Laine Welch

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.

FISH FACTOR: Crab harvest to take a nosedive; Bristol Bay rocks Boulder

Bering Sea crabbers were stunned last week when the outlooks for the upcoming fall and winter fisheries were revealed. Results of the annual summer surveys by state and federal scientists showed that numbers of mature male and females dropped sharply across the board for the big three: opilio (snow crab), their larger cousins, Bairdi Tanners, and red king crab. “I don’t think anybody was expecting the numbers to be as low as they ended up. That was a shock,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Managers use different criteria for setting quotas for the three crab species. For snow crab, the state chooses from what they believe is the most reliable of three data sets. Christiansen said she feels sure that fishery will be a go, albeit with a smaller catch quota. “I’m not worried about that one not opening. But given the information we have and the state’s tendency to always be cautious, the catch will be lower than the 40.6 million pounds from last year,” Christiansen said. The harvest strategy for Bairdi tanner crab is based on a threshold of mature females. Not enough females means no fishery, and the survey results showed a drop of nearly 60 percent from just a year ago. But the crabbers believe the Bairdi are still out there; they’ve just moved to a different spot. “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,” Christiansen said. The surveys are standardized and trawl samples are taken from the same stations each year throughout the eastern Bering Sea. Bairdi crab catches have been on a steady climb since 2013, approaching 20 million pounds last season, and the fleet has logged good catches. The crabbers believe the cause of the disappearing crab is changing ocean conditions, pointing out that 2016 is one of the hottest years on record for Bering Sea water temperatures, both at the sea surface and on the ocean floor. “We’ve seen dramatic drops in crab numbers from last year to this year. It’s not an overfishing issue or fishing mortality or natural mortality. Something else is going on,” Christiansen stressed. The outlook for red king crab at Bristol Bay is a bit brighter. The survey numbers for both males and females were down, but managers use a different balancing act there to set catch quotas. “The state bases its strategy on the spawning biomass, which is a combination of the males and females, and even though one went up and one went down, the balance is the same. So we are not anticipating that catch to change dramatically,” she explained. The red king crab quota last season was about 10 million pounds. Crab scientists are now busily crunching the raw data and will present more complete findings to the industry later this month. The Bering Sea crab quotas will be released in early October; the fisheries open Oct. 15. Bristol Bay reds rock Boulder “Wild Taste, Amazing Place” is the theme of an ambitious Bristol Bay sockeye salmon branding program that launched this month in Boulder, Colo. “We’ve been working for months with just about every level of the supply chain from processors to distributors and retailers to help them get Bristol Bay sockeye into their stores,” said Becky Martello, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, or BBRSDA. The group is bankrolling the $700,000 pilot program with a 1 percent tax paid by member driftnet fishermen on the dockside value of their catch. The fishermen have partnered with Anchorage-based Rising Tide Communications, whose creative experts have longtime, hands on involvement in Alaska fishing. The campaign includes training people behind the retail counters about the special features of Bristol Bay, recipes, posters, special dinners by local chefs, mugs and even branded wrapping paper for the bright red sockeye fillets. “When people buy the salmon it is wrapped up in beautiful craft paper and sealed with a Bristol Bay sticker,” Martello said. Fishermen will be on hand throughout the four-month promotion as a tie in to their new website’s “Know your Fisherman” section. “That is huge with consumers and with our Millennial target,” she said. “They really want to know where their food comes from and connecting them to the fishermen is the most natural way to tell that story and connect people to Bristol Bay.” The Wild Taste, Amazing Place promotion will run through the end of the year and be evaluated by an independent firm. The BBRSDA will then decide where to go next. “We want to use this very targeted campaign to measure what we are doing. We are investing a lot of our fishermen’s dollars in this and we want to make sure we are on the right track,” Martello said, adding that the response to the effort has been overwhelmingly positive. “We’ve had so much great feedback,” she said. “It’s so gratifying to see how many people are getting onboard with it. It’s really exciting.” See the snazzy new website at http://bristolbaysockeye.org/ Salmon bright spot Unlike most other Alaska regions, Yukon salmon fishermen are enjoying some record salmon catches. The combined fall chum and coho harvest of more than 1 million fish is the largest in the 55 years of the commercial fishery, according to regional managers. “It’s a pivotal year,” said Jack Schultheis, longtime manager of KwikPak Fisheries in Emmonak. Another first was a healthy pink salmon fishery complete with interested buyers. “There’s never been a pink fishery in the river before and this was the first year we targeted them,” Schultheis told Seafood.com “The catch of 127,250 may not sound like much, but considering no one has ever bought pinks on the Yukon, we’re encouraged about that.” Schultheis credited the good returns to “excellent management.” “The department (of Fish and Game) has done an exceptional job managing the fishery,” he said. “That’s why I feel very positive about the future. I think this is going to be the norm, to have consistent runs like this.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon Wheels are already in motion to provide two measures of relief for Alaska’s pink salmon industry, which is reeling from the lowest harvest since the late 1970s. Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, began the process last week to have the Walker Administration declare the pink salmon season a disaster, which would allow access to federal relief funds. Pinks are Alaska’s highest volume salmon fishery and hundreds of fishermen depend on the fish to boost their overall catches and paychecks. So far the statewide harvest has reached just 36 million humpies out of a preseason forecast of 90 million. That compares to a catch of 190 million pinks last summer. “This is the worst salmon year in nearly 40 years, and that’s huge,” she said. “It doesn’t just affect the fishermen; it’s a trickle-down effect on the cannery workers, the processors, and nearly all businesses in the community. It’s a disaster, there’s no other way to describe it.” Stutes, who chairs the House fisheries committee and is known as a straight talker, said she has gotten very positive response from the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development. “They are on it and already moving forward,” Stutes said. At the same time, she is working with the Division of Investments to allow a “blanket pardon” of state-funded fishermen’s loan payments for this year. “This would not be a forgiveness, but would add this year’s payment onto the end of the loan period and forgive the loan payment just for this year,” she explained. The disaster declaration and the loan suspensions “go hand in hand,” Stutes said, “but don’t depend on each other.” While visiting constituents in Kodiak, Cordova and Yakutat, Stutes said that “literally people are in fear about making mortgage payments and paying their bills. They can’t claim unemployment because they are still employed. There is just no work.” By week’s end she was awaiting word from Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott, who is the Administration’s fishery “point person,” to take the ball and run with it. But Stutes said the process has already begun and her job is to make sure it keeps moving. “I’m a squeaky wheel and this is crucial to the resident workers and to people in so many communities. I’ll keep the pressure on so things will move quickly,” she said. It won’t be the first time a salmon disaster has been declared in Alaska. In 2012, a disaster was declared due to fishery failures on the Yukon and Kuskokwim Rivers and in Cook Inlet due to low Chinook salmon returns for that season and in previous years. Crab con National surveys show clearly that most Americans want to know where their foods come from. Seafood lovers can easily tell at retail counters where their salmon and other fish choices come from, and if the fish is wild or farmed. That’s due to Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL, laws, which went into effect a decade ago. But the laws do not apply to seafood that has been “processed,” no matter how minimally. A processed food item is defined as “a retail item derived from a covered commodity that has undergone specific processing resulting in a change in the character of the covered commodity.” Under this definition, “cooking (e.g. frying, broiling, grilled, boiling, steaming, baking, roasting)” is an example of a specific process that results in such a change, meaning those products are exempt from the COOL requirements. “It was a surprise to all of us who worked very hard to get seafood included in all product forms,” said Mark Vinsel, executive administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 35 fishing groups. The Bering Sea king and snow crab fisheries have been hurt the most by the lack of labeling. “Since all crab are required to be cooked right after delivery they are exempt,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group that catches 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab quota.  The push to exclude products such as canned, pouched or smoked fish and steamed crab, Jacobsen said, came from the U.S. tuna fleet. “All we wanted to do was carve out crab but they had a much more powerful lobby than we did,” he said. The crabbers believe the public has a right to know where their crab comes from and they have not backed down from the COOL battle. “Right now when a consumer goes into a grocery store they don’t know if the crab comes from Russia or Newfoundland or Alaska,” Jacobsen said, “and we think that the American consumers will prefer Alaskan product, especially if there is a chance that much of the crab imported from Russia might be illegal.” A McDowell Group analysis showed that almost 100 million pounds of pirated Russian crab entered the U.S. in 2013, valued at roughly $600 million. An estimated 40 percent of king crab sold in world markets was from illegal Russian harvests. The situation has improved somewhat due to tighter international regulations, but Jacobsen said the outcomes are too soon to tell. “There is still illegal crab going into China and Korea and finding its way into the U.S. but there is no way to tell if it’s legal or not because there is no traceability requirement,” Jacobsen explained. Appeals so far to U.S. policy makers have fallen on deaf ears, so crabbers have gone directly to buyers and retailers. HyVee and Publix only source crab from Alaska and Jacobsen hopes more will follow suit.  Meanwhile, the push to get USA labeling on Alaska crab will continue. “Absolutely,” he said. “It is a big issue to us and very important in the overall program of eliminating illegally caught crab that is imported into the U.S.” Fishy jobs Two high visibility fishery related organizations are recruiting for top jobs. Alaska Sea Grant is seeking a Communications Manager to be based in either Anchorage or Fairbanks. The position oversees a team that works to create public awareness of Sea Grant’s projects, programs and outreach activities across the state. A good understanding of Alaska coastal communities and marine issues is a plus. The position will remain open until filled. The second job covers broader terrain: executive director for the nonprofit Seafood Harvesters of America. The group provides a unified voice for U.S. fishermen from all regions. “We need a strong voice in Washington, DC and around the country to educate policy makers and the public about the value of our fisheries, the income, jobs and nutrition they provide and issues that concern commercial fishermen,” it states on its website. The location is flexible although it has traditionally been in Washington, D.C. Deadline to apply is Sept. 8. Seafood champions wanted The Obama Administration want to honor fishermen and coastal communities that are helping to preserve and protect America’s fishing industry and communities. “This is your chance to nominate someone you know and admire for contributing to the ongoing recovery of America’s fishing industry and our fishing communities as a White House Champion of Change for Sustainable Seafood,” Obama wrote in a press release. Nominees may include fishermen who are leaders in promoting sustainable fishing practices, seafood processors, purveyors, chefs and other business owners, community leaders and innovators in the field of mariculture. Visit www.whitehouse.gov/champions and select “Sustainable Seafood” as the theme. Deadline for nominations is Sept. 9. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon is not in the pink; seafood recipe contest open

Alaska’s 2016 pink salmon fishery is set to rank as the worst in 20 years by a long shot, and the outlook is bleak for all other salmon catches except sockeyes. “Boy, sockeye is really going to have to carry the load in terms of the fishery’s value because there’s a lot of misses elsewhere,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. The historical peaks of the various salmon runs have already passed and the pink salmon catch so far has yet to break 35 million on a forecast of 90 million. That compares to a harvest of 190 million pinks last year. Weekly tracking through Aug. 15 shows the pace of the chinook salmon harvest (341,000) is down 42 percent versus last year in net fisheries, cohos (under 2 million) are down 20 percent, and the chum catch (12 million) is down 25 percent. “As far as chums go, we’re probably looking at the second worst harvest in the past 10 years,” Wink said. Severely reduced supplies of farmed salmon from Chile to the U.S. really put the onus on fresh fish this year, and Alaska processors “game planned” for getting as much salmon into that market as possible. According to commodities tracker Urner Barry, the fresh-farmed salmon price index (based on combined average values) is up 33 percent across the U.S., going from $3.79 in January to $5.03 in mid-August. And a rising tide floats all boats. “Yes, that kind of tide is really helpful and it makes our wild product that much more attractive,” he said. “Conversely, when farmed prices are really low, it’s a much tougher sell.” Both fresh and frozen sockeyes have been moving well — good news for a fishery that unexpectedly has topped 52 million. Not so for Alaska’s competitors — the sockeye fishery at British Columbia’s Fraser River was a complete bust, and Russia’s sockeye fisheries also were down considerably. A big plus this year is that some currency rates are more favorable for buying Alaska. “Another major thing is the 20 percent shift in the yen in our favor,” Wink explained. “The euro hasn’t done much and neither has the Canadian dollar, but Japan is a big trading partner and the fact that their purchasing power has increased that much should be helpful.” In terms of Alaska’s total salmon fishery value, any price gains from reds will likely be offset by the blowout with pinks. Less supply also should add some upward pressure to the disappointing 20 cents per pound paid to fishermen, Wink said, and pink roe markets could benefit from the stronger yen. Market watchers now will be tracking how Alaska salmon in its various forms moves through the global market. “We’ll definitely be looking at through-put and watching prices,” Wink said. “It’s another big sockeye harvest, so we need to get sales pushed through the market so it doesn’t back up in the spring. Hopefully, we’ll also see canned prices stabilize and those sales volumes come up.” Alaska’s 2016 salmon forecast called for a harvest of 161 million fish. Through Aug. 19, the salmon catch had topped 101 million salmon. Seafood recipe sweeps A seafood recipe sweepstakes is underway as a way to entice more Americans to eat more of it. “The purpose is to help Americans understand how easy it is to incorporate seafood into their diets at least twice a week, following the regulatory guidelines for Americans,” said Linda Cornish, executive director of the nonprofit Seafood Nutrition Partnership, or SNP. Only one in 10 Americans follows the twice a week dietary guidelines and U.S. per capita consumption has stalled at about 15 pounds a year. That compares to a global annual seafood eating average of 44 pounds per person. More people do recognize the health benefits of eating seafood, Cornish said, but it can be a complicated food category for many. “You’re not just talking about one animal like beef, chicken or pork,” she said. “You’re talking about 1,800 species of seafood that are commercially available.” The SNP operates outreach programs so far in eight U.S. cities, and also partners with hospitals and health professions to promote its Healthy Heart Pledge program. “Over 8,000 people have taken the pledge and as we track sales, we can see upticks in sales of frozen and shelf stable seafood in cities we’re working in, which is ahead of national sales trends,” Cornish said. Salmon especially has a “healthy halo” associated with it, and she said the term “omega 3s” is now a common theme among consumers. “Two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese, and most of that is caused by inflammation in our bodies caused by what we eat. Omega 3s have anti-inflammatory properties,” Cornish said. The SNP is using social media to drive home the message that seafood is easy to buy and prepare. Entrants are asked to take photos of seafood dishes prepared with five ingredients or less and post them to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtags #HealthyHeartPledge and #SNPSweepstakes. Ten winners each will receive $250 gift cards. Enter the seafood recipe sweepstakes through October 21 at www.SNPSweepstakes.com Fish Board beat The state Board of Fisheries will take up 276 proposals during its upcoming meeting cycle that begins this winter. The board sets regulations and policy for commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries within three miles of shore. The focus for the 2016/17 meetings is Upper and Lower Cook Inlet, Kodiak and state king and Tanner crab fisheries, except for Southeast and Yakutat. The meeting dates are: Lower Cook Inlet, Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in Homer; Kodiak, Jan. 10-13 in Kodiak, Upper Cook Inlet, Feb. 23-March 8 in Anchorage; Crab and supplemental issues, March 20-24 in Anchorage. Fishing photos The call is out for photos for the 2017 Fishermen’s News calendar. Winners take home $150 cash, 25 calendars to share over the holidays and a year’s subscription to the magazine that has been a voice of commercial fishing since 1945. Send digital photo entries to [email protected] Deadline is Aug. 26. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Website launched to monitor ocean acidification off Alaska

Alaska is one of a handful of U.S. states to launch a go-to website aimed at keeping ocean acidification in the public eye. The Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, a collaboration of state and federal scientists, agencies, tribes, conservation, fishing and aquaculture groups, went live last month. Its goal is to provide a forum for researchers to share their findings, and to connect with coastal residents concerned about future impacts on their communities. Ocean acidification, or OA, is caused by the ocean absorbing excess carbon dioxide, CO2, from the atmosphere, generated primarily from the burning of fossil fuels for energy. The off kilter chemistry causes the seawater to become corrosive, making it tough for marine creatures to grow scales and shells. Alaska is more susceptible to OA than other regions because its waters are colder and older, and thereby hold more C02. “We are so reliant on the ocean for our lives and livelihood. The seafood industry is valued at about $5.8 billion every year, and it’s the largest private sector employer in the state. So just think about the direct and indirect effects of OA and the implications,” said Darcy Dugan, Network project coordinator who also works for the Alaska Ocean Observing System, or AOOS. “The more educated Alaskans are, the more creative they can be in thinking about adaptation strategies and the more confident they can feel about working together to have a sustainable future,” she added. Since 2011 the AOOS and its partners have sampled acidic fluctuations (pH levels) at moorings in the Bering Sea, Gulf of Alaska and at the Alutiiq Pride Hatchery in Seward. Researchers also have taken 1,200 shipboard water samples over several years. Starting this fall, the Network has partnered with the state ferry system to have OA measuring instruments onboard the Columbia, which makes twice-weekly runs between Bellingham and Skagway. The average pH in the world’s oceans today is 8.1, according to NOAA. The lower the pH, the higher the acidity. While no direct effects of OA are showing up yet in Alaska’s sea creatures, computer models predict that normal acidic ranges will become off kilter sooner than previously thought. “They are anticipating that the Beaufort Sea will be first to leave its natural range of pH variability around 2025, followed by the Chukchi in 2027 and the Bering in 2044,” Dugan said. “Based on global estimates of ocean acidification, the Bering Sea may reach a pH level of 7.5 to 7.8 in the next 75 to 100 years, if not earlier,” estimated Bob Foy, director of NOAA’s research lab at Kodiak “Once, it reaches those levels there will be significant decreases in survival and subsequent fishery yields and profits within 20 years,” Foy added. “We can be informed and prepared,” said Dugan. “We can come together as a community to respond and adapt.” Ocean acidification in Alaska will be featured at the Aleutian Life Forum Aug. 16 in Unalaska and at a (free) “State of the Science” Workshop Nov. 30- Dec. 1 in Anchorage. Alaska #1 For the first time, the “Alaska” seafood brand has topped all others on menus across the nation. “We do research every couple of years to look at brands that are featured on restaurant menus,” said Claudia Hogue, foodservice director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The research was done by Chicago-based Datassentials, which has the nation’s largest database on U.S. menus. The group targeted “penetration,” Hogue said, or the percentage of menus that feature different brand names. “Alaska seafood ranks highest among all other proteins for the first time,” she said. “Research shows that consumers are trying to eat healthier by the choices they’re making at the restaurant.” “Alaska seafood” appears on 3.4 percent of all menus, compared to “certified Angus” with 3.1 percent and “Norwegian” at 1.9 percent. The Alaska brand also outranked many other well-known food category brands, including Hershey’s, Kahlua, Tabasco and Grand Marnier. Fish Cures Shrimp shells may offer the solution to harmful sulfites in wine. Currently, wine producers add sulfites such as sulfur dioxide (SO2) to wine to keep it fresh during storage. But SO2 damages the atmosphere, and can cause allergic reactions in some people. Green Chemistry reports that researchers at the University of Aveiro in Portugal have discovered that thin films made from the polymer chitin in shrimp shells removes traces of iron and copper in wine barrels. This would prevent bacterial growth or oxidation reactions, both of which can impair the wine’s flavor. In taste tests the new material performed as well or better than sulfite preservatives. The researchers said “the process of making the shrimp based additive is easy to scale up for wholesale production and it could be adapted for other drinks in future.” Fish eyes Bureo, a Los Angeles startup that makes skateboards from marine debris, has broadened its fight against pollution by launching the world’s only collection of sunglasses made from recycled fishing nets. The Ocean Collection is designed by Chilean eyewear company Karun from nets collected by Net Positiva, a recycling program developed and operated by Bureo, which means “waves.” Last year the program collected more than 110,000 pounds of fishing nets from 16 communities in the country. “Discarded fishing gear,” Bureo points out in its video, “accounts for an estimated 10 percent of the ocean’s plastic pollution.” The program has earned recognition from the U.S. State Department and won an innovation award and grant funding from the Chilean Government The Bureo fish net sunglasses cost $139. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Second straight season of strong sockeyes; pinks few but big

Two big fish stories have been spawned so far by the 2016 Alaska salmon season: 1) sockeyes save the day, and 2) colossal pinks. A larger than expected sockeye salmon catch that has topped 50 million will salvage a summer that has seen lackluster catches of other salmon species, notably, those hard to predict pinks. “I think if you’re a Bristol Bay fisherman, you’re probably pretty happy, and if you fished anywhere else in the state, it probably hasn’t been a great season for you,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of commercial fisheries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Alaska salmon catch so far of 88 million fish is little more than halfway to the preseason forecast of 161 million salmon, down 40 percent from the 2015 harvest. Pink salmon, the “bread and butter” fish for the fleet, were projected to come up short this year, and so they have in the big three producing areas: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. “We really haven’t been any bright spots in terms of pink salmon across the state,” Bowers said. The Panhandle fleet has taken less than 10 million pink salmon so far on a forecast of 34 million. “Right now it doesn’t seem likely that we’ll hit that number,” he said “We would’ve expected to see more catch at this point. We still have half the run to come in, so it should be well over 20 million.” The story’s the same at Prince William Sound where pink catches were at 9 million on a forecast of 32 million.  “We are below average in terms of run timing so it’s unlikely we’ll hit the forecast there,” Bowers said. Kodiak’s pink salmon fishery is being called the slowest since the 1970s, with only 1.5 million humpies taken so far. “The catch and the escapement is currently running at about a quarter the strength it should be at this time of the season,” said James Jackson, regional manager at Kodiak. What’s running big is the size of the fish, which usually weigh about four pounds on average. “I’ve had a 14 pound pink on my scale,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak salmon tender operator. “And lots of 10-pounders.” Jackson concurred that a parade of porky pinks has come through his office. “The larger size is an indication of no competition for food out in the ocean, and that usually means you have a weak run. It’s not always true, but yeah, big pinks,” he said. (The world record pink salmon weighed 14.49 pounds and was caught in 2001 in the Skykomish River, Wash., according to landbigfish.com.)
 So far the total Alaska pink salmon catch is at 25 million; the forecast called for 90 million. Perhaps the puny catch will help push up disappointing prices for pinks, which were in the 20 cents per pound range at the Alaska docks. The opposite is true for Alaska’s sockeye salmon fishery, which has yielded larger than expected catches already topping 51 million fish. The bulk of the “big money” fish, of course, came from Bristol Bay where a catch of 38 million was far larger than expected. “Historically, the 2016 season will probably be the largest sockeye harvest at Bristol Bay since 1995,” Bowers said. Ditto the Alaska Peninsula, which produced a nearly 6 million sockeye salmon harvest. Upper Cook Inlet also is having a good red run, with 2.5 million taken so far. “With a statewide sockeye harvest over 50 million fish statewide,” Bowers added, “that will rank in Alaska’s all-time top 10.” Fish Watch Beam trawling continues for coon and side stripe shrimp in Southeast waters. The summer Dungeness fishery is going strong with crabbers averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year. Scallopers are still dropping dredges around Yakutat and in other parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea. Lingcod fisheries are ongoing in Southeast Alaska, Cook Inlet and Prince William Sound, primarily by small boats using jig and hand troll gear. Alaska longliners have taken 64 percent of their 17 million pound halibut catch limit with 6 million pounds left to go. Kodiak and Homer remain nearly tied for ports with the most landings. Fishing fleets are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch, rockfish, cod, flounders and other groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on Aug. 25. The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opened Aug. 1 with a catch below 6 million pounds for the first time in decades. A 25 percent cut was made due to stock declines in the western district. Norton Sound’s summer red king crab fishery closed in late July after about a month that yielded over 440,000 pounds of crab. The public has until Aug. 18 to submit agenda change requests to the state Board of Fisheries for its upcoming meeting cycle that begins in mid-October. The Board will take up fisheries in Cook Inlet, Kodiak and statewide king and Tanner crab. Dutch Harbor stories “Deadliest Catch” producer Christian Skovly can’t get Dutch Harbor out of his mind, after spending time there while filming the popular reality show. “After talking to people both in town and on the boats, I would hear these stories about Dutch Harbor and how it used to be; and I found it fascinating,” he said. After he researched the town’s history and found it wanting, it fueled his interest in creating a history project based on personal stories. “I am hoping to add a different perspective of this boom town,” Skovly said. “We know Dutch Harbor from the television show, but the in-town stuff is rarely visited, it is all mostly out on the water. Many people have told me that it was the Wild West in the middle of nowhere, where a lot of money was being made and where a lot of interesting people and stories happened.” Skovly hopes to hear from bartenders, police officers, cannery workers, families and anyone who lived and worked in Dutch Harbor during the 1970’s and 80’s. He said the stories he gets will dictate the shape his project will take. Contact him at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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

Who knows more about local salmon and their habitats than Alaska fishermen? That’s the impetus behind a new information-gathering project spawned by United Fishermen of Alaska, or UFA, that aims to provide useful and timely news about the health of the state’s salmon runs. The Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP, launched last week with an online survey to provide commercial fishermen with a way to share their local intelligence. “We are asking people what issues they are most concerned about in their region,” said SHIP manager Lindsey Bloom. “We also ask what sources they use to get habitat related information, such as newspapers, websites, or social media, and who they trust and are listening to for information as well.” UFA wants to recognize and tap the wisdom and knowledge of Alaska’s 10,888 current salmon permit owners in 26 distinct fisheries to ensure that the SHIP information is useful and relevant. Bloom said the survey results also could be helpful in shaping fishery rules and regulations. “Fishermen are some of the smartest and best equipped people to guide fish policy,” Bloom asserted. “With the multi-generational nature of salmon fishing in Alaska, they are grounded in community and family and sustainability and stewardship. We believe that by working together, fishermen can be powerful advocates for pro-salmon policies that ensure commercial fishing jobs remain strong for generations to come.” Respondents to the SHIP survey are entered to win a $500 Alaska Airlines certificate and a $200 gift card from LFS Marine stores. Extra entries also will be given to people who “like” the SHIP Facebook page and share the survey socially. Find the SHIP survey at the United Fishermen of Alaska website. Deadline to respond is Labor Day, Sept. 5. Mariculture momentum Plans to grow more shellfish and aquatic plans are taking shape following two meetings this summer by the Alaska Mariculture Task Force. The 11-member panel, which includes reps from the Departments of Fish and Game and Commerce, Alaska Sea Grant and seven public members, was created by order of Gov. Bill Walker in February. Its mission is to provide a statewide strategy for expanding the burgeoning industry by March 1, 2018. “We’re focusing on both aquatic farming as private businesses and fishery enhancement programs which are more of a common property activity,” said Julie Decker, a task force member and director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “We are looking at different models to advance, basic infrastructure and research that’s needed to really launch this industry.” Mariculture could model Alaska’s successful salmon enhancement program, she said, where the state backed a $100 million low interest, revolving loan to jump start the fledgling industry for several years. “It was developed as a public/private model where the state helped get the infrastructure for the salmon hatcheries started, and then it was taken over through private partnerships and regional nonprofits,” Decker explained. “And it was developed in rural Alaska where it is very difficult to make businesses work. Through taxes and cost recovery mechanisms, the industry paid the state back with interest, and every year those hatchery fish produce between $100-$300 million in value.” “For mariculture, we have high dollar products like king crab and geoducks, abalone, sea cucumbers, sea weeds, oysters and other shellfish. There is really a lot of opportunity,” she added. While Alaska’s mariculture operations to date have focused mostly on Southeast and Southcentral regions, the new vision includes broadening the industry to westward regions. “It’s a different time in history and people are looking at ways to diversify Alaska’s economy,” Decker said. “The state has such a large seafood industry and mariculture is a natural fit. Mariculture would provide more steady supplies and keep processing companies open on shoulder seasons and provide more jobs.” The mariculture task force wants to attract more expertise via advisory panels on investment and infrastructure, regulations, research and development, environmental impacts, public education and marketing and workforce development. Salmon skin! A chance discovery by farmed salmon hatchery workers has spawned a line of skin care products that help cure disorders like eczema and also keeps skin younger looking. Scientists became curious several years ago after it was noticed that hatchery workers who spent long hours handling salmon fry in cold seawater had softer, smoother hands. Researchers at Norway’s University of Science and Technology discovered the skin-softening component came from the enzyme zonase, found in the hatching fluid of salmon eggs. The enzyme’s task is to digest the protein structure of the tough eggshells without harming the tiny fish. The scientists hailed this dual ability as the secret behind the beneficial properties for human skin. Their research showed that zonase helps flake off dead skin and stimulates the growth of healthy new skin cells. It’s also proved helpful in healing wounds. Norway-based Aqua Bio Technology, which develops marine based ingredients for the personal care industry, now markets a zonase infused product under its Aquabeautine brand. Skin care expert to the stars, Dr. Nicholas Perricone of New York, also promotes salmon as the secret for younger-looking skin “that works from the inside out.” In his best-selling books, Perricone promises that eating wild salmon for 28 days is the cure for wrinkles and provides a “nutrition based face lift.” Closer to home, Chevak triplets Amy, Michelle and Cika Sparck have found success with their “land and sea” ArXotica line that uses salmon and berry infused products to promote healthy skin, hair and nails. The sisters hand gather crowberry, fireweed blossoms and Arctic sage, called “ciaggluk” which translates to “nothing bad about it.” “Because no matter how you use it, it’s good for you,” said Michelle. “We add extra virgin, cold pressed salmon oil to our formula. The omega properties blend with the botanicals that are really high in antioxidants. It’s ingredients we have trusted for thousands of years, so we can pass on that trust to our customers.” The ArXotica blend won first place this year in the “Beyond the Plate” category at the annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Bycatch donation program grows; Webber develops netwasher

The decades-old “bycatch to food banks” program has grown far beyond its original Alaska beginnings. Today, only 10 percent of the fish going to hunger relief programs is bycatch of primarily halibut and salmon taken accidentally in other fisheries. The remainder is “first-run” products donated to Sea Share, the nation’s only non-profit that donates fish through a tight network of fishermen, processors, packagers and transporters. Sea Share began in 1993 when Bering Sea fishermen pushed to be allowed to direct fish taken as bycatch to food banks instead of over the rails, as required by law. 
 “Back then that was the only thing that we were set up to do, and we are the only entity authorized to retain such fish. It became a rallying point for a lot of stakeholders, and from that beginning we’ve expanded to the Gulf of Alaska, and grown to 28 states and over 200 million fish meals a year,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Some seafood companies commit a portion of their sales, or donate products or overages. Vessels of the At-sea Processors Association have donated 250,000 pounds of whitefish blocks each year for 15 years, which are turned into breaded portions. Sea Share’s roster also has grown to include tilapia, shrimp, cod and tuna and other canned and frozen seafood products.
 Over the years, Sea Share has ramped up donations in Alaska where halibut portions from Kodiak fisheries are used locally, at Kenai and flown to Nome and Kotzebue, courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard. A new freezer container has been stationed at the Port of Dillingham holding 8,500 pounds of fish and several more are being added to hubs in Western Alaska, Harmon said. 
 “I think we’ll probably do 250,000 pounds in the state this year,” he added. A donation last week by Walmart will bring more seafood to hungry mouths in Washington. Sea Share was one of seven recipients to share grants from the corporation totaling $400,000 for community programs. “We’re trying to reach out beyond the seafood industry to larger foundations as well as the public at large,” Harmon said.
 He pointed out that giving fish to the needy also broadens a customer base to people who wouldn’t otherwise get it.
 “Food bank recipients aren’t the chronically homeless or unemployed, it’s the under employed, those between jobs who might access the bank for a few weeks,” Harmon said. “And if we give those people a great experience with seafood, when they are back on their feet again or they get that next job, they’ll start buying more seafood. It really is a win win.” Nice nets! A simple onboard net washing system is one of the latest quality boosting tools to come out of Cordova. 
 “There’s nothing that catches fish better than a brand new net. If you can maintain a clean net, you’re fully optimizing your ability to catch,” said Bill Webber of Webber Marine and Manufacturing in Cordova. For over 40 years, he has specialized in gear for primarily salmon gillnetters; the net washer is one of the newest tools to come out of his shop. 
 “It has vertical water chambers that weld onto the outboard sides of the rollers,” he explained. “The rollers still function as intended as the net goes through them. On the front and the back of a level line there’s vertical water jet holes that spray through the net as it goes through the lines.” Webber, who is fishing his 49th season at the Copper River, said he is fine tuning the net washer out on the water now and hopes to make them available this winter. Other Webber inventions include hydraulic rotating turrets for net reels, automated sea water chlorination systems and an electronic intravenous pressure process that bleeds a fish in about 30 seconds. 
 “I like building a better mouse trap, if you will,” he said.
            All of his inventions are designed to optimize salmon quality and were born out of necessity when Webber revamped his business model 20 years ago from fisherman to “Harvester-Direct.” He was one of the first to vertically integrate his operation by becoming both a catcher and a processor onboard his gillnetter, and directing each salmon into the hands of high end chefs and buyers. Today, Webber sells more than 95 percent of his salmon catch privately under his Gulkana Seafoods brand. 
            “Being the first owner in the supply chain, I control every aspect of my product’s existence,” Webber said. “I have developed specialized tools and very stringent handling standards and processing techniques that allow my harvest to be as Mother Nature intended. So many Americans have lost the connection to their food sources and I am their personal Alaska fisherman.” 
            Webber makes presentations around the nation advising fishermen on how they can reclaim more value for their catches.  His hope, he said, is to offer the tools that “from the get go will have them providing the finest fish to source conscious buyers.” Read fish labels  Global fish consumption has hit a record high, topping 44 pounds per capita for the first time. It is the result of improved and expanding aquaculture and reduced waste, according to the U.N.’s latest World’s Fisheries and Aquaculture report. Another first: people are now consuming more farmed fish than wild-caught fish. In 2014, a total of 580 species were farmed around the world, mostly finfish. The total number of fishing vessels in the world in 2014 was estimated at about 4.6 million, of which 75 percent hail from Asia. North America and Europe each accounted for just two percent of the world’s fishing fleets.
          In the U.S., all seafoods by law must be labeled as farmed or wild, and show their country of origin.
             If it’s farmed salmon from Chile, the biggest importer to the U.S., be advised that according to the National Service of Fisheries and Aquaculture, Chile used more than 1.2 million pounds of antibiotics last year to ward off a fish virus that has crippled the industry. To make matters worse, Intrafish reports that 50 Chilean salmon companies refused to disclose the amount and type of antibiotics they used, saying “such disclosure would threaten their business competitiveness.”   
            By comparison, Norway, the world’s biggest producer of farmed salmon, uses roughly 2,100 pounds of antibiotics, primarily for sea lice problems. Bloomberg reports that Norway’s largest grower — Marine Harvest — wants to start farming salmon inside huge cargo ships rather than at sea to further reduce antibiotic use. 
            A survey last year by global market researcher Mintel found that three-quarters of U.S. consumers prefer ‘free from’ foods, meaning free from antibiotics, preservatives, additives and GMOs. Of course, choosing wild fish is the safest bet. Otherwise, read those labels. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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

Salmon takes center stage each summer but many other fisheries also are in full swing from Ketchikan to Kotzebue. For salmon, total catches by July 8 were nearing 28 million fish, of which 10 million were sockeyes, primarily from Bristol Bay. Last week marked the catch of the two-billionth sockeye from the Bay since the fishery began in 1884. Other salmon highlights: Southeast trollers wrapped up their summer chinook fishery on July 5 taking 158,000 kings in just eight days. The chinook catch is strictly limited by a U.S. and Canada treaty, and for only the third summer in 15 years, trollers won’t get another allotment for an August opener. (The fleet is not happy.) Sockeye catches at the North Peninsula were so strong, the fleet was put on limits by Peter Pan Seafoods, the lone processor in the region. The harvest there topped 1.3 million reds last week. It’s been slowing going around Kodiak Island where the catch was approaching 700,000 fish, mostly sockeyes. The pace was picking up at Cook Inlet with a catch nearing 400,000, primarily of reds. At Prince William Sound, the harvest of chums, pinks and sockeyes topped 7.6 million fish. Copper River Seafoods saved the day for Kotzebue fishermen who originally were beached due to no salmon buyers. They will be out on the water this week tapping on a chum catch projected at 300,000 to 500,000 pounds, depending on air freight capacity. Chum catches also were adding up at the Lower Yukon, totaling 334,000 fish so far. Overall, Alaska’s 2016 salmon harvest is pegged at 161 million fish, down 40 percent due to an expected shortfall of pinks. In other fisheries: Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab fishery is going strong and fishermen are averaging $3.05 per pound, up slightly from last year. The fishery will run through mid-August with a fall opener set for October. The combined dungy fisheries are expected to yield just less than 3 million pounds. Norton Sound’s small boat, summer red king crab fishery opened on June 27 with a harvest limit of 440,137 pounds. The golden king crab fishery along the Aleutians opens Aug. 1 with a catch of about 6 million pounds. Alaska longliners have taken 55 percent of their 17 million-pound halibut catch, with Kodiak and Homer nearly tied for landings. Halibut is still fetching between $6 to $7 per pound at major ports. Sablefish catches also are at 55 percent of that fishery’s 20.3 million-pound quota. Increasingly popular lingcod fishing kicked off July 1 at Cook Inlet for jig and hand trollers with a catch of 202,000 pounds. At Prince William Sound, the lingcod catch limit is nearly 37,000 pounds. Lingcod can grow to five feet long and weigh up to 80 pounds. The average price to fishermen last year was $1.35 per pound. Trawlers are targeting Pacific Ocean Perch and two types of rockfish in the Western Gulf and around Yakutat. Rockfish prices for a dozen species can range from a low of 16 cents per pound for red stripes to $1.21 for yellow eye (red snapper). Vessels also are targeting pollock, cod and flatfish in the Bering Sea. The Gulf reopens to pollock fishing on August 25th. Groundfish gives big Throwing pies in the face of fish policy makers proved to be a windfall for needy folks in Kodiak. The event topped off the recent Groundfish Celebration that drew upwards of 2,000 people and raised $17,000 for the Brother Francis Shelter, which serves the homeless and working poor in Kodiak. The celebration, sponsored by a wide array of industry stakeholders, showcased the importance of cod, pollock, rockfish, flounders and other groundfish to Kodiak, which contribute nearly 85 percent of the town’s landings. It also is home to eight seafood companies, the most in Alaska, which employ the largest resident processing work force year round. “We are the working waterfront!” chanted workers from each of the plants, along with fuel and gear providers, transporters, vessel owners and others marching in a mile-long parade. Their message was aimed at visiting North Pacific Fishery Management Council members who are crafting a new management plant to reduce bycatch in trawl fisheries. As the nation’s No. 2 port for seafood landings, Kodiak wants to make sure any changes ensure the same amounts of fish keep coming into town. Bidding by wannabe pie throwers was fast and furious, some paying several thousand dollars for the privilege. Volunteers included Glenn Merrill, Assistant Regional Administrator for NOAA Fisheries, Duncan Fields, outgoing member of the council, and Joe Plesha, General Counsel for Trident Seafoods. Brother Francis Shelter director Monte Hawver said, “every dollar of the $17,000 donation will be put towards programs that help keep people sheltered, fed and housed.” Death by sunscreen All that sun block being slathered on by beach-goers around the world is causing major damage to ocean corals. A new study by the University of Central Florida reveals that the mix of 20 chemicals in even one drop of sunscreen can severely damage fragile coral reef systems. The researchers estimate that up to 10 percent of the world’s coral reefs are at risk of “death by sunscreen.” The study was done in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Hawaii and Israel and confirms research done a few years ago by Italian scientists in waters of Mexico, Indonesia, Thailand and Egypt. The World Trade Organization reports that 10 percent of world tourism takes place in tropical areas, with nearly 80 million people visiting coral reefs each year. That adds up to roughly 14,000 tons of sun block oozing into these sensitive areas. The most widely used sunscreen ingredient, oxybenzone, leaches coral of its nutrients and destroys the tiny algae that live within coral colonies and provide its vibrant colors. The studies showed that complete bleaching of coral occurred within 96 hours, and also disrupted the development of fish and other sea life. But sunscreens from beachgoers is just part of the concern. Anytime people wear the lotions, it ends up in waterways when they step into the shower to wash it off, just like harmful chemicals in household cleaning products are washed down drains and into sewage systems. As a result, some local businesses have started to ban the use of harmful sunscreen in their waters. The U.S. National Park Service for South Florida, Hawaii, U.S. Virgin Islands, and American Samoa recommend using “reef friendly” sunscreen made with titanium oxide or zinc oxide, which are natural mineral ingredients. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - Laine Welch