockeyes, primarily from Bristol Bay. Last week marked the catch of the two-billionth sockeye from the Bay since the fishery began in 1884.

FISH FACTOR: Brexit causes uncertainty for Alaska seafood exports to UK, EU

The United Kingdom’s recent exit from the European Union — dubbed “Brexit” — has turned seafood trading on its head.

For 43 years the UK has been a major part of the 28-country E.U., and what the pullout means for longstanding business arrangements is anyone’s guess. Last year the U.K. imported over $90 million dollars of Alaska seafood.

FISH FACTOR: Turning crab shells into cash; Bay nears 2B-salmon milestone

Turning crab shells into every day products is becoming a reality for the Tidal Vision team of eco-entrepreneurs from Juneau.

The products are derived from chitin in the crab shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet after cellulose. Chitin is found in fungi, plankton and the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans and adds up to about 100 billion tons every year.

Seattle pushes Herring Week; Alaska salmon prices improve

There’s much more to Alaska herring than roe and bait.

To prove that point, nearly 40 of Seattle’s finest restaurants and retailers will celebrate Northwest Herring Week as a way to re-introduce the tasty, healthy fish to the dining scene.

FISH FACTOR: Clean Boating program expands outreach with Discount Cards

Boaters from Homer to the Mat-Su valley can help protect salmon and other aquatic creatures and get discounts from popular businesses by doing so.

A pilot program launched this spring is an offshoot of Cook Inletkeeper’s Clean Boating program that began in the Valley five years ago.

“It all started with oil and gas pollution in Big Lake,” said Heather Leba, director of the group’s Clean Boating Discount program.”

FISH FACTOR: F/V Northern Leader gets TV turn; Gulf trawlers throw party

Alaskan fishermen have raised the bar for big fishing boats with the F/V Northern Leader of Kodiak, and Discovery Canada producers of the popular Mighty Ships programs have taken notice.

Mighty Ships producers search for unique ships around the world and its seven-year run has featured a wide range of vessels including cruise ships, aircraft carriers, cargo ships, dredgers and more. The programs focus heavily on operational capabilities and technical aspects of the ships and also make use of computer-generated animation to show underwater operations.

FISH FACTOR: Project underway to study impact of limited entry program

Alaska began issuing limited entry permits for salmon fishing in 1975. Originally 1,372 permits (out of 2,758) were issued to residents of Bristol Bay; by 2007, only 735 permits remained under local ownership.

An ambitious project is underway to find out how the system has played out over 40 years for the people of Bristol Bay.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon small but prices high; US seafood demand still low

Alaska’s salmon season officially got underway on May 16 with the arrival of thousands of sockeye and king salmon at the Copper River near Cordova, and high prices were the talk of the town.

The first opener produced a catch of 25,000 sockeye and about 1,500 kings.

“It was pretty slow to start. Small fish, not too many of them,” said Kelsey Appleton with Cordova District Fishermen United.

FISH FACTOR: Rosier outlook for salmon prices; board changes considered

Alaska’s salmon season has gotten underway with lots of optimism, a far cry from the bleak feelings of a year ago.

Last year’s fishery was blown asunder by a perfect storm of depressed currencies, salmon backlogs and global markets awash with farmed fish. Prices to fishermen fell by nearly 41 percent between 2013 and 2015, years, which produced the two largest Alaska salmon harvest volumes on record.

But in the past six months, those trends have turned around.

FISH FACTOR: Pingers get a whale of a rebate; new report out on Kodiak

Alaska salmon fishermen can get rebates on pingers aimed at keeping baleen whales away from their gear. The six inch, battery operated tubes are tied into fishing nets and transmit animal-specific signals every five seconds to alert the animals to keep their distance.

“Pingers can be really helpful to alert the whales to something in front of them so you have less entanglements,” said Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fisheries Alliance.

FISH FACTOR: Cuts force ADFG to make unpopular move to contract fishing

In the face of Alaska’s multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, state policy makers are putting the onus on fishermen to cover the costs of going fishing.

“One of the sources we have to offset general fund decreases is increased test fishing. We don’t like to catch fish or crab or anything just to raise money, but in this climate we’re having to look at that long and hard,” said Scott Kelley, director of the Commercial Fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

FISH FACTOR: Processors pony up to fund herring surveys as budget cuts bite

Cuts affecting Alaska’s fisheries will be spread across all regions and species, depending on the final budget that is approved by state legislators.

As it stands now, the total commercial fisheries budget for fiscal year 2017 from all state and federal funding sources is about $64 million, a drop of $10 million over two years.

“With cuts of that magnitude, everything is on the table,” said Scott Kelley, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.

FISH FACTOR: Another study shows ocean acidification bad for crab stocks

Increasingly corrosive oceans are raising more red flags for Bering Sea crab stocks.

Results from a first ever, two year project on baby Tanner crabs show that higher ocean acidity (pH) affects both their shell production and the immune systems. Bairdi Tanner crab, the larger cousins of snow crab, are growing into one of Alaska’s largest crab fisheries with a nearly 20 million pound harvest this season.

FISH FACTOR: Sen. Sullivan talks fisheries accomplishments in Kodiak

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has scored seats on nearly every Congressional committee that deal with issues on, over, and under the oceans. That fulfills a commitment he made to Kodiak when he ran for office two years ago, he said at a ComFish town meeting during a two-day stay on “the Rock.”

FISH FACTOR: USCG improves distress call system; Frankenfish lawsuit filed

Alaska fishermen can send an SOS call directly to the Coast Guard, but many are not hooking up to the new lifeline.

Digital Selective Calling, or DSC, instantly signals a distress call over VHF radios to other vessels, and the feature has been a required part of the hand-held units since 1996. In Alaska, the ability for mariners to hook up with the Coast Guard was acquired just last year when transceiver and antenna “high sites” in Southeast and Southcentral regions came on line (more are scheduled soon).

FISH FACTOR: Salmon forecasts down 40% overall; early halibut prices up

Alaska’s 2016 salmon harvest will be down by 40 percent from last year’s catch, if the fish show up as predicted.

The preliminary numbers released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game call for a total catch of 161 million salmon this year; the 2015 harvest topped 268 million fish.

The shortfall stems from a projected big decrease for pink salmon. A humpy harvest forecast of 90 million would be a drop of 100 million fish from last summer.

Here’s the statewide catch breakdown for the other salmon species:

FISH FACTOR: Economist: Many factors involved in retail salmon prices

If a fisherman gets 50 cents a pound for his reds, how can the fish fetch $10, $15 or more at retail counters?

“It’s all the other stuff that happens after he sells the fish. A lot of costs, margins and profits are included in that retail price,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau.

It’s an “apples and oranges” comparison when it comes to using weights paid for the raw goods and the end product. A lot of weight is lost going from a whole fish, which fishermen are paid on, to a fillet at retail counters.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values sink; halibut quota prices spike

Firesale salmon prices last year and a dim outlook for the upcoming season have caused the value of Alaska fishing permits to plummet.

To another extreme, the prices for halibut catch shares have soared to “unheard of levels.”

Starting with salmon permits: “A lot of people had disastrous seasons last year, whether it was drift gillnet or seine permits, and the values have declined dramatically,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer.

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