Laine Welch

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

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

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

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

Rep. Stutes moves for disaster declaration for pink salmon

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Website launched to monitor ocean acidification off Alaska

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

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

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Bycatch donation program grows; Webber develops netwasher

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Brexit causes uncertainty for Alaska seafood exports to UK, EU

The United Kingdom’s recent exit from the European Union — dubbed “Brexit” — has turned seafood trading on its head. For 43 years the UK has been a major part of the 28-country E.U., and what the pullout means for longstanding business arrangements is anyone’s guess. Last year the U.K. imported over $90 million dollars of Alaska seafood. “It’s still speculative, but anything that has a negative effect on currency values relative to the dollar hurts exports. I do expect we will continue to be strong trading partners with both with the U.K. and the E.U., I guess separately now,” said Tyson Fick, Communications Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Following the vote to leave the E.U., the value of the Euro, British Pound and the Yen all dropped significantly against the U.S. dollar, making our products more expensive for overseas customers. The hit could be especially hard on canned salmon sales, which make up nearly 70 percent of Alaska exports to the U.K. Canned sales last year were valued at $23 million for sockeyes and nearly $9 million for canned pinks. Alaska also saw big increases in sales of frozen pinks to the U.K. last year. The pull out also affects other Alaska seafood besides salmon. “Just the E.U. alone represents about 25 percent of our export market so that really all affects all species, notably pollock and cod, so it’s pretty concerning,” Fisk added. Brexit has caused some of the biggest currency moves in decades and that can wreak havoc with credit. “The same volatility that is causing buyers to be cautious because of uncertainty about currency costs also freezes liquidity for banks and financiers,” said market expert John Sackton. “They become more risk averse and in that climate, seafood businesses can fail to secure the financing they need for big deals. A retail analysis by the 90-year-old International Grocers Alliance added that “new terms of trade will likely be a key factor in post-exit outcomes for businesses and consumers” and that “leaving the E.U. might mean reduced access to markets and exclusion from special arrangements.” Still, customers’ seafood orders will still need to be filled. “A big positive is that European countries and the U.K. have long been strong trading partners and very invested in Alaska, and we hope to continue that with all parties,” Fick said. ASMI is active in 27 different countries and continues to expand markets for Alaska seafood, most recently in Brazil, Soviet satellite states and Southeast Asia. Fick added that the U.S. market continues to be a bright spot. “We feel really good about the domestic outlook,” he said. “One of the bright spots of unfortunately having lower prices last year was that we were able to run specials at retail that have turned a lot of people on to Alaska salmon, and we hope to continue that momentum throughout this year.” Fish bills Fishermen are set to get some big breaks from two bills that are moving their way through Congress. The first provides relief from new fishing vessel safety requirements set to be on the books next January and implemented by 2020. The new rules would apply to vessels that will be 25 years or older at that time, over 50 feet in length and operate beyond three miles from shore. The bill, spearheaded by Sens. Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska, and Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., passed out of the Senate Commerce committee last week following a letter of concern signed by 33 Senators and sent to U.S. Coast Guard Vice Admiral Fred Midgette. It stated, among other things, that the Coast Guard has released draft plans for the safety compliance program only for the Pacific region just eight months ahead of the 2017 deadline, and it was developed “behind closed doors” with little coordination from the fishing industry. The letter said the plan “is riddled with gaps,” lacks specifics for why some provisions were included and faults the USCG for not sharing methodologies, data and other information in developing the new safety standards. “We heard about this loudly from so many stakeholders, especially when I visited Kodiak,” said Sullivan in a phone interview. “The bill we passed essentially slides back the compliance deadline to three years after all the rules are promulgated, whenever that might be.” Sullivan said he will be meeting with Admiral Midgette this week to find out why the new safety program has had such difficulty moving forward. “When the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act passed in 2010, my understanding is that this law did not have the support of the industry, and may not have had the support of the Coast Guard. It was kind of forced on them and it was not something they were pressing Congress to do,” Sullivan said. Sullivan said he believes the Coast Guard will be very supportive of the Commerce bill because “it gives them a little bit of breathing time, and they don’t want to put our fishermen in a jam.” Another measure passed unanimously by the Commerce Committee will direct more marketing funds to the seafood industry. The money, mandated by the Saltonstall-Kennedy Act of 1954, comes from a fixed percent of tariffs paid to the U.S. Customs Service on imported seafood and ocean products. Congress set the figure at 60 percent of the transfer total, and decreed that the money be spent on improved technology, quality improvements, domestic and foreign market development and other seafood industry uses. But according to the Congressional Research Service, only token dollars have gone towards the fishing industry and more than 90 percent has instead been diverted each year by Congress into NOAA’s operating budget. Fishing industry members, led by advocate Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, have expressed outrage at the way Congress has ignored the mandate and diverted the tariff funds to NOAA. Sullivan said the Commerce bill strives to make sure that no longer happens. “Essentially it takes it back to the original intent of the legislation that requires those involved in determining where the marketing grants go will be fully engaged members of the fishing industry. It puts the people who matter most back in the driver’s seat,” Sullivan said. Another measure he is pushing would require the nation’s school lunch program to purchase seafood from American producers. “Alaska is the super power of seafood, but there are loopholes that allow a lot of foreign caught, Chinese processed fish sticks in our kids lunches that are frozen multiple times and loaded with phosphates and other stuff,” Sullivan said. “It ruins the kids’ desire to eat fish for a generation because it’s not very good stuff.” Scallop time Alaska’s scallop fishery got underway on July 1 with a fleet of just three to four boats dropping dredges from Yakutat to the Bering Sea. Weathervanes are the largest scallops in the world with a shell diameter averaging ten inches. It can take up to five years for scallops to reach market size, and they can live up to 20 years. Scallop boats drop big dredges that make tows along mostly sandy bottoms of strictly defined regions, and the fishery is closely monitored by onboard observers. “It’s a heavy cost at around $350-$400 a day. But it is mandatory and we accept that in order to go into the areas and make sure our bycatch and impact are minimal,” said boat owner Jim Stone. The scallopers catch, package and freeze the shucked meats aboard the boats, which can remain at sea until Thanksgiving. Scallop meats are the adductor muscle that keeps the shells closed and the popular delicacy can pay fishermen up to $10 per pound. Alaska’s catch this year has dropped from nearly 500,000 pounds of shucked meats to just over 286,000 pounds, the lowest harvest in nearly a decade. It’s pricey scallops that each year nudges Dutch Harbor out of the top spot for the nation’s most valuable seafood port. New Bedford, Mass., has held the lead for value for 15 years running, due to East coast scallop catches that can top 50 million pounds of shucked meats. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Turning crab shells into cash; Bay nears 2B-salmon milestone

Turning crab shells into every day products is becoming a reality for the Tidal Vision team of eco-entrepreneurs from Juneau. The products are derived from chitin in the crab shells, the second most abundant biopolymer on the planet after cellulose. Chitin is found in fungi, plankton and the exoskeletons of insects and crustaceans and adds up to about 100 billion tons every year. The miracle substance can be spun into fabrics, filters, bio-plastics, bandages, stitches, even car coatings with self-healing scratches. Since the 1950s, chitin has only been produced in China and India, where the use and disposal of harsh extraction chemicals is less restrictive. Now, Tidal Vision’s proprietary method of obtaining chitin from crab shells in a closed loop, chemical-free method is a world first, making them the only maker of chitin-based products in the USA. As the team builds up stockpiles of chitin from Alaska crab shells and hones their equipment and methods at a pilot plant near Seattle, a first product to hit the market is Tidal Grow. “It’s an organic nitrogen source with 11 essential plant nutrients, it can be a pH adjuster for soil and reduce the need for other soil amendments, and it’s loaded with calcium,” explained Craig Kasberg, Tidal Vision’s “Captain” Executive Officer. Companies in Washington also are buying bags of dried chitin flakes to filter water going into Puget Sound. “Sometimes it is built into filters, but for storm water systems it’s used as a flocculent, meaning it’s mixed in with the water and bonds to toxic particles throughout the mixing process,” Kasberg said. In its liquid form, Alaska chitosan is serving another customer: wines. “The wine industry uses the same process to clarify it and settle out some of the solid particles in the wine as a finishing agent. It’s the same concept,” Kasberg explained. 
 Tidal Vision also has teamed with Floral Soil Solutions to make bio-based flower foams.
 “They make an all-natural foam for florists that is used in Whole Foods across the country and by several other big flower outlets to replace the petroleum-based screen foam that’s been the industry standard for about 40 years,” he said. Also in the offing: Tidal Scrub, a chitin-based kitchen sponge that naturally kills bacteria. “There is a common saying that there’s more bacteria in your kitchen sink than in your toilet. That grabs quite a few people’s attention as an example of how chitin can really make a difference in day to day life,” Kasberg added. 
 At the same time, Tidal Vision is perfecting its bacteria-killing ChitoSkin fabrics and working with Grundens’ product development team. 
 The ultimate goal, Kasberg said, is to bring Tidal Vison’s entire operation to Alaska within two years, including mobile plants that can extract chitin from crab shells in remote locations. Prices for chitin can range from $10-$30,000 a pound, up to $150,000 a pound for pharmaceutical grades. Chompin’ on chinooks Killer whales eat 375 pounds of food per day, and most of that is salmon. That’s the equivalent of salmon each day to what 200 Americans eat for a year, according to a write up in Science.
 The determination about diets was made using an analysis of fish DNA in killer whale poop.
Estimating the makeup of a killer whale’s diet helps scientists understand interactions between predators and prey, because observing what they eat directly is difficult. In this study, the authors used genetic analysis of fecal material collected in the whales’ summer range in the Salish Sea in the Pacific Northwest. They genetically sequenced 175 fecal samples collected from May to September from 2006-2011, which resulted in nearly five million individual sequences.
 The researchers found that salmon made up nearly 98 percent of the total sequences, which they concluded is the bulk of a killer whale’s diet. Non-salmon fish were rarely observed. Of the five salmon species, chinook salmon made up 80 percent of the sequences, followed by 15 percent coho salmon. They found that early in the summer their diet was dominated by chinook salmon and coho salmon was greater than 40 percent in the late summer. Billions in the Bay This summer at Bristol Bay the two billionth sockeye salmon will be landed in the 133rd year of the fishery’s history. That adds up to about 12 billion pounds of sockeye, according to fishery historian Bob King. It took 95 years for Bristol Bay to produce its first billion salmon, a milestone set on June 28, 1975, in the Nushagak River. The second billion will occur 38 years later and the three billionth sockeye salmon should be taken in 2054. Fishermen’s Almanac Highlighting the life and skills of fishermen is the theme of the Young Fishermen’s Almanac being compiled by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network, and submissions are being sought for the first edition. “This is a book length publication that wwill feature stories, art and a wide variety of other information that is reflective of Alaska’s fishing traditions,” said Hannah Heimbuch, AMCC’s Community Fisheries Organizer, adding that the idea came from the Young Farmer’s Almanac developed by the Greenhorns in the Lower 48. “It will have a really wide variety of information — short stories, poetry, photography and other visual art. It also would be fun to have fishermen’s jokes, top ten lists, gear hacks, how to’s and favorite recipes,” Heimbuch said. The groups have reached out to the Young Fishermen’s Network to find a diverse group of men and women to help steer the project, but anyone is encouraged to share their experiences and knowledge. “Whatever people want to share is great,” she said. “All different kinds of artwork is welcome, or if people want to tell a joke or describe their worst or best days of fishing. The hope is that anybody could open to any page and find something interesting or quirky or funny that would be a good addition to their day.” Submit pieces to [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

Seattle pushes Herring Week; Alaska salmon prices improve

There’s much more to Alaska herring than roe and bait. To prove that point, nearly 40 of Seattle’s finest restaurants and retailers will celebrate Northwest Herring Week as a way to re-introduce the tasty, healthy fish to the dining scene. “There’s more herring eaten all over the world than you can imagine. Some years there’s as much as four million tons harvested in the world. You can have a year when the herring fishery is as large as the whole Bering Sea pollock fishery,” said Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a longtime fisherman and director of the Food Aid Program for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. He is helping to coordinate the weeklong event as part of ASMI’s Alaska Herring Development Project. Featured in the fine dining showcase will be 5,000 pounds of herring fillets from this year’s Togiak fishery, donated by North Pacific Seafoods at Naknek. Herring long ago disappeared from American menus, although the fish has a mild flavor, similar to trout, and is loaded with healthy omega-3s. Herring week will showcase recipes ranging from smoked, pickled, pates and fancy fillet entrees. Schactler said he was “shocked” when he first tried the dishes at the first Herring Week last year, which only included eight restaurants. “I didn’t know what to expect. You walk into one of these restaurants and they set these beautiful dishes in front of you and by the time you’re done eating, you’re saying I’ll have another,” he said with a laugh. Each year in Alaska more than 40,000 tons of herring are harvested from Southeast to Norton Sound. Nearly all of it is valued for the roe-bearing females, with most of the male fish getting ground up and discarded. Smaller amounts of Alaska herring are used as bait. “Having one of our major processors come up with a customer to supply herring in any other way than bait or roe — I think it’s maybe the first time ever herring has been filleted for food for a commercial market in the state of Alaska. I think it’s a big step forward,” Schactler said. A McDowell Group study several years ago showed that Norwegian fishermen fetch over $1.40 per pound for herring. That compares to Alaska prices last year that averaged 18 cents per pound for bait fish and just 6 cents for roe herring. The study said if just Togiak and Kodiak expanded beyond those two products, the combined value of the two fisheries would be $15 million. The Togiak fishery this year, which yielded about 26,000 tons, was valued at $1.5 million. “The market now is in Europe and when you’ve got several million tons being harvested year round right on the doorstep of that primary market, it’s pretty hard for us to ship it half way around the world and compete,” Schactler said. Things could be changing. Deckhand Seafoods took top honors in Food Service for its canned smoked herring at this year’s Alaska Symphony of Seafood, and Ocean Beauty Seafoods has produced canned herring for hunger relief programs, said Tom Sunderland, vice-president of marketing and communications. Meanwhile, Schactler is hopeful that by next year, Northwest Herring Week might put out a call for even more Alaska herring as the program expands along the Pacific Coast. “I can at least help set the table with this development program to where the opportunity is there if any of the Alaska businesses want to take advantage of it,” he said. Northwest Herring Week runs from June 20 – 26. Salmon upswing As predicted, global market conditions are far more favorable and Alaska salmon prices are on an upswing. Unlike most years, many salmon fishermen will actually know how much they will get paid even before they set out their nets. At Kodiak, a base price of 95 cents a pound for sockeyes is posted around town, with a nickel more for refrigerated fish. That compares to an average of 65 cents last year. Icicle Seafoods, newly acquired by Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture, has posted a base of $1.15 for sockeyes at its remote Larsen Bay plant on the west side of Kodiak Island. At Bristol Bay, Copper River Seafoods has already posted a base price of 75 cents per pound at its two Bay plants for “excellent” sockeyes, with an extra 15 cents for chilled fish, 10 cents more if the fish is bled, and an additional 25 cents more for reds shipped out fresh. That compares to an average of 63 cents per pound in the Bay in 2015. Plant manager Vojtech Novak told KDLG in Dillingham that the owner of Copper River Seafoods “was a fisherman and always dreamed of knowing the price before going fishing.” He said the company plans to post salmon price information at both plants every Sunday. No word yet from other Bristol Bay processors. Elsewhere, the price for Copper River reds dropped to $2.75 per pound depending on various incentives, down from a whopping $6.50 for fish from the first opener in mid-May. Find more market news from dock to dinner plate in the Sockeye Market Analysis compiled by the McDowell Group for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. It includes markets for other species as well. Skate study Skates make up a huge biomass throughout the North Pacific. In Alaska, there have been targeted skate fisheries in the past, but they are mostly taken as bycatch and discarded. The various skate species can live up to 50 years and they have life history characteristics that make them very vulnerable to fishing pressure. A new study aims to find out how many of them die when they are caught and released. “Currently, management assumes 100 percent mortality, whether the skates are retained or discarded. We have anecdotal evidence that’s an exaggeration and it’s likely less,” said Daniel Michrowski, a researcher assistant at the School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences at the University of Alaska at Fairbanks. Michrowski aims to get better numbers on how many skates die after being caught on longlines, which account for about 70 percent of skate bycatch in the Bering Sea. About 60 million pounds of skates are allowed to be taken incidentally in those waters. “We’ve seen skates coming up with their mouths mangled but they obviously have healed, and you see scar tissue and regrowth in certain areas. So just as halibut can survive with possibly losing part of their jaws, we imagine skates can as well,” he explained. Michrowski said he learned aboard Bering Sea longliners that handling by the crew is one of the biggest factors. Now he plans to compare rough and careful handling outcomes, and monitor injury recoveries with skates taken in the eastern Gulf. He has compiled data on injuries caused by skates being gaffed, ripped off the lines or from automatic hook removers called crucifiers. “Now we are looking to get some skates that are handled more carefully, as you would with halibut,” Michrowski explained. “We want to get both of those groups of skates into the lab to monitor their injury recovery. We are going to take video recordings of their eating attempts to see if there is any impairment — if it takes them longer to feed, if they’re eating less, or if there is a time delay between after they are injured till when they start feeding again. “We hope to get a better picture of how those injuries correspond with mortality, and then we can get a rate based on the injury severity as a general mortality rate.” A commercial longliner is needed to capture live skates in Southeast Alaska waters in short stints throughout the summer. They’ll be transported to NOAA’s Auke Bay lab in Juneau and monitored for three months. Michrowski said fishery managers will incorporate the results of the skate mortality study into future stock assessments so that future estimates of catch and retention can be more accurate. The skate study is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative. Questions? Contact Michrowski at [email protected] or 907-796-5461. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Clean Boating program expands outreach with Discount Cards

Boaters from Homer to the Mat-Su valley can help protect salmon and other aquatic creatures and get discounts from popular businesses by doing so. A pilot program launched this spring is an offshoot of Cook Inletkeeper’s Clean Boating program that began in the Valley five years ago. “It all started with oil and gas pollution in Big Lake,” said Heather Leba, director of the group’s Clean Boating Discount program.” The Department of Environmental Conservation was doing water quality testing in 2006 and they determined that Big Lake was an “impaired water body” due to oil and gas pollution, and it exceeded levels allowed under the Clean Water Act.” “People were upset and shocked, so the community came together and developed an action plan, and within it was a stipulation for education and outreach. And that’s how Cook Inletkeeper got involved,” she added. In times of high recreational boating, large amounts of oil and gas pollution, primarily from older, carbureted two stroke engines, concentrate mainly around boat launches. “The pollution stays in the water column for a few days and can evaporate over time,” Leba explained. “But if you have constant boat traffic over holiday weekends, of if the weather is really good, that pollution persists and can then start to harm aquatic life.” Other DEC “water bodies of concern” include the Little Susitna River, due to high levels of turbidity — the influx of silt and other particulate matter which can make it difficult for salmon and other fish to breathe. Also being monitored is the Deshka River. “Everybody loves to fish king salmon on the Deshka and there are a lot of recreational and commercial guiding boats there. That river is not impaired, it’s just a river to watch, so we’ve been doing outreach to increase knowledge about oil and gas pollutions to boats in the Valley,” Leba said. To get people engaged in protecting local lakes, rivers and coastal waters, Inletkeeper has partnered with local businesses to offer incentives for becoming cleaner boaters. The outcome is the Clean Boating Discount Cards program. To participate, boaters take a free and fun online boating course through the Boat US Foundation. That’s followed by a quick survey, and then simply signing up for the discounts. “I get all that information and then mail you a packet with your card and the list of businesses, more discount coupons, and you can start using them right away,” Leba said. Fifteen businesses have signed on so far, and each has the freedom to participate in ways that work for them. Sportsman’s Warehouse, for example, gives 10 percent discounts on all fishing department items in stores statewide. Denali Brewing Company, Cabela’s, Kaladi Brothers and NAPA offer various coupons, and the list goes on. Leba said there is growing boater awareness that minimizing oil and gas pollution will result in healthier salmon and cleaner waters throughout Cook Inlet, but added one caution. “I think the hydrocarbon pollution is not going to go away,” she said, “unless two-stroke engines are either banned or become obsolete.” About 25 boaters have signed up so far for the Clean Boating Discount Cards. Learn more about the program at the Cook Inletkeeper website. A mighty wind Chinook salmon are returning to the Yukon River, and while low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the king counts are becoming more encouraging. Even with 55 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, Director of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine-tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river; everyone knows that, young man.’ And I wondered how that works,” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen told him the same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how the wind was doing what it did. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen this at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume. Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the salt water. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix that fresh and salt water to make it brackish. They will mass up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006 Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to salt water and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into salt water because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their fresh water home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even trumps early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. He added that today satellites from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make the salmon run predictions easier and more reliable. Saint Salmon As Alaska’s salmon season gets fully underway, it is fitting to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his pending sainthood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle. Legend has it that King Riderchof Strathclyde suspected his wife, Queen Languoreth, of having an affair, because she had given one of her favorite rings to a court favorite. When the alleged paramour was sleeping, the king took the ring and threw it far out into the River Clyde. Then he angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her. Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river. He quickly caught a salmon and cut it open. Amazingly, the ring was found in the salmon’s belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored. From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day, Kentigern’s figure and symbols, including a salmon, make up Glasgow’s coat of arms. So who knows? Perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: F/V Northern Leader gets TV turn; Gulf trawlers throw party

Alaskan fishermen have raised the bar for big fishing boats with the F/V Northern Leader of Kodiak, and Discovery Canada producers of the popular Mighty Ships programs have taken notice. Mighty Ships producers search for unique ships around the world and its seven-year run has featured a wide range of vessels including cruise ships, aircraft carriers, cargo ships, dredgers and more. The programs focus heavily on operational capabilities and technical aspects of the ships and also make use of computer-generated animation to show underwater operations. What attracted them to the 184-foot freezer/longliner Northern Leader is its joystick controlled, eco-friendly propulsion system that runs on electricity, the first U.S. fishing vessel to do so, and its head-to-tail use of the fish. “That’s the sweet spot — fully using the fish,” said Keith Singleton, vice president of marketing for Alaskan Leader Seafoods, a company started by Kodiak fishermen in 1991, and which now owns four fishing vessels in partnership with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. The three-year old Northern Leader fishes primarily for cod in the Bering Sea. As it was being designed, Singleton said the group traveled several times to Iceland to select processing equipment that would fully utilize each fish. Every fish coming over the rail gets bled and run through a chilled tank that produces “amazing snow white” fillets that fetch a much higher price, Singleton said. All of the fish heads go into a grinder for use in the pet food industry. “The head is 25-27 percent of the entire animal, so that’s a big number. And if you can monetize that, it really helps the bottom line,” he added. “It pays the crew better, and it fills up the holds faster and makes for shorter fishing trips and that saves on fuel.” “We also have a customer that takes 100 percent of the livers for cod liver oil, and a skin customer that takes all of the cod skins. Right now we’re trying to find markets for the other viscera.” Singleton said the Mighty Ships invitation is one of the company’s proudest moments, as it will be aired in 169 countries to over 40 million viewers. “More than anything it’s really going to give the Alaska seafood industry some great press and that’s really what we want to impress upon the general public,” Singleton said. “It isn’t about us, it’s about all of us.” A free premier showing of the F/V Northern Leader program, along with a catered codfish dinner, is set for June 10 at the Afognak Center in Kodiak. Questions? Check Alaskan Leader Seafoods on Facebook. Groundfish festival Gaining some recognition of the importance of groundfish in Alaska’s seafood portfolio is the goal of trawl groups who are hosting a festival and parade on June 11 from 5-8 p.m. in downtown Kodiak. The event, backed by the Alaska Whitefish Trawlers Association and the Groundfish Data Bank, features free seafood dishes, a pie toss and other games, prizes and raffles with all proceeds going to the Brother Francis Shelter. “This is a positive means of promoting our industry and shedding some light on how important groundfish fisheries are to the economy of Kodiak,” said fisherman Paddy O’Donnell. The event happens as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes in Kodiak for a weeklong meeting dominated by plans to carve up 25 different kinds of groundfish catches among trawlers. The new plan aims to reduce unwanted bycatch of halibut, salmon and other species taken by trawl nets in the Gulf of Alaska. About 65 trawl vessels target pollock, cod and other groundfish throughout the Gulf; 40 of them are home ported at Kodiak. Groundfish made up 83 percent of all Kodiak landings in 2014 totaling 273 million pounds, an increase from 57 million pounds in 2009. What fish, Where fish? Have you ever wondered where all that Alaska fish ends up around the world? Seafood is by far Alaska’s largest and most valuable export — nearly 2.5 billion pounds valued at $3.28 billion in 2014. A new report titled “Where Do Alaska Fish Go?” profiles the markets for groundfish and crab, which accounted for 80 percent of Alaska’s total seafood volume and 65 percent of the first wholesale value. “It tells a story of Alaska fisheries products — where they are going, who the consumers are on the other end and what the competing species are — things that unless you’re really involved in the market, you might not know,” said Ben Fissel, an economist at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Seattle. The AFSC collaborated with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission and McDowell Group on the project. “The idea was to produce a document that tells the story of what happens to the fish once it leaves the primary processors in Alaska. And we also wanted to put numbers behind it,” Fissel said. Here are a few numbers through 2014: Alaska’s fisheries are the most productive in the nation, accounting for 60 percent of total U.S. harvests. Alaska fishermen produce 18 percent of the world’s cod harvest. Pacific Ocean perch is Alaska’s most abundant rockfish species — there are 70 kinds of rockfish! Alaska produces 65 percent of the world’s sablefish (black cod); 80 percent goes to Japan. About three-quarters of Alaska’s halibut goes out frozen to U.S. restaurants and grocery stores. Ditto Alaska king and snow crab. One of the biggest booms for Alaska groundfish has been oils, nearly all from pollock. In 2014, nearly 28,500 tons of fish oil worth $32 million was produced primarily by Alaska shore side processors — a 271 percent increase in value from 2005. Prices for Alaska crude grade fish oil rose from an average $436 per ton in 2004 to $1,130 a ton in 2014. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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

Alaska began issuing limited entry permits for salmon fishing in 1975. Originally 1,372 permits (out of 2,758) were issued to residents of Bristol Bay; by 2007, only 735 permits remained under local ownership. An ambitious project is underway to find out how the system has played out over 40 years for the people of Bristol Bay. “I think there is a sense that the permit system was in some ways a necessary evil and it protected the resource. Some people feel misled about the way it was implemented, and felt like they didn’t understand the way permits were being allocated. Those feelings still come out to this day,” said Jennifer Meredith of Eagle River, now a development economist at the University of Washington. Meredith, with assists from tribal councils and locals, has been doing random surveys since March, with people throughout the Bristol Bay region. “We started in Aleknagik, Iliamna, Togiak, Naknek, King Salmon, South Naknek, Kaliganik, Manoktotak and we’re finishing off now in Dillingham,” Meredith said enthusiastically. The survey targets original permit holders from 1975, those who have fished more recently, and those who have never held fishing permits. “We’re really trying to measure where do you live now, where do your descendants live, what occupation do you have now if there is not a permit in the family. We also talk about ties to subsistence fishing, their social networks and we do household assets,” Meredith explained. The response so far, she said, has been “incredible” – an 80 percent success rate with nearly 700 participants before doing Dillingham. “I think part of the reason people have been so willing to cooperate is we really are there in the community to hear their stories, and to allow them to give voice to the way their permits affected them,” Meredith said, adding that there is a great deal of optimism throughout the Bristol Bay region. “They are scrappy and they are going to find a way to make it work,” she said. “They are committed to their traditional way of life, to subsistence and they are definitely committed to the commercial salmon fishery in a big way. There is definitely a sense that programs are needed that allow locals to get back into fishing and that the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation is trying to do that.” As she headed out for another survey, Meredith said, “I’m here for your voice to be heard. My intention is to have some evidence of how this system has affected you and your family, for good and for bad.” Meredith hopes to finish her report within a year and has promised to reveal the results in Dillingham. Her project is funded by the Marine Resource Economic Scholarship through WA Sea Grant and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Fish board update The Alaska Board of Fisheries proposal process will remain as is, for now. During a May 24 teleconference meeting, the board considered streamlining the way it reviews proposals seeking management changes to commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. The board reviews 400-500 proposals during its annual meeting cycles. The meeting was live streamed via the internet. The Board was considering moving to a consent agenda format for technical proposals, whereby they could be approved all at once. But written comments from fishermen and organizations swayed them otherwise. Kelly Stier, a Bristol Bay driftnet fisherman, summed it up best: “I understand the drive for making the Board of Fish process of reviewing proposals more streamlined as I sat through the painful hours of public testimony in December,” he wrote. “However, I do not agree with changing to a ‘consent-agenda concept.’ One of the things that became apparent while attending the BOF meeting was that seemingly small issues can often greatly affect large numbers of participants. It is clear that those issues are best understood by the end user.” Board member Fritz Johnson of Dillingham called the current process “robust, and said he didn’t want to change it right now. Sue Jeffrey agreed, saying “I wouldn’t be comfortable right now putting this in place.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.    

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

Alaska’s salmon season officially got underway on May 16 with the arrival of thousands of sockeye and king salmon at the Copper River near Cordova, and high prices were the talk of the town. The first opener produced a catch of 25,000 sockeye and about 1,500 kings. “It was pretty slow to start. Small fish, not too many of them,” said Kelsey Appleton with Cordova District Fishermen United. Following a trend seen over the past couple of years across Alaska, the salmon were healthy but much smaller.  Weights taken on several hundred samples after the 12-hour fishery showed sockeyes averaging just 4.2 pounds, 15 percent smaller than last year when fish size was the smallest seen in 50 years. Sockeye salmon normally average 6 pounds. “It’s bad for our economy and bad for our fishermen; it’s not necessarily bad for our fish,” said Dr. Rob Campbell, a biological oceanographer with the Prince William Sound Science Center. “It’s just been astoundingly warm in the entire North Pacific for two or three years now, and for most cold-blooded things like salmon or plankton or what have you, in warmer conditions they tend to reach a smaller final body size.” Of course, the biggest fish story of the day was the price for the first fish: $6.50 per pound for sockeyes and $9.50 for kings. That compares to starting prices last year of $5.15 and $6.50, respectively. “Crazy high prices, which is fantastic,” said Appleton. The prices typically drop as more salmon come on line across Alaska, but those starting prices are some of the highest ever. It will fuel optimism across the state after last season when the value to fishermen fell by 40 percent. Overall, Alaska’s salmon fishery this year calls for a harvest of 161 million fish, down by 40 percent from the 2015 catch. The shortfall stems from a huge decrease projected for pink salmon with a harvest forecast of 90 million, a drop of 100 million humpies from last year. Eat more fish! Eating trends show some big plusses for wild seafood, but will that make Americans eat more of it? According to the NPD Group, an international market tracker, the top trend is that consumers want to know where their foods and fish come from. The Group credits seafood for improved traceability and local sourcing, and says that will continue to boost sales. Good fats also are in. People now know that some fats are healthy, such as those found in eggs, avocados and seafood. “Consumers are seeking non-genetically modified foods in droves,” NPD said. That will benefit wild seafood as people are demanding natural foods with fewer additives of anything, let alone tweaked genes. Along that line, people want foods with “real” ingredients and are reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Technomic, another top market research firm lists “trash to treasure” fish as its No. 3 seafood trend, as more restaurants serve up lesser-known fish. Both market watchers said more people are cooking fish at home, Maybe that will help boost consumption, which has stalled at under 15 pounds a year per American. Despite all of the conclusive health benefits from eating fish, a study last year by the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed only one in 10 Americans follow U.S. Dietary Guidelines to eat seafood at least once a week. Fish intake is associated with a 36 percent reduced mortality risk from heart disease and a 12 percent reduction in mortality. It improves children’s brain and eye development, slows brain aging, lowers the risk of depression and mood disorders, helps with weight management and more. So why are so many Americans taking a pass? According to the Washington Post, Americans have a fear of mercury, buying fish, and cooking it. For those worried about avoiding mercury, government guidelines suggest not eating tilefish, shark, swordfish and king mackerel. Instead, choose salmon, shrimp, pollock, light canned tuna, tilapia, catfish, cod, sardines, sole and trout. “Put in proper perspective, most of us should be more concerned with eating enough fish rather than worrying about mercury,” the Post article said. In terms of not buying more fish, a survey in the Journal of Food Service showed that affordability was a top reason, and most people said they did not have the knowledge to select the best quality. The survey added that most people said they don’t know how to cook fish. “I can see that people understand that seafood is good for them. The hurdles come from knowing how to buy it and cook it and really understand the different varieties of seafood that they can include in their diet,” said Linda Cornish, director of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership. The move away from fish is showing troubling signs in Japan, traditionally one of the world’s biggest seafood eating nations and a top customer for Alaska seafood. Seafood.com reports that a new government study states that Japan’s seafood consumption has declined drastically, especially among younger generations. The report reveals that total per-capita seafood consumption has declined to 60 pounds per year, down 30 percent from a peak of over 88 pounds in 2001. The trend is especially prevalent among people younger than 40, who are increasingly replacing Japan’s once most common food with meat, the report revealed. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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

Alaska’s salmon season has gotten underway with lots of optimism, a far cry from the bleak feelings of a year ago. Last year’s fishery was blown asunder by a perfect storm of depressed currencies, salmon backlogs and global markets awash with farmed fish. Prices to fishermen fell by nearly 41 percent between 2013 and 2015, years, which produced the two largest Alaska salmon harvest volumes on record. But in the past six months, those trends have turned around. “Based on current market conditions and harvest expectations, it appears probable that prices will begin improving in 2016 and there is an excellent chance total ex-vessel (dockside) value will rebound in 2017,” heralds the Salmon Market Information Service just released by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The user-friendly reports include a salmon industry analysis, harvest and forecast summaries, salmon market overviews and Alaska seafood exports. One of the biggest turn arounds this year is with global currencies. “Going into last year the dollar was getting stronger against our major customers and competitors. That makes our salmon more expensive to foreign buyers and the competing imports less expensive,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group. That trend has reversed and the dollar has weakened against other currencies, notably with the Euro (slightly) and the Japanese Yen, which has strengthened about 13 percent from a year ago. “That will make our products less expensive to those two key Alaska salmon markets,” Wink said. Another positive turnaround is with salmon supplies. “If you want to see what’s happening with fish prices, look at supply and demand. Look at how much was produced in Alaska and how much our competitors produced,” advised fisheries economist Gunnar Knapp, director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. The loss of tens of millions of Chilean farmed salmon from an ongoing toxic algae brew caused by warming oceans has taken the biggest bite out of world supplies. The U.S. is Chile’s largest customer, last year importing 295 million pounds of farmed salmon valued at $1.16 billion. “In Japan, Alaska sockeye’s biggest competition is farmed Chilean coho salmon and it is estimated 20 to 30 percent has died in the algae bloom,” Wink said. Japan buys 80 percent of Chile’s farmed coho salmon and wholesale prices last month skyrocketed to $3.10-$3.35 per pound, up 20 percent from the same time last year. A failure of Japan’s wild and farmed salmon fisheries also has spawned a surge of sockeye demand. Alaska sockeye exports to Japan at the end of 2015 were up 320 percent over the previous year, and are expected to remain high as holdings clear out prior to the new fishing season. That’s another plus: backlogs of Alaska salmon, primarily sockeye, have moved briskly all year at retail. “Promotions during Lent pretty much cleaned out the freezers,” Wink said. “I definitely think things will be better than a year ago,” agreed Norm Van Vactor, President of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and former manager at Leader Creek and Peter Pan Seafoods. “Last year we would be talking about all the frozen fish in inventory. This year things moved smoother and we’re sitting in good shape.” Other supply and demand indicators: Alaska’s projected salmon catch this year of 161 million fish year is a 40 percent decrease, due to an off year for pinks. Salmon fisheries along the West Coast will be at a fraction of their former selves this year, and Russia’s catches also are expected to be down. Some of the supply shortfall will be made up by Norway which is battling its own fish losses caused from salmon lice. Another reason to choose wild salmon: the FDA last month lifted the ban on U.S. imports by Norway and other countries that use lice killing chemicals (azamethiphos) in their fish farms.  It comes after years of pushing by the Fish Vet Group, bankrolled by Benchmark, a lice treatment producer. (By law, all seafood sold in the U.S. must be labeled as wild or farmed and list the country of origin.) Pick up the pace The state Board of Fisheries could vote this month to streamline the way it reviews proposals that deal with oversight of Alaska’s commercial, sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. The seven-member BOF addresses several hundred regulation change proposals during its annual meeting cycle each year and fishery management is based on its decisions. During a May 24 teleconference, the board could vote to deal with some proposals in a more timely way.  “We want to see if there is a way to speed up the proposal review process on certain proposals at board meetings,” said Glenn Haight, executive director for the BOF. In the face of tightening budgets, time is money. Haight said the board is looking at quicker ways to deal with technical proposals, often submitted by fishery managers. “Things like marker identifications – rather than using the old stump that’s down by the point across the bluff as an identifier, they might use GPS,” he explained. “Those kinds of things get introduced, they’re reported on before meetings, then discussed in committee…It would be an attempt to streamline that.” The BOF could vote on a “consent agenda concept” for technical proposals, commonly used by local governments. “Where things that are fairly pro forma and aren’t terribly controversial. The board would try and identify those things in advance and make them known, and if none of the proposals raised concern, the board could take them under consent agenda and vote them all in the affirmative at one time,” Haight explained, adding that “it would allow more time to work on the more substantive proposals.” The May 24 teleconference is listen only, but the public can comment on the revised proposal process through May 20. Blowhole blunder Toothed whales do have blowholes; I incorrectly implied they do not in last week’s pinger story. Baleen whales have not one, but two blowholes. Thanks to naturalist interpreter Lani Lockwood for the correction. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Alaska salmon fishermen can get rebates on pingers aimed at keeping baleen whales away from their gear. The six inch, battery operated tubes are tied into fishing nets and transmit animal-specific signals every five seconds to alert the animals to keep their distance. “Pingers can be really helpful to alert the whales to something in front of them so you have less entanglements,” said Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fisheries Alliance. SEAFA received a $25,000 Hollings Grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to fund the pinger program, which offers a $25 rebate for up to five pingers per permit per vessel on units purchased after May 1. The pingers can retail for up to $100 each and the cost can deter fishermen from buying them. “A Southeast gillnet that is 200 fathoms long needs at least five,” Hansen said, adding that the rebates apply to any Alaska salmon fishery. The pinger signal in this case signal is aimed primarily at preventing entanglements of baleen whales. “Baleen whales don’t have sonar like people think all marine mammals have. They actually just hear,” Hansen said. “So the pinger emits a noise at a frequency that is not harmful and doesn’t scare the whales — it just lets them know something is there.” Baleen whales are the largest animals on earth, yet they feed on the smallest creatures in the ocean. They are named for the long plates of baleen, which hang like flexible teeth of a comb from their upper jaws, which strain huge volumes of ocean water through their plates to capture tons of zooplankton, crustaceans, and small fish. The whales also have blowholes; both features distinguish them from toothed whales. Hansen said she has used pingers in her salmon driftnet gear for six over years and swears by them. “You must be sure they are not spaced too far apart or the whales think there is an opening between them,” she advised. She added that the pingers do not act like a “dinner bell” for whales, nor do they scare away the salmon. Gear encounters by whales are rare in Alaska, with 130 large whale entanglement reports on the books since 1998. According to NOAA’s Protected Resources Division. Find rebate forms from the SEAFA website and wherever pingers are purchased. Hansen said it’s “first come, first served until the money runs out.” Kodiak runs on fish Kodiak ranks second in the U.S. for volume of fish landings and third for value. Now residents want to make sure new ways of running the fisheries sustain that status. Federal fishery managers are crafting a new management plan designed to give about 70 Gulf trawlers better tools to reduce halibut and salmon bycatch in their groundfish hauls. It will include some form of catch shares for to 25 different fish species, which together make up over 80 percent of Kodiak’s annual landings. To provide guidance, a new economic impact report breaks down how the entire seafood industry plays out throughout the Kodiak Island Borough, which includes six outlying villages for a total population of 14,000 residents. The draft report done by the McDowell Group gives a 10-year snapshot starting in 2005. Some highlights: Nearly 500 million pounds of seafood worth $150 million to fishermen was delivered to Kodiak Island in 2014. The seafood industry accounted for 38 percent of total Island employment. Kodiak’s eight seafood processors handle year-round deliveries of fish caught by boats from all parts of the Gulf and Bering Sea, and employ the highest percentage of local residents of any Alaska region. Fish landings in Kodiak have trended up over the last decade, increasing 34 percent since 2005.  Groundfish deliveries of cod, rockfish and flounders have doubled, and pollock landings have increased by 162 percent. The value of salmon permits held by Island residents has increased substantially over the last decade, while permit ownership has dropped. In 2005, 398 Kodiak residents owned permits worth about $11 million. Ten years later, local ownership was at 289 permits valued at $29 million. The study concludes that any management policies or priorities that change the volumes or values of fish harvested and processed in the Kodiak borough will have direct, indirect and induced economic effects over time. Fish tech training to go Fish Tech courses have gone mobile with iPads that allow students to start their training anywhere. The waterproof iPads are the latest tool offered by the University of Alaska/Southeast to prepare students for jobs as fish culturists, hatchery operators, field technicians and managers. “You don’t need accessibility to the internet because all the lectures, videos, readings and exams are preloaded on the iPad. So you could be out at sea and still have access to your classes,” said Ashley Burns in Kodiak, one of six UAS outreach coordinators also in Bethel, Valdez, Petersburg, Homer and Dillingham. The first iPad course is an introduction to fisheries of Alaska, and other classes will be added throughout the year. Each course earns credits toward occupational endorsements, certificates and other degrees. Jobs in Fish Tech fields are readily available due to a shortage of trained workers in Alaska, a trend expected to last for at least a decade. “Our program works heavily with the industry to make sure that our classes being offered are exactly what they are looking for in potential employees,” Burns said, adding that registration for new students is open now. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

In the face of Alaska’s multi-billion dollar budget shortfalls, state policy makers are putting the onus on fishermen to cover the costs of going fishing. “One of the sources we have to offset general fund decreases is increased test fishing. We don’t like to catch fish or crab or anything just to raise money, but in this climate we’re having to look at that long and hard,” said Scott Kelley, director of the Commercial Fisheries for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Test fishing is typically done by department-chartered vessels to assess stocks, run strength and other projects. Now in many regions costs for those management necessities are being shunted to fishermen and processors. “I’m not 100 percent sure when we first started fishing specifically for money, but I do know we did so in Southeast for herring in 2003,” Kelley said. “We’ve also done some test fishing for revenue in Upper Cook Inlet. Such fisheries are not popular with anyone and in times of greater budget prosperity, the Legislature has provided general fund increments to allow us to not do such projects.” Nowhere is the practice more unpopular than at Bristol Bay. “The Legislature cuts the budget and says Bristol Bay can catch fish with a private contract with a processor, and use that money to pay for operating expenses like in-river test fish projects or counting towers or the Port Moller test boat,” fumed Tim Sands, area manager at Dillingham, adding that the price paid for the fish is a fraction of its true value. Last year’s contract for $100,000 paid out at 30 cents a pound shared by fishermen, processors and the state. That compared to a base sockeye price of 50 cents a pound for non-contract fish. “So you have to catch at least three times as many fish to pay the bills as you would if they had a regular flat tax,” Sands said. “It drives me nuts because it is so inefficient. They could have had a 25 percent tax in Bristol Bay and raised all the money we needed last year. Nobody likes taxes. But taking fish away from the fishermen before they catch them is just as much of a tax as taking money out of their pockets after they catch the fish. At least they can write that tax off.” This year’s $250,000 test fishing contract was covered by the fishermen-funded Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, a group funded by a one percent tax on their catches. Fishermen would have to catch up to 1.8 million pounds of sockeye this summer to cover the test fishing contract costs. Sands said the contract next year could reach $400,000. “That’s sockeye that would’ve been caught by industry and instead goes into department contract vessels and things like that. That doesn’t go over very well for reasons I totally understand,” Kelley said. Other sources also have stepped up to fund local fishing needs. The Bristol Bay Salmon Research Initiative provided $60,000 to keep the salmon counting tower at Togiak operating. “Our tower escapement projects are the basic backbone of our management,” Sands said. “To not have them means we can’t forecast for the system. We don’t have information to adjust escapement goals, or fish counts with the accompanying age compositions we get from the sampling tower. I figure we would lose 8-15 percent of our annual harvest because we would not be able to extend fishing periods at Togiak if we didn’t have that tower in.” Elsewhere, costs to save the Coghill River lake weir at Prince William Sound were covered for this year by the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation. Test fisheries also will be used in several other regions to raise money, including a $200,000 tab for Southeast salmon seiners to cover costs for aerial surveys, Scott Kelley said. “I’ll bet that won’t be the end of the list when all is said and done,” he added. Salmon starts Alaska’s salmon season officially kicks off soon with runs of reds and kings at Copper River. State managers have put the 500-plus fleet on notice that the famous fishery will likely open on May 16. “Oh my gosh, it’s so exciting to see all the boats coming in and out of the harbor. A lot of our seasonal cannery workers are returning and everyone’s got nets strewn out in their front yards getting mended. You can feel the energy pulsating,” said Erica Thompson-Clark, project assistant and social media whiz at the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association, funded by area fishermen. No region celebrates their salmon better than the media savvy fishery forces from Cordova, highlighted with “familiarity tours” throughout the year with chefs, magazine writers and foodies from the Lower 48. “You name it, we bring ‘em,” Thompson-Clark said. “We tour them through Cordova and the Copper River area, and we have them meet with fishermen and management officials and other entities invested in the fishery. They learn what it takes to have this sustainable salmon run continue every year.” The group also features educational campaigns called “Know Your Fisherman” and “Salmon Fishing 101” on Facebook and Instagram. “We show fish being iced, short videos and interviews with fishermen. We are trying to educate consumers about how these salmon are being harvested by single boats, each salmon being picked out of the net,” Thompson-Clark said. “We talk to them about how every time they buy Copper River salmon, they are supporting a small business owner. We really want to drive that home.” The Copper River salmon website offers locator tabs to help customers find the famous fish in their regions. Those tabs will be getting clicks like crazy when Cordova again pulls off its most headline making media move: partnering with Alaska Airlines for a First Fish promotion that on opening day whisks salmon to awaiting chefs in Seattle and the Lower 48. The Copper River harvest this year calls for 1.6 million sockeyes, 21,000 kings and 201,000 coho salmon. Salmon love Salmon love letters best describes a new book called Made of Salmon: Alaska Stories from The Salmon Project. It is a compilation of essays from many of Alaska’s more well known writers, along with everyday salmon lovers. “These aren’t reports or essays about how we should do this or that, they are a reflection of their own lives and the way salmon fits into them,” said Erin Harrington, Salmon Project director. “Some of the most imaginative, insightful and creative authors living in Alaska have contributed to this book, and to make it so personal with their beautiful words is really out of this world.” A sampler from “Let nothing be wasted” by Leslie Leyland Fields of Kodiak: “When I walk a salmon in each hand up to my house to the kitchen, I will carve every bit of flesh from its bones…Every bite will taste of ocean and care; and look how filled we are. Let nothing be wasted, not this ocean, not any lake or sea, not a single fish.” Find the Made of Salmon book at The Salmon Project website. The book is also available at local bookstores and online at University of Alaska Press. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Cuts affecting Alaska’s fisheries will be spread across all regions and species, depending on the final budget that is approved by state legislators. As it stands now, the total commercial fisheries budget for fiscal year 2017 from all state and federal funding sources is about $64 million, a drop of $10 million over two years. “With cuts of that magnitude, everything is on the table,” said Scott Kelley, director of the Commercial Fisheries Division at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Last year 109 fishery projects were axed, and another 65 are on the cut list for the upcoming fiscal year that begins on July 1, Kelley said. They include a golden king crab observer project and coho salmon evaluation plans in the Southeast region, a major salmon stock assessment program near Nome, numerous salmon enhancement pilot projects, crab research at Chignik, reduced time on the Nushagak River and loss of counting towers at Bristol Bay, cutbacks at the genetics lab and positions left unfilled at fish headquarters in Juneau, to name a few. “That’s just a flavor of what we are talking about. Once the governor signs off on a budget and the dust settles, we will know our allocations from all funding sources,” Kelley said. Some relief has come from funds generated by fees on purchases of limited entry permits and crew licenses, and Kelley credits industry members for stepping up to the plate. That was clearly the case at Togiak in Bristol Bay, where the state’s largest herring fishery is underway. When swarms of fish arrived on April 17, the earliest date ever, everyone was caught off guard. But with all herring management budgets zeroed out last year (except for Sitka Sound), there was little money for flyovers to assess the run. “We have a threshold biomass we are supposed to document before we open the fishery, and that requires flying and looking at the area,” said Tim Sands, area management biologist at Dillingham. The processors “immediately shook the bushes,” to come up with money to fly herring surveys, Sands said, with Silver Bay, Trident, North Pacific and Icicle Seafoods each contributing $2,500. That will provide for about 10 flights during the fishery, down by more than half. The lack of flying time has meant missed opportunities for fishermen further west at Good News Bay and Security Cove, as no surveys mean the fishery cannot be opened. Sands is worried that the zeroed herring budget means managers won’t be able to produce a forecast for next year’s herring run at Togiak, due to a lack of flying and fish sampling. “In order to forecast we need two things: biomass estimates from aerial surveys, and samples to run our age structure analysis models.” Sands explained. “This year’s data gap will cycle through our whole population estimate for at least eight years. It’s very problematic.” Budget boosters Along with marijuana, mariculture is in line to be one of Alaska’s most profitable new industries and plans call for it to get moving fast. The Alaska Mariculture Task Force Mariculture, created by Gov. Bill Walker’s Administrative Order in February, will hold its first meeting soon and fill out agency and public seats on the 11-member panel. “The state has a different mindset now about diversifying the economy, and looking at developing resources that weren’t as prominent in the past when we had a lot of oil money around,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. AFDF believes mariculture could be a $1 billion industry in Alaska in 30 years. There are 56 sea farms operating in Alaska now, with sales topping $1 million for the first time last year. Oysters by far make up the main crop — one that could easily be supplemented with seaweeds. “It’s an excellent cash crop for aquatic farmers because you grow it, you harvest it, you sell it. Every year you’ve got some cash flow, which is really difficult for shellfish farmers because they have to wait three to five years with various shellfish, or up to 10 years with geoducks, to start seeing a return on your investment. So seaweed can play a really big role,” Decker said. Seaweeds are some of the fastest growing plants in the world. Kelp, for example, grows up to 9 feet to 12 feet in just three months. Seaweed prices depend on what it is being used for and where it is grown. Growers in Maine, for example, fetch 50 to 60 cents a pound for edible grades; their rock weed crop brings in $20 million a year. Chile estimates a kelp industry would bring in $540 million annually. Japan’s $2 billion nori industry is one of the world’s most valuable crops. Demand for seaweeds has soared over the past 50 years, far outstripping wild supplies, says the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization. The task force will brainstorm a statewide strategic plan, and one area of focus will be Western Alaska. Decker said some village groups are backing data collection on possible growing sites, processing and transportation options and community interest. “I believe there is a lot of potential out there that we haven’t even recognized yet,” Decker said. Walker wants the mariculture task force plan on his desk by March 1, 2018. Fishing chronicles Outwitting fish swiping killer whales…fights aboard 300 foot factory trawlers…falling overboard…waves in the wheelhouse — a new book titled  “Chronicles of a Bering Sea Captain” captures five decades of crabbing, trawling and longlining in the Bering Sea. The motivation for the book came from a health scare 20 years ago at sea, said author Jake Jacobsen. “The thought struck me that I have six kids and they know very little about what I have done out at sea, and I wanted to leave some stories for them,” he said in a phone interview. Jacobsen began jotting down stories in fits and starts, put it down for about a decade, and became inspired again last fall when he came upon old notebooks and photos. He wrote furiously for three months and two weeks ago Chronicles was released on Amazon.com. One of Jacobsen’s favorite stories describes trying to outwit killer whales from robbing fish from longline hooks. “You try and develop strategies,” he said with a laugh. “You cut your line, anchor it off, run away for a while and stop the engines and then come back. The whales leave sentries around at your strings, and then they call each other. So you can’t get very far hauling gear again because here come the whales.” In writing the book, Jacobsen said he wanted to correct some misconceptions people might have about fishing the Bering Sea. “When I tell stories about staying up for three days in a row and working until we’re just exhausted, we are not talking about decimating the resource,” he said. “We are talking about a fishery that takes a small percentage of the stock, and it is all controlled by the best science available. In Alaska we are very proud of the sustainable seafood programs we have.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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