Laine Welch

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.

King crab harvest was fast, but cuts make crabbers furious

It was fast and furious for Alaska’s premier crab fishery with the fleet catching the nearly 8 million-pound red king crab quota at Bristol Bay in less than three weeks. The overall take was down 15 percent from the 2015 fishery and will likely fetch record prices when all sales are made. “The only price we have is an advance price so fishermen can pay fuel, bait and other trip expenses. The final price will be determined from now to January,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab harvesters. Crabbers fetched an average price of $8.18 per pound for their king crab last year and the fishery was valued at over $81 million at the docks. The hauls since the fishery got underway on Oct. 15 averaged 37.4 red kings per pot, compared to 32 crabs last year, Jacobsen said, adding that some boats were catching 60 to 70 crab per pot, even as the fishery was coming to a close. That’s where the furious comes in — the crabbers believe there are lots more crab on the grounds than were revealed in the standardized summer survey upon which the catch quotas are based. “It’s not one of those things where we don’t think the crab is there, it’s a result of the survey not being able to find them,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Jacobsen agreed, saying, “Fishermen were very pleased with the good fishing and at the same time furious that the catch could be so low when the resource is more abundant than they’ve seen in many a year.” He added that they also saw high numbers of female and undersized crab, which bodes well for next year. Only legal-sized males are allowed to be retained for sale. The Bering Sea crab fisheries are co-managed by the state and the federal government. Federal biologists conduct the annual summer surveys and calculate the catch quotas; the state Department of Fish and Game manages the crab fisheries in-season.  Trump takedowns What might the election of Donald Trump mean for the seafood industry? Economic reports already are pointing to his platform of opposing trade and pulling out of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a stance that goes against more than 30 years of American policy under presidents of both parties. NAFTA connects trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and Trump has pledged to impose trade barriers that could reduce markets for seafood and other U.S. exports and drive up the cost of imports, causing banks to restrict lending, according to the New York Times. It also is a foregone conclusion that he will tank the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Trump does implement trade protectionist policies, it could tip the economy into a recession, cautioned global economists. Trump also has vowed to place a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports and declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. How this will affect the millions of pounds of Alaska seafood that are sent to China for reprocessing and then shipped back for sales in the U.S. is anyone’s guess. The Wall Street Journal said Trump’s victory could begin “an era of U.S. combativeness” with two of our biggest trade partners — China and Mexico — and prompt trade wars and stall international growth. Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing and communications Ocean Beauty Seafood agrees. “But it’s far too early to speculate on what any of this might mean. We will just have to wait and see, and deal with any changes as they come, he said.” While Trump’s positions might not pose any direct changes for U.S. fisheries, his vision to “explode fossil fuel development across the nation, including coal” will have a long-term impact on our oceans. Trump has widely claimed that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He has called for gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and is likely to name a top climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead the charge. Like Trump, Ebell calls climate change “bullsh*t,” and both have vowed to “cancel” the Paris global warming accord signed by nearly 200 nations that sets targets to reverse the worst effects of global warming. Scientific American reports that Ebell has called President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gasses “illegal” and boasts that he has been dubbed a “climate criminal” by Greenpeace. The topic is likely to dominate discussions during a special Friday afternoon seminar at Fish Expo. Terry Johnson, a Fisheries Professor and Sea Grant Marine Advisor in Anchorage, will present the most current science on a warming world and off kilter ocean chemistry.  A main focus is to hear ideas from fishermen and coastal community reps on how they plan to adapt to the inevitable. Changes could include things like moving towards bigger, multi-fisheries vessels that allow for more flexibility, and modifying regulatory regimes that lift some of the restrictions on moving from one fishing area to another. “We have seen a number of climate related changes but they are more results of temporary climate variations, such as El Niño’s and regime shifts on the order of a year or a decade or more. But in the long term, things have not yet been sufficiently dramatic so industry has had to make big changes yet,” he said.  Meanwhile, Johnson said he is very concerned that a Trump administration will slash climate change science. “Federal scientists and others are doing very important work that will eventually help inform us about how to adapt to climate changes — if that funding is cut off, we’re going to be working in the dark,” he said. The Expo runs from Nov. 17-19 in Seattle.  Sea a Cure A campaign to raise money for cancer research has been relaunched by Orca Bay Seafoods and members of the fishing industry. The effort began in 2006 when Orca Bay vice president Trish Haaker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since then more than $40,000 has been raised for research. The company now has enlarged its mission. “We are adding the nutrition messages of seafood and its health benefits, and how it can help during cancer treatments and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle,” said Lilani Estacio, Orca Bay’s Marketing and Communications Manager. All proceeds go to City of Hope, a global leader in cancer research, along with diabetes, heart disease and HIV. “We are a united industry, and we have a product that benefits not just the livelihood of many, but everyone,” Estacio said. “If we could all gather around and help educate Americans about the benefits of eating seafood — that is our ultimate goal.” Learn how you can donate at Sea a Cure on Facebook.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut share prices soar

As Alaska’s iconic halibut fishery wraps up this week, stakeholders are holding their breath to learn if catches might ratchet up slightly again in 2017. Meanwhile, prices for hard to get shares of the halibut catch are jaw-dropping. The halibut fishery ended on Nov. 7 for nearly 2,000 longliners who hold IFQs, or Individual Fishing Quota, of halibut. The Alaska fishery will produce a catch of more than 20 million pounds if the limit is reached by the fleet. Last year, the halibut haul was worth nearly $110 million at the Alaska docks. For the first time in several decades the coastwide Pacific halibut harvest numbers increased this year by 2.3 percent to nearly 30 million pounds. Along with Alaska, the eight-month fishery includes the Pacific coast states and British Columbia. The feeling that the halibut resource is stabilizing and recovering after a long decline has upped the ante for shares of the catch. The fact that the dock price again hovered in the $6 to $7 a pound range all season at major ports also has fanned interest. It holds especially true for shares of Southeast Alaska fish. “Fishermen say they’re seeing some of the best fishing they’ve ever seen in their lives there, bigger fish, better production and you see that reflected in IFQ prices,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. The quota shares are sold in various categories, and the asking price for prime shares in Southeast waters has reached $70 per pound! IFQ asking prices for shares in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole, also have increased to $60 per pound, according to several broker listings. But the buying there is not as aggressive as in the Panhandle. “They took a 5 percent cut; it’s the only area in the entire coast that didn’t stay the same or have an increase. There is still quite a bit of concern about the resource there,” he said. “And there’s still a lot of concern about other removals and possibly inaccurate accounting of bycatch.” Halibut shares in the Western Gulf sold for a record $48, Bowen said. Shares in regions of the Bering Sea were listed mostly in the mid-$20 range. The halibut fishery falls under the stewardship of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which has set the annual coastwide catch limits based on surveys since 1923. Stakeholders will get a first glimpse of recommended catches at an upcoming IPHC meeting Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. Mum’s the word so far on any numbers for 2017. “They won’t reveal any information about how their surveys went, for better or worse, and I give them a lot of credit for that,” Bowen said, “because it would only fan the flames of speculation in the IFQ market.” On a related note: Linda Behnken of Sitka has received a presidential appointment as a Commissioner to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Behnken has been a commercial fisherman for over 30 years, and since 1991 has been Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association.  Expo time!  For 50 years, it’s been the most popular West Coast trade show for anyone who makes their living on the water. Pacific Marine Expo, dubbed Fish Expo, has bragging rights as one of the nation’s top trade shows, and it’s even bigger this year. “We are going to be 522 companies strong and 90 of them are brand new to the show. It just continues to grow,” said Denielle Christensen, Expo Director, adding that in this day of internet shopping, nothing replaces the “hands on” and networking of a real event. New to the show floor are 11 safety workshops, a Job Fair and a fishermen’s lounge. “It’s an amazing space where people can come in and see art and history and take a break from the floor,” Christensen said. Seminars include selling your own catch, emergency crew duties, marine connectivity, salmon habitat and the importance of bait. The event also feature’s National Fisherman’s popular Fishermen of the Year competition and Highliner awards Pacific Marine Expo takes place Nov. 17-19 at the Century Link Field in Seattle. Pot cod goes EM  Boats that catch cod with big pots are in the pre-implementation stage of making electronic monitoring a reality. That’s due to a steadfast push for three years by the Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association, or NPFA, and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage, a leader in data collection since 1988. The EM systems can replace or augment onboard observer coverage which can cost boat owners $400 per day or more. Armed with funding by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the partnership proved that pot cod is a fishery that fits the bill because of the way the fish is brought on board. Starting in 2013, the pot codders set out to prove that using video cameras aimed at the catch could be cost effective and clearly show what’s coming aboard. “From 2013-2015 we had up to five boats and 13,000 pot hauls. Saltwater data reviewers were able to identify 99.6 percent of the more than 55,000 catch items to a species or a species group level. It was like, wow, this works. That really caught the managers’ attention,” said Nancy Munro, Saltwater founder and president. To get required weights of both catch and discards, the fishermen devised measuring grids on their sorting tables and Saltwater created a digital ruler that snaps nose to tail images of the fish, along with software that calibrates each to length and weight. On the basis of that work, federal managers gave the go-ahead for the pot cod fleet to begin EM pre-implementation starting Jan. 1. Boats are needed to test out EM systems; all costs will be covered by the grant money. Questions? Contact Saltwater Inc. or the NPFA. Giving back  American Seafoods Company is again offering grants totaling $38,000 for community projects that address hunger relief, safety, housing, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 16. The awards will be announced by a community advisory board on Dec. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Values of Alaska salmon permits have taken a nosedive after a dismal fishing season for all but a few regions. “No activity for drift gillnet or seine permits in Prince William Sound…No interest in Southeast seine or troll permits…Nothing new in Area M (the Alaska Peninsula),” wrote Mike Painter of The Permit Master. And so it goes. “With the lone exception of Bristol Bay and Area M it was a pretty grim season for salmon fishermen all over the state, and we are seeing that reflected in the declining prices for salmon permits and very low demand,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. On the upside, Bristol Bay drift permits have rebounded to the $135,000 range after reaching a low of around $90,000 last fall and spring. But at this point, there’s not much interest. “I believe there are fishermen who would like to switch out, say from Cook Inlet and go to the Bay, but it’s tough to make that move,” he said, adding that “Cook Inlet drift permits aren’t selling; there are lots of them on the market for around $50,000 and no action there.” A few years ago, Prince William Sound drift gillnet permits were fetching up to around $240,000, but recent sales were in the $130,000 range or lower. “Those permits have dropped about $100,000 in a year because they’ve had a couple of bad years in a row,” Bowen said. The story is similar for seine permits in the Sound, following a disastrous pink salmon year that came in less than 25 percent of the forecast. “The market there is around $150,000 and they were up over $200,000 last year,” he added. “We don’t see much action on those, and there is no interest for Kodiak seine cards. You can see them listed in the low $30,000 range but what it would take to actually sell one – my guess is it’s something under $30,000.” In Southeast, some permit values are not down quite as much as in other areas. Drift gillnets were priced at $95,000 to $100,000 last year, with recent sales at around $80,000. Southeast seine permits, which a couple of years ago approached $325,000, recently sold at $160,000.  Bowen says it all adds up to very little optimism. “Several of these areas have had bad years back to back,” he said. “If you add it all up, there’s likely a couple hundred million dollars that did not show up in salmon this year. There’s not money floating around in the industry to buy permits, so we’re seeing a depressed market in general.” He added that many stakeholders are worried about the future of Alaska salmon fishing. “You hear people talking about the water temperature is too warm and the fish are swimming deep and going under the nets and around them, and there seems to be a lot of concern about the future, even in the near term,” Bowen said. One bright note: salmon markets are going strong so far and that could help to turn the tide. “Sales have been brisk this fall,” said Tom Sunderland, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “We expect inventories to be low as we head into next season, and that should create some good market opportunities.” Bowen added that with low prices now for permits nearly across the board, it’s a good time to buy. Farmed salmon flop  Wild salmon is less nutritious because it burns up all its good fats and oils on its long journey to spawn. That’s the startling claim by professors at Stirling University in Scotland in a study showing declines in omega-3 levels in farmed salmon due to increased use of plant-based feeds. The statement brought a quick reaction from one Alaska expert. “I laughed. It’s a silly remark,” said Scott Smiley of Kodiak, a retired professor and noted zoological expert in cell and developmental biology. “A friend who is a fish nutritionist asked if the Scottish researcher was a professor of medieval literature,” he added with a laugh. Smiley added that farmed salmon, like other living creatures, are what they eat. “You can adjust the diets of farmed fish so that they have much more omega-3s. It’s just a question of cost and it is relatively expensive to do,” he explained, adding that most fish farmers now balance plant-based feeds with fish meal at critical times in the salmon’s development. Catching wild fish to feed farmed fish has fallen out of favor over the past decade, and that’s forced fish farmers to find feeds sourced from plants or synthetics. The Scottish report said that in 2006, 80 percent of the average farmed salmon’s diet in the U.K. was made up of oily fish; now it is just 20 percent. But even with the lower omega levels, farmed salmon is still better for you than wild, the Scottish researchers concluded. One million smoked salmon meals are eaten in the U.K. every week, and salmon purchases there have increased 550 percent, according to the report that is in the journal Scientific Reports. It’s hard to tell which fish overall has the highest amount of omega-3 oils because levels vary by local populations, Smiley said. “Herring off of Kodiak may have very high levels of omega-3s, but herring from some other place may have half of that. There is variation in natural populations that is really intense. And it totally depends on what they eat,” he explained. Farmed seafood is slowly gaining dominance over wild in Japan’s retail stores and are now the centerpieces of the seafood section, according to Seafood Source. The shift is driven by national supermarket chains that want to plan large-scale promotions in advance. The food service industry has long preferred farmed seafood because costs and supply are more stable, allowing for more consistent menuing and prices. Now, Japanese retailers also want that stability. Top fishing ports and fish favorites Alaska claimed the top three fishing ports for landings again last year, and in fact, led all US states in terms of seafood landings and value at six billion pounds and $1.8 billion, respectively. That’s according to the annual Fisheries of the US report for 2015 released yesterday by NOAA Fisheries. For the 19th consecutive year, Dutch Harbor led the nation in the highest amount of seafood landed at 787 million pounds valued at $218 million. And New Bedford, Mass., again had the highest valued catch — $322 million for 124 million pounds. Most of that was due to the high price of sea scallops, which accounted for 76 percent of the value of the landings in New Bedford. Kodiak ranked second for landings and the Aleutian Islands was number three, thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. In all, 13 Alaska ports made the nation’s top 50 list for landings and six were in the top ten, including the Alaska Peninsula, Naknek and Cordova. In other highlights: Alaska accounted for nearly 98 percent of all wild salmon landings, with West Coast states making up the rest. The average dock price per pound for all salmon species in Alaska was 40 cents last year, down by half from 2014. For halibut, the Pacific fishery accounted for all but 216,000 pounds of the total halibut catch. Average price to fishermen was $4.86 a pound, compared to $4.94 the previous year. U.S. landings of king crab were 17.5 million pounds, valued at nearly $99 million, increases of 5 percent and more than 15 percent, respectively. Alaska is home to the most seafood processing plants at 151, which employed more than 10,000 people. And for the third year in a row, Americans ate slightly more seafood at 15.5 pounds per person, adding nearly one pound to their diets. That’s according to the National Fisheries Institute, which each year compiles the Top 10 list of favorites based on the NOAA report that was released this week. The favorites remain pretty much the same, with shrimp topping the list — but consumption of that item has remained static at four pounds per capita. Salmon again ranked second and Americans increased their intake by more than three percent to just less than three pounds per person. That’s due in large part to more availability and lower prices at retail. Canned tuna held onto the third spot at 2.2 pounds, followed by farmed tilapia at nearly 1.4 pounds per person. Alaska pollock ranked at number five at just under one pound per capita, slightly less than in 2014. Rounding out the top ten were Pangasius, cod, crab, catfish and clams. The upward eating tick in the U.S. is good news from a public health perspective. Only one in 10 Americans follows the federal dietary guidelines to eat seafood twice a week. The global annual seafood consumption average is 44 pounds per person. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Changing climate could help or harm salmon

A changing climate is altering rain and snowfall patterns that affect the waters Alaska salmon call home, for better or worse. A first of its kind study now details the potential changes for Southeast Alaska, and how people can plan ahead to protect the fish. One-third of Alaska’s salmon harvest each year comes from fish produced in the 17,000 miles of streams in the Tongass rainforest. More than 50 species of animals feed on spawning salmon there, and one in 10 jobs is supported by salmon throughout the region. “Global climate change may become one of the most pressing challenges to Pacific Salmon conservation and management for Southeast Alaska in the 21st Century,” begins a report called “Climate Change Sensitivity Index for Pacific Salmon Habitat in Southeast Alaska” by Colin Shanley and David Albert of The Nature Conservancy. “In general, the global climate models are saying the wetter places in the world are likely to get wetter and the dryer places are going to get dryer,” said Shanley, who works as a conservation planner and GIS analyst in Juneau. “This is not a doom-and-gloom outlook,” Shanley stressed. “This is really just getting smarter about how climate change may play out and how it might affect resources that are valuable to us.” Shanley studied nearly a half-century’s records of 41 water gauge stations at Southeast watersheds to model future projections on how flow patterns might change. He said watersheds fed by snow packs will likely experience the biggest impacts. “Some of the watersheds that are super steep and fed by snow driven catchments are going to see some of the biggest changes. They might not all be bad, but those are the ones that showed some of the largest changes in flow,” he said. On the other hand, glacial fed waters could provide new and better salmon systems. “In Southeast, Southcentral and Prince William Sound there are a lot of glacial fed systems that salmon use and some that salmon haven’t colonized yet. As glaciers shrink and melt, there is some opportunity to create new, and in some cases, better habitat,” he explained. “Some of those glacial systems are really big rivers, so there are definitely opportunities for some shifts in productivity.” Watersheds that are in good shape should be fairly resilient, Shanley said. For waters adjacent to roads and culverts that have changed historically, the conservancy plans to do restoration projects, such as making sure there is adequate drainages and adding trees and stumps. “The wood slows down the water so that can help with higher water levels, and it also provides pools and shade and protection from predators,” Shanley said. More new research by the Oregon-based Wild Salmon Center, or WSC, also provides a glimpse of how a flooded future could hurt salmon in Southeast and other Alaska regions. Salmon spawn in streams in the fall and eggs develop through the winter, so increased winter flooding could potentially scour their eggs from streambeds and harm the next generations of fish, said WSC science director Matthew Sloat. In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Sloat modeled the possible flood disturbances on coho, chum and pink salmon spawning habitats in over 800 Southeast watersheds. They found that as much as 16 percent of the spawning habitat for coho salmon could be lost by the 2080s primarily in narrower, steeper streams. The effects were lower for pink and chum salmon, which spawn almost exclusively in low sloping floodplain streams. Somewhat surprisingly, the study shows that the overall risk of flood impacts to salmon reproduction in Southeast Alaska appears much lower than previously thought. That’s due to the relatively pristine condition of the area's rivers and floodplains, according to Sloat. "Flood plains act as pressure release valves that can dissipate the energy of large floods," he said. "Our results identify key parts of watersheds that, if protected, will continue to buffer salmon populations from flood disturbance in the future.” Find the WSC report online at GlobalChange Biology Tanner tanks The popular January Tanner crab fishery has been cancelled for the fourth year in a row at the Westward Region, meaning Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. During the last fishery, a fleet of 80 or more small boats took a combined catch of about three million pounds of crab worth several million dollars to the region. But annual surveys showed the numbers of both legal sized males and females don’t meet the minimums to allow for a fishery. “We don’t seem to be having a problem making small crab. The problem seems to be getting enough of them to a legal size where we can have a fishery,” said Nat Nichols, shellfish manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. It takes six to seven years for Tanner crab to reach their mature, two-pound size. Kodiak is seeing slight crab increases, especially at the east and southeast districts, Nichols said, but it’s slow going. At Chignik, Tanner crab abundance estimates were the lowest in the survey time series that dates back to 1988. At the Western Peninsula, the stock remains in decline and the bulk of the crab were heavily localized in just two areas of one bay. Biologists point to a warming ocean and predation as the likely causes of the crab declines. “We are seeing increases in skates, small halibut, cod and pollock in near shore, so I think it’s fair to look at increased predation as a reason why we don’t have these small crabs making it to legal size,” Nichols said. Nichols added that he has confidence in the annual surveys, and for several years biologists have gone beyond the standard survey grid, thanks to funding from the Aleutians East Borough. “The results of those additional tows indicate that there are small bits of crab everywhere you look,” Nichols said, “but we haven’t found a large portion that indicates we’re missing them wholesale.” By the way — Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com for information

Popular fish forum set for Oct. 12 in Kodiak

Fish on! The lure of reaching a statewide radio audience has once again attracted a full slate of political hopefuls to Kodiak for its popular fisheries debate. On Wednesday, Oct. 12, five candidates for U.S. Senate will travel to the nation’s No. 2 fishing port to share their knowledge and ideas on a single topic: Alaska’s seafood industry. “It’s a great service to Kodiak, to our fishing communities and to Alaska in general,” said Trevor Brown, director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, host of the event. “Fishing is the state’s largest private sector employer. I think the candidates realize the importance of the fishing industry and that its viability is very important to Alaska.” Since 1990 the Kodiak debates have been an election year tradition for candidates vying both for Alaska governor and Congress, and have always gotten 100 percent participation. Candidates facing off this go around include Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Joe Miller on the Libertarian ticket, Democrat Ray Metcalf and independents Margaret Stock and Breck Craig. Debate moderator is Alaska Senator Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak; panelists posing questions are Julie Matweyou of Alaska Sea Grant, Julie Bonney, director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank, and Jeff Stephen, director of the United Fishermen’s Marketing Association. Alaska’s fisheries are an important part of any sitting U.S. Senator’s oversight, as nearly 85 percent of the seafood poundage that crosses the Alaska docks comes from waters managed and funded by Congress and the federal government, meaning from three to 200 miles from shore. The fisheries debate, set for Oct. 12 from 7-9pm, at the Kodiak High School auditorium, will be broadcast and live streamed from host station KMXT/Kodiak and provided statewide via the Alaska Public Radio Network. Tune in at www.kmxt.org/ Bad crab news Bering Sea crabbers got the bad news they expected: low catch quotas and a canceled Tanner fishery for the 2016-17 season. State managers announced last week that the catch for Bristol Bay red king crab will be just shy of 8.5 million pounds, down 15 percent from last year. For Bering Sea snow crab, the harvest limit was slashed nearly in half to 21.5 million pounds, the lowest catch in 45 years. Last year the total take was 40.6 million pounds, and it was nearly 68 million pounds the previous season. An even bigger hit to the crab industry will come from the closure of the bairdi Tanner crab fishery, which had been growing steadily and produced 20 million pounds last season. Biologists said not enough female crabs were seen during summer surveys to reach a minimum threshold needed to open the fishery. Crabbers believe the Tanners are still out there, but have relocated from the standard survey regions. The small blue king crab fishery at St. Matthew Island also was closed for the season. “With the bairdi Tanner fishery closed and no opening at St. Matt’s and with the cutbacks, whatever problems are causing poor recruitment of snow crab are impacting other crab species as well,” said market expert John Sackton. The Bering Sea crab fisheries open Oct. 15. No urchin searchin’ Divers could pull up millions of pounds of sea urchins from Alaska waters each October, but the fishery draws little interest. The urchins are valued for their uni, or roe, used widely in sushi rolls and Asian dishes. Southeast Alaska allows for a 3 million-pound red urchin take, down from 7 million pounds in the 1990s when 150 divers would be on the grounds. The actual harvest today is closer to 300,000 pounds taken by five to 10 divers, said Phil Doherty, director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Fisheries Association in Ketchikan. It was quality problems, otters and a huge dump of Russian roe over the past decade pretty much did the local fishery in. “There was a problem in extracting the roe and packaging it up and getting it over to the markets,” Doherty explained. “It’s a fresh product and by the time it arrived in Japan, they weren’t real happy with the quality of the roe.” The softball sized red urchins pay between 35 cents to 55 cents at the docks.  Green sea urchins found around Kodiak Island pay well over $1 a pound, but no fishery has occurred there for 15 years. Harvests peaked in 1988 at around 150,000 pounds taken by a dozen boats, then tapered off to just 27,000 pounds by the late 1990s, said Nat Nichols, area manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak.  He agrees that the bottom fell out of the Alaska uni market.  “It’s a real high end market,” Nichols said. “They’re looking for not only live urchins with high quality roe, but also really pretty urchins with no broken spines and things like that. It was difficult and not profitable to try and move urchins out of Kodiak in October. Meanwhile, the ISF Trading Company in Portland, Maine lists live, whole green sea urchins at $4 a pound, and fresh uni at $10 for quarter pound trays. Fish futures With a few exceptions, Alaska’s 2016 salmon season was tough on both buyers and sellers. But having less fish available for market means wild salmon is moving well through sales channels at home and abroad, and plans are already underway for ramping up sales for next year, said Robin Samuelson, president of Ocean Beauty Seafoods which has operated in Alaska since 1910. “Our freezers will be empty by spring and we will be processing and buying very aggressively throughout the state,” Samuelson said, referring to the company’s six processing plants in Petersburg, Excursion Inlet near Juneau, Cordova, Kodiak and Bristol Bay. That’s contrary to recent rumors on the docks that Ocean Beauty is closing up shop, likely stemming from a big move being planned at its major office headquarters near Seattle. “We are closing our Union Street facility in Ballard and moving north,” Samuelson explained, adding that it also houses a plant where value added processing is done. “We’ve outgrown that facility and are experiencing substantial growth, and we are looking for a larger building that can accommodate that. “We are always looking for more opportunities. We know how much fishermen rely on us and we will be working with them for years to come.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cod Crunchies come to Costco

Alaskan Cod Crunchies begin a national roll out this week with a debut at Costco’s two stores in Anchorage. The dog treats are one of the newest products stemming from Alaskan Leader Seafood’s commitment to complete “head to tail” usage of their catches. “It’s pure, 100 percent human grade trimmings coming right off the cod fillets,” said Keith Singleton, president of the company’s value added division. Alaskan Leader’s four freezer/longline vessels are owned in partnership with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and fish primarily for cod in the Bering Sea. Besides the frozen at sea fillets, Alaskan Leader also has developed markets for (and thereby monetized) all of the cod heads, livers and skins. The Crunchies, which have been under development for about a year, are dried and shaped into crispy, domino-sized wafers. Taste tests with numerous dogs proved the product was a winner. “Boy, they get going on that crunch and it’s like that potato chip commercial that says ‘you can’t just eat one.’ They keep coming back for more,” Singleton said. Dillingham dogs agreed, according to Robin Samuelson, president of Ocean Beauty Seafoods and chairman of BBEDC. “When I came home to Dillingham I had two sacks with me and there was a 12-week old black lab. I opened them up and said ‘let’s put it to the test,’ and that little dog loved the cod treats,” Samuelson said with a laugh. “What’s most exciting is Costco chose Alaska to debut the product. We feel really blessed about that,” Singleton added. The buzz surrounding the new Cod Crunchies is exciting, echoed Samuelson, but to him, the bigger story is the full use of the fish that comes over the rails. “It’s a new product that we think will do good throughout the U.S.,” he said. “And it’s the full utilization of the species and we’re just tickled pink.” Celebrate seafood! October is National Seafood Month — a distinction proclaimed by Congress more than 30 years ago to recognize one of our nation’s oldest industries. Government figures show that nationwide, the seafood industry contributes $60 billion to the U.S. economy each year. Alaska deserves special merit during Seafood Month, as it produces about 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood, more than all the other states combined. The seafood industry also is Alaska’s number one private employer; it puts more people to work than oil and gas, mining, timber and tourism industries combined. Americans eat about 16 pounds of seafood per person each year, which pales in comparison to other parts of the world.  The Japanese, for example, eat 146 pounds of seafood per person annually. Figures from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization show that people in Greenland eat 186 pounds per capita, and in Iceland more than 200 pounds of seafood are eaten annually. The country with the lowest seafood consumption is Afghanistan at zero. And where in the world is the most seafood eaten? The South Pacific island of Tokelau where each person eats more than 440 pounds of seafood every year. Think pink! To whet more American appetites for seafood, Chicken of the Sea has claimed Oct. 8 as National Salmon Day. The company uses Alaska pink salmon in its pouched and canned products and the promotion is a way to highlight the iconic fish. “We wanted to get behind an effort to create a Salmon Day for anyone and everyone who provides salmon, and/or serves salmon. Wild or packaged, anyway that we can get people to eat more salmon, that is our goal,” said company spokesman Bob Ochsner. “Tuna has a day, lobster, crab, even clams have a day,” he continued. “We believed strongly that it was appropriate for the second most popular seafood in the United States to have its own day.”
 To coincide with the second annual event, Chicken of the Sea has rolled out its list of the Top 10 U.S. Salmon Cities, where residents eat more fresh and shelf-stable salmon per person than counterparts in other cities.
 The top 10, in no particular order, are Anchorage, Seattle Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Nashville, New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Salmon lovers can use the hashtag #NationalSalmonDay on their social media platforms on Oct. 8 to be entered for a week-long Alaska cruise and other prizes.

 Fall fish meetings Fish meetings over the next few months give industry stakeholders a chance to participate in policy-making that directly affects their livelihoods.
 The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets October 5-11 at the Anchorage Hilton. The agenda includes a first look at next year’s catch quotas for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish in federally managed waters (three to 200 miles out), which account for over 80 percent of Alaska’s harvest poundage. The public has until Oct. 4 to comment to the state Board of Fisheries on agenda change requests and stocks of concern for its meeting cycle that begins with a work session Oct. 18-20 in Soldotna. Through March the Fish Board will take up 276 commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fishery proposals focused primarily on Kodiak and Cook Inlet. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is calling for 2017 regulatory and catch limit proposals, due by Oct. 31. The industry will get a first glimpse at next year’s halibut catch recommendations at the IPHC interim meeting set for Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. The halibut commission’s annual meeting will take place Jan.23-27 in Victoria, British Columbia. The eight-month halibut fishery opens in March. All of the fish meetings are available online as they happen. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Walker requests disaster declaration for humpy fishery

Gov. Bill Walker has officially requested that the federal government declare a disaster for four Alaska regions hurt by one of the poorest pink salmon returns in decades. In a Sept. 19 letter to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, Walker said fishery failures that occurred this summer at the Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik management areas are having a “significant impact on those who depend on the fishery for their livelihood” and asks for the “soonest possible review” due to the economic importance of these fisheries. How bad were the humpy hauls? At Kodiak, fishing remained closed during 70 percent of the pink salmon run and the catch of just 3.2 million was 28 percent of the expected harvest. The estimated value to fishermen, Walker wrote in his letter, is $2.21 million, compared to a five- year average of $14.64 million. At Prince William Sound the total pink catch of 12 million was more than 46 percent below the preseason forecast. The dockside value of $6.6 million compares to an average of nearly $44 million over the past five years. The pink salmon catch of 97,000 at Lower Cook Inlet was 13 percent of the 759,000 forecast. That means a payday of $78,000 for Inlet fishermen, who have averaged $501,000 in recent years. Fishermen at Chignik did not even get any directed openers for pink salmon this summer. The 140,000 humpies taken during the region’s sockeye fishery were valued at $110,000, down from a five-year average of $740,000. The pink salmon disaster declaration, should it occur, won’t set a precedent. Alaska received $20.8 million in federal money for fishery failures due to three years of low king salmon returns on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in the Cook Inlet region. The money was paid out in two installments over two years with an initial grant of $7.8 million divided among commercial fishermen. A second grant of $13 million was distributed as $4.5 million to the sport fishing sector, $7.5 million for research and restoration, and $700,000 was paid directly to Cook Inlet processors and salmon buyers who proved losses in income due to the fisheries failure. “This is not going to be a blanket money grab for anybody who fished pinks. If you’re in the disaster area and the large portion of your income was based on pink salmon, then I believe you will be eligible,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who spearheaded the push for the pink disaster declaration. Stutes said her office is now compiling the details of “time frames and the who’s and how’s” for people to apply for monetary payouts, should the move get a green light from the federal government. Affected fishermen also can apply for a waiver of state loan payments for this year, to be tacked on to the end of the loan term. A memo from Walker directs the state Department of Commerce and Economic Development to “commit as many resources as possible to assisting pink salmon fishery permit holders, and that review of individual loan payment waivers be expedited.” Cameras count fish To get better data on what’s coming over the rails, three years ago fishery managers expanded onboard observer coverage for the first time to include halibut longline vessels less than 50 feet in length. That’s prompted a push to replace those extra bodies aboard with electronic monitoring systems, or EMS, already in use in other U.S. and Canadian fisheries. “Those of us who live here know that some of these boats are too small to carry an extra person. There are bunk space issues, the wheel house is too small for them to spread all their stuff out and still be able to eat at the galley table and sometimes there’s just nowhere to put them on deck safely,” said Dan Falvey, program director for the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. 
 Armed with funding from National Marine Fisheries Service and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, ALFA has been recruiting boats to field test an EMS that includes a control center connected to GPS, cameras to monitor the lines for species identification, a deck camera to track discards and a seabird camera. The system, provided at no cost through the EM Cooperative Research Program, is turned on only if a vessel is selected randomly for coverage prior to a fishing trip. “We’ll get it installed on the boats and next year before they go fishing, they log in their trip in and if the system says they have to have at-sea monitoring, they just flip the switch and fish like they normally do,” Falvey explained. The goal is to equip up to 90 longline vessels and 30 pot boats of all sizes with EMS for next year; about 70 from Kodiak, Homer, Sitka, Seward and Petersburg had signed up by the Sept. 20 deadline.  Anyone interested should still register, Falvey said, as they may be included as funding permits, and they can also be part of future programs. Contact Liz Chilton at 206-526-4197 or [email protected] Tipping the scales In its quest to streamline catch accountings and say so long to paper fish tickets, state managers are planning to integrate salmon weights with hopper scales aboard tender boats next summer. “We were approached by industry to see if we could modify one of our tLandings application onboard tenders to allow for automatic documentation of the scale weights,” said Gail Smith, eLandings program coordinator for the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game, adding that Trident Seafoods and Rice Lake Weights are collaborating with the pilot project in Cordova. About 20 percent of Alaska’s 600 to 700 tender boats use hoppers over hanging scales, Smith said, but more are moving towards vacuuming the fish from the catcher boats and conveying them to a hopper scale for better weighing accuracy. “A brailer bag that is hung from a hanging scale has quite a lot of weight associated with the fish inside and bounces up and down more, so it’s hard to get a good accurate weight,” she explained. Trial tests last year on tendered cod and pollock taken near Sand Point were very successful, Smith said, and the department is eager to try out the new system on salmon. “Now we want to modify it to salmon landings because we’ve got more species and different delivery conditions, so we want to make sure it provides rapid, efficient documentation of the catch,” she added. Another tLandings tablet platform, in partnership with Alaska General Seafoods and North Pacific Seafoods, will benefit small operators in more remote regions starting next summer at Bristol Bay. “This will accommodate setnetters and beach-based deliveries to trucks or to smaller tenders. It will provide for greater reporting flexibility to meet the situations that occur in the industry,” Smith said. Both projects are funded by NOAA Fisheries and Pacific State Marine Fisheries Commission. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Cordovans want serious look at Tanners

Cordovans are hoping to revive a long lost Tanner crab fishery in Prince William Sound as a step towards keeping the town’s waterfront working year round. The crab fishery produced up to 14 million pounds in the early 1970s and had declined to about half a million pounds by the time it was closed after the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. State managers believe the Tanner stock remains depleted and cannot provide for a commercial fishery, but locals believe it’s time to take a closer look. “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.” Over the past year the town has turned out to support expanding research for the crab fishery in meetings with state commissioners and local legislators. “This is as much of a grassroots effort as I’ve ever seen in terms of getting some science done. Everyone understands the benefits of having canneries and boats working year round,” Whissel said. State biologists have conducted periodic trawl surveys in Prince William Sound since 1991, but Cordovans believe that method does not accurately count densities of crab in other regions. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game acknowledged in a memo that the existing survey “does not reflect Tanner crab abundance outside the survey grounds” but they believe the trends “are reflective of Tanners throughout the Sound.” Starting this fall, Cordovans plan to supplement the trawl data by doing something different: a mark recapture study. “Marking and then recapturing crab is a pretty standard measurement of densities and age structures, and much more involved than a trawl survey,” Whissel said, adding that the Eyak tribe is now working out the study design and readying funding proposals for federal matching grants to jumpstart the Tanner project this winter. State crab biologists said they will provide the Board of Fisheries with information next March “that could lead to a development of a harvest strategy and allow additional harvest,” according to ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten. Meanwhile, Cordovans will begin their study with Tanners pulled up in their subsistence pots this fall. Whissel is hopeful the project will serve as a model to evaluate other potential fisheries in the region. “There’s other opportunities around here and it would be good for our town and for our state,” he said. “With oil prices being what they are and the tax rate being what it is, commercial fishing could play a larger role in the state budget if we gave them more chances to do that.” Whissel called the crab project collaboration by the state and tribal government “an exciting new way forward.” “The state will find that it is able to do a lot by collaborating with tribes because we have access to different pools of federal dollars in times of tightening budgets,” he said. “Coming together on projects like this instead of being territorial is going to be the way we do things in the future.” Got skates? Giant skates is another fishery that could get underway in Prince William Sound and other regions after more is learned about their lifestyle and habits. A few skate fisheries have occurred on and off in the central Gulf over the past decade. More recently, managers have put on the brakes because of the fast pace in which they can be caught, and the fact that little is known about Alaskan skates. “There’s quite a bit of skate fishing going on in the Atlantic, both on the U.S. and European side, but here in Alaska it’s hasn’t been a target for very long at all. So we really don’t know that much about them,” said Thomas Farrugia, a doctoral student at the UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, or SFOS. Farrugia and SFOS professor Andrew Seitz are studying whether there can be a sustainable and profitable fishery for big and long nose skates in the Gulf of Alaska. One thing they’ve learned in a yearlong satellite tagging study is that skates really get around. “It was previously thought that skates sit in one spot and look for crabs, clams and little fish to eat, but don’t have much need to move a whole lot like an oceanic predator,” Farrugia explained. “But it turns out big skates can move over hundreds of nautical miles, which we hadn’t been sure about before. The take away message is we have to look at the entire Gulf population as one big stock and not a bunch of subunits. And this will affect how the species is managed.” Farrugia calls skates “flat sharks” because the two are identical biologically. Both have a very slow life history and produce only two to eight offspring each time they mate. In Alaska, skates can fetch nice prices — 45 cents per pound for whole fish and a dollar a pound for skate wings frozen at sea. “Fishermen, especially bottom trawlers or halibut and cod longliners, will catch quite a few skates and retain them because the price for them is fairly high, often higher than cod,” Farrugia said. Currently, skates can only be retained as five percent bycatch of a targeted catch, such as cod or halibut. About 4.5 million pounds are taken in Gulf fisheries each year. It’s mostly fishermen in Prince William Sound, Seward and Homer who are pushing for a skate fishery, while others in Kodiak believe it would be best to leave skates as a bycatch portion in their other fisheries. “There’s a sort of geographical divide,” Farrugia said. “If they do have a fishery, it would be a short season, maybe for a week, where all these boats would target skates and then not be able to fish them for the rest of the year. Others want to be able to retain skates as bycatch over a longer period of time.” The next phase of Farrugia’s research is to create a Gulf-wide stock assessment model that could be used by fishery managers, followed by a bio-economic model that evaluates whether a skate fishery would be feasible. “Until we know more about the biomass and what the sustainable level is, it is probably not going to be possible to have a profitable directed skate fishery because there is just not enough quota to go around,” Farrugia said. 

 Climate pros/cons Every fish in the sea responds differently to warming oceans and off kilter ocean chemistry. A new report titled Climate Change and Alaska Fisheries highlights how some top species might be helped or harmed by changing weather patterns. “The take home message seems to be that it will affect fisheries resources differentially. Some species of salmon such as pinks and chums seem to do a little better under warmer conditions, some not so well,” said Terry Johnson, a fisheries professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and a marine advisor with Alaska Sea Grant in Anchorage. Milder winters can be a boon to freshwater growth and survival of some salmon, he pointed out, and hot summers can mean more plankton blooms in sockeye producing lakes and rivers.  “The whole issue with all of the salmon is in the end it comes down to what they find when they get to the ocean,” Johnson said. Halibut also could respond well to more plankton blooms from warmer waters, though little research has been done on that popular fish. Species likely not to fare as well are pollock and crab. “A big concern is both pollock and crab are expected to decline significantly in this current century, over the next four or five decades. People who are newly coming into the industry may see those fishing opportunities decrease,” he cautioned. Warmer temperatures and milder sea conditions that sometimes accompany them also may improve safety and reduce costs for harvesters and processors. Expanded or shifted ranges can bring new fishery resources into a region, or increase abundance of those already there, the report adds. Johnson said his main goal was to explore ways the seafood industry can adapt to the inevitable changes. “Change is constant in fisheries,” he said. “What distinguishes fishermen from other occupational groups is they are constantly adapting to change on a year-by-year and day-by-day basis. Rather than obsessing about the good and the bad the ocean is producing because of climate, the focal point should be what on each community or each individual can do.” Johnson hopes to hear fishermen’s ideas and experiences at a forum this fall at Pacific Marine Expo. Find the report at the Alaska Sea Grant bookstore. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

It surprises many people across the state that fall is one of the busiest times for Alaska’s fishing industry from the Panhandle to the Bering Sea. As salmon season gets tucked away, hundreds of boats of all gear types are still out on the water, or gearing up for even more openers in just a few weeks. Here’s a sampler: Longliners have taken 82 percent of their 17 million-pound halibut catch quota with 3 million pounds left to go by the Nov. 7 close of that eight-month fishery. Homer, which bills itself as the nation’s top halibut port, is being out-landed by Kodiak by just a few thousand pounds. Longline fleets also are targeting a 20.3 million-pound sablefish (black cod) catch. Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in parts of the Gulf, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear. Trawlers are targeting pollock and other groundfish in both the Bering Sea and the Gulf. And tons of cod are crossing the docks with Sept. 1 openers for longline gear and pot boats. Southeast’s summer chinook fishery closed to trollers on Sept. 3; the winter troll fishery will reopen in early October. Crabbers will be back out on the water for the Oct. 1 start of the fall Dungeness fishery. The summer dungie season that ended in mid-August produced a two million pound catch valued at $6 million at the Southeast docks. October also marks the start of Alaska’s premiere shrimp fishery — big spots from the Panhandle. Pots will haul in more than a half million pounds of spot shrimp during that opener. Beam trawling for pink and coon stripe shrimp also is ongoing in several Southeast regions. Hundreds of divers will head down for sea cucumbers and urchins in October. More than one million pounds of sea cukes are usually taken in Southeast waters, with smaller takes around Kodiak Island, and the price often tops $3 a pound. Hundreds of big “seven by” crab pots are stacked to the sky at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak in readiness for the start of the Bering Sea crab fisheries that get underway on Oct. 15. Pink relief updates Fishermen hurt by the pink salmon no-show can apply now for a breather in their state loan payments. “This would not be a forgiveness, but would add this year’s loan payment onto the end of the loan period and forgive the payment just for this year,” said Rep. Louise Stutes of Kodiak, who sponsored the relief measure. Stutes said it is “absolutely imperative” for anyone wanting a waiver of their loan payments to contact the Division of Economic Development prior to the due date of the loan. She urged that fishermen not be put off by the 16-page application packet they will receive. “Not all of the pages need to be filled out. This is a loan application and these individuals already have a loan. They are only asking for a waiver in the provision of the existing loan,” Stutes explained, adding that division staff is on point to help. “They are anticipating fishermen calling and they will walk them through to help them put in only the pertinent, required information,” she said. “That streamlines it somewhat until we can fine tune it a bit further. Call the Division at 1-800-478-5626. The state also continues to build a case for declaring the pink salmon fishery failure a disaster. “There are certain steps to go through before the governor feels comfortable making that determination. And that’s the process we’re in currently,” Stutes said. Affected communities can contact her office at (907) 486-8872 to get the appropriate wording to use in a resolution, Stutes said, “indicating how devastating this lack of pink salmon has been to their communities and requesting that they do declare it a disaster.” Debris tracker Forget Pokémon Go, take part in a bigger effort to help clean up the Blue Planet! The Marine Debris Tracker App helps you locate where and what types of trash are littering our waterways and coastlines. The app, created through the NOAA Marine Debris Program and the Southeast Atlantic Marine Debris Initiative, has cataloged over one million items reported by trackers. “For any form of litter or marine debris, you can pull up a list and it’s one click to enter in what the user sees,” said Jenna Jambeck, co-creator of the Tracker App. “You can also add a quantity, a description and a photo.” The app works with GPS, so it knows the location where the user is collecting debris. “So you can be out fishing or in some remote area and log all your data along with the GPS. I think that it is a really powerful component of the app,” she said. The tracker app also gives people feedback and makes them feel good about what they are doing. “It is really fun for people to feel like they are a bigger part of a larger effort,” Jambeck said. “We have a top tracker list, so those who do it most frequently are definitely acknowledged on the website and they can share their efforts through social media. It is a win-win for the collector, the marine initiative and the planet.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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