Laine Welch

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.  

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

Increasingly corrosive oceans are raising more red flags for Bering Sea crab stocks. Results from a first ever, two year project on baby Tanner crabs show that higher ocean acidity (pH) affects both their shell production and the immune systems. Bairdi Tanner crab, the larger cousins of snow crab, are growing into one of Alaska’s largest crab fisheries with a nearly 20 million pound harvest this season. “We put mom crabs from the Bering Sea in a tank, and allowed her embryos to grow and hatch in an acidified treatment,” explained project leader Bob Foy, director of the NOAA Fisheries laboratory at Kodiak. “We took the tiny crab and put them in different levels of pH to represent acidification and let them grow. We then took the moms and mated them and ran them again for another year. What that means is the full reproductive development of those females occurred in acidified conditions,” he said. The first year of exposure didn’t show many effects, he said, but the second year really had an impact on the tiny crabs’ ability to molt, which they do weekly or monthly depending on their growth stage. It takes five to seven years for a Bairdi Tanner to reach its mature, two-pound size. “Those larval and juvenile animals are constantly going through physiologically stressful times to build a shell,” Foy said. “And that’s where we are seeing the effects.” Researchers also studied the baby crab blood cells, which bring calcium to the shell and also help fight off illnesses. Those functions went down as well. “The bottom line is long-term exposure to acidified seawater negatively impacts Tanner crabs’ ability to grow and survive, and likely impacts their ability to defend against disease,” Foy said. Based on population modeling, which managers use to set annual catch limits, researchers can predict potential impacts the increasing corrosion will have on the crab stocks. “We can take data collected from surveys, such as the abundance and size of adult crab, and estimate how many crab will survive and recruit to a fishery seven years later,” Foy explained. “To estimate the effects of climate change and ocean acidification, we include the mortality of larval and juvenile crab we observed in the laboratory.” 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, Foy said. Once that level is reached, the crab stocks are likely to begin a countdown. “For Tanner crab, the timeline for estimated effects on fishery yields and profits is on a scale of 20 years, but only if all life stages of Tanners are exposed to corrosive lower pH water,” Foy explained. He added that studies on red king crab from Bristol Bay show a double whammy from higher acidity and warming oceans. “Once the Bering Sea reaches those pH levels,” Foy said, “there will be significant decreases in survival and subsequent fishery yields and profits within 20 years.” Crab ka-ching! The last pots are being pulled in the Bering Sea crab fisheries and crews can count on good prices for their catch. “It’s been a really good year for crab all around,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a harvester group that catches 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab quota. Boats are finishing off the Tanner and snow crab fisheries, and final prices won’t be settled for a few months after sales are made. But advances of $2 per pound for snow crab and $2.20 for Tanners were on par with ending prices last season. “We expect to see a substantial increase when we complete negotiations for final prices,” Jacobsen said. “Prices for snow crab started to climb significantly last fall when it was announced the quota would be slashed 40 percent to just over 40 million pounds. And prices are still going up.” Snow crab sales are usually split between Japan and U.S. markets, whereas nearly all of the Bairdi Tanners are sold at home, where it’s really starting to catch on. “We’re really excited about it,” Jacobsen said. “We’d like things to go more to the domestic side, so our countrymen can appreciate this crab. It’s just got such a great, distinct flavor.” The red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay last fall also yielded a better payday. Crabbers averaged $8.18 per pound for their catch, compared to $6.86 the previous year. “That was due primarily to the crackdown on illegal fishing in Russia, which resulted in a reduced influx of Russian crab into the U.S. As supplies diminished, the price rose and it became a very favorable market for us. It’s been a long effort and it’s very satisfying to see some payoff,” Jacobsen said. Fish brush off When it comes to Alaska lawmakers cutting fishing related budgets, little discussion takes place on the trickle down effects to local communities. So claims Gunnar Knapp, a fisheries economist and director of the Institute of Social and Economic Research at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Knapp also has been an advisor to the Alaska Legislature this session. “The kinds of conversations are not rational, careful considerations of the implications various cuts have on the industry,” he said during a visit to Kodiak. “Nobody says if you cut Fish and Game, they are going to close this counting tower and this research program, and they’re not going to not have these managers. There is no discussion as to whether cuts are penny wise and pound foolish, as I think a lot probably are.” Knapp pointed to the folly of gutting funds for the state’s lone seafood marketing arm, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, as an example. “ASMI increases the value of Alaska fish products, and taxes are based on the value of the fish. There is likely a direct trade-off between funding for ASMI and fish value and fish taxes. But no one is thinking about that,” he said. With Alaska’s commercial catches on the order of 5 to 6 billion pounds per year, adding just one penny per pound to fish prices makes a difference of nearly $1 million dollars for state and local governments each. Knapp also called it “maddening” that lawmakers think of the seafood industry as a single entity. “It drives me nuts when people say ‘the fishing industry.’ Our industry is very diverse, from small skiffs to huge floating processors, and what it costs to manage them varies widely,’ he said. Rep. Louise Stutes (R-Kodiak), chair of the House Fisheries Committee, agreed. “They just don’t get it. It is the most bizarre thing I have ever seen. Some legislators are just anti-commercial fishing, and it is so apparent. It’s really bad. What do they think held this state up before oil?” Stutes said during a recent trip home. To Knapp, the most important point lawmakers miss is that Alaska’s fishing industry maximizes community and cultural objectives more than any other. “We have never in Alaska managed fisheries for the purpose of making it a cash cow of the state, as with oil,” Knapp said. “The Constitution says the ‘legislature shall manage natural resources for the maximum benefit of the people.’ For fisheries, we try to maximize employment, fishing income and a variety of social objectives.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Sen. Sullivan talks fisheries accomplishments in Kodiak

Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has scored seats on nearly every Congressional committee that deal with issues on, over, and under the oceans. That fulfills a commitment he made to Kodiak when he ran for office two years ago, he said at a ComFish town meeting during a two-day stay on “the Rock.” Sullivan ticked off a list of fishery related actions he’s had a hand in getting accomplished over the past year: passage of an enforcement act that combats global fish pirating and seafood fraud; adding language to bills that lifts pricey classification requirements on new fishing vessels; and a one-year water discharge exemption so fishermen don’t need special permits to hose down their decks. He said he is “working to make sure new regulations are not an undue burden on the industry.” “We hear about overregulation in terms of costs from every single group I’ve met with,” Sullivan said. “We all want clean water and a safe environment, but we have federal agencies that are taking a one-size-fits-all approach to these regulations and it can be crushing on what you all do. I hear it loud and clear.” Sullivan said when it comes to Alaska’s fisheries, he is guided by three core principles: science is the foundation for sustainability, seafood is the engine for strong coastal economies, and the need to create more markets for what he dubs the “superpower of seafood.” “We’ve been looking at ways structurally to create more demand for Alaska seafood,” he said, citing recent legislation that was added to the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement to fix a seafood oversight. “The authorizing legislation said our trade negotiators have to achieve objectives to open markets for different industry groups, such as agriculture, high tech, textiles…” Sullivan said. “Guess what industry was not in the bill — seafood. So my team drafted legislation that said in any future trade agreements, the U.S. has to get access for our fisheries and fish products in foreign markets, and go after the subsidies of foreign fleets that unfairly compete against us. It passed and was signed by the president. “So all trade agreements for the next six years must have major provisions focused on opening markets for U.S. seafood products. It also is included in a European trade agreement being negotiated now.” On the home front, Sullivan said he is working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to require the nation’s school lunch program to only include fish that is caught in U.S. waters. “Believe it or not, there are loopholes in the program that don’t require that,” Sullivan said. “In my view, we should not be feeding our kids fish that is caught in Russian waters and then processed in China and injected with phosphates. If our kids get fed fish that is not very good, you turn off a generation until they get about 30 or 40 and get over the fact that the fish sticks they had in second grade made them not like seafood.” In a separate media interview, Sullivan took exception to allegations that he and Alaska’s delegation aim to stymie U.S. and global protections for an increasingly off kilter climate to benefit the fossil fuel industry. “On the science side we’re trying to make sure that ocean acidification and other issues that impact the fisheries are completely and fully funded. I’m all over that,” he asserted. “In Alaska we’re seeing the impacts of climate change and a warming ocean. I have been very focused on making sure the agencies have the applied science capability to manage the stocks accordingly.” Sullivan agreed that human activity has an impact on climate change, to some degree. “With seven billion human inhabitants there is certainly a human impact, but to what degree, I don’t think the science is ever settled on that,” he said. Sullivan said he supports an “all of the above energy strategy, crediting the “natural gas revolution” of the past few years (fracking) for “driving down America’s greenhouse gas emissions significantly.” Sullivan said Alaska’s roads, ports and harbors will benefit from a $2.6 billion highway bill passed by Congress, and another in the pipeline will provide “significant” money for airports. The Coast Guard’s biggest airbase at Kodiak also is set for some upgrades, including new aircraft and cutters. Hatchery hauls Each year more than one third of Alaska’s salmon catch and value comes from fish that started out in hatcheries. It’s very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed into nets or pens until they’re ready for market. In Alaska’s salmon enhancement program — which began in the early 1970s in response to low statewide runs — all fish originate as eggs from wild stocks, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. In the state’s 29 hatcheries operating today, most of the homegrown fish are pinks and chums. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s annual Alaska Fisheries Enhancement Report, the 2015 salmon season produced the second-highest catch for hatchery stocks at 93 million fish with a dockside value of $125 million. Pink salmon accounted for 47 percent of the value of the statewide hatchery harvest, followed by chum salmon at 31 percent, sockeyes at 17 percent, cohos at 3 percent and chinook salmon at two percent of the value. By far most of Alaska’s hatchery production is in Prince William Sound, where last year’s 74 million hatchery harvest was worth nearly $80 million, or 67 percent of the Sound’s total salmon value. Southeast ranks second for hatchery production, which last year yielded about 11 million fish worth $37 million, or 42 percent of the total exvessel salmon value for the region. Kodiak’s two hatcheries produced over 5 million pink salmon last season, valued at $4.5 million, or 12 percent of the total salmon value. At Cook Inlet, about 2.4 million hatchery sockeyes were caught, valued at more than $3 million, or 10 percent of the fishery value. Nearly 150 Alaska schools K-12 participate in hatchery egg take and salmon release programs. Fish watch Kodiak’s roe herring fishery begins on April 15 with a low 1,670-ton harvest limit. Alaska’s biggest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay will follow with a catch pegged at nearly 30,000 tons. There’s lots of herring in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region but no buyers. A small herring fishery may occur this summer at Norton Sound. A fleet of 84 vessels signed up for a six day, 47,061-pound pot shrimp fishery set to open at Prince William Sound on April 15. In Southeast Alaska, salmon trollers will be back out targeting spring kings by May 1 at the Stikine River. Southeast crabbers had their second best Tanner fishery ever, topping 1.3 million pounds in just 12 days. The crab averaged $2.23 for 74 permit holders, 30 cents higher than last year. To the contrary, dwindling stocks of golden king crab yielded a catch of just 155,000 pounds, down by half from last year. The 17 crabbers got $10.50 a pound, compared to $11.86 last season. Crabbing was about over in the Bering Sea, where just 2.5 million pounds of snow crab remained in the 36.5 million pound quota. Also, the 17 million pound Tanner crab quota is a wrap. Halibut landings were approaching 2 million pounds of the 17 million pound catch limit. Ten percent of the 20.3 million pound sablefish quota had crossed the docks. Fishing for cod, pollock, rockfish, flounders and other groundfish continues throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea.   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Alaska fishermen can send an SOS call directly to the Coast Guard, but many are not hooking up to the new lifeline. Digital Selective Calling, or DSC, instantly signals a distress call over VHF radios to other vessels, and the feature has been a required part of the hand-held units since 1996. In Alaska, the ability for mariners to hook up with the Coast Guard was acquired just last year when transceiver and antenna “high sites” in Southeast and Southcentral regions came on line (more are scheduled soon). “There was a lot of rumor going around that DSC didn’t work in Alaska. In reality, DSC does and has worked since the technology was introduced, but the Coast Guard couldn’t hear it. And that’s what we are in the process of improving now,” said Mike Folkerts, a USCG Guard Boating Safety Specialist based in Juneau. “Most mariners didn’t realize that they could actually use a DSC-equipped VHF radio and send a digital signal instead of a voice signal.” During safety training classes, it was discovered that many fishermen are not hooking up the DSC systems properly and completely, said Julie Matweyou, a Sea Grant Marine Advisor and trainer with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. “So the distress button can’t broadcast their location in the event that they can’t get off a full mayday,” she said. In fact, the Coast Guard learned that 90 percent of VHF radio distress calls they received do not contain vessel position information and 60 percent have no identity. With that discovery, they launched Operation Distress Connect. “We learned that many DSC/VHF radios are not connected to GPS,” Folkerts explained, adding that it takes a simple two-wire fix. Then, a Mobile Maritime Safety Information (MMSI) identification number must be obtained and registered with United States Power Squadrons, and the MMSI number entered into the VHF radio. “It’s like a personalized telephone number for your VHF radio, and when you press the distress button all the information on that MMSI form is automatically available to the Coast Guard so they are not calling you every two minutes to find out your emergency information,” Folkerts said. Pushing the distress button on your DSC radio without having the GPS connected and MMSI registered results in an “uncorrelated” distress call, says a USCG pamphlet. It adds: the search ‘box’ for the rescuers can be huge and without more specific location information, our Command Centers cannot launch a rescue. If we know where you are and who you are, we can come and get you. Making your DSC VHF radio fully functional will help take the “Search out of Search and Rescue”. Overall, Folkerts added that DSC is a far better system. “You can push that distress button and send out a DSC signal and your radio will continue to send out the all the positioning and personal information,” Folkerts said. “You’re not hooked by the microphone umbilical cord, you can actually go about taking care of business if you have a boat fire or person overboard or you’re taking on water. So it’s a huge advantage in that regard alone.” Frankenfish lawsuit A diverse coalition of environmental, consumer, and fishing organizations has sued the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for approving AquaBounty’s genetically engineered, or GE, salmon. The complaint, which was filed March 31 in a district court in California, claims that the FDA did not have proper authority to approve GM salmon last November. AquaBounty, which will grow the manmade salmon in pens located in Canada and Panama, pushed for 20 years to get the ok for the fish to be sold in U.S. markets. The larger and faster growing AquAdvantage fish is made by inserting genes from two fish — a chinook salmon and an ocean pout — into an Atlantic salmon. It is the first animal approved for human consumption. The lawsuit challenges FDA’s claim that it has authority to approve and regulate GE animals as “animal drugs” under the 1938 Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, said seafood market expert John Sackton. “It argues that those provisions were meant to ensure the safety of veterinary drugs administered to treat disease in livestock and were not intended to address entirely new GM animals that can pass along their altered genes to the next generation,” he wrote. The lawsuit also highlights FDA’s failure to protect the environment and consult wildlife agencies in its review process, as required by federal law. “FDA’s decision is as unlawful as it is irresponsible,” George Kimbrell, senior attorney for Center for Food Safety told SeafoodSource. “This case is about protecting our fisheries and ocean ecosystems from the foreseeable harms of the first-ever GM fish, harms FDA refused to even consider. It’s also about the future of our food: FDA should not, and cannot, responsibly regulate this GM animal, nor any future GM animals, by treating them as drugs under a 1938 law.” More than 1.5 million people wrote to the FDA in opposition to the so-called Frankenfish, and 65 supermarkets so far have said they won’t carry it. Mariculture money Loans up to $100 million are available from the federal government for businesses involved in fishing, aquaculture, mariculture or seafood processing for the purchase or improvement of facilities or equipment. The money comes from NOAA’s Fisheries Finance Program in loans ranging from five to 25 years at low interest rates. “We can do loans for everything but building a new boat or activities that contribute to overfishing,” said Paul Marx, NOAA Fisheries financial services division chief. The NOAA loans may be used to purchase a vessel as long as it is not brand new and does not increase overall harvesting capacity. The loans also can refinance existing debt under certain circumstances. Alaskans also can get state loans for mariculture ventures, as part of an initiative launched by Gov. Bill Walker. In February Walker created the Alaska Mariculture Task Force, a diverse group of 11 people with expertise in mariculture and business in remote areas. The group is set to have its first meeting this month and name more interested people to open seats. The task force is chaired by Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation which believes an Alaska mariculture industry can be worth $1 billion in 30 years. Meanwhile, the state Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development has launched a $5 million Mariculture Revolving Loan Program aimed at helping start-ups or expanding mariculture businesses. Companies can borrow $100,000 per year with a $300,000 cap. Loans must be for the planning, construction, and operation of a permitted mariculture business. The state provides pre-approved tidal tracts for Alaskans interested in growing shellfish and seaweeds, and takes applications each year through April 30. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Alaska’s 2016 salmon harvest will be down by 40 percent from last year’s catch, if the fish show up as predicted. The preliminary numbers released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game call for a total catch of 161 million salmon this year; the 2015 harvest topped 268 million fish. The shortfall stems from a projected big decrease for pink salmon. A humpy harvest forecast of 90 million would be a drop of 100 million fish from last summer. Here’s the statewide catch breakdown for the other salmon species: For sockeye, the forecast calls for a catch just shy of 48 million, down by more than 7 million reds from last year. A coho catch of 4.4 million would be a half million fish increase; likewise, for chum salmon, a catch of nearly 19 million would be a similar increase over last season. For chinook, a catch of 99,000 fish is projected for all areas except Southeast, where the harvest will be determined according to Pacific Treaty agreements with Canada. Last year’s statewide chinook catch was 521,612. It all adds up to fewer salmon being available to global buyers this year — and some hopeful market signs for Alaska salmon are starting to surface. A failure of both farmed and wild salmon fisheries in Japan has spawned a surge of demand for Alaska sockeyes. Exports to Japan from October through December were up 320 percent over the previous year, reported Seafood.com, and sales are expected to remain “substantially” higher as inventories clear prior to the new fishing season. Alaska could also benefit from the misfortunes of the world’s top farmed salmon producers, a scenario that is steadily pushing up salmon prices. Farmed fish sales from Chile, the largest supplier to the U.S., are expected to drop by up to 20 percent this year due to a toxic algal bloom, and production is expected to be affected well into 2017. According to Chile’s National Fisheries and Aquaculture Service, 38 salmon farms have been affected, with nearly 24 million fish killed — enough to fill 14 Olympic swimming pools. Financial Times reported that Chilean salmon prices have increased 25 percent to nearly $5 a pound since December. Norway, the world’s largest farmed fish producer, is unlikely to fill the salmon shortfall, as that country is dealing with severe fish loss from sea lice.  “We expect to see a global supply shock,” warned Kolbjørn Giskeødegård, director of seafood at Nordea Bank. Halibut highs Dock prices for halibut started out in the mid-$6 range at major ports, about 25 cents per pound higher than last year. The fishery opened March 19 and first deliveries were sketchy, except in Southeast Alaska. “Fishing is fantastic,” said Dave Ohmer, manager at Trident Seafoods in Petersburg. Halibut prices are usually broken into three weight categories. They were reported at $6.45 for 1- to 20-pounders, $6.65 for 20-40s and $6.85 a pound for “40 ups.” The payout at Icicle was reported at $6.50-$6.75 with a 20 pound split. Halibut prices usually drop a bit after the first week or so into the fishery. In recent years, the dock price has seldom fallen below $5 a pound. Federal data show that 676,000 pounds of halibut crossed Alaska docks through March 25, slightly higher than at the same time last year. Alaska’s share of the Pacific halibut catch this year is 21.45 million pounds, an increase of 200,000 pounds from 2015. The fishery runs through November 7. Fishing slows growth It turns out that fishing appears to be a prime cause of shrinking halibut. A Pacific halibut that weighed 120 pounds 30 years ago tips the scales at less than 45 pounds today. That’s especially true for fish in the biggest fishing holes: the Central and Western Gulf of Alaska. “We found that fishing can explain between 30 and 100 percent of the observed declines in size at age in the Gulf of Alaska, depending on which area you’re looking at,” said Jane Sullivan, a University of Alaska graduate student who is investigating the impacts of fishing on halibut growth for the first time. “We took all the information that we knew about the halibut population in the 1980s when fish were big, and used a computer model to fish this population at different harvest levels to see how fishing affects size at age,” she explained. “And we found that resulting declines in size at age become greater with age because fishing effects compound with each year of fishing.” Sullivan modeled several scenarios, including reducing the 32-inch minimum size in the fishery, and releasing halibut over a maximum of 60 inches. Neither appeared to make any difference in fishing impacts on the fish size at age. The research also found that bycatch of halibut in other fisheries is not a key factor in the slower growing fish. “The majority of halibut caught as bycatch in these other fisheries are much smaller sized halibut, so we don’t think there would be the same selective fishing going on as there is in the commercial halibut fishery,” Sullivan said. In terms of potential changes to the fishery to protect the slow growing halibut, the science points to an unpopular solution. The only management action that appears to make any difference is to reduce fishing effort or harvest. By reducing effort, you reduce the selective harvest of large halibut, she said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

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

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Arrowtooth flounder study focused on food competition

Fish stomachs could help solve the mystery of why Alaska halibut are so small for their age. Halibut weights are about one-third of what they were 30 years ago, meaning a halibut weighing 120 pounds in the late 1980s is closer to 40 pounds nowadays. One culprit could be arrowtooth flounders, whose numbers have increased 500 percent over the same time to outnumber the most abundant species in the Gulf: pollock. Fishermen for decades have claimed the toothy flounders, which grow to about three feet in length, are blanketing the bottom of the Gulf, and many believe they are out-competing halibut for food. A study being done by researchers in Southeast Alaska aims to find out. “People think that potentially arrowtooth is competing with halibut for space and/or prey which is limiting the growth of Pacific halibut,” said Cheryl Barnes, a PhD student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who is working out of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Since last summer, Barnes and her adviser Dr. Anne Beaudreau have been studying spatial and dietary overlaps between the two species. Along with analyzing Gulf of Alaska bottom trawl data, the team is doing field studies in fishing areas around Juneau where no trawling occurs. Barnes said they are looking at two things: space use and the composition of prey within their stomachs to try and get answers using a concept called “resource partitioning.”  “The thought is that if you see areas where halibut and arrowtooth are overlapping in space, you might expect to see that they are not eating the same things as a way to alleviate competitive effects. They are partitioning their resources in that way,” she explained. “Whereas if they are in an area where there is not much spatial overlap between the two, they might be eating roughly the same things because they are part of the same niche and the goal is to eat those prey items that are more optimal for their growth. And they are more able to do that if both species are not found in the same location.” Barnes is studying the contents of over 1,000 halibut and arrowtooth stomachs collected last year from sport anglers, and she hopes to collect at least that many through September. She said her diet study dovetails with other others being done that focus on environmental factors and impacts of fishing.  “Especially size selective fishing — the idea that we have been removing the larger, faster growing individuals, and it just kind of brings that average size at age down,” she said. If the project proves that the two species are competing for food, it will fall to managers to find creative solutions. That could prove problematic in terms of increasing arrowtooth catches to leave more food for halibut. “One of the problems is that arrowtooth aren’t really marketable because when you heat them up the flesh turns into a mushy fish smoothie. The other is that there is a lot of bycatch associated with arrowtooth catches since they share the same habitat,” Barnes explained. Meanwhile, Barnes wants to get more donated stomachs of both species, either fresh or frozen, along with information that includes fish length, body weight, and where it was caught. While the project, which is funded by the Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center, now centers on fishing areas around Juneau, it could expand to other regions. “We are considering it a pilot project,” Barnes said, “and if we find that we are able to find some answers on the potential for competition around Juneau, there is opportunity to expand it to other areas of the Gulf of Alaska.” Got stomachs? Contact Barnes can be at (907) 957-4893 or [email protected] Salmon sales slump Salmon sales data from last year show what everyone already knows: lower prices across the board. The Alaska Department of Revenue’s Tax Division tracks sales of six different salmon product forms by region, including frozen, fresh, roe and cans. The latest report shows data from the busy sales season from September through December. Here’s a sampler: By far, the bulk of Alaska’s salmon goes to market in frozen, headed and gutted form. The average wholesale price for sockeye was $2.40 per pound, compared to $3.13 last year. For cohos, the price was $2.20 compared to $2.53 per pound; pinks averaged $1.07, down 26 cents, chums sold at $1.25, down 23 cents, and frozen chinook salmon averaged $3.85 a pound, compared to $4.28 at the same time last year. Fresh and frozen sockeye fillets wholesaled for $5.73 on average, down from $6.19 a pound. Pink salmon roe averaged $4.16 per pound, down from $6.95; chum roe at $10.30 was a drop of $2.50 per pound from 2014. Cases of 48 tall cans of sockeye took a huge nose dive to $126.53 per case, a drop of nearly $70. Cases of canned pinks were wholesaling at $76.86, down $4. The market could get some relief from less salmon being available to buyers this year. A toxic algae bloom continues to kill millions of farmed salmon from Chile, where production is pegged to fall way below expectations. “The upshot is that Chile’s production may fall by 40,000 to 50,000 tons, or 13 percent below what was expected from the inventory of fish in the water taken at the end of December,” said market expert John Sackton. Salmon catches on the West Coast also are projected to be down by half at Puget Sound and on the Columbia River due to low coho numbers. Likewise, chinook salmon populations along the coast are in even worse shape, and fishing will be severely restricted this year. Officials blame the overall declines on record warm ocean temperatures and poor river conditions following years of drought. Lower salmon numbers also are projected for several Alaska fisheries – notably, for pink salmon in Southeast and at Prince William Sound. Bristol Bay’s sockeye forecast calls for a catch just under 30 million fish, well below harvests of the past two years. Fish watch March means a couple thousand Alaska fishermen will start gearing up for halibut, which opens a bit later this year on the March 19. For the first time in decades the total coastwide catch increased by 2.3 percent to just under 30 million pounds. Alaska gets the lion’s share at about 21.5 million pounds, a boost of 200,000 pounds from last year. The year’s first roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound could kick off around the same time. A quota of nearly 14,941 tons is a 70 percent increase. Last year the Sitka fishery opened on March 18 and managers planned to begin surveys this week. Fishing for cod, pollock, flounders and other groundfish continues in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Likewise for crab: Bering Sea snow crabbers have taken 70 percent of the 36.5 million pound quota with less than 11 million pounds left to go. Less than 3 million pounds remain in the Tanner crab quota of nearly 18 million pounds.  A new law requiring life rafts for fishing boats has been delayed. The new rules would have applied to any vessel operating more than three miles from shore, even small hand trollers or halibut skiffs. Currently, only boats 36 feet or larger, or those carrying four or more people, are required to have so called ‘buoyant apparatus.’ Word came after the Feb. 26 deadline that Congress chose to repeal the requirement, and opted instead to go through the formal rule making process before implementation. That could take at least a year, said Steve Ramp, a Coast Guard Commercial Fishing Vessel Examiner in Sitka. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: World market continues to squeeze Alaska sockeye

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

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

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

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

Needy Alaskans are enjoying a rare taste of sablefish, thanks to a science project that kept research fish from going over the rails. Sablefish, more commonly called black cod, are one of the world’s priciest, high-end fish, and Alaska waters are home to the largest stocks. The deep-water fish are found at depths of 5,000 feet or more and can live to nearly 100 years. The Gulf of Alaska fishery, which has a catch total of about 20 million pounds this year (18.2 million in 2015) is usually worth more than $90 million to Alaska fishermen at the docks. But the population — as measured by the amount of spawning females — has been decreasing about 3 percent a year since 2004, and researchers aim to find out why. In December, a team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Auke Bay lab in Juneau tagged 40 female sablefish with satellite tags that will release on a set date.  “Sablefish movements have been tracked for decades, but this tagging will give us a better idea of where and when these females are releasing their eggs,” said Katy Echave, chief scientist for the sablefish project. “Accurate estimates of the amount of mature fish will give us better estimates of the number of spawners. And we also will have a better understanding of what environmental conditions are causing this period of low recruitment, which is likely due to low survival in their egg and larval stages.” Samples of sablefish ear bones, ovaries and livers and other survey data are being scrutinized in Auke Bay labs, but it will be a few years before it yields results. The ultimate goal, Echave said, is to have better assessments of spawners to abet fishery management and catches long into the future. Meanwhile, needy Alaskans are enjoying the sablefish right now. By federal law, all research fish must be tossed overboard but a quick collaboration sent this boatload of fish instead to feed the hungry. “I cannot rave enough about the F/V Gold Rush, who we contracted to do the sablefish survey,” Echave said. “They came to me and said ‘instead of tossing this fish overboard, is there any way we can donate it?’ And the crew went about coordinating all the logistics for getting the fish processed by Trident, who donated their facility and staff time, and then getting it distributed it to the Kodiak food bank.” In all, 4,000 pounds of research fish went to local hunger relief programs. “It was just a very neat example of healthy relationships in Alaska with members of the industry and researchers, all trying to do the good thing here,” Echave said. The fish donors were able to “do the good thing” because it dovetailed with Kodiak’s “bycatch to food banks” program, which reclaims fish that by law would be dumped at sea. Last year trawlers from Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove donated nearly 42,000 pounds of salmon, halibut and black cod taken as bycatch to local hunger relief efforts. The program began with Gulf fishermen and processors five years ago in collaboration with Sea Share, the only organization that is federally authorized to retain and distribute fish taken as bycatch for hunger relief. A similar program has been operating in the Bering Sea since 1993.  “We make it very clear that we are not asking for bycatch. These are some of the best fishermen who work hard to avoid it. But when they do catch it, they want to see something good done with it. They want to utilize everything that’s in the net, so they donate it to us,” said Jim Harmon, Sea Share director. Since its inception, the nonprofit has become one of the largest protein donors in the nation. It has reclaimed 4.2 million pounds of fish that would otherwise have been thrown overboard, and grown to include a network of 138 fishing vessels, 34 at-sea processors, 15 shore side plants and countless packaging, freight, cold storages and national receiving agencies. Sea Share has donated over 630,000 pounds of fish to Alaska hunger relief programs in Anchorage, Kenai, Nome and Kotzebue over the last 3 years. That equates to 2.5 million servings of high protein seafood, Harmon said, and plans are in the works to increase that amount.  “We are now working on a distribution project in Western Alaska,” Harmon said. “The plan is to install freezers in four or five hub villages, and to accept larger quantities shipped via surface freight. That will reduce costs and improve distribution of seafood, which is one of the biggest hurdles.” It costs about 42 cents a pound, he said, to get the fish into the hands of the hungry. February fishing Fishermen have been hauling in thousands of pounds of cod from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea since the year began. Alaska’s biggest fishery — pollock — got underway on Jan. 20. More than 3.5 billion pounds of pollock will be taken in Alaska waters this year. A lingcod fishery of nearly one million pounds is underway in Southeast Alaska, along with a fishery for seven different kinds of deep-water rockfish. Divers are still going down for sea cucumbers, urchins and geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still fishing for winter king salmon — each worth more than a barrel of oil. The region’s golden king crab and Tanner crab fisheries will open Feb. 17. The big crab fisheries are still underway in the Bering Sea. Crabbers have landed about 11 million pounds of a 36.5 million pound snow crab quota. And as soon as unstable ice conditions improve, the year’s first red king crab fishery will kick off at Norton Sound, with a catch topping a half-million pounds. Grants for good works American Seafood Company is again taking applications for community grants throughout Alaska. A total of $38,000 will be available to projects that address issues such as hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. Most of the awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. Deadline to apply is Feb. 12. Recipients will be selected by a community advisory board on Feb. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Alaska’s halibut stocks are showing signs of an uptick and fishermen in all but one region will avoid slashed catches for the first time in nearly 15 years. The International Pacific Halibut Commission on Friday (Jan. 29) set the coast wide Pacific halibut harvest for 2016 at 29.89 million pounds, a 2.3 percent increase from last year. “This was probably the most positive, upbeat meeting in the past decade,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “The feeling is the stocks are up and the resource is stabilizing and recovering, and it’s the first meeting in a long time that there weren’t any areas that are looking at double digit cuts.” “The bottom line for this year is that we can see some positive trends both in the data and in the stock assessment models,” said Ian Stewart, a scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, or IPHC, which held its annual meeting last week in Juneau. The IPHC manages the catches and fishery research for west coast states, British Columbia and Alaska. “The stock appears to be stabilizing at a coast-wide level and the more years that we’ve see this play out, the more certain we become of that.” Alaska share of the total halibut catch was set at 21.45 million pounds, an increase of 200,000 pounds from last year. Southeast Alaska saw the largest halibut harvest gain for recreational and commercial users at 4.95 million pounds, a 6.1 percent increase over 2015. Scientists said based on survey data, the Panhandle again showed the most improvement in both fish catches and weights. Catches in the biggest halibut fishing hole in the Central Gulf (3A) were decreased by five percent to 9.6 million pounds, the only region to get a cut. Although the annual survey showed increased catches for the first time in nearly 12 years, scientists said they remain concerned that the fish are still showing slow growth rates. They also had questions about potential inaccurate accountings of halibut taken as bycatch in other fisheries. For the Western Gulf (3B) the IPHC scientists said they “are optimistic that 3B has hit bottom and is showing stabilization.” The other three halibut fishing areas in the Aleutians and Bering Sea also showed “strong signs” of holding steady. In other halibut news: The IPHC approved retention of halibut taken incidentally in sablefish pots in the Gulf of Alaska to reduce whale predation. A proposal to reduce the legal halibut size limit from 32 inches to 30 inches to reduce wastage of small fish failed. Likewise, a proposal to limit the maximum size to 60 inches to protect the large breeders also got a thumbs down. The 2016 halibut fishery will begin on March 19 and end on Nov. 7. The IPHC also selected David Wilson to replace Bruce Leaman as executive director as he departs after nearly 20 years. Wilson currently serves as secretary of the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission, and was formerly head of the International Fisheries Section of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resources Economics and Sciences. He will join the IPHC in August. Dr. Wilson is expected to join the IPHC staff in August 2016. Here are the 2016 Alaska halibut catch limits in millions of pounds, with comparisons to 2015 in parentheses: 2C (Southeast AK) 4.95m (4.65m) 3A (Central Gulf) 9.6m (10.1m) 3B (Western Gulf) 2.71m (2.65m) 4A (W. Aleutians) 1.39m (1.39m) 4B (Bering Sea) 1.14m (1.14m) 4CDE (Bering Sea) 1.66m (1.285m) Total: 21.45 million pounds (21.25m) Seafood showcase Canned smoked herring, salmon caviar, sockeye salmon candy – those are just a sample of the 18 new products to be showcased this month at Alaska Symphony of Seafood events in Seattle, Juneau and Anchorage. The Symphony promotes new, value-added products in four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Plate and new this year, Beyond the Egg. “It’s a great event for the industry, but it also shows how much work and effort is going into developing new products,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 23 years. “It is good for everyone because it creates more value for the resource, and in the case of Beyond the Plate, which focuses on fish byproducts, it is actually using more of the resources.” That category attracted several entries, including wallets, key fobs and other items made from salmon and halibut skin. Another is an anti-aging serum that uses omega-3 oils from ArXotica, a Bethel company Another attention getter is a product from Bambino’s Baby food of Anchorage called “Hali Halibut.” “It is a frozen, portioned product made with halibut and Alaska grown vegetables. It’s really cool!” Decker said. The new Beyond the Egg category attracted one salmon caviar entry, with several more set to debut at next year’s Symphony, she added. All items will be judged by an expert panel prior to a Seattle bash on February 10, with their choices remaining under wraps. That will be followed by a seafood soiree for Alaska legislators in Juneau on Feb. 16; then it’s on to Anchorage on Feb. 19 where all winners will be announced Top winners in each category get a free trip in March to Seafood Expo North America in Boston. See the full line up at www.afdf.org.  New life raft rules New safety rules for vessel life rafts go into effect on Feb. 26, meaning the use of commonly used flotation devices will no longer be acceptable. Smaller vessels will no longer be able to use life rings, rectangular red floats and other buoyant devices as their only form of survival gear, and instead must be equipped with a raft that ensures every passenger is safely out of the water in the case of a sinking.  “The big thing to remember is that it’s one thing to be wet and cold, it’s another thing to be immersed in cold water,” said Scott Wilwert, U.S. Coast Guard Fishing Safety Coordinator in Juneau. “On Feb. 26, survival craft requirements for commercial fishing vessels, as well as other classes of passenger vessels, will change in a way that if a vessel is operating beyond three miles from shore, they are required to have a survival craft that does not allow for an immersed segment of a person’s body,” he explained. “So the big change for any fishing vessel, regardless of length or the number of people on board, is that they have to step up to a survival craft that is called an inflatable buoyant apparatus or a full life raft.” Even those who got their mandatory dockside safety exams last fall will need to recheck their survival gear to comply with the new regulations, Wilwert said.  “If you know that the new rule affects you, I would definitely start working with a local marine supplier and get one coming your way.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

A single chinook salmon is worth more than a barrel of oil. The winter kings being caught by Southeast Alaska trollers are averaging 10 pounds each with a dock price of $7.34 a pound, according to state fish tickets. That adds up to $73.40 per fish, compared to $26 per barrel of oil. Those who depend on fishing for their livelihoods want to make sure that budget cuts combined with any new fishery taxes don’t cut core services that result in missed fishing opportunities.  “Not all cuts are equal, and if there are cuts that interfere with the science needed for responsible and sustainable fish harvesting, many times in the absence of information, it will throttle down fisheries and reduce opportunity,” said Mark Vinsel, Executive Administrator for United Fishermen of Alaska. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization, with 35 member groups.  “When we are able to count fish and make sure enough get up stream, then people can harvest them, get them to market and bring the revenue back to their communities and to the state general fund through taxes. So we have to be careful that we don’t put a tax on something or increase taxes while the overall opportunity goes down. That can be a net decrease,” Vinsel added.  “We are willing to listen to any proposal,” said Jerry McCune, UFA president. “If there is going to be raises in the taxes we would like to see it across the board to be fair for everybody.” Gov. Bill Walker has proposed a 1 percent surtax on both the Fisheries Business Tax and the Fisheries Landing Tax, which would raise an estimated $20 million. A resolution provided to each legislator states: “Budget cuts, though equal in value, are not equal in impact to industry or represent the same overall loss to the State of Alaska in terms of lost revenue and benefit. Emphasis should be given to find efficiencies without reducing economic opportunities for industry.” A second UFA resolution urges that the state “should not further reduce the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s budget in a manner that negatively impacts the department’s delivery of core/essential services.” The ADFG now has an operating budget of $200 million; the Commercial Fisheries Division gets the largest chunk at $73.3 million. Another UFA resolution supports the existing Division of Investments’ Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Funds and continuation of other financing programs that “bring benefits to Alaskans and the economy of the State of Alaska in perpetuity.” UFA also sent a letter to Walker saying it “supports the recommendation of the legislative audit that CFEC remain as an independent agency, separate and distinct from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.” McCune said UFA is working closely with Rep. Kreiss-Tomkins regarding a bill he plans to introduce that would create permit banks to help reverse the trend of salmon permits migrating out of the state. The bank would buy nonresident permits and lease them to young fishermen who otherwise could not afford them. A permit bank would not cost the state any money, according to Kreiss-Tomkins, because it would fall to local communities to raise the money. “I think it’s a noble idea, but we have some fears,” McCune said. “There are concerns with an entity holding a permit and giving loans and being able to take them back, and there are IRS and constitutional considerations. We will continue to work with the bill sponsor to make sure our concerns are considered and that we are within legal rights of the Limited Entry Act.” Regarding the bill that would allow “fisheries enhancement permits” for groups and individuals (HB 220), McCune said UFA has been assured by ADFG that “safeguards are in place.” “You can’t move one stock to another area, and you must go through all the things that a normal hatchery operator or anyone who wants to do fishery enhancements is required to do,” McCune said. “You can’t just willy-nilly run out and start a hatchery and not have any consideration for wild stocks where it’s going to located and things like that. I don’t think it will move until some things are fleshed out.” Other fish issues and bills will surface as the Alaska legislature gets into full swing. “It’s a bit agonizing for everyone waiting to see what will happen,” McCune said. “But you’ve got to work the process. It’s not going to be up to just UFA, but different groups and individuals are going to have to weigh in on different issues. My message to all the fishermen in the state is pay attention to what’s going on and make sure you have your say.” Bycatch begone! A new fishery management plan will reduce halibut bycatch by 21 percent in Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands trawl and longline groundfish fisheries to 3,515 metric tons (7.73 million pounds). The plan was approved by federal managers prior to the season opener for trawlers on Jan. 20. Managers now are moving towards similar measures for chinook and chum salmon bycatch in the Bering Sea pollock fishery, and they want input from the public. The pollock fishery now has separate programs to account for takes of the two salmon species.  “We want to improve the functioning of these programs so they are integrated,” said Gretchen Harrington, National Environmental Policy Act coordinator for National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Alaska Region and leader for the salmon bycatch project. The goal, she said, is to enable the fleets to operate under one incentive agreement.  “The incentive plan agreement is a document created by the pollock fishermen that explains exactly how they are going to provide incentives for each vessel to avoid chinook and chum salmon bycatch through the tools they already are using,” Harrington explained. “There also is a provision in the proposed rule that adjusts the allocation of pollock between the A season (winter) and the B season (summer) to provide five percent more pollock in the A season, so it can be harvested when there is less chance for bycatch. A new key piece of the agreement includes adjusting chinook bycatch limits downwards whenever the state forecasts low abundances for a following year. Currently, a 60,000 bycatch limit is in place for chinook salmon; the bycatch last year was 18,330. For chum, the bycatch take was 237,795 fish. After going through the rule making process, Harrington said the new pollock program should be in place by next year. Public comments on the salmon bycatch reduction plan are accepted through March 8. Fish correction The number of salmon fishing permits held by non-locals or nonresidents at Bristol Bay is 38.3 percent, not 81.1 percent. A total of 61.7 percent of all permits are held by local residents near the fishery. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

A fish bill that has already been prefiled would let Alaskans take fisheries enhancement efforts into their own hands. House Bill 220 by Rep. David Talerico, R-Healy, would allow “fisheries enhancement permits” as a “tool to support Fish and Game.” The permits would allow people to take eggs, grow them into smolt and release them wherever they want into the wild. The permit also would allow groups or individuals to “enhance habitat and augment nutrients” in state waterways to support fish,” according to the bill language. If many smaller facilities can do the work of a handful of larger, more costly facilities, it will help Alaska’s budget, Talerico told the Juneau Empire. The enhancement permits also would be available to Native organizations and sportsmen’s groups, Talerico said, adding, “Those guys know how to raise money in a hurry.” Another tool intended “to help fish managers” will resurface this year – “The Alaskans-First Fishing Act,” which aims to give personal use fisheries a priority over sport and commercial users when restrictions are imposed to achieve a management goal. As it stands now, the three fisheries all are on equal footing in the eyes and actions of state managers. The bill, Senate Bill 42, has been introduced during each of the last seven legislative sessions by Sen. Bill Stolze, but has gone nowhere. (A duplicate law, HB 110, has been filed by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake). The bill states, “one thing all Alaskans can agree on is that we should have a priority over people coming from elsewhere in the country and the world to utilize and harvest our fisheries resources. Fisheries that are restricted to residents only are meant to enable Alaskans to access their fisheries resources for their personal use and consumption.” The United Fishermen of Alaska’s position on the personal use issue has remained the same: the Legislature should leave prioritization of fishery allocations to the Board of Fisheries and management to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Fish price places The first thing any fisherman wants to know is fish prices. Usually, that information is tough to come by during a fishing season, as final prices aren’t settled until months after the catch is sold. That’s a tough way to run a business. There are some helpful price resources, albeit after the fact. Each April the state Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for 85 different fish species for the previous year, by gear type and region. It’s called the Commercial Operator’s Annual Report, or COAR, compiled from inputs by Alaska fish buyers. Here’s a 2014 sampler of prices for many of the species people seldom hear about: The statewide average herring price was 11 cents a pound. Octopus averaged 61 cents. Lingcod fetched $1.27 at the docks. Those billions of pounds of pollock in Alaska’s largest fishery averaged 15 cents a pound. For 11 different kinds of flatfish, rex sole was the priciest at 32 cents a pound. Those pesky arrowtooth flounder paid out at 6 cents. For Atka mackerel, the average price was a dime, and 17 cents for perch. Big skates brought 45 cents a pound dockside, and wolf eels were 94 cents. Sea cucumbers averaged $4.02, and catches of smelt brought 46 cents. The state tracks 22 different kinds of rockfish, with yelloweye, or red snapper, the priciest at $1.31 a pound, and red stripe the cheapest at 14 cents. The lowest priced fish of them all were sculpin and yellowfin sole, each at 2 pennies a pound. The priciest Alaska catch listed was spot prawns paying Southeast Alaska fishermen $8.65 a pound. For salmon, the state Department of Revenue three times a year provides first wholesale prices (what processors receive when they sell the fish) for products including fresh, frozen, fillets, roe and canned for each Alaska region. It’s called the Alaska Salmon Price Report and is listed under the Tax Division Why should you care about fish prices if you’re far from the coast? With Alaska’s commercial catches coming in at between 5 to 6 billion pounds every year, adding just one penny per pound makes a difference of nearly one million dollars in landing taxes for the state and local governments each. Ice sightings wanted We’ve all seen images of fishing boats in the winter, where the rigging, wires and wheelhouse are literally turned into a solid block of ice. That freezing ocean spray and heavy icing can capsize a vessel in the blink of an eye. Weather forecasters are in the fourth year of a project to fine-tune NOAA’s Watches and Warnings about heavy freezing spray We’re trying to understand more about the dynamics and the atmospheric conditions, and even the types of boats that might be impacted by freezing spray,” said Lt. Joseph Phillips at NOAA’s Ocean Prediction Center in Maryland. “What we are learning is that freezing spray is a very difficult thing to forecast. A lot of it has to deal with what direction a ship is moving in, the size and shape of the ship, the wind conditions, you can have warm waters and cold temperatures and still get freezing spray.” Forecasters from NOAA and Environment Canada are asking mariners for help in reporting icing conditions in Alaska, the Northeast and the Great Lakes regions. “Right now we just want to hear if there is freezing spray or not. But more information like the icing conditions, ice accretion rate, air temperature, sea and wind conditions, relative humidity all that information is great,” Phillips told KMXT. “Then we can start tweaking and understanding why we’re not forecasting or over forecasting, maybe adjust the models we are using here and there. And that will translate into a better forecast and warning system for this condition.”   Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

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

Alaska’s mariculture industry has passed some big milestones, and is getting set to head into the weeds. Aquatic farming, which was ok’d by Alaska lawmakers in 1988, topped $1 million in shellfish sales for the first time ever in 2014, coming in at $1.2 million. “This is the highest sales we’ve had since the inception of the program which is pretty exciting,” said Cynthia Pring-Ham, Director of Mariculture for the state Department of Fish and Game, adding that shellfish production increased 27 percent. That’s an average of $7,049 in sales per acre of active farm, most of which average about five acres. Combined production overall hit 8.3 million oysters and geoducks in 2014, along with 10,000 pounds of blue mussels and little neck clams. Pring-Ham added that 73 percent of the sales came from shellfish produced at 56 farms, and the remainder from the state’s seven nurseries and two hatcheries that sell seed to the aquatic farmers. Seventy percent of the shellfish farms are located throughout Southeast Alaska, 23 percent are in Kachemak Bay near Homer and seven percent are in Prince William Sound. Aquatic farmers also fetched a higher price for their bivalves: $9.60 per dozen for oysters, $5.74 per pound for blue mussels and $8 per pound for little neck clams. Several other mariculture milestones also were recorded, Pring-Ham said, including an 11 percent increase in jobs. “Although small, we have about 185 positions working on aquatic farms in Alaska,” she said. Based on the shellfish crops and seed stocks in the water now, Pring-Ham sees lots of potential for more production. It takes two to four years for oysters to grow to slurping size, depending on water temperatures, and 14.5 million are set to come online, along with millions of mussels, geoduck clams, little necks, and most recently, cockles. And plans for growing weed in Alaska extends beyond marijuana. Farming seaweeds, especially various kelps, is seeing a surge of interest, notably as Outside interests target Alaska products. Seaweeds, which can be harvested on 6-12 month rotations, are used in everything from sushi wrappers to biofuels to face creams to frothy heads on beer. Seaweed growers from Maine and California both made business pitches at the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association meeting last fall to convince Alaska farmers to grow seaweeds experimentally, and eventually contract to grow for their companies. Maine’s production of primarily rockweed is valued at $20 million annually, according to a 2015 report for the Ocean Sciences National Center for Marine Algae and Microbiota. The report said 30 to 35 countries are producing 28 million tons of seaweed crops globally, valued at $10 billion. Japan’s nori production amounts to $2 billion annually and is one of the world’s most valuable crops. According to the Cape Times, 30,000 seaweed products have been launched in Europe in the past four years alone. Pring-Ham said partnerships are “blossoming” between Alaska aquatic farmers, entrepreneurs and educators to test the waters for local seaweeds. A two-year Alaska Sea Grant project is underway at Oceans Alaska in Ketchikan that will create kelp hatcheries and provide seeded longlines to farmers to submerge on their acreage. “It will introduce the entire seaweed farming business to Alaska on a pilot scale and collect growing data,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. “And it will connect with buyers interested in purchasing seaweeds from Alaska.” Applications for aquatic farms are accepted by ADFG each year from January 1 through April 30 and Pring-Ham hopes more Alaskans will join the mariculture movement. “Alaska has a lot going for it in terms of aquatic farming,” she said. “We have clean waters, bountiful coastlines and one of the easiest regulatory processes for getting a permit to operate and utilize state lands in the country. This makes Alaska so appealing for anyone interested in starting this type of business and we will help people through every step of the process.” Fish on your dish Eating trends show some big plusses for wild seafood, but Americans are still eating far less fish than they should be. According to international market research firm NPD Group, the top trend going into 2016 is consumers want to know where their foods come from. The Group credits seafood for its improved traceability and move towards local sourcing, which will continue to boost sales. Good fats also are in. People now know that some fats are healthy, NPD said, such as those found in eggs, avocados and seafood. Consumers are seeking non-genetically modified foods “in droves” NPD said. Again, that will benefit wild seafood as people are demanding “authentic,” natural foods with fewer additives of anything, let alone genes. Watch for people to be reading labels like never before. Healthy and light entrees also are expected to grow at a faster rate through 2018, another opportunity for seafood. Technomic, another top market tracker, lists ‘trash to treasure’ fish as its #3 seafood trend, as more restaurants serve up bycatch and lesser known fish to appreciative diners. For decades more than 60 percent of Americans have eaten seafood while dining out, but market watchers said more are cooking fish at home. Maybe that will boost consumption, which has stalled in the U.S. at less than 15 pounds per person. A study last year by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture showed only one in ten Americans follow recommendations to eat seafood at last twice a week. The USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans released on Jan. 7 recommends eating at least eight ounces of a variety of seafoods with the aim to take in at least 250 mg per day of omega-3 fatty acids. Fish watch Hundreds of boats were braving harsh winds and high seas to bring home first of the year fish from the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Pacific cod starts the year off for fixed gears, meaning longlines, jigs and pots. The P-cod price is reportedly around 35 cents per pound, similar to last year. A lingcod fishery is underway in Southeast Panhandle; black rockfish is open there and at Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. That tasty rockfish fetches closer to 45 cents for fishermen. Southeast trollers have taken about 30,000 winter kings at $7.23 per pound, according to fish tickets. Bering Sea crabbers are tapping away at a 35.5 million pound snow crab quota, 15 million pounds of Tanners and 6 million pounds of golden king crab along the Aleutians. Fisheries for trawlers targeting pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish open Jan. 20. The state Board of Fisheries meets in Fairbanks Jan. 12-16 to take up Arctic, Yukon and Kuskokwim fish issues. On Sunday, Jan. 17 the joint boards of Fish and Game will meet again to hear more budget cutting ideas. All board meetings are streamed live on the web. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is holding its annual meeting in Juneau, Jan. 25-29. Alaska Sea Grant’s Sixth Young Fishermen’s Summit also will be in Juneau, Jan. 27-29 at the Baranof Hotel. Dates for the 2016 Alaska Symphony of Seafood are Feb. 10 in Seattle; Feb. 16 in Juneau and Feb. 19 in Anchorage, where all winners will be announced. See more at www.afdf.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

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

FISH FACTOR: Groundfish stocks look mostly healthy as season begins

“Tis the season for even bigger Alaska fish catches when groundfish seasons open at the start of the New Year. Catches of pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish account for nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s harvest poundage, and 67 percent of the nation’s total groundfish harvests. Those numbers could increase due to boosts in several catch quotas in both the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea for the next two years. For pollock, the nation’s largest fishery, the catch is up slightly to 1.3 million metric tons, or just under three billion pounds. The Pacific cod quota is down a bit to 525 million pounds, not because of stock declines, but to accommodate the catches of competing gears and fleets, said Diana Stram, Bering Sea groundfish plan coordinator for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore. Flatfish stocks also are very healthy, Stram said, but catches were lowered due to halibut bycatch concerns from trawl and longline vessels. “The fisheries worked voluntarily last year to reduce their halibut bycatch and they did a good job, but it still remains a concern,” she said. No matter how robust the stocks are, Alaska fish managers always opt for sustainable harvest numbers. In the Bering Sea, that means never exceeding a two million-metric ton harvest cap. “The biomass overall in the Bering Sea is extremely healthy for all of the stocks. In terms of the catch quotas, the balancing act is really the constraint of the two million metric ton cap,” Stram explained. “While a lot of the stocks could have higher TACs (total allowable catches), the Council balances between the different stocks and the different fleets in order to meet that limit.” There are 22 different species under the Council’s purview, Stram added, along, with non-targeted species like sharks, sculpin and squids taken incidentally in other fisheries. Fish stocks also are booming in the Gulf of Alaska where catches will be up overall by 6 percent. “It sure looks good. Pollock is up about 30 percent and Pacific cod is down just a smidge but nothing we’re too worried about,” said Jim Armstrong, plan coordinator for Gulf groundfish. Gulf pollock catches will be 572 million pounds in 2016 and 2017, and cod at about 158 million pounds. A total of 25 different species are tracked throughout the Gulf, he added, “and about 130 when various complexes, like rockfish, are broken out.” One red flag, Armstrong said, is sablefish, which is managed both in the Gulf and Bering Sea as a single unit stock. A continued downward trend has decreased those catches by 14 percent. “It’s a concern,” he said “One of the reassurances is that this coming year we’re going to have a sort of second opinion by the Center for Independent Experts who will review the sablefish stock assessment so we’ll better understand what’s behind the downward trend.” Both coordinators credit the Council for its ecosystem approach to fisheries management and always deferring to the best available science. “Our council has always valued the scientific input and the rigorous assessments that go into each fishing cycle, as well as taking into consideration other things that are going on in terms of bycatch of halibut, and also salmon and crab and herring. And just looking at the catch setting process on an annual basis is a really good example of that,” Stram said. Armstrong credits the multi-levels of scrutiny and review the Council scientists and advisory panels contribute each year. He is a newcomer to the NPFMC staff since July, after a 10-year tenure with the mid-Atlantic council. “This is the big leagues,” he said. “It’s 10 times greater in terms of the value and the quantity, the number of fish species that are managed, and I think it scales up the amount of energy that is put into management itself. Everything is bigger here.” Millions more pounds of groundfish also will hail from state managed fisheries within three miles of shore. Got jellies? Jellyfish abundances, or a lack thereof, can tell a lot about what is happening in the oceans on a larger scale. Researchers are now calling on “citizen scientists” to post jellyfish observations on a special website: jellywatch.org. “Citizen science in general is valuable because it is multiplied with such large numbers. To tap into that pool of has huge advantages for a data set,” said Dr. Steven Haddock, a researcher from University of California at Santa Cruz who studies marine bioluminescence, zooplankton and deep sea jellyfish. He hopes to gain more insights on near shore jellyfish varieties to model to add to the wider ocean range. Haddock also wants to test hypotheses that claim a warmer climate has boosted jellyfish blooms. There is a misconception that jellyfish thrive in warmer waters, but any seagoing Alaskan knows that’s not the case. “A common belief is that jellyfish like warmer water for some reason, but in Alaska, the species like the lion’s mane, are really restricted to colder water,” he told KTOO in Juneau. Haddock said it’s great if website postings include a photo, but descriptions alone are helpful, such as one from a Ketchikan diver. “He didn’t have a photo, but he gave a description of this jelly that sounds like a deep-sea species that we discovered here in Monterey. It’s called Tiburonia and we call it ‘the big red’ because it’s the size of a beach ball,” Haddock explained. “So this guy diving said ‘I feel like I’m reporting a big-foot sighting.’ I think it actually could be a sighting of this relatively newly discovered deep-sea species that he saw while scuba diving off Ketchikan.” Observations of no jellyfish sightings also are helpful. Haddock said “clean seas” reports make documented sightings more valid, as seeing none are as valuable as seeing many. Give salmon a brake Washington State is protecting salmon by removing copper from automotive brakes. A Better Brakes law passed in 2010 went into effect this year, and will phase out copper completely by 2025. “You touch your brakes and a little bit of material gets deposited on the road. And from there it washes into a stream or river where salmon may be spawning or trying to go home or getting back to the ocean,” said Ian Wesley, Better Brakes Coordinator at the Washington Department of Ecology. The program was spawned after years of research showed that even trace levels of copper in water will damage a salmon’s ability to smell. “The Northwest Fisheries Science Center has done a lot of work on how copper affects a salmon’s ability to smell, and juvenile salmon are particularly susceptible to these effects,” Wesley explained. “Even trace levels of copper will damage their ability to smelling, which inhibits their ability to avoid predators. They will release a hormone into the water that alerts other fish when there is danger nearby, and it prevents other salmon from being able to smell that. So they won’t know when danger is in the water and they won’t hide from it.” Wesley said the program was driven by a partnership between brake makers, water quality watchers and regulators. Brake manufacturers agreed that if it was shown their products were causing environmental harm, they would work to phase copper out of their brake pads. Now, any brakes sold in the state come with a Better Brake logo. “If you want to sell brakes in Washington State you need to mark your products with a three leaf logo,” Wesley said. “The brake manufacturers have registered it, and it shows the level of copper concentration in a brake pad. If all three leafs are filled in, it means there is no copper in the product, when two are filled in, it means there is less than five percent copper, and when one is filled in, it means there is no asbestos or lead in the product.” The copper-free brakes cost the same as the less fish friendly models, Wesley said. Penalties for noncompliance starting in 2025 will be applied to the brake makers, with a maximum penalty of $10,000 per violation. California has followed suit and the Better Brake program is going nationwide. “The break manufacturers have signed a memorandum of understanding with the EPA to voluntarily agree to comply with Washington’s requirements on a nationwide basis,” Wesley said. “The large retailers and distributors and manufacturers have agreed to only sell certified brakes throughout the country, and to make sure the copper requirements are met for all the brakes made.” Wesley credits U.S. brake makers for willingly making changes to give salmon a break. “The brake manufacturers really deserve a lot of credit, and they have been moving faster than we expected them to,” he said. “They’ve really gone above and beyond.” Washington laws also strongly encourage grassy alternatives to drains and pipes that let road runoff become cleanses by percolating through the ground, as it did before urban areas were paved over. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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