Laine Welch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Sen. Sullivan talks fisheries accomplishments in Kodiak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Arrowtooth flounder study focused on food competition

Fish stomachs could help solve the mystery of why Alaska halibut are so small for their age.

Halibut weights are about one-third of what they were 30 years ago, meaning a halibut weighing 120 pounds in the late 1980s is closer to 40 pounds nowadays.

One culprit could be arrowtooth flounders, whose numbers have increased 500 percent over the same time to outnumber the most abundant species in the Gulf: pollock.

FISH FACTOR: World market continues to squeeze Alaska sockeye

Early signs point to continuing headwinds in world markets for Alaska salmon.

Global currencies remain in disarray, the ongoing Russian seafood embargo is diverting more farmed salmon to the U.S., and tons of product remains in freezers from back-to-back bumper sockeye runs. (The majority of Alaska’s salmon goes to market in frozen, headed and gutted, or H&G, form.)

One plus: aggressive market promotions have kept reds moving briskly at retail outlets at home and abroad and removed some of the back log.

FISH FACTOR: Small-scale fishermen and women get turn on reality TV

Fishing lives and fishing wives are set to be showcased for a national audience: one as a documentary and the other, on reality television.

The first, an hour-long feature called “Last Man Fishing,” focuses on the lifestyles and challenges facing our nation’s small-scale fishermen.

FISH FACTOR: High-end black cod taken for research donated to hungry

Needy Alaskans are enjoying a rare taste of sablefish, thanks to a science project that kept research fish from going over the rails.

Sablefish, more commonly called black cod, are one of the world’s priciest, high-end fish, and Alaska waters are home to the largest stocks. The deep-water fish are found at depths of 5,000 feet or more and can live to nearly 100 years. The Gulf of Alaska fishery, which has a catch total of about 20 million pounds this year (18.2 million in 2015) is usually worth more than $90 million to Alaska fishermen at the docks.

FISH FACTOR: Rare optimism for halibut as IPHC boosts harvest quotas

Alaska’s halibut stocks are showing signs of an uptick and fishermen in all but one region will avoid slashed catches for the first time in nearly 15 years.

The International Pacific Halibut Commission on Friday (Jan. 29) set the coast wide Pacific halibut harvest for 2016 at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from last year.

FISH FACTOR: Fisheries battle budget cuts and new taxes in Legislature

A single chinook salmon is worth more than a barrel of oil.

The winter kings being caught by Southeast Alaska trollers are averaging 10 pounds each with a dock price of $7.34 a pound, according to state fish tickets. That adds up to $73.40 per fish, compared to $26 per barrel of oil.

Those who depend on fishing for their livelihoods want to make sure that budget cuts combined with any new fishery taxes don’t cut core services that result in missed fishing opportunities.

FISH FACTOR: Private hatchery, personal use fish bills pre-filed for session

A fish bill that has already been prefiled would let Alaskans take fisheries enhancement efforts into their own hands. House Bill 220 by Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, would allow “fisheries enhancement permits” as a “tool to support Fish and Game.”

The permits would allow people to take eggs, grow them into smolt and release them wherever they want into the wild. The permit also would allow groups or individuals to “enhance habitat and augment nutrients” in state waterways to support fish,” according to the bill language.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry hits milestone as sales top $1M

Alaska’s mariculture industry has passed some big milestones, and is getting set to head into the weeds.

Aquatic farming, which was ok’d by Alaska lawmakers in 1988, topped $1 million in shellfish sales for the first time ever in 2014, coming in at $1.2 million.

“This is the highest sales we’ve had since the inception of the program which is pretty exciting,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, Director of Mariculture for the state Department of Fish and Game, adding that shellfish production increased 27 percent.


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