Laine Welch

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

If a fisherman gets 50 cents a pound for his reds, how can the fish fetch $10, $15 or more at retail counters? “It’s all the other stuff that happens after he sells the fish. A lot of costs, margins and profits are included in that retail price,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Juneau. It’s an “apples and oranges” comparison when it comes to using weights paid for the raw goods and the end product. A lot of weight is lost going from a whole fish, which fishermen are paid on, to a fillet at retail counters. “Most sockeye fillets amount to 40 to 50 percent of the round fish weight. If fishermen sold sockeye at $0.50 per pound, there’s about $1.10 of raw material cost in a $10 per pound fillet sold at retail,” Wink explained. “This might seem like a high mark up, but it’s a decent reflection of all the costs and acceptable margins built into the product.” The average wholesale price Alaska processors received for sockeye salmon (round) at the end of 2015 was $2.40 per pound, according to the state Department of Revenue; and $5.73 per pound for fillets. Costs add up as the fish makes its way to retail counters, where most will tout a “full retail price,” and then tweak it throughout the year using discounts and promotions. “A retailer will run sockeye promotions of say, $9.99 a pound. That way they can say they have discounted the product $8 so it looks like a big saving for the consumer. Instead of promoting the fish for four weeks, maybe they will run it for 10 or 15 weeks out of the year. It just depends on how much success they have with it,” he explained, adding that processors and distributors often have to pay (or reduce their prices) to get a retailer to promote product at a discounted price. The increased supply of sockeye from back to back bumper years at Bristol Bay also has had a big impact on what buyers are willing or able to pay. The big harvests mean more of the reds must be sold through discounts; that leads to a lower wholesale price, which affects the exvessel (dock) price. “Promotions and discounts are a double-edged sword,” Wink said. “They lead to lower prices, but are a necessary tool to move larger volumes of product through the supply chain. Without them, inventories would swell and product would go to waste.” Grundens for gals Grundens, the go to brand for heavy-duty rain gear, has launched a line for women. “Women would send us emails saying, ‘We love your gear, we wear it all the time, but it’s built for guys, said Eric Tietje, Global Product Director. “Either the sleeves are too long or they are too big in the shoulders. It was really just uncomfortable and cumbersome for women to wear.” Tietje credits a push by the social media site Chix Who Fish, for getting the new gear rolling. “All these women really banded together and became a loud voice, telling retailers that they are a market that is not being served,” he said. “We heard from lobster women in Maine, female marine researchers, and women in Alaska.” The result: Sedna Gear, designed for a fishing woman’s dimensions. The new line of rain gear has brought a wave of good responses, beyond the better fit. “The women have told us that by creating this product, it recognizes and validates what they do in the industry, and that means something,” Tietje said, adding that it’s made a big difference on deck. “It’s not just a piece of clothing,” he said.” We view these as pieces of equipment that people use to do their job.” Coming soon from Grundens: light weight gear and base layers for women, ceramic coatings on outer gear for added safety, and fabrics using Alaska crab shells that absorb sweat and eliminate odor. (That product is produced by Juneau-based Tidal Vision LLC.) ComFish flash Big names, hot topics and fish competitions are headlining the 36th annual ComFish Alaska trade show, hosted March 31-April 2 by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. In the line up: Alaska Senators Murkowski and Sullivan both are scheduled to hold open meetings; as are state commercial fisheries director, Scott Kelly, and Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), who also chairs the legislative Fisheries Committee. Gunnar Knapp, director at the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska/Anchorage, will discuss salmon markets and how the state’s fiscal crunch might affect fisheries. Alex Stone of the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton will provide updates on Navy training exercises in the Gulf of Alaska. Presentations also include: impacts of ocean acidification on crab fisheries, slow growing halibut, better trawling methods, new fishing vessel safety regulations, the “graying of the fleet,” challenges in access to Alaska fisheries, a cannery history and much more. ComFish wraps up on April 2 with the annual fish-filleting contest organized by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. It includes contestants from each of Kodiak’s seven processing plants who are timed and judged on fillet and trimming speed, form and quality. New to the ComFish line up is an Alaska Sea Grant Fishermen’s Showcase featuring contests in knot tying, net mending, hook throwing, coiling and more. The ComFish dates are March 31-April 2 in downtown Kodiak. www.comfishalaska.com. Visit www.alaskafishfactor.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. At Alaska’s bellwether fishery at Bristol Bay, a base sockeye prices of 50 cents per pound helped push drift gillnet permit prices into the $98,000 range, down from $175,000 last spring. “That may be the bottom; they seem to have come up a bit,” Bowen said, “but it’s still way below what they were trading for at this time last year.” The lower prices have spawned little interest in Bay drift permits; likewise, for salmon seine cards across the state. Seine permits at Prince William Sound are priced in the $150,000 range, down from over $200,000 a year ago. Kodiak seine permits have sunk into the mid $30,000s, and a Cook Inlet drift permit is valued in the $60,000 range. Bowen doesn’t expect the tide to turn anytime soon. “I’m afraid a lot of the same factors that contributed to the low prices we saw last year are pretty much the same this year. It’s not an optimistic outlook for salmon, and that is depressing the market for permits, and also the boats,” he added. “There are lots on the market, lots of sellers, not that many buyers. “There’s not a lot of extra money floating around in the salmon industry. So folks wanting to upgrade their vessels or pick up permits in another area, we’re just not seeing that happening.” The situation is slightly better in Southeast Alaska, where driftnet permits are getting a plug of interest. “More than I thought compared to all the other salmon areas,” said Olivia Olsen of Alaskan Quota and Permits at Petersburg. “We started at $78,000 in November and drifts now are going for $85,000 and they may creep up from there. Same with power troll permits. They’ve been pretty steady sales at about $35,000, which is down about $6,000 from last year, but still a pretty good price when you listen to all the talk about bad salmon prices. Hand troll permits also are on the upswing to $12,000.” Both brokers said salmon permit prices tend to tick upwards the closer it gets to salmon season. “I think the main issue is what we are going to see for prices, Bowen and Olsen said. Halibut share shocker This year’s small increase in halibut catches combined with hopes of a repeat of $6-$7 per pound prices was enough to send quota share prices skyrocketing. “There was a big rush after the halibut numbers were announced in late January,” said Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. For the first time in nearly two decades, the coast-wide halibut catch was increased by 2.3 percent to nearly 30 million pounds. Alaska’s share of 21.45 million pounds is up 200,000 pounds from 2015. “I would say quota prices shot up $10 a pound since December,” Olsen said of Southeast shares. “We have current sales pending at $63 and $65 per pound, with rumors of going higher. Those prices are just unheard of, and to jump up that high in that short period of time — oh, my golly!” Are people buying at those nosebleed prices? “There’s a lot of people drawing the line, but there are a few who have bought. They’ve been waiting a long time for it and are just going to bite the bullet,” Olsen said. The same holds true for quota prices in the Central Gulf, Alaska’s largest halibut fishing hole. “Those are bumping up to $60,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “We’ve had offers of $59 but no takers. Quota shares for the Western Gulf have increased by around $5 and are in the $40s if you can find it. There is strong interest there and also in Bering Sea regions. But it’s the same scenario: more buyers than sellers and the market is really tight.” Olsen added: “It will be interesting to see if these prices will last.” Got ice? A grass roots push is underway in Kodiak for a self-pay icehouse and crane at Oscars Dock at its downtown harbor. “It’s common in fishing communities throughout Alaska and the nation,” said Theresa Peterson, a fisherman and outreach director for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “It’s kind of strange that Kodiak doesn’t have this facility, being that we are the No. 2 port in the nation, and home to the largest and most diversified fleet in Alaska.” The need and benefits go far beyond commercial fishing, Peterson stressed. It would serve Kodiak’s five outlying villages, whose residents travel by boat to town and load/offload provisions, sport charter operators, recreational anglers and hunters. Fisherman Darius Kasprzak, who calls Kodiak’s lack of a public icehouse “flabbergasting,” is worried that a lack of it will drive the island’s fleet of small salmon boats out of business. “More processors are requiring RSW (refrigerated sea water) systems and are phasing out all the ice boats. Only a few processors are still accepting fish iced in holds, and most of those are grandfathered in,” Kasprzak said. “So all these little boats that don’t have room for RSW or don’t have the money are walking on pins and needles. But if there’s public ice that will change things dramatically.” Boat owners with RSW also would like to be able to grab ice so they could shut down the systems at night “and not have to listen to it,” he added.  “It’s worth it to buy some ice and chill off the top of the fish and not have to buy fuel and put wear and tear on the RSW,” he explained. Kasprzak said there is another reason ice is even more important for a water faring community. “Our waters are warming. Right now temperatures are at 7 degrees over normal. Last summer the water at Prince William Sound reached 60 degrees. Our RSW systems aren’t built to handle those temperatures. The Kodiak processors didn’t have enough ice for boats last salmon season because it was so hot. There’s more of a need now for a community ice house than ever.” The Kodiak City Council will hear the issue on March 15. Weigh in on water The Alaska Department of Natural Resources is considering revising its water management practices and wants input from the public. It includes regulations on water rights in streams, lakes, wells and other bodies. A DNR announcement said: “The department is soliciting feedback and comments from the public on how they would change or improve the existing regulatory framework related to water management or for suggestions and proposals which would improve the regulations related to water management before the formal process of drafting any proposed changes begins.” Comments are accepted through March 18. Send via email to [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Fishermen for decades have claimed the toothy flounders, which grow to about three feet in length, are blanketing the bottom of the Gulf, and many believe they are out-competing halibut for food. A study being done by researchers in Southeast Alaska aims to find out. “People think that potentially arrowtooth is competing with halibut for space and/or prey which is limiting the growth of Pacific halibut,” said Cheryl Barnes, a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who is working out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Since last summer, Barnes and her adviser Dr. Anne Beaudreau have been studying spatial and dietary overlaps between the two species. Along with analyzing Gulf of Alaska bottom trawl data, the team is doing field studies in fishing areas around Juneau where no trawling occurs. Barnes said they are looking at two things: space use and the composition of prey within their stomachs to try and get answers using a concept called “resource partitioning.”  “The thought is that if you see areas where halibut and arrowtooth are overlapping in space, you might expect to see that they are not eating the same things as a way to alleviate competitive effects. They are partitioning their resources in that way,” she explained. “Whereas if they are in an area where there is not much spatial overlap between the two, they might be eating roughly the same things because they are part of the same niche and the goal is to eat those prey items that are more optimal for their growth. And they are more able to do that if both species are not found in the same location.” Barnes is studying the contents of over 1,000 halibut and arrowtooth stomachs collected last year from sport anglers, and she hopes to collect at least that many through September. She said her diet study dovetails with other others being done that focus on environmental factors and impacts of fishing.  “Especially size selective fishing — the idea that we have been removing the larger, faster growing individuals, and it just kind of brings that average size at age down,” she said. If the project proves that the two species are competing for food, it will fall to managers to find creative solutions. That could prove problematic in terms of increasing arrowtooth catches to leave more food for halibut. “One of the problems is that arrowtooth aren’t really marketable because when you heat them up the flesh turns into a mushy fish smoothie. The other is that there is a lot of bycatch associated with arrowtooth catches since they share the same habitat,” Barnes explained. Meanwhile, Barnes wants to get more donated stomachs of both species, either fresh or frozen, along with information that includes fish length, body weight, and where it was caught. While the project, which is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, now centers on fishing areas around Juneau, it could expand to other regions. “We are considering it a pilot project,” Barnes said, “and if we find that we are able to find some answers on the potential for competition around Juneau, there is opportunity to expand it to other areas of the Gulf of Alaska.” Got stomachs? Contact Barnes can be at (907) 957-4893 or [email protected] Salmon sales slump Salmon sales data from last year show what everyone already knows: lower prices across the board. The Alaska Department of Revenue’s Tax Division tracks sales of six different salmon product forms by region, including frozen, fresh, roe and cans. The latest report shows data from the busy sales season from September through December. Here’s a sampler: By far, the bulk of Alaska’s salmon goes to market in frozen, headed and gutted form. The average wholesale price for sockeye was $2.40 per pound, compared to $3.13 last year. For cohos, the price was $2.20 compared to $2.53 per pound; pinks averaged $1.07, down 26 cents, chums sold at $1.25, down 23 cents, and frozen chinook salmon averaged $3.85 a pound, compared to $4.28 at the same time last year. Fresh and frozen sockeye fillets wholesaled for $5.73 on average, down from $6.19 a pound. Pink salmon roe averaged $4.16 per pound, down from $6.95; chum roe at $10.30 was a drop of $2.50 per pound from 2014. Cases of 48 tall cans of sockeye took a huge nose dive to $126.53 per case, a drop of nearly $70. Cases of canned pinks were wholesaling at $76.86, down $4. The market could get some relief from less salmon being available to buyers this year. A toxic algae bloom continues to kill millions of farmed salmon from Chile, where production is pegged to fall way below expectations. “The upshot is that Chile’s production may fall by 40,000 to 50,000 tons, or 13 percent below what was expected from the inventory of fish in the water taken at the end of December,” said market expert John Sackton. Salmon catches on the West Coast also are projected to be down by half at Puget Sound and on the Columbia River due to low coho numbers. Likewise, chinook salmon populations along the coast are in even worse shape, and fishing will be severely restricted this year. Officials blame the overall declines on record warm ocean temperatures and poor river conditions following years of drought. Lower salmon numbers also are projected for several Alaska fisheries – notably, for pink salmon in Southeast and at Prince William Sound. Bristol Bay’s sockeye forecast calls for a catch just under 30 million fish, well below harvests of the past two years. Fish watch March means a couple thousand Alaska fishermen will start gearing up for halibut, which opens a bit later this year on the March 19. For the first time in decades the total coastwide catch increased by 2.3 percent to just under 30 million pounds. Alaska gets the lion’s share at about 21.5 million pounds, a boost of 200,000 pounds from last year. The year’s first roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound could kick off around the same time. A quota of nearly 14,941 tons is a 70 percent increase. Last year the Sitka fishery opened on March 18 and managers planned to begin surveys this week. Fishing for cod, pollock, flounders and other groundfish continues in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Likewise for crab: Bering Sea snow crabbers have taken 70 percent of the 36.5 million pound quota with less than 11 million pounds left to go. Less than 3 million pounds remain in the Tanner crab quota of nearly 18 million pounds.  A new law requiring life rafts for fishing boats has been delayed. The new rules would have applied to any vessel operating more than three miles from shore, even small hand trollers or halibut skiffs. Currently, only boats 36 feet or larger, or those carrying four or more people, are required to have so called ‘buoyant apparatus.’ Word came after the Feb. 26 deadline that Congress chose to repeal the requirement, and opted instead to go through the formal rule making process before implementation. That could take at least a year, said Steve Ramp, a Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Vessel Examiner in Sitka. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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.  “What the Alaska industry really needs is to move that product through the supply chain — clear the decks — so we are not continuing to deal with that overhang in the following year. Whether we are there yet or not, is hard to say,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group.  “When the supply increases as much as it has over the last few years, especially from Bristol Bay, it has a big impact on what the distributors, secondary wholesalers and retailers are willing to pay to processors who are buying from the fishermen,” he said. And in the case of salmon, size does matter. In the past two years at Bristol Bay, most of the fish have been on the smaller, two- to four-pound size, meaning they are worth dramatically less than larger fish. Luckily, sales of smaller sockeyes to Japan have moved well, primarily because of the lower prices, and their use of cut-up fish in various dishes makes it less of an issue. “We have seen good sales volume through the supply chain in the past year,” Wink said, adding that Alaska sellers were surprised at the amounts that went to Japan and Europe, due to the global currency situation. The continued strong value of the dollar means it is more expensive for overseas customers to buy U.S. seafood. “We’ve seen things move a lot faster, and while the currency situation is still terrible, at least it’s been terrible now for a while,” he added. “People are more adjusted and markets have a better grip on where it’s at. Hopefully, they can figure out what everyone needs to operate at these currency levels.” Alaska salmon also will face even more competition from farmed fish. Russia’s ongoing seafood embargo against several countries has displaced record amounts of Norwegian salmon and imports to the U.S. have doubled. “It’s been a big shift and the whole supply chain is adjusting to that. But there is reason to think that we are getting to a more stable environment where there is not so much uncertainty,” Wink said. Alaska processors will get a good sense of demand when they meet with their customers next month at Seafood Expo North America in Boston and Seafood Expo Global in Brussels in April. “They’ll get a very good sense of how hungry those customers are for product. If they haven’t done very well moving these large sockeye volumes, they won’t be as aggressive. If they have been having good luck with their sales promotions they’ll likely come back eager for more,” Wink said. All combined, early signs don’t point to any big price boosts this year for Alaska salmon. “There’s still a lot of headwinds, a lot of unknowns. It’s just kind of hard to see how the price takes any significant jump,” Wink said. “We’ve got a lower forecast so we’ll see how the market responds to that. But so much depends on how much product has moved through the system, and how well inventories have been absorbed.” Marine debris redux Money from the Japanese government is continuing to fund marine debris removal from Alaska coastlines. An influx of debris, especially polystyrene foam, continues to wash ashore from the tsunami that devastated parts of Japan in 2011. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, or DEC, recently received $950,000 from Japan for tsunami marine debris collection, removal, and disposal projects for the 2016 field season. Specifically, this funding is intended to support a single large-scale project covering Kayak and Montague Islands, which have some of the highest debris densities Since 2012, Alaska has received the majority of a $5 million dollar gift from the Japan to the United States for aerial surveys and coastal cleanups in the Gulf of Alaska, Southeast Alaska, and the Kodiak Island area. Last July, a large scale, three-week project used 1,176 helicopter airlifts to sling 3,397 “super sacks” and 717 bundles of marine debris on to a 300-foot barge from 11 locations. The debris was transported to the Lower 48 for disposal and recycling. To date, over one million pounds of marine debris have been collected and removed from Alaska using the funds provided by the Japan and administered through DEC. The agency plans this month to issue a Request for Proposal (RFP) for the 2016 field work. Qualified contractors should monitor the Alaska Online Public Notice website for updates. Find more information on marine debris cleanup efforts in Alaska at dec.alaska.gov/eh/marine-debris/ Climate comments National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries has just released a draft climate science action plan for the southeastern Bering Sea that will assess the vulnerability of 18 commercially important fish species. The plan identifies key information needs and actions that the agency will take over the next three to five years to implement the NOAA Fisheries Climate Science Strategy, released in August of 2015. The plan will look first at the southeastern Bering Sea because it supports large marine mammal and bird populations and some of the most profitable and sustainable commercial fisheries in the nation. The plan builds on work the Center has been doing for more than 20 years as part of a Bering Sea Fisheries Ecosystem Plan, said AFSC program leader Mike Sigler. The center has completed a number of studies on the potential effects of climate change on three fish species — pollock, red king crab and northern rock sole. “We expect climate change to lead to smaller populations of walleye pollock and red king crab, but have little effect on northern rock sole,” Sigler said. NOAA is asking the public to provide feedback on the draft plan, to be finalized this fall. See more www.st.nmfs.noaa.gov/ecosystems/climate/national-climate-strategy Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “We’re from Indiana and we realized there is a disconnect between the consumer and where their fish is coming from,” said JD Schuyler, who is co-producing the documentary with his wife, Kelley. “We want to bridge the gap of people appreciating seafood, while also understanding the struggles of the small scale fishermen.” The Schuylers, who have long been involved in the sustainable foods movement, first made the connection with fishermen/co-owners of Sitka Salmon Shares, a “boat to doorstep” seafood company with hubs in the Midwest. “Working with them allowed us to learn a lot about small scale fishing and see some of the struggles some have,” JD said. “With our historical connections with food and small-scale farming, it really connected with us and motivated us to start the project.  “We’ve learned a lot about how fisheries are being privatized, and how that keeps the younger fishermen from entering. It really makes it difficult for people to get into the trade.” The team has since filmed fishing lives in Kodiak, St. Paul Island, Maine, and the next stop is the Gulf of Mexico. “A lot of people are losing their livelihood and the coastal communities are losing families and generations of practices and culture,” echoed Kelley. On the flip side, the documentary highlights how many fishermen are now making their own inroads with direct sales to chefs and other consumers, and learning how to get the most value out of their fish. “We’ve seen that in Southeast Alaska and in Maine, and I think that is empowering small scale fishermen,” she added. To help tell their story, the filmmakers have launched a $35,000 Kickstarter campaign in hopes of getting “Last Man Fishing” on the national film festival circuit next year.  “This isn’t about us making money,” the Schuylers said. “It’s about us telling an important story that is so meaningful to fishermen and communities. We are thankful to be a part of it.” Learn more at [email protected] and on Facebook and Twitter. Fishing women wanted A nationwide search is underway for fishermen’s wives or fishing women who are willing to share their day-to-day lives with a film crew. “We want to find a community of women who work together, who help watch each other’s kids — who may not be related by blood, but they might as well be family,” said Amberlee Mucha, manager of talent development for Discovery Studios in Los Angeles. She added that most reality shows focus on men who fish, and it’s time to put women in the spotlight.  “In all of our research, we have found that fishing is a way of life and it takes a whole community to support it,” Mucha said. “So we are looking at it from another angle, how the women pull it all together to keep things going.”  “The fishing lifestyle is not just a job or career; it is a way of life. And the community supports the fishing and the fishing supports the community. We feel this is a really incredible thing and we would love to see a show that showcases that.” The producers are looking for a wide variety of personalities, she added, and most importantly, women “who can keep it real in front of the cameras.” No airdate is scheduled for the new program as the crew is still searching for the right fishing town and talent. Contact Mucha at [email protected] Signal saved Plans to pull the plug on a GPS signal still counted on by many mariners have been put on hold, thanks to an outpouring of comments from sea goers, mostly from Alaska. Claiming declining usage across the country, the federal government planned to shut down 62 Differential Global Positioning Systems, or DGPS, last month, leaving 22 sites available to users in coastal areas. Alaska has 15 DGPS sites; six were scheduled to close. The DGPS came on line in 1999 to supplement satellite-based GPS. The augmented signal provided better accuracy using land-based reference stations to transmit correction messages over radio frequencies. Many believe it has outlived its usefulness. “The technology for GPS satellites and receivers has increased so much, the need to have so many signals really isn’t there anymore,” said Petty Officer John Gallagher who serves aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Spar based in Kodiak. “A Federal Aviation Administration study in 2014 showed that GPS without the Differential antenna signal achieved accuracy of position of less than one meter, in most cases.” That’s fine for open seas, others argued, but operating in harbors, fjords and other tight spots prevents a line of sight. Most of the nearly 170 comments to the Department of Transportation argued in favor of keeping the backup system. A USCG memo said that given the range of comments received, DGPS will get a closer review. It added, “all lights remain on” for sites in Kodiak, Cold Bay, Kenai, Potato Point, Gustavus, Biorka Island, Level Island and Annette Island. One site — Cape Hinchinbrook — was lost due to an equipment failure. Council names More than a dozen names are in the hat for two upcoming seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace members Duncan Fields of Kodiak who has served a maximum three, three-year terms. David Long of Wasilla, whose first term also expires this year, could be reappointed. Also in the mix: Alan Austerman of Kodiak, a former Alaska legislator and Fisheries Policy Advisory to former Gov. Frank Murkowski. Linda Behnken of Sitka, is a commercial fisherman, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a former council member. Julie Bonney of Kodiak is director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank and has helped shape fishery management structures in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Ed Dersham served eight years on the state Board of Fisheries, and was a former two–term council members. Theresa Peterson is a commercial fisherman, and Kodiak Outreach Coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Art Nelson is director of the Bering Sea Fisherman’s Association, based in Anchorage, and also serves on the Council Advisory Panel. Buck Laukitis of Homer is a commercial fisherman and past president of the North Pacific Fisheries Association. Paul Gronholdt of Sand Point represents the Aleutian/Pribilof Islands on the Southwest Alaska Municipal Conference. He is also a commercial fisherman. Rhonda Olivia Pitka of Beaver is a village chief and participated in a roundtable discussion with President Obama during his Alaska visit. Jim Sepel of Juneau is a retired Coast Guard commander who served on the Alaska Boating Safety Advisory Council under former Governor Parnell. Rebecca Skinner of Kodiak is an attorney, serves on the Borough Assembly and the Southwest Alaska Municipal Council. Emilie Springer of Homer is a fisherman holds a master’s degree in marine affairs from the University of Washington. Jed Whittaker of Anchorage has been active in Alaska’s Green Party and on various fishing and community-related programs. Gov. Bill Walker will soon make his recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce for final approval. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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. But the population — as measured by the amount of spawning females — has been decreasing about 3 percent a year since 2004, and researchers aim to find out why. In December, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auke Bay lab in Juneau tagged 40 female sablefish with satellite tags that will release on a set date.  “Sablefish movements have been tracked for decades, but this tagging will give us a better idea of where and when these females are releasing their eggs,” said Katy Echave, chief scientist for the sablefish project. “Accurate estimates of the amount of mature fish will give us better estimates of the number of spawners. And we also will have a better understanding of what environmental conditions are causing this period of low recruitment, which is likely due to low survival in their egg and larval stages.” Samples of sablefish ear bones, ovaries and livers and other survey data are being scrutinized in Auke Bay labs, but it will be a few years before it yields results. The ultimate goal, Echave said, is to have better assessments of spawners to abet fishery management and catches long into the future. Meanwhile, needy Alaskans are enjoying the sablefish right now. By federal law, all research fish must be tossed overboard but a quick collaboration sent this boatload of fish instead to feed the hungry. “I cannot rave enough about the F/V Gold Rush, who we contracted to do the sablefish survey,” Echave said. “They came to me and said ‘instead of tossing this fish overboard, is there any way we can donate it?’ And the crew went about coordinating all the logistics for getting the fish processed by Trident, who donated their facility and staff time, and then getting it distributed it to the Kodiak food bank.” In all, 4,000 pounds of research fish went to local hunger relief programs. “It was just a very neat example of healthy relationships in Alaska with members of the industry and researchers, all trying to do the good thing here,” Echave said. The fish donors were able to “do the good thing” because it dovetailed with Kodiak’s “bycatch to food banks” program, which reclaims fish that by law would be dumped at sea. Last year trawlers from Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove donated nearly 42,000 pounds of salmon, halibut and black cod taken as bycatch to local hunger relief efforts. The program began with Gulf fishermen and processors five years ago in collaboration with Sea Share, the only organization that is federally authorized to retain and distribute fish taken as bycatch for hunger relief. A similar program has been operating in the Bering Sea since 1993.  “We make it very clear that we are not asking for bycatch. These are some of the best fishermen who work hard to avoid it. But when they do catch it, they want to see something good done with it. They want to utilize everything that’s in the net, so they donate it to us,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Since its inception, the nonprofit has become one of the largest protein donors in the nation. It has reclaimed 4.2 million pounds of fish that would otherwise have been thrown overboard, and grown to include a network of 138 fishing vessels, 34 at-sea processors, 15 shore side plants and countless packaging, freight, cold storages and national receiving agencies. Sea Share has donated over 630,000 pounds of fish to Alaska hunger relief programs in Anchorage, Kenai, Nome and Kotzebue over the last 3 years. That equates to 2.5 million servings of high protein seafood, Harmon said, and plans are in the works to increase that amount.  “We are now working on a distribution project in Western Alaska,” Harmon said. “The plan is to install freezers in four or five hub villages, and to accept larger quantities shipped via surface freight. That will reduce costs and improve distribution of seafood, which is one of the biggest hurdles.” It costs about 42 cents a pound, he said, to get the fish into the hands of the hungry. February fishing Fishermen have been hauling in thousands of pounds of cod from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea since the year began. Alaska’s biggest fishery — pollock — got underway on Jan. 20. More than 3.5 billion pounds of pollock will be taken in Alaska waters this year. A lingcod fishery of nearly one million pounds is underway in Southeast Alaska, along with a fishery for seven different kinds of deep-water rockfish. Divers are still going down for sea cucumbers, urchins and geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still fishing for winter king salmon — each worth more than a barrel of oil. The region’s golden king crab and Tanner crab fisheries will open Feb. 17. The big crab fisheries are still underway in the Bering Sea. Crabbers have landed about 11 million pounds of a 36.5 million pound snow crab quota. And as soon as unstable ice conditions improve, the year’s first red king crab fishery will kick off at Norton Sound, with a catch topping a half-million pounds. Grants for good works American Seafood Company is again taking applications for community grants throughout Alaska. A total of $38,000 will be available to projects that address issues such as hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. Most of the awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. Deadline to apply is Feb. 12. Recipients will be selected by a community advisory board on Feb. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “This was probably the most positive, upbeat meeting in the past decade,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “The feeling is the stocks are up and the resource is stabilizing and recovering, and it’s the first meeting in a long time that there weren’t any areas that are looking at double digit cuts.” “The bottom line for this year is that we can see some positive trends both in the data and in the stock assessment models,” said Ian Stewart, a scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, which held its annual meeting last week in Juneau. The IPHC manages the catches and fishery research for west coast states, British Columbia and Alaska. “The stock appears to be stabilizing at a coast-wide level and the more years that we’ve see this play out, the more certain we become of that.” Alaska share of the total halibut catch was set at 21.45 million pounds, an increase of 200,000 pounds from last year. Southeast Alaska saw the largest halibut harvest gain for recreational and commercial users at 4.95 million pounds, a 6.1 percent increase over 2015. Scientists said based on survey data, the Panhandle again showed the most improvement in both fish catches and weights. Catches in the biggest halibut fishing hole in the Central Gulf (3A) were decreased by five percent to 9.6 million pounds, the only region to get a cut. Although the annual survey showed increased catches for the first time in nearly 12 years, scientists said they remain concerned that the fish are still showing slow growth rates. They also had questions about potential inaccurate accountings of halibut taken as bycatch in other fisheries. For the Western Gulf (3B) the IPHC scientists said they “are optimistic that 3B has hit bottom and is showing stabilization.” The other three halibut fishing areas in the Aleutians and Bering Sea also showed “strong signs” of holding steady. In other halibut news: The IPHC approved retention of halibut taken incidentally in sablefish pots in the Gulf of Alaska to reduce whale predation. A proposal to reduce the legal halibut size limit from 32 inches to 30 inches to reduce wastage of small fish failed. Likewise, a proposal to limit the maximum size to 60 inches to protect the large breeders also got a thumbs down. The 2016 halibut fishery will begin on March 19 and end on Nov. 7. The IPHC also selected David Wilson to replace Bruce Leaman as executive director as he departs after nearly 20 years. Wilson currently serves as secretary of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, and was formerly head of the International Fisheries Section of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences. He will join the IPHC in August. Dr. Wilson is expected to join the IPHC staff in August 2016. Here are the 2016 Alaska halibut catch limits in millions of pounds, with comparisons to 2015 in parentheses: 2C (Southeast AK) 4.95m (4.65m) 3A (Central Gulf) 9.6m (10.1m) 3B (Western Gulf) 2.71m (2.65m) 4A (W. Aleutians) 1.39m (1.39m) 4B (Bering Sea) 1.14m (1.14m) 4CDE (Bering Sea) 1.66m (1.285m) Total: 21.45 million pounds (21.25m) Seafood showcase Canned smoked herring, salmon caviar, sockeye salmon candy – those are just a sample of the 18 new products to be showcased this month at Alaska Symphony of Seafood events in Seattle, Juneau and Anchorage. The Symphony promotes new, value-added products in four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Plate and new this year, Beyond the Egg. “It’s a great event for the industry, but it also shows how much work and effort is going into developing new products,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 23 years. “It is good for everyone because it creates more value for the resource, and in the case of Beyond the Plate, which focuses on fish byproducts, it is actually using more of the resources.” That category attracted several entries, including wallets, key fobs and other items made from salmon and halibut skin. Another is an anti-aging serum that uses omega-3 oils from ArXotica, a Bethel company Another attention getter is a product from Bambino’s Baby food of Anchorage called “Hali Halibut.” “It is a frozen, portioned product made with halibut and Alaska grown vegetables. It’s really cool!” Decker said. The new Beyond the Egg category attracted one salmon caviar entry, with several more set to debut at next year’s Symphony, she added. All items will be judged by an expert panel prior to a Seattle bash on February 10, with their choices remaining under wraps. That will be followed by a seafood soiree for Alaska legislators in Juneau on Feb. 16; then it’s on to Anchorage on Feb. 19 where all winners will be announced Top winners in each category get a free trip in March to Seafood Expo North America in Boston. See the full line up at www.afdf.org.  New life raft rules New safety rules for vessel life rafts go into effect on Feb. 26, meaning the use of commonly used flotation devices will no longer be acceptable. Smaller vessels will no longer be able to use life rings, rectangular red floats and other buoyant devices as their only form of survival gear, and instead must be equipped with a raft that ensures every passenger is safely out of the water in the case of a sinking.  “The big thing to remember is that it’s one thing to be wet and cold, it’s another thing to be immersed in cold water,” said Scott Wilwert, U.S. Coast Guard Fishing Safety Coordinator in Juneau. “On Feb. 26, survival craft requirements for commercial fishing vessels, as well as other classes of passenger vessels, will change in a way that if a vessel is operating beyond three miles from shore, they are required to have a survival craft that does not allow for an immersed segment of a person’s body,” he explained. “So the big change for any fishing vessel, regardless of length or the number of people on board, is that they have to step up to a survival craft that is called an inflatable buoyant apparatus or a full life raft.” Even those who got their mandatory dockside safety exams last fall will need to recheck their survival gear to comply with the new regulations, Wilwert said.  “If you know that the new rule affects you, I would definitely start working with a local marine supplier and get one coming your way.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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.  “Not all cuts are equal, and if there are cuts that interfere with the science needed for responsible and sustainable fish harvesting, many times in the absence of information, it will throttle down fisheries and reduce opportunity,” said Mark Vinsel, Executive Administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization, with 35 member groups.  “When we are able to count fish and make sure enough get up stream, then people can harvest them, get them to market and bring the revenue back to their communities and to the state general fund through taxes. So we have to be careful that we don’t put a tax on something or increase taxes while the overall opportunity goes down. That can be a net decrease,” Vinsel added.  “We are willing to listen to any proposal,” said Jerry McCune, UFA president. “If there is going to be raises in the taxes we would like to see it across the board to be fair for everybody.” Gov. Bill Walker has proposed a 1 percent surtax on both the Fisheries Business Tax and the Fisheries Landing Tax, which would raise an estimated $20 million. A resolution provided to each legislator states: “Budget cuts, though equal in value, are not equal in impact to industry or represent the same overall loss to the State of Alaska in terms of lost revenue and benefit. Emphasis should be given to find efficiencies without reducing economic opportunities for industry.” A second UFA resolution urges that the state “should not further reduce the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s budget in a manner that negatively impacts the department’s delivery of core/essential services.” The ADFG now has an operating budget of $200 million; the Commercial Fisheries Division gets the largest chunk at $73.3 million. Another UFA resolution supports the existing Division of Investments’ Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Funds and continuation of other financing programs that “bring benefits to Alaskans and the economy of the State of Alaska in perpetuity.” UFA also sent a letter to Walker saying it “supports the recommendation of the legislative audit that CFEC remain as an independent agency, separate and distinct from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.” McCune said UFA is working closely with Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins regarding a bill he plans to introduce that would create permit banks to help reverse the trend of salmon permits migrating out of the state. The bank would buy nonresident permits and lease them to young fishermen who otherwise could not afford them. A permit bank would not cost the state any money, according to Kreiss-Tomkins, because it would fall to local communities to raise the money. “I think it’s a noble idea, but we have some fears,” McCune said. “There are concerns with an entity holding a permit and giving loans and being able to take them back, and there are IRS and constitutional considerations. We will continue to work with the bill sponsor to make sure our concerns are considered and that we are within legal rights of the Limited Entry Act.” Regarding the bill that would allow “fisheries enhancement permits” for groups and individuals (HB 220), McCune said UFA has been assured by ADFG that “safeguards are in place.” “You can’t move one stock to another area, and you must go through all the things that a normal hatchery operator or anyone who wants to do fishery enhancements is required to do,” McCune said. “You can’t just willy-nilly run out and start a hatchery and not have any consideration for wild stocks where it’s going to located and things like that. I don’t think it will move until some things are fleshed out.” Other fish issues and bills will surface as the Alaska legislature gets into full swing. “It’s a bit agonizing for everyone waiting to see what will happen,” McCune said. “But you’ve got to work the process. It’s not going to be up to just UFA, but different groups and individuals are going to have to weigh in on different issues. My message to all the fishermen in the state is pay attention to what’s going on and make sure you have your say.” Bycatch begone! A new fishery management plan will reduce halibut bycatch by 21 percent in Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl and longline groundfish fisheries to 3,515 metric tons (7.73 million pounds). The plan was approved by federal managers prior to the season opener for trawlers on Jan. 20. Managers now are moving towards similar measures for chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, and they want input from the public. The pollock fishery now has separate programs to account for takes of the two salmon species.  “We want to improve the functioning of these programs so they are integrated,” said Gretchen Harrington, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Alaska Region and leader for the salmon bycatch project. The goal, she said, is to enable the fleets to operate under one incentive agreement.  “The incentive plan agreement is a document created by the pollock fishermen that explains exactly how they are going to provide incentives for each vessel to avoid chinook and chum salmon bycatch through the tools they already are using,” Harrington explained. “There also is a provision in the proposed rule that adjusts the allocation of pollock between the A season (winter) and the B season (summer) to provide five percent more pollock in the A season, so it can be harvested when there is less chance for bycatch. A new key piece of the agreement includes adjusting chinook bycatch limits downwards whenever the state forecasts low abundances for a following year. Currently, a 60,000 bycatch limit is in place for chinook salmon; the bycatch last year was 18,330. For chum, the bycatch take was 237,795 fish. After going through the rule making process, Harrington said the new pollock program should be in place by next year. Public comments on the salmon bycatch reduction plan are accepted through March 8. Fish correction The number of salmon fishing permits held by non-locals or nonresidents at Bristol Bay is 38.3 percent, not 81.1 percent. A total of 61.7 percent of all permits are held by local residents near the fishery. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. If many smaller facilities can do the work of a handful of larger, more costly facilities, it will help Alaska’s budget, Talerico told the Juneau Empire. The enhancement permits also would be available to Native organizations and sportsmen’s groups, Talerico said, adding, “Those guys know how to raise money in a hurry.” Another tool intended “to help fish managers” will resurface this year – “The Alaskans-First Fishing Act,” which aims to give personal use fisheries a priority over sport and commercial users when restrictions are imposed to achieve a management goal. As it stands now, the three fisheries all are on equal footing in the eyes and actions of state managers. The bill, Senate Bill 42, has been introduced during each of the last seven legislative sessions by Sen. Bill Stolze, but has gone nowhere. (A duplicate law, HB 110, has been filed by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake). The bill states, “one thing all Alaskans can agree on is that we should have a priority over people coming from elsewhere in the country and the world to utilize and harvest our fisheries resources. Fisheries that are restricted to residents only are meant to enable Alaskans to access their fisheries resources for their personal use and consumption.” The United Fishermen of Alaska’s position on the personal use issue has remained the same: the Legislature should leave prioritization of fishery allocations to the Board of Fisheries and management to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fish price places The first thing any fisherman wants to know is fish prices. Usually, that information is tough to come by during a fishing season, as final prices aren’t settled until months after the catch is sold. That’s a tough way to run a business. There are some helpful price resources, albeit after the fact. Each April the state Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for 85 different fish species for the previous year, by gear type and region. It’s called the Commercial Operator’s Annual Report, or COAR, compiled from inputs by Alaska fish buyers. Here’s a 2014 sampler of prices for many of the species people seldom hear about: The statewide average herring price was 11 cents a pound. Octopus averaged 61 cents. Lingcod fetched $1.27 at the docks. Those billions of pounds of pollock in Alaska’s largest fishery averaged 15 cents a pound. For 11 different kinds of flatfish, rex sole was the priciest at 32 cents a pound. Those pesky arrowtooth flounder paid out at 6 cents. For Atka mackerel, the average price was a dime, and 17 cents for perch. Big skates brought 45 cents a pound dockside, and wolf eels were 94 cents. Sea cucumbers averaged $4.02, and catches of smelt brought 46 cents. The state tracks 22 different kinds of rockfish, with yelloweye, or red snapper, the priciest at $1.31 a pound, and red stripe the cheapest at 14 cents. The lowest priced fish of them all were sculpin and yellowfin sole, each at 2 pennies a pound. The priciest Alaska catch listed was spot prawns paying Southeast Alaska fishermen $8.65 a pound. For salmon, the state Department of Revenue three times a year provides first wholesale prices (what processors receive when they sell the fish) for products including fresh, frozen, fillets, roe and canned for each Alaska region. It’s called the Alaska Salmon Price Report and is listed under the Tax Division Why should you care about fish prices if you’re far from the coast? With Alaska’s commercial catches coming in at between 5 to 6 billion pounds every year, adding just one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly one million dollars in landing taxes for the state and local governments each. Ice sightings wanted We’ve all seen images of fishing boats in the winter, where the rigging, wires and wheelhouse are literally turned into a solid block of ice. That freezing ocean spray and heavy icing can capsize a vessel in the blink of an eye. Weather forecasters are in the fourth year of a project to fine-tune NOAA’s Watches and Warnings about heavy freezing spray We’re trying to understand more about the dynamics and the atmospheric conditions, and even the types of boats that might be impacted by freezing spray,” said Lt. Joseph Phillips at NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center in Maryland. “What we are learning is that freezing spray is a very difficult thing to forecast. A lot of it has to deal with what direction a ship is moving in, the size and shape of the ship, the wind conditions, you can have warm waters and cold temperatures and still get freezing spray.” Forecasters from NOAA and Environment Canada are asking mariners for help in reporting icing conditions in Alaska, the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions. “Right now we just want to hear if there is freezing spray or not. But more information like the icing conditions, ice accretion rate, air temperature, sea and wind conditions, relative humidity all that information is great,” Phillips told KMXT. “Then we can start tweaking and understanding why we’re not forecasting or over forecasting, maybe adjust the models we are using here and there. And that will translate into a better forecast and warning system for this condition.”   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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. That’s an average of $7,049 in sales per acre of active farm, most of which average about five acres. Combined production overall hit 8.3 million oysters and geoducks in 2014, along with 10,000 pounds of blue mussels and little neck clams. Pring-Ham added that 73 percent of the sales came from shellfish produced at 56 farms, and the remainder from the state’s seven nurseries and two hatcheries that sell seed to the aquatic farmers. Seventy percent of the shellfish farms are located throughout Southeast Alaska, 23 percent are in Kachemak Bay near Homer and seven percent are in Prince William Sound. Aquatic farmers also fetched a higher price for their bivalves: $9.60 per dozen for oysters, $5.74 per pound for blue mussels and $8 per pound for little neck clams. Several other mariculture milestones also were recorded, Pring-Ham said, including an 11 percent increase in jobs. “Although small, we have about 185 positions working on aquatic farms in Alaska,” she said. Based on the shellfish crops and seed stocks in the water now, Pring-Ham sees lots of potential for more production. It takes two to four years for oysters to grow to slurping size, depending on water temperatures, and 14.5 million are set to come online, along with millions of mussels, geoduck clams, little necks, and most recently, cockles. And plans for growing weed in Alaska extends beyond marijuana. Farming seaweeds, especially various kelps, is seeing a surge of interest, notably as Outside interests target Alaska products. Seaweeds, which can be harvested on 6-12 month rotations, are used in everything from sushi wrappers to biofuels to face creams to frothy heads on beer. Seaweed growers from Maine and California both made business pitches at the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association meeting last fall to convince Alaska farmers to grow seaweeds experimentally, and eventually contract to grow for their companies. Maine’s production of primarily rockweed is valued at $20 million annually, according to a 2015 report for the Ocean Sciences National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota. The report said 30 to 35 countries are producing 28 million tons of seaweed crops globally, valued at $10 billion. Japan’s nori production amounts to $2 billion annually and is one of the world’s most valuable crops. According to the Cape Times, 30,000 seaweed products have been launched in Europe in the past four years alone. Pring-Ham said partnerships are “blossoming” between Alaska aquatic farmers, entrepreneurs and educators to test the waters for local seaweeds. A two-year Alaska Sea Grant project is underway at Oceans Alaska in Ketchikan that will create kelp hatcheries and provide seeded longlines to farmers to submerge on their acreage. “It will introduce the entire seaweed farming business to Alaska on a pilot scale and collect growing data,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “And it will connect with buyers interested in purchasing seaweeds from Alaska.” Applications for aquatic farms are accepted by ADFG each year from January 1 through April 30 and Pring-Ham hopes more Alaskans will join the mariculture movement. “Alaska has a lot going for it in terms of aquatic farming,” she said. “We have clean waters, bountiful coastlines and one of the easiest regulatory processes for getting a permit to operate and utilize state lands in the country. This makes Alaska so appealing for anyone interested in starting this type of business and we will help people through every step of the process.” Fish on your dish Eating trends show some big plusses for wild seafood, but Americans are still eating far less fish than they should be. According to international market research firm NPD Group, the top trend going into 2016 is consumers want to know where their foods come from. The Group credits seafood for its improved traceability and move towards local sourcing, which will continue to boost sales. Good fats also are in. People now know that some fats are healthy, NPD said, such as those found in eggs, avocados and seafood. Consumers are seeking non-genetically modified foods “in droves” NPD said. Again, that will benefit wild seafood as people are demanding “authentic,” natural foods with fewer additives of anything, let alone genes. Watch for people to be reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees also are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Technomic, another top market tracker, lists ‘trash to treasure’ fish as its #3 seafood trend, as more restaurants serve up bycatch and lesser known fish to appreciative diners. For decades more than 60 percent of Americans have eaten seafood while dining out, but market watchers said more are cooking fish at home. Maybe that will boost consumption, which has stalled in the U.S. at less than 15 pounds per person. A study last year by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture showed only one in ten Americans follow recommendations to eat seafood at last twice a week. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Jan. 7 recommends eating at least eight ounces of a variety of seafoods with the aim to take in at least 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish watch Hundreds of boats were braving harsh winds and high seas to bring home first of the year fish from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Pacific cod starts the year off for fixed gears, meaning longlines, jigs and pots. The P-cod price is reportedly around 35 cents per pound, similar to last year. A lingcod fishery is underway in Southeast Panhandle; black rockfish is open there and at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. That tasty rockfish fetches closer to 45 cents for fishermen. Southeast trollers have taken about 30,000 winter kings at $7.23 per pound, according to fish tickets. Bering Sea crabbers are tapping away at a 35.5 million pound snow crab quota, 15 million pounds of Tanners and 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutians. Fisheries for trawlers targeting pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish open Jan. 20. The state Board of Fisheries meets in Fairbanks Jan. 12-16 to take up Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim fish issues. On Sunday, Jan. 17 the joint boards of Fish and Game will meet again to hear more budget cutting ideas. All board meetings are streamed live on the web. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is holding its annual meeting in Juneau, Jan. 25-29. Alaska Sea Grant’s Sixth Young Fishermen’s Summit also will be in Juneau, Jan. 27-29 at the Baranof Hotel. Dates for the 2016 Alaska Symphony of Seafood are Feb. 10 in Seattle; Feb. 16 in Juneau and Feb. 19 in Anchorage, where all winners will be announced. See more at www.afdf.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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: Most eco-friendly fish feat: The massive airlift/barge project led by the Department of Environmental Conservation that removed more than 800,000 pounds of marine debris from remote Alaska beaches. Best new fish service: “Print at home” fishing licenses (and more) by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon — Frankenfish Best fish financial potential: Mariculture for more shellfish, sea “vegetables” —shrimp? Worst fish kick the can: The Department of Natural Resources’ stall on a salmon vs. coalmine water rights decision at the Chuitna watershed in Upper Cook Inlet. DNR awarded a small reservation to protect salmon while allowing more time for PacRim coal to prove that building Alaska’s largest coal mine won’t hurt salmon and the ecosystem. Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Pacific Seafoods Processing Association among the appellants in a lawsuit against DNR’s decision to grant water reservation rights for the first time to a private entity, the Chuitna Citizens Coalition (See above) Biggest fish hurry up: Electronic Monitoring Systems to replace fishery observers on small boats. Not much extra bunk space on a 40 footer. Biggest fish phonies: Kenai-based sportfish enthusiasts bankrolling an effort to ban setnet gear in “urban” areas in the name of conservation. Their claims that setnets are an “outdated gear and devastating, indiscriminate killers” ignore 10 years of ADFG data showing that 99.996 percent of setnet harvests is salmon. Best fish quick fix: The JDBeltz, by Anne Morris of Sand Point — a horizontal Vicky knife holder that prevents leg pokings. Best fish sigh of relief: Federal fish managers allowing the use of pots, instead of longlines, to catch black cod. The gear shift prevents whales from stripping the pricey fish from hooks, leaving only the lips. Fishermen call it “getting whaled.” Best fish visionary: Tidal Vision LLC of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the USA. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to pharmaceuticals and are too numerous to mention. Best fish fighters: The Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP, for fighting tirelessly to get tasty, “kid approved” fish meals into school lunch programs, and for getting the pollock name corrected on federal food lists to guarantee the fish is top quality. Best fish energy booster: Bob Varness of Juneau for the first in the nation electric powered passenger boat, the E/V Tongass Rain, set to be out on the water doing eco-tours this summer. Next up: all electric fishing boats. Best fishing career builders: University of Alaska/Southeast, Kodiak College for low cost courses in vessel hydraulics, electronics, maintenance and repairs, fish technicians and more — most are available on-line; Alaska Sea Grant’s Marine Advisory Agents. Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, on its way to donating 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994. Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Best fish boosters: Juneau Economic Development Council for ramping up visibility of the local fishing/processing sector, and envisioning big opportunities in mariculture and fish “co-products.” Fondest fish farewell: Ray RaLonde, who retired from Alaska Sea Grant after decades of creating and nurturing the state’s fledgling mariculture industry. Best fish informer: Julie Speegle, Communications Director, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries/Juneau Saddest fish story: The sudden and untimely death of Greg Fisk, fisheries advocate and newly elected Juneau mayor. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which generates nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower. Kodiak also turns its fish wastes into oils and meals at a “gurry” plant owned by local processors, and the city plans to turn its sludge water into compost. Best fish gadget: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It’s free. Most encouraging fish pols: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka Scariest fish story: ocean acidification. The corrosion of crab/scallop/oyster/snail shells is documented and happening fastest in Arctic waters. Biggest fish brush off: Alaska’s Congressional delegation, which has voted to tank every climate change/clean air/clean water measure that has come before Congress in favor of fossil fuels. No comments on the 200+ nation climate accord in Paris. How will that play in Kivalina? Best fish to kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI. Best global fish story: The U.S. and other nations cracking down on Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported, or IUU, catches by fish pirates—more 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best daily fish news site: Seafood.com; Pacific Fishing Magazine’s Fish Wrap Best fish watchers: Trustees for Alaska, Cook Inletkeeper Best new fish writer: DJ Summers, Alaska Journal of Commerce Best fish economists: Gunnar Knapp, ISER; Andy Wink, McDowell Group Worst fish travesty: Halibut catches for commercial and sport users slashed every year while fishing fleets take millions of pounds as bycatch. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go. Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries offices in Alaska. Best go to bat for fishermen/fishing towns: Alaska Marine Conservation Council, for its Caught by Alaskan for Alaskans programs which aim to expand statewide. Most ambitious fish dilemma: The plan to reduce bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include apportioning 25 different types of groundfish among all user groups. Tastiest new family fish products: Trident’s Ultimate Fish Sticks, Pickled Willy’s Smoked Black Cod Tips Best fish partnership: Golden king crabbers and state biologists teaming up to do the first stock surveys that span 800 miles along the Aleutian Islands Best fish show offs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 23 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. Biggest fish story of 2015: 50 cents for reds at Bristol Bay and a nearly 70 percent drop in Alaska salmon prices across the board. The perfect storm of adverse global currencies, big inventories and record U.S. imports of farmed salmon could stoke a similar trend in 2016. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. The Pacific cod quota is down a bit to 525 million pounds, not because of stock declines, but to accommodate the catches of competing gears and fleets, said Diana Stram, Bering Sea groundfish plan coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore. Flatfish stocks also are very healthy, Stram said, but catches were lowered due to halibut bycatch concerns from trawl and longline vessels. “The fisheries worked voluntarily last year to reduce their halibut bycatch and they did a good job, but it still remains a concern,” she said. No matter how robust the stocks are, Alaska fish managers always opt for sustainable harvest numbers. In the Bering Sea, that means never exceeding a two million-metric ton harvest cap. “The biomass overall in the Bering Sea is extremely healthy for all of the stocks. In terms of the catch quotas, the balancing act is really the constraint of the two million metric ton cap,” Stram explained. “While a lot of the stocks could have higher TACs (total allowable catches), the Council balances between the different stocks and the different fleets in order to meet that limit.” There are 22 different species under the Council’s purview, Stram added, along, with non-targeted species like sharks, sculpin and squids taken incidentally in other fisheries. Fish stocks also are booming in the Gulf of Alaska where catches will be up overall by 6 percent. “It sure looks good. Pollock is up about 30 percent and Pacific cod is down just a smidge but nothing we’re too worried about,” said Jim Armstrong, plan coordinator for Gulf groundfish. Gulf pollock catches will be 572 million pounds in 2016 and 2017, and cod at about 158 million pounds. A total of 25 different species are tracked throughout the Gulf, he added, “and about 130 when various complexes, like rockfish, are broken out.” One red flag, Armstrong said, is sablefish, which is managed both in the Gulf and Bering Sea as a single unit stock. A continued downward trend has decreased those catches by 14 percent. “It’s a concern,” he said “One of the reassurances is that this coming year we’re going to have a sort of second opinion by the Center for Independent Experts who will review the sablefish stock assessment so we’ll better understand what’s behind the downward trend.” Both coordinators credit the Council for its ecosystem approach to fisheries management and always deferring to the best available science. “Our council has always valued the scientific input and the rigorous assessments that go into each fishing cycle, as well as taking into consideration other things that are going on in terms of bycatch of halibut, and also salmon and crab and herring. And just looking at the catch setting process on an annual basis is a really good example of that,” Stram said. Armstrong credits the multi-levels of scrutiny and review the Council scientists and advisory panels contribute each year. He is a newcomer to the NPFMC staff since July, after a 10-year tenure with the mid-Atlantic council. “This is the big leagues,” he said. “It’s 10 times greater in terms of the value and the quantity, the number of fish species that are managed, and I think it scales up the amount of energy that is put into management itself. Everything is bigger here.” Millions more pounds of groundfish also will hail from state managed fisheries within three miles of shore. Got jellies? Jellyfish abundances, or a lack thereof, can tell a lot about what is happening in the oceans on a larger scale. Researchers are now calling on “citizen scientists” to post jellyfish observations on a special website: jellywatch.org. “Citizen science in general is valuable because it is multiplied with such large numbers. To tap into that pool of has huge advantages for a data set,” said Dr. Steven Haddock, a researcher from University of California at Santa Cruz who studies marine bioluminescence, zooplankton and deep sea jellyfish. He hopes to gain more insights on near shore jellyfish varieties to model to add to the wider ocean range. Haddock also wants to test hypotheses that claim a warmer climate has boosted jellyfish blooms. There is a misconception that jellyfish thrive in warmer waters, but any seagoing Alaskan knows that’s not the case. “A common belief is that jellyfish like warmer water for some reason, but in Alaska, the species like the lion’s mane, are really restricted to colder water,” he told KTOO in Juneau. Haddock said it’s great if website postings include a photo, but descriptions alone are helpful, such as one from a Ketchikan diver. “He didn’t have a photo, but he gave a description of this jelly that sounds like a deep-sea species that we discovered here in Monterey. It’s called Tiburonia and we call it ‘the big red’ because it’s the size of a beach ball,” Haddock explained. “So this guy diving said ‘I feel like I’m reporting a big-foot sighting.’ I think it actually could be a sighting of this relatively newly discovered deep-sea species that he saw while scuba diving off Ketchikan.” Observations of no jellyfish sightings also are helpful. Haddock said “clean seas” reports make documented sightings more valid, as seeing none are as valuable as seeing many. Give salmon a brake Washington State is protecting salmon by removing copper from automotive brakes. A Better Brakes law passed in 2010 went into effect this year, and will phase out copper completely by 2025. “You touch your brakes and a little bit of material gets deposited on the road. And from there it washes into a stream or river where salmon may be spawning or trying to go home or getting back to the ocean,” said Ian Wesley, Better Brakes Coordinator at the Washington Department of Ecology. The program was spawned after years of research showed that even trace levels of copper in water will damage a salmon’s ability to smell. “The Northwest Fisheries Science Center has done a lot of work on how copper affects a salmon’s ability to smell, and juvenile salmon are particularly susceptible to these effects,” Wesley explained. “Even trace levels of copper will damage their ability to smelling, which inhibits their ability to avoid predators. They will release a hormone into the water that alerts other fish when there is danger nearby, and it prevents other salmon from being able to smell that. So they won’t know when danger is in the water and they won’t hide from it.” Wesley said the program was driven by a partnership between brake makers, water quality watchers and regulators. Brake manufacturers agreed that if it was shown their products were causing environmental harm, they would work to phase copper out of their brake pads. Now, any brakes sold in the state come with a Better Brake logo. “If you want to sell brakes in Washington State you need to mark your products with a three leaf logo,” Wesley said. “The brake manufacturers have registered it, and it shows the level of copper concentration in a brake pad. If all three leafs are filled in, it means there is no copper in the product, when two are filled in, it means there is less than five percent copper, and when one is filled in, it means there is no asbestos or lead in the product.” The copper-free brakes cost the same as the less fish friendly models, Wesley said. Penalties for noncompliance starting in 2025 will be applied to the brake makers, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation. California has followed suit and the Better Brake program is going nationwide. “The break manufacturers have signed a memorandum of understanding with the EPA to voluntarily agree to comply with Washington’s requirements on a nationwide basis,” Wesley said. “The large retailers and distributors and manufacturers have agreed to only sell certified brakes throughout the country, and to make sure the copper requirements are met for all the brakes made.” Wesley credits U.S. brake makers for willingly making changes to give salmon a break. “The brake manufacturers really deserve a lot of credit, and they have been moving faster than we expected them to,” he said. “They’ve really gone above and beyond.” Washington laws also strongly encourage grassy alternatives to drains and pipes that let road runoff become cleanses by percolating through the ground, as it did before urban areas were paved over. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. The end product they are going for is chitosan, a fibrous polysaccharide that, among other things, can be woven into fabrics and textiles, and has no end of commercial and biomedical uses. Chitosan can fetch from $10 to $30,000 a pound depending on quality and usages, and up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades, said Craig Kasberg, former fisherman and now Tidal Vision’s Captain Executive Officer. Chitosan has been produced commercially in China and India since the late 1950s by using chemicals and waste methods that would never pass the muster of U.S. environmental regulators. That’s all changed with Tidal Vision. “We do not use harsh chemicals and we are able to recycle 89 percent of the chemicals we use. The other 11 percent reacts with everything else in the crab shell — the calcium, protein and lipids — and produces a fertilizer that several agriculture companies are doing trials with,” Kasberg said in a phone call from SafeCo Field, where Tidal Vision was claiming two awards. From the Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington Department of Ecology for Safer Manufacturing and Cleaner Products, he explained. Tidal Vision expects to process 100 million pounds of crab shells during its first year. Shortly after, it projects taking up to 200 million pounds of crab shells from Trident plants, and all shells from the Bering Sea crab fisheries by 2021. “Which is huge considering that with some species they are losing 35 percent in the guts and the shells. So we’re able to cut that in half by processing the shells,” Kasberg said. “I am a strong believer in 100 percent utilization of our resources and working with Tidal Vision has been fantastic,” said Joe Bundrant, Trident Seafoods CEO, in an email. The small company’s long term goal is to build full scale chitin plants next to existing crab processing plants in Alaska, along with mobile plants for areas with smaller catches and shorter seasons. More immediately, Kasberg said Tidal Vision is “vertically integrating into the textile, fiber and commercial filtration markets.” The group’s new clothing line, ChitoSkin, has caught the attention of Grundens, and by next summer, Alaska salmon fishermen may be wearing rain gear that won’t mold or smell. Kasberg said the company also is developing and testing a chitosan filtration system for a coal mining company in British Columbia. “Chitosan reacts very quickly to toxins and bonds really fast. Instead of filling manmade lakes with effluent that is acidic and full of heavy metals, they could instead be pumping out pure drinking water,” Kasberg said. “That’s close to my heart with all the trans-boundary river issues in Southeast, and we really are passionate about accomplishing that.” Board budgets The state Boards of Fisheries and Game got a helpful earful about ways to trim their budget in the face of next year’s fiscal onslaught, and feedback is continuing online. More than a dozen Alaskans shared ideas during a daylong listening session last week in Anchorage focused solely on cutting costs within the Boards’ annual meeting cycles. “Just based on the normal board meeting schedules, we don’t even have enough at status quo in terms of a budget to meet their needs,” said Glenn Haight, Executive Director of Fish and Game Board Support, adding that the combined meeting costs vary each year, but are roughly $500,000. One message was loud and clear at the Anchorage meeting: don’t cut the public out of the rule making process. “We’re not at all interested in helping the department diminish the public’s ability to participate in the regulatory process by supporting any cuts to the board,” said Gary Stevens on behalf of the Alaska Outdoor Council. “We have a hard time understanding why any of the cuts need to come out of the statutorily protected process of regulating fish and game.” Another unpopular idea was extending beyond the current three-year regional meeting cycles, which would save $100,000 for board support tasks. “Don’t move the three-year cycle to five-year cycles,” said Gary Cline of Dillingham. “I do agree that it is too long. Mainly because the decisions made at these meetings have such a huge impact on our Alaskan residents.” Maintaining local board advisory committees also was supported. Haight said that includes travel expenses of $200,000 to $230,000 for members of 60 to 70 active committees. Reducing the number of Fish and Game staff that attends board meetings also was suggested, and there has been much talk about reducing the number of regulatory proposals the boards address — upwards of 400 to 500 each year — or streamlining the process. “I think that individuals should still be able to submit proposals,” Gayla Hoseth of Dillingham told KDLG. “I really believe that one voice is a strong voice. Because one voice could make a difference and I don’t want it to change where we don’t have that voice anymore.” The joint boards plan to meet again in January. Meanwhile, more feedback and ideas are encouraged at an online survey. Cannery call The Alaska Historical Society, or AHS, is seeking sponsors and donors for its Alaska Historic Canneries Initiative. “This all started because people are worried about the state of the old canneries around Alaska, and they are scared that so many are disappearing from the landscape. So we really want to do more to document these places and their stories,” said Anjuli Grantham, a public historian in Kodiak and director for the Initiative. AHS is asking individuals, businesses, and communities to share photos, memories and stories from the canneries, salteries, processors, and herring plants that dotted Alaska’s coasts. “The purpose is to document, preserve, and educate about the history of seafood processing in Alaska,” Grantham said, adding that only two canneries are listed on the national register of historic places in Alaska. The AHS is offering grant money to help with the cause. “It’s a really broad program,” she added. “It could be an oral history project; it could be money to buy lumber if you want to restore a portion of an old cannery building. It could go toward a film or gathering photographs for an archive. If the project has anything to do with the history of the fishing industry in Alaska, you are eligible to apply for funding.” Deadline to apply is Jan. 1. www.alaskahistoricalsociety.org Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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 2.0 builds the knowledge and connections needed to increase investment in the sustainable seafood sector, according to its website. “We noticed that investors were having a hard time finding fisheries deals, and fishery business owners were frustrated that investors had no interest. We created Fish 2.0 to build connections between the groups,” said Monica Jain, Fish 2.0 Founder. “Our goal is to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain.” Harrell, who is executive director of the non-profit Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, said: “We told the story of the really unique assets we have in Alaska, which include thousands of small boat fishing families. We have a giant seafood economy that provides one of the largest and most sustainable seafood supplies in the world. But the way our seafood supply chain is structured, it is very difficult to get the seafood harvested locally to our communities here in Alaska, because we are set up to export such large volumes.” The Walton Family Foundation, a Fish 2.0 sponsor, wrote: “When Kelly Harrell started crafting the idea of the Alaska Community Seafood Hub, she knew that improving business, people’s lives and the environment go hand in hand. Kelly pitched her business model to a room full of investors, ocean and fishing industry experts and grant makers who shared her vision of a sustainable seafood market. She walked away with $5,000 and countless connections to help build a strong community-based fishery and bring high-quality seafood from Alaskan fishermen to local consumers.” “We often overlook Alaska thinking that people have access to catching their own and a lot do, but in places like Fairbanks and Anchorage, and even in coastal towns, many people don’t. And in the case of species like crab, it’s really not practical to get their own,” Harrell said. The Alaska Seafood Hub concept expanded upon the Catch of the Season program and the Kodiak Jig Seafoods brand for cod and rockfish that AMCC has operated for several years.  “We began by selling Tanner crab and cod to consumers in Alaska and through wholesale buyers in a way that tells the story of the fishermen, the species, the community where it come it comes from,” Harrell said. “It helps build connections between our fishermen and fishing communities and our seafood consumers and buyers, and generates a higher price for the fishermen. It’s a real win/win.” About 20 fishermen are involved in the program so far, and they fetch 60 percent more than the regular dock price. Along with individual buyers, regular customers include the Bear Tooth in Anchorage, Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and Princess Tours Lodges. Harrell said fish offerings are expanding to include Tanner crab from the Bering Sea, king crab from Norton Sound and sockeye salmon.  “This summer we sold salmon from Bristol Bay for the first time in Fairbanks and it was a huge hit,” Harrell said. “People were extremely eager to have seafood caught by Alaskans for Alaskans and we sold thousands of pounds right away to an eager consumer base.” AMCC’s ultimate goal is to spawn umbrella seafood hubs for local brands in other Alaska fishing towns, such as halibut from the Pribilof Islands.  “We want to tell the story of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and how that is potentially putting these small communities out of business in terms of their halibut fishery. People in the state really need to hear it through something they can support and put on their dinner plates,” Harrell said. In the four rigorous rounds of the competition, Harrell said the judges were most surprised that many Alaskans don’t have access to local seafood, and that Alaska politics and the economy are not more connected to the state’s fishing industry. Fishing fees Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices for the fish through September and averaged across the state. Bills went out in late November to 1,983 longliners for a total coverage cost of $5.6 million, said Kristie Balovich, Budget Officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Alaska Region based in Juneau. The dockside value of the halibut fishery went up this year while the value of sablefish went down.  “The 2015 halibut landings had an increase in overall value to $107 million, compared to $100 million in 2014. Sablefish had a slight decrease going from $76.7 million to $76.6 million,” Balovich said, adding that dock prices, or ex-vessel prices, were higher for both. Halibut was at $6.42 per pound this year, and sablefish was at $3.78 per pound. That compares to an average halibut price of $6.36 per pound and $3.59 per pound for sablefish in 2014. The fee system is different for the Bering Sea crab fisheries.  “NOAA doesn’t track dock prices for crab, only the total value of the fisheries,” Balovich explained. That added up to $229 million for the 2014/2015 season, an increase of about $300,000 from the previous fishery. The crab catches yielded $3.4 million in coverage costs, which are collected and paid by Bering Sea processors (19 last season) by the end of July. The coverage fee for the crab fishery increased to 1.48 percent this year and to 3 percent for halibut and sablefish, due to adding more management and enforcement personnel.  “We were able to hire some people so there were some increases in labor for those fisheries,” Balovich said. Balovich added that Alaska longliners are “great about paying their bills” and that 99.9 percent pay by the Jan. 31 deadline. There’s one change for all bill payers this year: credit cards are no longer accepted over the phone due to security reasons. “Everyone has access to their online landings, and if they go into their eFish account, it switches them over to a site called www.pay.gov. “It is very secure and they can pay with a credit card there,” Balovich said. Begich talks fish fights Former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is continuing his fight against genetically modified salmon after its approval last month for U.S. sales by the federal government. “I think it is a very bad decision,” he said in a phone conversation. “When I was in the Senate I was able to stop it from being moved forward and being approved. So I decided I am no different than any other concerned Alaskan, and I decided to write a letter to every store chain that serves food in major quantities to ask them not to sell that product.” While many major stores in Alaska, such as Safeway, have pledged to not carry so called Frankenfish, others have remained noncommittal. In his letter to Walmart president Doug McMillon, Begich wrote: “At a minimum, this product must be labeled so Alaskans can make an informed choice about what they are buying and serving to their families. Consumers have a right to know whether they are eating something from the waters of Bristol Bay, Southeast, Cordova or anywhere else in Alaska…or a test tube…I hope you will join me in continuing that effort without compromising the most sustainable fishing industry in the world that exists right here in Alaska.”  “If the people making this fake fish believe it’s such a good product, then label it,” he fumed on the phone. Begich broadened the discussion of fish threats to North Pacific waters, which are getting warmer and more acidic.  “You can’t have sustainable fisheries without sustainable waters,” he stressed. “If we don’t have sustainable ecosystems, everything that lives or thrives on it or uses it will be at risk.” Alaska’s current delegation has voted against every clean air, clean water and climate change measure that has come before Congress, and Begich said it’s time for them “to accept reality.”  “Climate change is real and those who continue to deny it live in a world that doesn’t exist. And the fact that Sen. (Dan) Sullivan, who ran against me, continues to deny it 100 percent is a mistake,” Begich said. “I support the oil and gas industry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support solid, scientific-based regulations to ensure that our air and waters are protected.” The former senator criticized the “knee jerk reaction to just say no to everything because it makes a good bullet statement in a TV ad or a brochure.” “Always opting for the negative is no way to govern,” he continued. “There is so much we should be focused on in the Alaska resource arena, and just being a no voice is not good enough. It should be a yes voice in trying to figure out how to improve everything from fisheries, oil and gas, all of it for the betterment of Alaskans and this country. What’s happening in Washington is the race to the negative, and not a race to getting things done for the long term benefit of the people we represent.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. For Alaska, which always gets the lion’s share of the annual halibut harvest, the total take would be 20.32 million pounds, a decrease of less than 1 million pounds. Halibut catches for all but two Alaska regions would drop slightly, with Area 3B, the Western Gulf, and area 4CDE in the Bering Sea seeing slight increases. Here are the 2016 recommended catch limits for the six Alaska regions where halibut is harvested, with comparisons to the 2015 catches in parentheses: • Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.63 million pounds (4.65M) • Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 9.37 million pounds (10.1M) • Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.67 million pounds, (2.65M) • Area 4A (Alaska Peninsula): 1.39 million pounds (1.3M) • Area 4B (Aleutian Islands): 910,000 pounds (1.14M) • Area 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.44 million pounds (1.29M) There are several encouraging signs for the Pacific halibut stocks, according to IPHC staff biologist Ian Stewart. “Both the data and the models indicate the stock is relatively stable, and we are seeing some positive trends in some of the catch rate information,” Stewart said in his presentation. “Generally, what we have seen is the yields we have been taking out of the stock over the past five years appear to be pretty consistent with the amount of production available from the stock. We are getting a flat trend, so what we are taking out must not be too far in excess of what is available to be taken out and still maintain roughly the same biomass level.” Other good news showed that female halibut appear to be shifting towards higher weights, after decades of declines. A 16-year-old fish today averages 20 pounds, compared to 50 pounds in 1975, but the weights seem to be slowly moving towards more normal “weight at age” sizes. Also, halibut bycatch by Bering Sea trawlers and freezer longliners dropped this year by more than 1 million pounds, but is still pushing 8 million pounds in the region that abuts the Pribilof Islands. Final decisions on halibut catches, season start/end dates, and regulation changes will be made by the IPCH at its annual meeting set for Jan. 25-29 in Juneau. Five regulation changes are proposed for consideration at the January meeting. The Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association is requesting that the halibut size limit be reduced from 32 inches to 30 inches. Based on reports from the 2013 fishery observer program in the Gulf of Alaska, FVOA stated that, “the directed halibut fleet is releasing 8.7 million pounds of undersized halibut (less than 32 inches). New reports suggest that with a two-inch reduction in size limit, the fleet could reduce handling by 58 percent, and reduce wastage from 1.35 million pounds to 0.58 million pounds.” Another proposal by KC Dochtermann, a Kodiak fisherman, recommends a maximum size limit of 60 inches for all halibut caught by commercial and sport users. “An established maximum size limit would serve the objective of protecting large halibut that are the spawning biomass. Providing protective status for this class of fish would hopefully help the total biomass recover at a faster pace,” Dochtermann wrote, adding that the change should be implemented for a five to ten year test period to monitor its effectiveness. In other halibut news, Jeff Kauffman, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla was chosen for one of six Halibut Commission seats (split between Americans and Canadians). Kauffman, whose selection drew positive responses from the industry, replaces Don Lane of Homer who will remain as an alternate. (Editor’s note: Kauffman is also the CEO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the Community Development Quota group for the island of St. Paul.) Aging of the fleet Alaskans often talk about the ‘”aging of the fleet” in terms of resident fishermen growing older (the average age is 47), but the adage also applies to Alaska’s boats. According to a state Dept. of Commerce report aimed at identifying what services are needed by the fleet that could be done in-state instead of Outside, roughly 9,400 boats over 28 feet in length makeup Alaska’s maritime fleet.  Of those, 69 percent are in the fishing and processing sector, 15 percent are recreational boats; freight carriers, sightseeing and oil and gas vessels make up the rest. Over 90 percent of the Alaska fishing fleet is less than 100 feet long; 74 percent are under 50 feet. The bulk of the boats were built between 1970 and 1989; nearly 1,000 are over 50 years old. The older boats soon will be required to comply with new safety requirements as part of the 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act. “The Alternate Compliance Safety Program is aimed at vessels that are 25 years old by 2020 and greater than 50 feet in length, and operating beyond three nautical miles.  So this is a new program,” said Troy Rentz, Alternate Safety Compliance Coordinator for the USCG 13th District. “The requirements won’t become mandatory until Jan. 1 of 2020 for most vessels. However the Coast Guard needs to proscribe the program by Jan. 1 of 2017,” he added. Coming up faster: By Feb. 16, 2016 a new law will require that survival crafts must keep all parts of the body out of the water, meaning floats and other buoyant apparatus will no longer be legal. The intent is to prevent hypothermia and effects of cold water that lead to drowning, Rentz said, adding that “there may be some exceptions for unique operating environments.” Gunnar goes Gunnar Knapp, one of the most recognized names in Alaska’s salmon industry, is retiring from the University of Alaska at the end of the academic year next June. Along with his work as a fisheries economist, Knapp is director of the University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER. In a letter to colleagues, Knapp said: “I have worked at ISER for 35 years—my entire career. I feel immensely lucky at the opportunities I have had to work with so many talented and dedicated colleagues, to study so many fascinating and important issues, and to spend the final three years of my career as Director. I can’t imagine a more interesting and rewarding career than studying and teaching about Alaska’s resources, economy and society.” His retirement is a long-planned decision, he said, which will give him more time to focus on other projects and interests. He will continue research work at ISER on a part time basis, focusing on Alaska’s fiscal challenges, and his decades-long research on Alaska’s salmon industry and markets. That includes finishing his book titled “The Economics of Fish” and delving into other writing and consulting projects. “Most importantly, I need to spend more time with my family,” Knapp said. “Before I get too much older and slower, I want to do a lot more skiing, biking, hiking and enjoying the beauty of Alaska which so entranced me when I first came here. And I want to play a lot more music.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. All entries are judged privately by a panel of experts in several categories, based on the product’s packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success. A coveted People’s Choice award also is voted on by seafood lovers at gala events held in Seattle, Anchorage and Juneau in February. The traditional categories of retail, food service and smoked were expanded last year to include Beyond the Plate — items made from seafood byproducts. “There are companies and individuals around the state that are making all kinds of things from fish parts. It really opens the door to more innovators, and can include anything from fish oil capsules to salmon leather wallets,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which has hosted the Symphony since it launched in 1993. The 2015 Beyond the Plate winner was Yummie Chummies Pet Treats, made since 1998 by Arctic Paws of Anchorage. New to the Symphony line up next year is another category: Beyond the Egg. It will include products such as herring roe on kelp, salmon caviar, or uni (urchin) paste or crème brulee. “A significant portion of the value and health benefits in any fishery resource is found in the roe. Now the Symphony will have a category in which these products will be recognized and promoted, and further product development will be encouraged,” Decker said. The top winners in each category are given an opportunity to display their products in March at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, one of the world’s largest trade shows. “The multiple locations give companies the opportunity to introduce new value-added seafood products made from Alaska seafood and gain exposure with industry and culinary experts, seafood distributors, and national media,” Decker said. The deadline to enter the 2016 Seafood of Symphony is Jan. 8. Find entry forms and more information at www.afdf.org/symphony-of-seafood/ Frankenfish feedback Reports of public discontent came rolling in immediately after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval last week of genetically modified salmon for human consumption. The “test tube” fish is being produced in Canada and Panama by Massachusetts-based, AquaBounty Technologies and will be sold under the “AquAdvantage” brand. A New York Times readership poll found that 75 percent of respondents would not eat salmon that had been genetically engineered. And according to Friends of the Earth, over 60 U.S. grocery store chains operating 9,000 storefronts have vowed to not sell GMO or genetically modified products, including Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. “Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, a Friends of the Earth spokesperson. “People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.” The group also claims that at least 35 other types of genetically engineered fish are under development. Nearly 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing the approval of so-called Frankenfish, along with 3,000 consumer and health organizations. Because the man-made fish is categorized under “veterinary procedures” it will not require labeling on U.S. supermarket shelves. “There were over 250 million wild salmon harvested in Alaska and Puget Sound this year. Why should we put this sustainable resource at risk for the benefit of a few multinational corporations who will, sooner or later, introduce GMO salmon into their floating feed lots? Americans will be eating synthetic salmon, thinking they are receiving the nutritional benefits of wild salmon,” said Dr. Pete Knutson, owner of Loki Fish Company and Commissioner on the Puget Sound Salmon Commission. Fish watch The preliminary harvest for roe herring next spring at Sitka Sound will be 15,674 tons, nearly double this year’s quota of 8,712 tons. The final harvest will be announced by state managers in early March. The state is predicting a harvest of 34 million pink salmon next year in Southeast Alaska, which is below the recent 10-year average of 38 million pinks. The University of Washington Alaska Salmon Program is predicting a harvest of 34.1 million sockeye next year at Bristol Bay, well above the 29.5 million forecast released by state managers. The UW forecast is paid for each year by Bristol Bay processors. The Bering Sea pollock catch next year is likely to be another big one — equal to or greater than this year’s 1.3 million metric tons, or about three billion pounds. Deckboss reports that the average Eastern Bering Sea pollock harvest has averaged 1.18 million tons (2.6 billion pounds) from 1977-2015. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected]

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. The fish board’s role is to conserve and develop the fishery resources for the state’s subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport, and personal use fisheries. It includes setting policy for managers, as well as fishing seasons, bag limits, fishing methods, and allocative decisions. Similarly, the game board’s role includes establishing hunting seasons, areas for taking game, bag limits, and regulating hunting methods. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game, or ADFG, is responsible for management based on those decisions. A daylong meeting is set for Dec. 9 at the Egan Center in Anchorage to get cost-cutting input from the public. “Just based on the normal meeting schedules that the boards have, we don’t even have enough at status quo in terms of a budget to meet their needs,” said Glenn Haight, executive director of Fish and Game Board Support, adding that the meeting focus is on fiscal year 2017, which starts in July 2016. The combined meeting costs vary each year, Haight said, but are roughly $500,000. That includes travel expenses of $200,000 to $230,000 for members of 60 to 70 active board advisory committees. One idea floated at a recent work session, Haight said, is to extend the current regional three-year meeting cycle to four or even five years. That would save $100,000 for board support tasks. “Some would say there is already too much time between meeting cycles and further delay would make it harder to make regulatory changes, and would cause more agenda change requests and emergency petitions,” Haight said. “Others say extending the meeting cycle to five years is good for a business because it provides a more stable environment for planning.” Another idea is to reduce the number of regulatory proposals, or streamline the review process by ADFG staff. “Between both boards, there are upwards of 400-500 proposals each year. If there was a way to reduce the number of proposals, or to at least streamline the review efforts by the boards, that would save a lot of money by division staff, and they are the ones who are sustaining significant budget reductions,” Haight explained. Perhaps some cost saving changes could be made within the meetings themselves. “There’s a standard pattern to meetings,” Haight said. “From introductions to ethics disclosures to staff reports, then public testimony followed by moving into committees and finally, deliberations. Is there anything within those areas where one could do without or do less of to save time?” Written comments may be sent to the Boards Support Section in Juneau or emailed to [email protected] (PDF only) by Dec. 4. An online option also soon will be posted to accept comments long after the Dec. 9 meeting. Help with halibut bycatch Federal fishery managers want Alaskans to comment on a proposed rule (Amendment 111) to reduce halibut bycatch in Bering Sea and Aleutian Island groundfish fisheries. The rule would reduce the overall annual halibut trawl bycatch from 9.7 million pounds to 7.7 million pounds, a 21 percent drop. It also would reduce the bycatch taken by hook and line boats by 15 percent to 1.5 million pounds. “This action is expected to provide additional harvest opportunity and revenue for the commercial halibut fishery in the regional management area. It could also benefit the commercial, personal use, sport and subsistence fisheries there and elsewhere in Alaska, British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest as halibut migrate southward,” National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials said. Comments can be made to the Sustainable Fisheries Division in Juneau or via the Federal e-Rulemaking Portal at www.regulations.gov through Dec. 28. On a related note, the industry will get a first peek at proposed halibut catches for next year when the International Pacific Halibut Commission meets Dec. 1-2 in Seattle. Final decisions will made at the IPHC annual meeting set for Jan. 25-29 in Juneau. Groundfish grows jobs Alaska’s seafood industry puts more people to work than oil/gas, mining, tourism and logging combined, and the numbers continue to grow, thanks to increased catches of groundfish, primarily pollock and cod. According to the November issue of Alaska Economic Trends by the state Department of Labor, fishing employment grew by 0.7 percent in 2014, boosted by 350 jobs in groundfish harvesting — a nearly 25 percent increase. Gains were made in every month of the year, with employment records set in March and December. Groundfish jobs in Kodiak increased by nearly 17 percent during the year. Groundfish dominates total poundage landed for all Alaska fisheries, and last year’s catches increased that share to 84 percent, up from 73 percent in 2013. Nationally, Alaska provided nearly 65 percent of all groundfish harvests. Other report highlights show that Southeast Alaska’s share of harvesting jobs declined 2 percent in 2014, but the Panhandle still had the highest percentage of industry employment in the state. Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery gained 29 jobs, for nearly 20 percent growth. Overall, Alaska crab harvesting gained 12 jobs, or about 2 percent. The Aleutians and Pribilof Islands’ ranked second with triple digit average annual employment in salmon, halibut, groundfish, and crab harvesting. The Southcentral region, which includes the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet salmon and halibut fisheries, came in third for fishing jobs, followed by Kodiak. It comes as a surprise to many that Anchorage is home to more skippers than any other Alaska community, and nearly 2,200 commercial fishing permit holders live in that region. Fish trends Touting “trash fish,” growing anti-GMO sentiments, and using spices from around the world are some of the top trends that will dominate U.S. restaurant seafood menus in 2016. That’s according to Chicago-based Technomic, a research and consulting firm servicing the food and foodservice industry. Notably, consumers’ anti-GMO stance will likely cause U.S. restaurants to shy away from featuring GMO salmon, which was approved last week by the Food and Drug Administration. Technomic said American seafood lovers already have convinced most of the major U.S. grocery chains to commit to not selling genetically modified salmon, and are likely to urge restaurant chains to follow suit. “Whatever the science says, many consumers have made up their minds: no genetic tinkering with their food,” Rita Negrete, senior editor at Technomic, wrote in a recent blog post. The “Sriracha effect” will lead restaurants to more frequently pair seafood with spicy flavors from around the world. And the trend towards using “trash” fish or underutilized species is drawing increasing raves. Chef’s Collaborative began sponsoring “trash fish dinners” a few years ago, raising chef and consumer awareness of the less familiar fish taken as bycatch in their regions. Many chefs also are using suppliers such as Sea to Table, Dock to Dish, and individual fishermen. “The cost is attractive, and it’s a very simple way for these restaurants to feel like they are making a difference with a positive sustainable impact,” said Justin Boevers of FishChoice, which provides an online sustainable seafood-sourcing tool. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “In 2013 saw a very large cohort of juveniles in the survey estimated at over 200 million crab, which was one of the largest we’ve had going back to the early 1980s,” said Mark Stichert, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “We saw those crab again in 2014 and they were a year older and a year larger, however, there was a fairly significant decline to about 113 million crab. “And then in 2015, unfortunately, that number dropped again significantly to just over 40 million total crab in the survey around the Kodiak area.” Stichert speculated the Tanner drop off is due to increased predation by growing numbers of cod, pollock and flatfish throughout the Gulf regions, along with other environmental factors. “We’re seeing continued recruitment into the fishery, meaning juvenile and small crab generations are being spun off every year,” he said. “We don’t completely understand why those crab aren’t maturing through the population to get to the legal size.” It takes about six years for the Gulf Tanner crab to grow to their mature, two-pound size. A fleet of 50 or more Kodiak boats and about 30 at the Alaska Peninsula target Tanners. The mid-January fishery, which in past years has dwindled to around one million pounds, is usually worth several million dollars to fishermen. “It’s a bummer because the money is good and it’s just downright fun to catch local crab,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak fisherman. “I understand why we need to stand down another year, but I just hope they are able to do good surveys with the tight budget situation.” 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. TPP tariffs Details are just now coming to light on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which includes a dozen countries and covers 40 percent of the global economy. One thing is clear: Alaska seafood will net a big benefit from the trade pact signed last month. Supporters claim it will create a powerful economic bloc with reduced trade barriers for all kinds of goods and data, including lowered or zeroed-out tariffs, the taxes on imports that make them more expensive to consumers. For pollock surimi products and pollock roe going to Japan, for example, tariffs of 4.2 percent on both would immediately go to zero upon the agreement going into place, said Ron Rogness, a spokesman for American Seafoods, whose fleet fishes for pollock in the Bering Sea. Rogness said the new agreement also would remove a bone of contention for pollock. “It’s been a point of contention for the U.S. industry that imports of warm water surimi from Asian countries like Thailand have been coming in at a favorable rate of duty of 2 percent relative to our 4.2 percent. Given the fact that our fisheries are much more sustainably managed and there have been questionable labor practices in some of these Asian fisheries, it’s been a sore spot that they’ve had a more favorable tax situation entering Japan,” he explained. The value of U.S. surimi exports to Japan last year was $67.7 million and $156.8 million for pollock roe. “Multiply that by 0.042, and the combined tariffs equals $9.4 million,” Rogness said. Currently, the seafood tariffs across the partnership countries range from 3.5 to 11 percent An Intrafish chart shows that the tax on sockeye salmon — now at 3.5 percent — would also be zeroed out immediately. For other salmon species, the import tax would be gradually reduced and eventually eliminated. Tariffs on king and snow crab, herring roe and frozen cod also would be removed immediately. The TPP still has a long way to go. The trade deal must still be ratified by each country, including the U.S., and it faces stiff opposition on several fronts. Rogness predicted it will be at least two years before the TPP is approved. Fish watch The Pacific halibut fishery ended for the year on Saturday, Nov. 7, with nearly the entire 17-million pound Alaska catch limit taken by longliners. Halibut prices remained in the $6 to $7 range or higher in major ports since the fishery opened in early March. Kodiak was poised to take the title of No. 1 port for halibut landings from Homer by just a few thousand pounds. The sablefish fishery also ended on Nov. 7. Southeast Alaska’s demersal shelf rockfish season opens Nov. 8 with an 88,000-pound quota. That fishery includes yellow eye, canary and five other kinds of tasty rockfish. Also ongoing in Southeast are dive fisheries for urchins, geoduck clams and sea cucumbers, which are going fast. Just 380,000 pounds remained in the nearly 1.5 million pound sea cuke quota. Crabbers are still dropping pots for Dungeness and some regions remain open for big spot shrimp. Trollers continue targeting chinook in the winter fishery, which has seen prices increase to $6.65 per pound. Pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska ended for the year on Nov. 1, while fishing continues for cod, flounders and other groundfish. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has been fast and phenomenal with nearly all of the 9-million pound quota taken in less than three weeks A total of 65 boats signed on for the fishery with a payout reported at $7 a pound for red king crab, up 90 cents from last year. Bering Sea boats will likely switch to the 20 million pound bairdi Tanner crab fishery after the red king closure. Looking ahead– fishery managers are calling for another big salmon run next summer to Bristol Bay of more than 46 million sockeyes, which would yield a catch of 31.24 million reds. Finally, the Board of Fisheries meets Nov. 30- Dec. 1 in Anchorage. The focus this meeting is on Alaska Peninsula, Chignik, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea state water cod fisheries. Comments can be submitted to the Fish Board through Nov. 19. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. It’s the 18th year in a row that Dutch Harbor has claimed the top spot for fish landings. Kodiak ranked second 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 communities made the top 50 list for landings: Alaska Peninsula (8), Naknek (10), Sitka (14), Ketchikan (15), Cordova (16), Petersburg (20), Bristol Bay (23), Seward (27), Kenai (34) and Juneau (45). In terms of the value of all that seafood, Dutch Harbor was second at $191 million, coming in behind New Bedford, Mass. for the 15th consecutive year. The relatively small 140-million pound catch at that New England port was worth nearly $330 million at the docks, due to the pricey Atlantic scallop fishery. Other highlights: Alaska led all states in total seafood landings of 5.7 billion pounds, and total value at $1.7 billion. Alaska accounted for nearly 95 percent of all salmon landings, with West Coast states making up the rest. Pacific halibut fishery accounted for all but 101,000 pounds of the 23.2 million pound landings last year. Average price to fishermen was $4.94 a pound, compared to $3.89 the previous year. Alaska has 150 processing plants employing nearly 11,000 people. The average ex-vessel price paid to U.S. fishermen was 57 cents per pound last year compared to 55 cents in 2013. Nearly half of the world’s seafood consumption comes from aquaculture; the U.S. ranks 14th in production. Americans ate 14.6 pounds of fish and shellfish last year, pretty much unchanged from the past several years. The NOAA report also includes U.S. recreational marine fishing data and much more. Trawlers turn to pot One of the tools being talked about to help trawlers reduce salmon and halibut bycatch is the opportunity to voluntarily convert to pot gear to catch Pacific cod. It’s an option being discussed by North Pacific Fishery Management Council as they craft a trawl bycatch reduction plan for the Gulf of Alaska. “What the council is trying to do is give the fleet tools to fish in a way that is going to get less bycatch, and thus keep the fisheries open longer, because the amount of bycatch that is taken can constrain a fishery,” said Sam Cunningham, a council economist. “If you’re not in a race for fish, one strategy would be to use pot gear instead of trawl gear.” Currently, if the Gulf trawl fleet takes 7,500 chinook salmon, or 3.8 million pounds of halibut, fisheries for cod, flounders and other groundfish are shut down. Cod is the only groundfish species included because it currently can be taken with both trawl and pot gear. A focus now, Cunningham said, is on crafting protections and catch accounting methods to make sure trawl converts would not infringe on the catches designated to other gears. “The trawl, hook and line, pot and jig sectors all have specific P-cod allocations,” he said, “and we want to maintain that.” There are about 20 trawl catcher/processors and 70 catcher vessels operating in the Gulf of Alaska, home based mostly at Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove. Comments wanted Mariners have until Nov. 16 to comment on plans to pull the plug on a GPS signal still counted on by many tugs, barges, ferries and fishing boats. Claiming declining usage, the federal government intends to shut down 62 Differential Global Positioning System, or DGPS, sites across the country on Jan. 15, 2016, leaving 22 sites available to users in coastal areas. Alaska currently has 15 DGPS sites; six are scheduled to close. The DGPS was brought on line in 1999 to supplement satellite-based GPS by providing better accuracy using land-based reference stations to transmit correction messages over radio beacon frequencies. “What we’ve discovered is that the technology for GPS satellites and receivers has increased so much, the need to have so many signals really isn’t there anymore,” said Petty Officer John Gallagher who serves aboard the USCG Cutter Spar based in Kodiak. “A Federal Aviation Administration study in 2014 showed that GPS without the differential antenna signal achieved accuracy of position of less than one meter, in most cases.” Lt. Commander Doug Jannusch, captain of the Spar, agreed. “We’re out there in the Aleutians with our ship positioning buoys to very high accuracy and not using differential antennas. If it’s good enough for us, it’s also sufficient for people to safely navigate waterways.” Others argue that’s fine for open seas, but operating in harbors, fjords and other tight spots prevent the line of sight. Nearly all of the 36 comments posted so far on the Department of Transportation website expressed concerns about decommissioning the DGPS. “Our daily operation requires an accurate DGPS signal for position making in the narrow waterways of Southeast Alaska. This is especially important during times of inclement weather when standard piloting methods and RADAR become limited,” wrote Wayne Carnes, captain of the High Speed Craft Fairweather. … My ship travels at 36kts while carrying 250 passengers and 40 vehicles — so an accurate position is critical. The redundancy of these stations ensures that we get the needed accuracy at all times.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. The salmon dollar values don’t include post-season bonuses or price adjustments after sales are made. Using ex-vessel figures also chronically undervalues the Alaska salmon fishery, because what is paid at the docks represents only 40 percent of the fishery’s value. “The first wholesale prices are a better indicator,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. “That is typically defined as the value of the product when it leaves Alaska.” Taking honors for the most valuable salmon fishing region — and one of only three regions to show increases — was Prince William Sound. The total catch was valued at $118 million, compared to $104 million last season. A record pink salmon haul of more than 98 million pushed PWS to the top spot. Bristol Bay ranked second in terms of salmon fishery value at nearly $95 million — due to 50-cent reds, that’s down from $196 million. Southeast Alaska also experienced a huge salmon value decrease to just over $89 million, compared to $147 million a year ago. Kodiak came in fourth for its salmon fishery valued at $37 million, a drop from $46 million last season. Fishermen at Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula both hauled in $30 million worth of salmon this summer. For the Inlet, that was a drop of $7 million; conversely, it was nearly a $3 million increase at the Peninsula. The only other Alaska region to see a boost in salmon values was Norton Sound at $1.9 million, up just slightly from last year. The value of the Kuskokwim region’s salmon fishery was just $870,000, compared to $2.2 million; it was $2.7 million at the Yukon, down slightly, and $826,000 at Kotzebue, a drop from nearly $3 million last season. Below are the average 2015 Alaska dock prices per salmon species, with comparisons to last year’s prices in parentheses: Chinook: $3.01 ($4.07); sockeye: $0.71 ($1.37); coho: $0.65 ($1.15); pink: $0.20 ($0.30); chum: $0.48 ($0.60). Flushing hurts fish In the popular movie “Saving Nemo,” the captive little fish was flushed down a drain to the sea and freedom. Lost in the story is the fact that the U.S. health industry each year flushes thousands of tons of unused pharmaceuticals down sink drains and toilets. Now, the federal government is getting ready to turn off the spigot. An ongoing investigative report by the Associated Press called “Health care industry sends tons of drugs into nation’s wastewater system,” revealed that few of the nation’s hospitals or long term care homes keep data on the drugs they dump. Some are incinerated, some goes to landfills, but most are flushed, without violating any regulations. One thing is clear: traces of the medicines persist through wastewater treatment systems and are discharged into surface or ground waters.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the annual amount of waste pharmaceuticals flushed down sinks and toilets at over 6,400 tons. Last year the EPA added pharmaceuticals to its list of “major pollutants of concern” and is now proposing to ban the flushing practice altogether. Pharmaceuticals and another closely related culprit — personal care products — began raising red flags in the mid-2000s when chemical traces were increasingly found in surface waters and sediments. In a first ever nationwide assessment of 524 urban rivers done in 2008-09, the EPA found seven pharmaceuticals in fish tissue samples, mostly antihistamines and antidepressants. Alaska has begun doing some fresh water testing in its Fish Monitoring Program with little data so far, said state veterinarian Bob Gerlach, and no marine sampling has been done.  “We have a small program with just two people so we rely on partners in the field to collect most of our samples,” he added. The public has until Dec. 18 to comment on the EPA’s plans to ban flushing of pharmaceuticals down toilets and drains. Fish watch The U.S. Senate last week unanimously passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015. The measure includes the international Port State Measures Act, which will bar suspected pirate fishing vessels and cargo ships from entering ports and offloading their illegal catches. The bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Also in Congress: Reps. Don Young and Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., introduced legislation to change the market name of “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.” Under current FDA labeling standards, pollock caught in any part of the world can be labeled as “Alaska pollock.” “There’s no reason why foreign caught pollock should be disguised as Alaskan, especially given the significant management efforts we’ve taken in the North Pacific to create the most sustainable fishery in the world,” said Congressman Young. Scott Kelley of Juneau has been named as the new Director of the Commercial Fisheries Division, replacing Jeff Regnart who resigned earlier this month. Kelley is a 25 year ADF&G veteran, most recently as coordinator for shellfish and groundfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Alexa Tonkovich has been named executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Tonkovich has been with ASMI since 2009, most recently as International Program Director. Prior to that she was ASMI’s Asia and emerging markets manager. United Fishermen of Alaska is seeking a new executive director to replace Julianne Curry who is stepping down. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, representing 35 member groups. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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