Laine Welch

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

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Arrowtooth flounder study focused on food competition

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: World market continues to squeeze Alaska sockeye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Annual best and worst of the past year in state fisheries

2016 marks a quarter of a century for this weekly column that targets Alaska’s seafood industry.

At the end of every year, I proffer my “no holds barred” look back at the best and worst fish stories, and select the biggest story of the year.

The list is in no particular order and I’m sure to be missing a few, but here are the Fishing Picks and Pans for 2015:

FISH FACTOR: Groundfish stocks look mostly healthy as season begins

“Tis the season for even bigger Alaska fish catches when groundfish seasons open at the start of the New Year.

Catches of pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish account for nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s harvest poundage, and 67 percent of the nation’s total groundfish harvests. Those numbers could increase due to boosts in several catch quotas in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea for the next two years.

For pollock, the nation’s largest fishery, the catch is up slightly to 1.3 million metric tons, or just under three billion pounds.

FISH FACTOR: Awards for crab shell clothes; boards hear advice for cuts

Alaska crab shells are fueling an eco-revolution that will drive new income streams for fabrics to pharmaceuticals to water filters. And for the first time, it is happening in the U.S. and not overseas.

The entrepreneurs at Tidal Vision in October made the leap from their labs in Juneau to a pilot plant outside of Seattle to test an earth-friendly method that extracts chitin, the structural element in the exoskeletons of shellfish and insects. Their first big run a few weeks ago was tested on a 60,000 pound batch of crab shells delivered by Trident Seafoods from St. Paul Island.

FISH FACTOR: Fish 2.0 touts Alaskan fish; Begich condemns GE salmon

Caught by Alaskans for Alaskans is a business concept that bested 170 others in a global fisheries business competition last month at Stanford University in California.

The contest, sponsored by Fish 2.0, awards creative approaches that build demand for sustainable seafood, reduce waste and support fishing towns. The Alaska Community Seafood Hub model, presented by Kelly Harrell of Anchorage, won $5,000 in cash and is in the running for more money to be awarded this month.

FISH FACTOR: Halibut stock shows signs of stability after decade of cuts

Despite some encouraging signs that Pacific halibut stocks are stabilizing after being on a downward spiral for nearly two decades, catches could decrease slightly in most regions again next year. That’s IF fishery managers accept the catch recommendations by halibut scientists, which they don’t always do.

At the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting Dec. 1-2 in Seattle, the total 2016 catch, meaning for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska, was recommended at 26.56 million pounds, down from 29.22 million pounds this year.

Symphony of Seafood entries open, probably not GM salmon

The call is out for products to compete in Alaska’s most celebrated seafood bash, and another new category has been added to the mix.

For the 23rd year, the Symphony of Seafood in 2016 will showcase innovative new products that are entered both by major Alaska seafood companies and small “mom and pops,” such as last year’s top winner, Pickled Willy’s of Kodiak smoked black cod tips.

Public comments sought for ADFG budgets, halibut bycatch

Alaskans are being asked to weigh in on two tough issues: budgets and halibut bycatch.

First off, the state Boards of Fisheries and Game are asking for ideas on cutting costs within their annual meeting cycles, as well as for the state agencies involved with providing all of the backup information to the boards.

Both boards include seven members who are appointed by the governor and approved by the Alaska legislature for three-year terms.

Westward Tanner season called off again; Alaska a winner in TPP

The popular January Tanner crab fishery has been called off for the third year running throughout the Westward Region (Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula), leaving fishermen and managers wondering where all the crab has gone.

State managers for several years have been tracking a huge plug of crab that appeared poised to enter the 2016 Tanner fishery, but based on this summer’s surveys, the crab have failed to materialize.

Alaska tops fishing ports; trawlers may get pot gear option

Alaska claimed the top three fishing ports for landings again last year, and led all U.S. states in terms of seafood landings and values.

“The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor continued to lead the nation with the highest amount of seafood landings – 761.8 million pounds, 87 percent of which was walleye pollock,” said Dr. Richard Merrick in announcing the national rankings last week from the annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report for 2014.

Second-largest salmon haul doesn’t measure up in value

Alaska’s 2015 salmon season produced the second largest harvest ever, but rock bottom prices yielded the lowest pay out to fishermen since 2006. That will cut into the tax base of coastal communities and state coffers, which collect fully half of all fish landing taxes.

Preliminary tallies from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game show that the statewide salmon catch topped 263 million fish (the record is 273 million in 2013) with an ex-vessel (dockside) value at $414 million, a 28 percent decrease from last year.

Moves against fish piracy continue; salmon second-best ever

Fish pirates are coming under fire as more countries band together to stop them from pilfering the world’s oceans.

So-called Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated, or IUU, fishing accounts for one-fifth of global catches, according to the Global Ocean Commission, valued at $10 to $25 billion each year.

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