Laine Welch

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 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 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 Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit 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:; 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 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: “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 or contact [email protected] for information.

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

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

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

Caught by Alaskans for Alaskans is a business concept that bested 170 others in a global fisheries business competition last month at Stanford University in California. The contest, sponsored by Fish 2.0, awards creative approaches that build demand for sustainable seafood, reduce waste and support fishing towns. The Alaska Community Seafood Hub model, presented by Kelly Harrell of Anchorage, won $5,000 in cash and is in the running for more money to be awarded this month. Fish 2.0 builds the knowledge and connections needed to increase investment in the sustainable seafood sector, according to its website. “We noticed that investors were having a hard time finding fisheries deals, and fishery business owners were frustrated that investors had no interest. We created Fish 2.0 to build connections between the groups,” said Monica Jain, Fish 2.0 Founder. “Our goal is to create the business growth needed to drive social and environmental change in the seafood supply chain.” Harrell, who is executive director of the non-profit Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, said: “We told the story of the really unique assets we have in Alaska, which include thousands of small boat fishing families. We have a giant seafood economy that provides one of the largest and most sustainable seafood supplies in the world. But the way our seafood supply chain is structured, it is very difficult to get the seafood harvested locally to our communities here in Alaska, because we are set up to export such large volumes.” The Walton Family Foundation, a Fish 2.0 sponsor, wrote: “When Kelly Harrell started crafting the idea of the Alaska Community Seafood Hub, she knew that improving business, people’s lives and the environment go hand in hand. Kelly pitched her business model to a room full of investors, ocean and fishing industry experts and grant makers who shared her vision of a sustainable seafood market. She walked away with $5,000 and countless connections to help build a strong community-based fishery and bring high-quality seafood from Alaskan fishermen to local consumers.” “We often overlook Alaska thinking that people have access to catching their own and a lot do, but in places like Fairbanks and Anchorage, and even in coastal towns, many people don’t. And in the case of species like crab, it’s really not practical to get their own,” Harrell said. The Alaska Seafood Hub concept expanded upon the Catch of the Season program and the Kodiak Jig Seafoods brand for cod and rockfish that AMCC has operated for several years.  “We began by selling Tanner crab and cod to consumers in Alaska and through wholesale buyers in a way that tells the story of the fishermen, the species, the community where it come it comes from,” Harrell said. “It helps build connections between our fishermen and fishing communities and our seafood consumers and buyers, and generates a higher price for the fishermen. It’s a real win/win.” About 20 fishermen are involved in the program so far, and they fetch 60 percent more than the regular dock price. Along with individual buyers, regular customers include the Bear Tooth in Anchorage, Alyeska Resort in Girdwood and Princess Tours Lodges. Harrell said fish offerings are expanding to include Tanner crab from the Bering Sea, king crab from Norton Sound and sockeye salmon.  “This summer we sold salmon from Bristol Bay for the first time in Fairbanks and it was a huge hit,” Harrell said. “People were extremely eager to have seafood caught by Alaskans for Alaskans and we sold thousands of pounds right away to an eager consumer base.” AMCC’s ultimate goal is to spawn umbrella seafood hubs for local brands in other Alaska fishing towns, such as halibut from the Pribilof Islands.  “We want to tell the story of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and how that is potentially putting these small communities out of business in terms of their halibut fishery. People in the state really need to hear it through something they can support and put on their dinner plates,” Harrell said. In the four rigorous rounds of the competition, Harrell said the judges were most surprised that many Alaskans don’t have access to local seafood, and that Alaska politics and the economy are not more connected to the state’s fishing industry. Fishing fees Alaska fishermen who hold catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab pay an annual fee to the federal government to cover management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. The fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices for the fish through September and averaged across the state. Bills went out in late November to 1,983 longliners for a total coverage cost of $5.6 million, said Kristie Balovich, Budget Officer for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, Alaska Region based in Juneau. The dockside value of the halibut fishery went up this year while the value of sablefish went down.  “The 2015 halibut landings had an increase in overall value to $107 million, compared to $100 million in 2014. Sablefish had a slight decrease going from $76.7 million to $76.6 million,” Balovich said, adding that dock prices, or ex-vessel prices, were higher for both. Halibut was at $6.42 per pound this year, and sablefish was at $3.78 per pound. That compares to an average halibut price of $6.36 per pound and $3.59 per pound for sablefish in 2014. The fee system is different for the Bering Sea crab fisheries.  “NOAA doesn’t track dock prices for crab, only the total value of the fisheries,” Balovich explained. That added up to $229 million for the 2014/2015 season, an increase of about $300,000 from the previous fishery. The crab catches yielded $3.4 million in coverage costs, which are collected and paid by Bering Sea processors (19 last season) by the end of July. The coverage fee for the crab fishery increased to 1.48 percent this year and to 3 percent for halibut and sablefish, due to adding more management and enforcement personnel.  “We were able to hire some people so there were some increases in labor for those fisheries,” Balovich said. Balovich added that Alaska longliners are “great about paying their bills” and that 99.9 percent pay by the Jan. 31 deadline. There’s one change for all bill payers this year: credit cards are no longer accepted over the phone due to security reasons. “Everyone has access to their online landings, and if they go into their eFish account, it switches them over to a site called “It is very secure and they can pay with a credit card there,” Balovich said. Begich talks fish fights Former Alaska Sen. Mark Begich is continuing his fight against genetically modified salmon after its approval last month for U.S. sales by the federal government. “I think it is a very bad decision,” he said in a phone conversation. “When I was in the Senate I was able to stop it from being moved forward and being approved. So I decided I am no different than any other concerned Alaskan, and I decided to write a letter to every store chain that serves food in major quantities to ask them not to sell that product.” While many major stores in Alaska, such as Safeway, have pledged to not carry so called Frankenfish, others have remained noncommittal. In his letter to Walmart president Doug McMillon, Begich wrote: “At a minimum, this product must be labeled so Alaskans can make an informed choice about what they are buying and serving to their families. Consumers have a right to know whether they are eating something from the waters of Bristol Bay, Southeast, Cordova or anywhere else in Alaska…or a test tube…I hope you will join me in continuing that effort without compromising the most sustainable fishing industry in the world that exists right here in Alaska.”  “If the people making this fake fish believe it’s such a good product, then label it,” he fumed on the phone. Begich broadened the discussion of fish threats to North Pacific waters, which are getting warmer and more acidic.  “You can’t have sustainable fisheries without sustainable waters,” he stressed. “If we don’t have sustainable ecosystems, everything that lives or thrives on it or uses it will be at risk.” Alaska’s current delegation has voted against every clean air, clean water and climate change measure that has come before Congress, and Begich said it’s time for them “to accept reality.”  “Climate change is real and those who continue to deny it live in a world that doesn’t exist. And the fact that Sen. (Dan) Sullivan, who ran against me, continues to deny it 100 percent is a mistake,” Begich said. “I support the oil and gas industry, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support solid, scientific-based regulations to ensure that our air and waters are protected.” The former senator criticized the “knee jerk reaction to just say no to everything because it makes a good bullet statement in a TV ad or a brochure.” “Always opting for the negative is no way to govern,” he continued. “There is so much we should be focused on in the Alaska resource arena, and just being a no voice is not good enough. It should be a yes voice in trying to figure out how to improve everything from fisheries, oil and gas, all of it for the betterment of Alaskans and this country. What’s happening in Washington is the race to the negative, and not a race to getting things done for the long term benefit of the people we represent.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Despite some encouraging signs that Pacific halibut stocks are stabilizing after being on a downward spiral for nearly two decades, catches could decrease slightly in most regions again next year. That’s IF fishery managers accept the catch recommendations by halibut scientists, which they don’t always do. At the International Pacific Halibut Commission interim meeting Dec. 1-2 in Seattle, the total 2016 catch, meaning for the West Coast, British Columbia and Alaska, was recommended at 26.56 million pounds, down from 29.22 million pounds this year. For Alaska, which always gets the lion’s share of the annual halibut harvest, the total take would be 20.32 million pounds, a decrease of less than 1 million pounds. Halibut catches for all but two Alaska regions would drop slightly, with Area 3B, the Western Gulf, and area 4CDE in the Bering Sea seeing slight increases. Here are the 2016 recommended catch limits for the six Alaska regions where halibut is harvested, with comparisons to the 2015 catches in parentheses: • Area 2C (Southeast Alaska): 4.63 million pounds (4.65M) • Area 3A (Central Gulf of Alaska): 9.37 million pounds (10.1M) • Area 3B (Western Gulf of Alaska): 2.67 million pounds, (2.65M) • Area 4A (Alaska Peninsula): 1.39 million pounds (1.3M) • Area 4B (Aleutian Islands): 910,000 pounds (1.14M) • Area 4CDE (Bering Sea): 1.44 million pounds (1.29M) There are several encouraging signs for the Pacific halibut stocks, according to IPHC staff biologist Ian Stewart. “Both the data and the models indicate the stock is relatively stable, and we are seeing some positive trends in some of the catch rate information,” Stewart said in his presentation. “Generally, what we have seen is the yields we have been taking out of the stock over the past five years appear to be pretty consistent with the amount of production available from the stock. We are getting a flat trend, so what we are taking out must not be too far in excess of what is available to be taken out and still maintain roughly the same biomass level.” Other good news showed that female halibut appear to be shifting towards higher weights, after decades of declines. A 16-year-old fish today averages 20 pounds, compared to 50 pounds in 1975, but the weights seem to be slowly moving towards more normal “weight at age” sizes. Also, halibut bycatch by Bering Sea trawlers and freezer longliners dropped this year by more than 1 million pounds, but is still pushing 8 million pounds in the region that abuts the Pribilof Islands. Final decisions on halibut catches, season start/end dates, and regulation changes will be made by the IPCH at its annual meeting set for Jan. 25-29 in Juneau. Five regulation changes are proposed for consideration at the January meeting. The Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association is requesting that the halibut size limit be reduced from 32 inches to 30 inches. Based on reports from the 2013 fishery observer program in the Gulf of Alaska, FVOA stated that, “the directed halibut fleet is releasing 8.7 million pounds of undersized halibut (less than 32 inches). New reports suggest that with a two-inch reduction in size limit, the fleet could reduce handling by 58 percent, and reduce wastage from 1.35 million pounds to 0.58 million pounds.” Another proposal by KC Dochtermann, a Kodiak fisherman, recommends a maximum size limit of 60 inches for all halibut caught by commercial and sport users. “An established maximum size limit would serve the objective of protecting large halibut that are the spawning biomass. Providing protective status for this class of fish would hopefully help the total biomass recover at a faster pace,” Dochtermann wrote, adding that the change should be implemented for a five to ten year test period to monitor its effectiveness. In other halibut news, Jeff Kauffman, a commercial fisherman from Wasilla was chosen for one of six Halibut Commission seats (split between Americans and Canadians). Kauffman, whose selection drew positive responses from the industry, replaces Don Lane of Homer who will remain as an alternate. (Editor’s note: Kauffman is also the CEO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, the Community Development Quota group for the island of St. Paul.) Aging of the fleet Alaskans often talk about the ‘”aging of the fleet” in terms of resident fishermen growing older (the average age is 47), but the adage also applies to Alaska’s boats. According to a state Dept. of Commerce report aimed at identifying what services are needed by the fleet that could be done in-state instead of Outside, roughly 9,400 boats over 28 feet in length makeup Alaska’s maritime fleet.  Of those, 69 percent are in the fishing and processing sector, 15 percent are recreational boats; freight carriers, sightseeing and oil and gas vessels make up the rest. Over 90 percent of the Alaska fishing fleet is less than 100 feet long; 74 percent are under 50 feet. The bulk of the boats were built between 1970 and 1989; nearly 1,000 are over 50 years old. The older boats soon will be required to comply with new safety requirements as part of the 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act. “The Alternate Compliance Safety Program is aimed at vessels that are 25 years old by 2020 and greater than 50 feet in length, and operating beyond three nautical miles.  So this is a new program,” said Troy Rentz, Alternate Safety Compliance Coordinator for the USCG 13th District. “The requirements won’t become mandatory until Jan. 1 of 2020 for most vessels. However the Coast Guard needs to proscribe the program by Jan. 1 of 2017,” he added. Coming up faster: By Feb. 16, 2016 a new law will require that survival crafts must keep all parts of the body out of the water, meaning floats and other buoyant apparatus will no longer be legal. The intent is to prevent hypothermia and effects of cold water that lead to drowning, Rentz said, adding that “there may be some exceptions for unique operating environments.” Gunnar goes Gunnar Knapp, one of the most recognized names in Alaska’s salmon industry, is retiring from the University of Alaska at the end of the academic year next June. Along with his work as a fisheries economist, Knapp is director of the University’s Institute of Social and Economic Research, or ISER. In a letter to colleagues, Knapp said: “I have worked at ISER for 35 years—my entire career. I feel immensely lucky at the opportunities I have had to work with so many talented and dedicated colleagues, to study so many fascinating and important issues, and to spend the final three years of my career as Director. I can’t imagine a more interesting and rewarding career than studying and teaching about Alaska’s resources, economy and society.” His retirement is a long-planned decision, he said, which will give him more time to focus on other projects and interests. He will continue research work at ISER on a part time basis, focusing on Alaska’s fiscal challenges, and his decades-long research on Alaska’s salmon industry and markets. That includes finishing his book titled “The Economics of Fish” and delving into other writing and consulting projects. “Most importantly, I need to spend more time with my family,” Knapp said. “Before I get too much older and slower, I want to do a lot more skiing, biking, hiking and enjoying the beauty of Alaska which so entranced me when I first came here. And I want to play a lot more music.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Symphony of Seafood entries open, probably not GM salmon

The call is out for products to compete in Alaska’s most celebrated seafood bash, and another new category has been added to the mix. For the 23rd year, the Symphony of Seafood in 2016 will showcase innovative new products that are entered both by major Alaska seafood companies and small “mom and pops,” such as last year’s top winner, Pickled Willy’s of Kodiak smoked black cod tips. All entries are judged privately by a panel of experts in several categories, based on the product’s packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success. A coveted People’s Choice award also is voted on by seafood lovers at gala events held in Seattle, Anchorage and Juneau in February. The traditional categories of retail, food service and smoked were expanded last year to include Beyond the Plate — items made from seafood byproducts. “There are companies and individuals around the state that are making all kinds of things from fish parts. It really opens the door to more innovators, and can include anything from fish oil capsules to salmon leather wallets,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which has hosted the Symphony since it launched in 1993. The 2015 Beyond the Plate winner was Yummie Chummies Pet Treats, made since 1998 by Arctic Paws of Anchorage. New to the Symphony line up next year is another category: Beyond the Egg. It will include products such as herring roe on kelp, salmon caviar, or uni (urchin) paste or crème brulee. “A significant portion of the value and health benefits in any fishery resource is found in the roe. Now the Symphony will have a category in which these products will be recognized and promoted, and further product development will be encouraged,” Decker said. The top winners in each category are given an opportunity to display their products in March at Seafood Expo North America in Boston, one of the world’s largest trade shows. “The multiple locations give companies the opportunity to introduce new value-added seafood products made from Alaska seafood and gain exposure with industry and culinary experts, seafood distributors, and national media,” Decker said. The deadline to enter the 2016 Seafood of Symphony is Jan. 8. Find entry forms and more information at Frankenfish feedback Reports of public discontent came rolling in immediately after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval last week of genetically modified salmon for human consumption. The “test tube” fish is being produced in Canada and Panama by Massachusetts-based, AquaBounty Technologies and will be sold under the “AquAdvantage” brand. A New York Times readership poll found that 75 percent of respondents would not eat salmon that had been genetically engineered. And according to Friends of the Earth, over 60 U.S. grocery store chains operating 9,000 storefronts have vowed to not sell GMO or genetically modified products, including Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Target, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods. “Despite FDA’s flawed and irresponsible approval of the first genetically engineered animal for human consumption, it’s clear that there is no place in the U.S. market for genetically engineered salmon,” said Lisa Archer, a Friends of the Earth spokesperson. “People don’t want to eat it and grocery stores are refusing to sell it.” The group also claims that at least 35 other types of genetically engineered fish are under development. Nearly 1.8 million people have sent letters to the FDA opposing the approval of so-called Frankenfish, along with 3,000 consumer and health organizations. Because the man-made fish is categorized under “veterinary procedures” it will not require labeling on U.S. supermarket shelves. “There were over 250 million wild salmon harvested in Alaska and Puget Sound this year. Why should we put this sustainable resource at risk for the benefit of a few multinational corporations who will, sooner or later, introduce GMO salmon into their floating feed lots? Americans will be eating synthetic salmon, thinking they are receiving the nutritional benefits of wild salmon,” said Dr. Pete Knutson, owner of Loki Fish Company and Commissioner on the Puget Sound Salmon Commission. Fish watch The preliminary harvest for roe herring next spring at Sitka Sound will be 15,674 tons, nearly double this year’s quota of 8,712 tons. The final harvest will be announced by state managers in early March. The state is predicting a harvest of 34 million pink salmon next year in Southeast Alaska, which is below the recent 10-year average of 38 million pinks. The University of Washington Alaska Salmon Program is predicting a harvest of 34.1 million sockeye next year at Bristol Bay, well above the 29.5 million forecast released by state managers. The UW forecast is paid for each year by Bristol Bay processors. The Bering Sea pollock catch next year is likely to be another big one — equal to or greater than this year’s 1.3 million metric tons, or about three billion pounds. Deckboss reports that the average Eastern Bering Sea pollock harvest has averaged 1.18 million tons (2.6 billion pounds) from 1977-2015. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected]

Public comments sought for ADFG budgets, halibut bycatch

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

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

The popular January Tanner crab fishery has been called off for the third year running throughout the Westward Region (Kodiak, Chignik and the South Peninsula), leaving fishermen and managers wondering where all the crab has gone. State managers for several years have been tracking a huge plug of crab that appeared poised to enter the 2016 Tanner fishery, but based on this summer’s surveys, the crab have failed to materialize. “In 2013 saw a very large cohort of juveniles in the survey estimated at over 200 million crab, which was one of the largest we’ve had going back to the early 1980s,” said Mark Stichert, area manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. “We saw those crab again in 2014 and they were a year older and a year larger, however, there was a fairly significant decline to about 113 million crab. “And then in 2015, unfortunately, that number dropped again significantly to just over 40 million total crab in the survey around the Kodiak area.” Stichert speculated the Tanner drop off is due to increased predation by growing numbers of cod, pollock and flatfish throughout the Gulf regions, along with other environmental factors. “We’re seeing continued recruitment into the fishery, meaning juvenile and small crab generations are being spun off every year,” he said. “We don’t completely understand why those crab aren’t maturing through the population to get to the legal size.” It takes about six years for the Gulf Tanner crab to grow to their mature, two-pound size. A fleet of 50 or more Kodiak boats and about 30 at the Alaska Peninsula target Tanners. The mid-January fishery, which in past years has dwindled to around one million pounds, is usually worth several million dollars to fishermen. “It’s a bummer because the money is good and it’s just downright fun to catch local crab,” said Tyler O’Brien, a Kodiak fisherman. “I understand why we need to stand down another year, but I just hope they are able to do good surveys with the tight budget situation.” By the way, Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross, which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. TPP tariffs Details are just now coming to light on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, which includes a dozen countries and covers 40 percent of the global economy. One thing is clear: Alaska seafood will net a big benefit from the trade pact signed last month. Supporters claim it will create a powerful economic bloc with reduced trade barriers for all kinds of goods and data, including lowered or zeroed-out tariffs, the taxes on imports that make them more expensive to consumers. For pollock surimi products and pollock roe going to Japan, for example, tariffs of 4.2 percent on both would immediately go to zero upon the agreement going into place, said Ron Rogness, a spokesman for American Seafoods, whose fleet fishes for pollock in the Bering Sea. Rogness said the new agreement also would remove a bone of contention for pollock. “It’s been a point of contention for the U.S. industry that imports of warm water surimi from Asian countries like Thailand have been coming in at a favorable rate of duty of 2 percent relative to our 4.2 percent. Given the fact that our fisheries are much more sustainably managed and there have been questionable labor practices in some of these Asian fisheries, it’s been a sore spot that they’ve had a more favorable tax situation entering Japan,” he explained. The value of U.S. surimi exports to Japan last year was $67.7 million and $156.8 million for pollock roe. “Multiply that by 0.042, and the combined tariffs equals $9.4 million,” Rogness said. Currently, the seafood tariffs across the partnership countries range from 3.5 to 11 percent An Intrafish chart shows that the tax on sockeye salmon — now at 3.5 percent — would also be zeroed out immediately. For other salmon species, the import tax would be gradually reduced and eventually eliminated. Tariffs on king and snow crab, herring roe and frozen cod also would be removed immediately. The TPP still has a long way to go. The trade deal must still be ratified by each country, including the U.S., and it faces stiff opposition on several fronts. Rogness predicted it will be at least two years before the TPP is approved. Fish watch The Pacific halibut fishery ended for the year on Saturday, Nov. 7, with nearly the entire 17-million pound Alaska catch limit taken by longliners. Halibut prices remained in the $6 to $7 range or higher in major ports since the fishery opened in early March. Kodiak was poised to take the title of No. 1 port for halibut landings from Homer by just a few thousand pounds. The sablefish fishery also ended on Nov. 7. Southeast Alaska’s demersal shelf rockfish season opens Nov. 8 with an 88,000-pound quota. That fishery includes yellow eye, canary and five other kinds of tasty rockfish. Also ongoing in Southeast are dive fisheries for urchins, geoduck clams and sea cucumbers, which are going fast. Just 380,000 pounds remained in the nearly 1.5 million pound sea cuke quota. Crabbers are still dropping pots for Dungeness and some regions remain open for big spot shrimp. Trollers continue targeting chinook in the winter fishery, which has seen prices increase to $6.65 per pound. Pollock fisheries in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska ended for the year on Nov. 1, while fishing continues for cod, flounders and other groundfish. The Bristol Bay red king crab fishery has been fast and phenomenal with nearly all of the 9-million pound quota taken in less than three weeks A total of 65 boats signed on for the fishery with a payout reported at $7 a pound for red king crab, up 90 cents from last year. Bering Sea boats will likely switch to the 20 million pound bairdi Tanner crab fishery after the red king closure. Looking ahead– fishery managers are calling for another big salmon run next summer to Bristol Bay of more than 46 million sockeyes, which would yield a catch of 31.24 million reds. Finally, the Board of Fisheries meets Nov. 30- Dec. 1 in Anchorage. The focus this meeting is on Alaska Peninsula, Chignik, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea state water cod fisheries. Comments can be submitted to the Fish Board through Nov. 19. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska tops fishing ports; trawlers may get pot gear option

Alaska claimed the top three fishing ports for landings again last year, and led all U.S. states in terms of seafood landings and values. “The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor continued to lead the nation with the highest amount of seafood landings – 761.8 million pounds, 87 percent of which was walleye pollock,” said Dr. Richard Merrick in announcing the national rankings last week from the annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report for 2014. It’s the 18th year in a row that Dutch Harbor has claimed the top spot for fish landings. Kodiak ranked second and the Aleutian Islands was number three, thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. In all, 13 Alaska communities made the top 50 list for landings: Alaska Peninsula (8), Naknek (10), Sitka (14), Ketchikan (15), Cordova (16), Petersburg (20), Bristol Bay (23), Seward (27), Kenai (34) and Juneau (45). In terms of the value of all that seafood, Dutch Harbor was second at $191 million, coming in behind New Bedford, Mass. for the 15th consecutive year. The relatively small 140-million pound catch at that New England port was worth nearly $330 million at the docks, due to the pricey Atlantic scallop fishery. Other highlights: Alaska led all states in total seafood landings of 5.7 billion pounds, and total value at $1.7 billion. Alaska accounted for nearly 95 percent of all salmon landings, with West Coast states making up the rest. Pacific halibut fishery accounted for all but 101,000 pounds of the 23.2 million pound landings last year. Average price to fishermen was $4.94 a pound, compared to $3.89 the previous year. Alaska has 150 processing plants employing nearly 11,000 people. The average ex-vessel price paid to U.S. fishermen was 57 cents per pound last year compared to 55 cents in 2013. Nearly half of the world’s seafood consumption comes from aquaculture; the U.S. ranks 14th in production. Americans ate 14.6 pounds of fish and shellfish last year, pretty much unchanged from the past several years. The NOAA report also includes U.S. recreational marine fishing data and much more. Trawlers turn to pot One of the tools being talked about to help trawlers reduce salmon and halibut bycatch is the opportunity to voluntarily convert to pot gear to catch Pacific cod. It’s an option being discussed by North Pacific Fishery Management Council as they craft a trawl bycatch reduction plan for the Gulf of Alaska. “What the council is trying to do is give the fleet tools to fish in a way that is going to get less bycatch, and thus keep the fisheries open longer, because the amount of bycatch that is taken can constrain a fishery,” said Sam Cunningham, a council economist. “If you’re not in a race for fish, one strategy would be to use pot gear instead of trawl gear.” Currently, if the Gulf trawl fleet takes 7,500 chinook salmon, or 3.8 million pounds of halibut, fisheries for cod, flounders and other groundfish are shut down. Cod is the only groundfish species included because it currently can be taken with both trawl and pot gear. A focus now, Cunningham said, is on crafting protections and catch accounting methods to make sure trawl converts would not infringe on the catches designated to other gears. “The trawl, hook and line, pot and jig sectors all have specific P-cod allocations,” he said, “and we want to maintain that.” There are about 20 trawl catcher/processors and 70 catcher vessels operating in the Gulf of Alaska, home based mostly at Kodiak, Sand Point and King Cove. Comments wanted Mariners have until Nov. 16 to comment on plans to pull the plug on a GPS signal still counted on by many tugs, barges, ferries and fishing boats. Claiming declining usage, the federal government intends to shut down 62 Differential Global Positioning System, or DGPS, sites across the country on Jan. 15, 2016, leaving 22 sites available to users in coastal areas. Alaska currently has 15 DGPS sites; six are scheduled to close. The DGPS was brought on line in 1999 to supplement satellite-based GPS by providing better accuracy using land-based reference stations to transmit correction messages over radio beacon frequencies. “What we’ve discovered is that the technology for GPS satellites and receivers has increased so much, the need to have so many signals really isn’t there anymore,” said Petty Officer John Gallagher who serves aboard the USCG Cutter Spar based in Kodiak. “A Federal Aviation Administration study in 2014 showed that GPS without the differential antenna signal achieved accuracy of position of less than one meter, in most cases.” Lt. Commander Doug Jannusch, captain of the Spar, agreed. “We’re out there in the Aleutians with our ship positioning buoys to very high accuracy and not using differential antennas. If it’s good enough for us, it’s also sufficient for people to safely navigate waterways.” Others argue that’s fine for open seas, but operating in harbors, fjords and other tight spots prevent the line of sight. Nearly all of the 36 comments posted so far on the Department of Transportation website expressed concerns about decommissioning the DGPS. “Our daily operation requires an accurate DGPS signal for position making in the narrow waterways of Southeast Alaska. This is especially important during times of inclement weather when standard piloting methods and RADAR become limited,” wrote Wayne Carnes, captain of the High Speed Craft Fairweather. … My ship travels at 36kts while carrying 250 passengers and 40 vehicles — so an accurate position is critical. The redundancy of these stations ensures that we get the needed accuracy at all times.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Alaska’s 2015 salmon season produced the second largest harvest ever, but rock bottom prices yielded the lowest pay out to fishermen since 2006. That will cut into the tax base of coastal communities and state coffers, which collect fully half of all fish landing taxes. Preliminary tallies from the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game show that the statewide salmon catch topped 263 million fish (the record is 273 million in 2013) with an ex-vessel (dockside) value at $414 million, a 28 percent decrease from last year. The salmon dollar values don’t include post-season bonuses or price adjustments after sales are made. Using ex-vessel figures also chronically undervalues the Alaska salmon fishery, because what is paid at the docks represents only 40 percent of the fishery’s value. “The first wholesale prices are a better indicator,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist with the Juneau-based McDowell Group. “That is typically defined as the value of the product when it leaves Alaska.” Taking honors for the most valuable salmon fishing region — and one of only three regions to show increases — was Prince William Sound. The total catch was valued at $118 million, compared to $104 million last season. A record pink salmon haul of more than 98 million pushed PWS to the top spot. Bristol Bay ranked second in terms of salmon fishery value at nearly $95 million — due to 50-cent reds, that’s down from $196 million. Southeast Alaska also experienced a huge salmon value decrease to just over $89 million, compared to $147 million a year ago. Kodiak came in fourth for its salmon fishery valued at $37 million, a drop from $46 million last season. Fishermen at Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula both hauled in $30 million worth of salmon this summer. For the Inlet, that was a drop of $7 million; conversely, it was nearly a $3 million increase at the Peninsula. The only other Alaska region to see a boost in salmon values was Norton Sound at $1.9 million, up just slightly from last year. The value of the Kuskokwim region’s salmon fishery was just $870,000, compared to $2.2 million; it was $2.7 million at the Yukon, down slightly, and $826,000 at Kotzebue, a drop from nearly $3 million last season. Below are the average 2015 Alaska dock prices per salmon species, with comparisons to last year’s prices in parentheses: Chinook: $3.01 ($4.07); sockeye: $0.71 ($1.37); coho: $0.65 ($1.15); pink: $0.20 ($0.30); chum: $0.48 ($0.60). Flushing hurts fish In the popular movie “Saving Nemo,” the captive little fish was flushed down a drain to the sea and freedom. Lost in the story is the fact that the U.S. health industry each year flushes thousands of tons of unused pharmaceuticals down sink drains and toilets. Now, the federal government is getting ready to turn off the spigot. An ongoing investigative report by the Associated Press called “Health care industry sends tons of drugs into nation’s wastewater system,” revealed that few of the nation’s hospitals or long term care homes keep data on the drugs they dump. Some are incinerated, some goes to landfills, but most are flushed, without violating any regulations. One thing is clear: traces of the medicines persist through wastewater treatment systems and are discharged into surface or ground waters.  The Environmental Protection Agency estimates the annual amount of waste pharmaceuticals flushed down sinks and toilets at over 6,400 tons. Last year the EPA added pharmaceuticals to its list of “major pollutants of concern” and is now proposing to ban the flushing practice altogether. Pharmaceuticals and another closely related culprit — personal care products — began raising red flags in the mid-2000s when chemical traces were increasingly found in surface waters and sediments. In a first ever nationwide assessment of 524 urban rivers done in 2008-09, the EPA found seven pharmaceuticals in fish tissue samples, mostly antihistamines and antidepressants. Alaska has begun doing some fresh water testing in its Fish Monitoring Program with little data so far, said state veterinarian Bob Gerlach, and no marine sampling has been done.  “We have a small program with just two people so we rely on partners in the field to collect most of our samples,” he added. The public has until Dec. 18 to comment on the EPA’s plans to ban flushing of pharmaceuticals down toilets and drains. Fish watch The U.S. Senate last week unanimously passed the Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated Fishing Enforcement Act of 2015. The measure includes the international Port State Measures Act, which will bar suspected pirate fishing vessels and cargo ships from entering ports and offloading their illegal catches. The bill now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law. Also in Congress: Reps. Don Young and Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Wash., introduced legislation to change the market name of “Alaska pollock” to “pollock.” Under current FDA labeling standards, pollock caught in any part of the world can be labeled as “Alaska pollock.” “There’s no reason why foreign caught pollock should be disguised as Alaskan, especially given the significant management efforts we’ve taken in the North Pacific to create the most sustainable fishery in the world,” said Congressman Young. Scott Kelley of Juneau has been named as the new Director of the Commercial Fisheries Division, replacing Jeff Regnart who resigned earlier this month. Kelley is a 25 year ADF&G veteran, most recently as coordinator for shellfish and groundfish fisheries in Southeast Alaska. Alexa Tonkovich has been named executive director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Tonkovich has been with ASMI since 2009, most recently as International Program Director. Prior to that she was ASMI’s Asia and emerging markets manager. United Fishermen of Alaska is seeking a new executive director to replace Julianne Curry who is stepping down. UFA is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group, representing 35 member groups. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Moves against fish piracy continue; salmon second-best ever

Fish pirates are coming under fire as more countries band together to stop them from pilfering the world’s oceans. So-called Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated, or IUU, fishing accounts for one-fifth of global catches, according to the Global Ocean Commission, valued at $10 to $25 billion each year. Last month, at its annual Intergovernmental Consultative Committee meeting held in Portland, Ore., and after years in the making, the U.S. and Russia signed a bilateral agreement to combat IUU fishing. The pact, which has strong support from the Pacific Northwest/Alaska regions as well as environmental groups, aims to improve coordination among the multiple government agencies in both countries to combat IUU fishing. That will mean a big break for Bering Sea king crab — the poster child for being whacked by a pirate fishery. For decades, Alaska crabbers have competed against king crab illegally caught by Russian fleets. Direct losses to Bering Sea crabbers are estimated at $600 million since 2000, according to an analysis by the Juneau-based McDowell Group. Based on the weights of Russian crab purchased by global buyers versus official Russian harvest figures, pirated king crab totaled nearly 100 million pounds in 2013, accounting for 40 percent of the world market. Mark Gleason, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, was thrilled with the U.S./Russia agreement. “The fact that there has been a formal acknowledgement between the U.S. and Russia that illegal fishing is a problem, and it is an issue that is worthy of cooperation between our two countries — it is unprecedented, and a very welcome change,” Gleason said, adding that it is hard to put a number on Alaska’s fishing losses from the criminal activity. “If we’ve lost $600 million because of decreased ex-vessel prices, then obviously the fishing dependent communities have also lost millions in taxes and landing revenues. So it’s not just an issue that impacts crab harvesters, it hurts communities, the State of Alaska and frankly, it impacts the legal Russian producers because we all are competing in the same markets. So there’s a lot of pain to go around.” Indeed there is. According to a 2014 study called “Estimates of illegal and unreported fish in seafood imports to the USA” in the journal Marine Policy, nearly 90 percent of U.S. seafood is imported, and as much as one-third of that is caught illegally or without proper documentation. “This trade represents between 4 percent and 16 percent of the value of the global illegal fish catch and reveals the unintentional role of the USA, one of the largest seafood markets in the world, in funding the profits of illegal fishing,” the study says. Among the worst IUU violations: up to 40 percent of tuna imported to the U.S. from Thailand, nearly 45 percent of pollock imports from China, and 70 percent of salmon imports. (The latter species are likely to have been caught in Russian waters, but transshipped at sea and processed in China.) The U.S. has been slow in imposing IUU trade regulations that require things like seafood traceability and certificates of origin. The primary U.S. law to discourage imports of illegally caught fish is the Lacey Act, which is intended to stop imports and sales of products that “are extracted in violation of the source country’s conservation provisions or international law.” However, the Lacey Act as currently implemented does not include any proactive mechanisms for detecting illegal fish products as they enter the U.S. and can only be used to sanction violators once they have been discovered. Meanwhile, the U.S.-Russia Intergovernmental Committee will now begin developing a framework for implementation of the new IUU agreement to curtail pirate catches of crab, pollock, cod, salmon and other species. An international Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, that would cut off markets from fish pirates languishing in Congress, after being passed by the Senate a year ago. The PSMA would strengthen port inspections, toughen standards for foreign flagged vessels and prevent illegal products from entering world markets. And in an IUU victory hailed last week, a Spanish court doled out three years in jail and $17 million in fines to Chilean toothfish pirates, who attempted to scuttle their falsely flagged boat, the F/V Thunder. Salmon stats Alaska’s 2015 salmon catch of nearly 257 million fish is the second-largest ever, behind only the record 273 million salmon taken in 2013. The numbers are still being crunched in terms of values and the average prices paid to fishermen, but those totals will be far less than last year. The shortfall stems from lower salmon prices across the board, driven especially by the 50 cents per pound base price for a catch of 36 million sockeye salmon taken at Bristol Bay. That harvest totaled about $95 million at the docks, compared to $193 million last year. In all, the statewide sockeye catch topped 53 million reds. Pink salmon catches set records in several regions this summer — at Prince William Sound fishermen hauled in more than 98 million humpies, over 29 million were taken at Kodiak and over 16 million pinks were caught at the Alaska Peninsula. The statewide pink salmon take totaled nearly 184 million fish. At an average weight of 3.5 pounds each at 20 cents per pound, the value of the pink pack will likely total around $128 million. For other salmon: The chinook catch of around half a million is typical for the summer. Catches of nearly 16 million chums and 3.6 million coho salmon were both a million fish shy of preseason expectations. Fish polls A majority of Alaskans and British Columbians are concerned about mining issues in transboundary river watersheds, according to polls in the respective countries. The two polls were commissioned by Salmon Beyond Borders and SkeenaWild, and conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. They included 815 respondents from B.C. and 500 from Alaska during late August. Some highlights from a press release include: • Nearly three-quarters of Alaska respondents expressed concern about a mining waste spill in B.C. affecting shared watersheds, with the number jumping to 86 percent for Southeast Alaska respondents. • 76 percent of Alaska respondents want Alaska to have a seat at an international table to address concerns about upstream B.C. mining in shared transboundary watersheds. Forty-five percent said their vote for a member of Congress hinges on elected officials pushing for this seat at the table. • 65 percent of British Columbians were less likely to support mines in northwest B.C. that could affect the integrity of Alaska’s water quality. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska pollock vs. Russia; crab season underway

When is Alaska pollock not really Alaska pollock? When it is listed as such by the Food and Drug Administration, which governs what every seafood product will be called in U.S. commerce. For pollock, one of the most widely eaten seafoods in the U.S., the FDA applies the “Alaska” moniker to all fish of that species on its market list, regardless of where it is caught. “So if the fish is caught in Korea or Japan or Russia, it still can be sold as Alaska pollock in the United States. And that’s not the case with Alaska salmon or halibut or Alaska crab,” said Pat Shanahan, Program Director for the trade group Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers, or GAPP. “That’s why we are called the Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers,” she quipped. “It’s not enough to say we’re just the Alaska pollock producers, because we could be from Russia. The FDA’s Seafood List guidelines discourage use of “geographic descriptors” in market names, but for more than 30 years that standard has not been applied to Alaska pollock. No one is quite sure how that came to be, but it likely stemmed from the boom in the Bering Sea pollock fishery that began in the early 1980s, and the flood of new fish was simply tagged “Alaska” by federal bureaucrats. Pollock from Alaska has grown to be the nation’s largest food fishery, accounting for 11 percent of fresh and frozen fish consumption. Recent surveys by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute showed that the “Alaska” logo is the second most recognizable brand at the nation’s top casual dining and fast food sectors (Oreo is No. 1). But when you eat a fish sandwich at a favorite restaurant, or serve up a batch of fish sticks to the kids, it might say Alaska Pollock on the menu or packaging – but between 40 to 50 percent of the fish likely comes from Russia. A nationwide GAPP survey revealed that the “vast majority said they would feel misled if their fish was labeled from Alaska and it wasn’t,” Shanahan said. “People want to know where their food is coming from. They want to support well-managed U.S. fisheries, and have confidence in product safety and quality. Right now they don’t have that choice.” The Alaskan and Russian fisheries are held to very different standards, pointed out market expert John Sackton of “The Alaska Bering Sea pollock fishery is recognized as one of the best managed and closely monitored fisheries in the world,” Sackton said. “All kinds of bycatch, habitat and eco-system protections are in place; that is not the case for the Russian fishery.” Likewise for fish processing. Russian caught pollock often is of inferior quality because chemicals and water are frequently added to the final products, which are then frozen several times before going to markets. “It enters the U.S. market at a lower price, and the damage is done,” Sackton said. “It turns consumers off to the genuine Alaskan article.” The GAPP group has been pushing the labeling change with the FDA for a year. “Our request is to remove the name Alaska from the FDA market name. If they do that, only fish that is from Alaska would be able to be labeled Alaska pollock. It really is a no-brainer,” Shanahan said. The FDA list of acceptable market names is updated continuously, Sackton said, adding that 19 changes have been made over the past year.  “There is no legal reason the FDA cannot make the change in the Alaska pollock market name as requested,” he said. The fish issue picked up steam this month with a bipartisan bill introduced by Alaska and Washington senators that officially requests the pollock name change on federal seafood rosters. Also included in the same bill is a request for the FDA to change the name of Alaska “brown” king crab to “golden” on its seafood list.  “Golden is the legal name used by the managing agencies and the marketers, and the state and industry petitioned the FDA a year ago for the correction,” said Linda Kozak, a consultant from Kodiak. As with Alaska pollock, the name change would provide more clarity and consistency in the market, and in the case of golden king crab, more appeal.  “It’s like the difference between labeling it ‘dog’ salmon and ‘Kita,’ which is a chum’s real name. Which do you think a customer would prefer?” Kozak added. Crab catches The catch numbers for Bering Sea crabbers are a mix of good and bad news. For Bristol Bay red king crab, crabbers were anticipating a cut, but the catch quota of nearly 10 million pounds is down just six percent from last year. Tanner crab catches continued on an upswing to nearly 20 million pounds, an increase of 5 million pounds. The bad news is the harvest quota for snow crab – 40.6 million pounds is a 40 percent drop from last season. The Bering Sea crab fisheries open on Oct. 15. Crab shares clarification The new “active participant” rules for owning catch shares of Bering Sea crab applies to crew/skippers only and does not affect vessel shares, as I implied last week.  “In the past there were no restrictions as far as participation and future ownership. But a federal requirement went into place this year that says if you are not participating now and don’t participate in the future, a revocation of crew quota could occur by July 1, 2019,” said Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers in Seattle. That has prompted an uptick in listings of crew shares and pushed down prices by roughly 20 percent. Vessel shares represent 97 percent of the crab quota market, which remains strong, Osborn said, adding “there are no new (participation) requirements at this time.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Hot halibut and crab permits, not so much for salmon

“Unsettled” best describes the mood among brokers in the business of buying, selling and trading Alaska salmon permits and quota shares of various catches. For salmon permits, “the dust hasn’t really settled” since the season ended, said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer, but at the moment, prices are tanking across the board. “There were a few bright spots but several areas in the state did not do well, either because of production or price or both. That’s put a downward press on permit prices,” he added. Bristol Bay drift gillnet permits have taken the biggest hit after another huge sockeye run ran into a perfect storm of backlogged markets, depressed global currencies and record imports of foreign farmed fish. Bay fishermen were shocked to get a base price of 50 cents per pound, down from an average $1.34 last summer. “Those permit prices in the spring were as high as $175,000 and last week we sold one for $112,000. That’s a big drop in just a few short months. And we see a similar pattern with other salmon gillnet permits,” Bowen said, adding that “there is almost no interest — not yet anyway.” Likewise, there’s little action in the salmon seine permit market. “It will be interesting to see what happens at Prince William Sound,” Bowen said. “They had a record year with 97 million pinks but got just 20 cents a pound. So, great production, lousy price. There are several permits on the market at $200,000, but no interest. And at Kodiak, several seine permits are listed at under $40,000, but again, no interest yet.” Salmon power troll permits were the only ones moving in Southeast Alaska, according to Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. At listings of $35,000 to $46,000 “those are still down $5,000,” she said. Both brokers agree that as salmon forecasts come out for next year, buying interest is likely to tick up. But a bad fishing season means there is not a lot of excess capital floating around to upgrade or buy a new boat, or add another permit to a fishing portfolio. “It was a dismal season the way the prices were,” said Olsen. “They might be catching more fish, but prices were too low to come out ahead. And if salmon prices stay down, guys are going to turn their interest to other areas.” “It’s still early,” said Bowen. “We’ll see how this plays out. Halibut shares higher than ever Anticipation that Alaska’s halibut catch limits might increase again next year has brought quota share sales to a “wait and see” standstill. Halibut quota is valued by region and various categories, all of which affect the offer/sales prices. “You can survey all the broker sites and sometime you won’t see one pound of 2C (Southeast) or 3A (Central Gulf) and very little 3B (Western Gulf) quota on the market,” Bowen said. “And sellers who do decide to sell quota want top dollar for it. And there are enough buyers out there who believe the catch limits in those areas are going up and they are willing to pay record high prices.” The price spike is driven by continuing high dock prices for halibut that this year have often topped $7 a pound at major ports. Last week Bowen’s shop sold Central Gulf halibut quota shares for $50 per pound “which is definitely the highest it’s ever traded for,” he said. For the Southeast region, Olsen said there is “big demand, but no quota to sell,” adding that prices have gone up to $55 a pound in some categories. “I hope these folks who think these catch limits are headed up are right, but I’m not convinced,” said Doug Bowen. “It’s been a long downward trend and just last year in the Central Gulf we took a 34 percent cut. We did get a little bit of an overall increase, but I don’t know if that signals that we are out of the woods and the resource is rebounding.” The industry will get a first glimpse at preliminary halibut catch limits at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s interim meeting in early December. The final numbers will be announced at the commission’s January meeting in Juneau. This year’s total catch limit for Alaska was 17 million pounds, up from 15.5 million last year and the first overall increase in a decade. Crab quota crunch New rules for owning shares of Bering Sea crab are prompting more sales action, especially for skippers and crew holding quota. A federal requirement went into place this year that restricts quota share ownership to active participants in the crab fisheries. “In the past there were no restrictions as far as participation and future ownership. But if you are not participating now and don’t participate in the future, a revocation of quota could occur by July 1, 2019,” said Jeff Osborn, the “go to” crab share expert at Dock Street Brokers in Seattle. “There are a number of guys who were awarded or purchased crab shares and have since gone on to other careers or had health issues, and they’ve been able to have their annual shares harvested and receive a royalty,” he explained. “But if they are unable to fish anymore, they can’t continue to do that. The new rules require him to get rid of the shares, or they’ll be taken back and redistributed among existing shareholders.” That has prompted the recent uptick in listings, he said, and pushed down prices. “I think the intent of the rule change is to provide people who are continuously involved in the fishery better access to crab. Although the intent is admirable, I think the effect is negative,” Osborn said. There is an assumption that a big pool of people are interested in acquiring quota shares, he said, but he believes that is wrong on two counts. “For one, you’ve got to be able to come up with financing in order to purchase it. And if you’re working on a crab boat now and interested in picking up some crew quota, but you know you’ll be forced to sell it if you have a career change, it takes a bit of the shine off the prospect of ownership,” Osborn said. The Bering Sea crab shares fall into four different categories, and the value for crew shares is down roughly 20 percent. Dock Street listings show Bristol Bay red king crab at $45 per pound, snow crab ranging from $14 to $20 and Tanner crab at $8 to $14 per pound. “But those prices are not representative of the current market and are based on last year’s catches,” Osborn clarified. “Everything will change in two weeks when this year’s catch numbers come out.” Salmon Day! Oct. 8th is being hailed as National Salmon Day in a promotion spawned by Chicken of the Sea. Tuna has a day, lobster, crab, even clams have a day. We thought that the second most popular seafood in the US deserved to have its own day. We are trying to make it accessible to everyone in the United States and all over the world,” said company spokesman Bob Ochsner, adding that Chicken of the Sea is a leader in canned and pouched salmon sales. The cities of San Diego and Chicago are having special Salmon Day celebrations, along with national “Pink Up Your Lunch” Twitter parties and prize offerings. Visit Chicken of the Sea for free downloadable coupons, recipes and more. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Crabbers fear shutdown; UAS offers troubleshooting courses

Bering Sea crabbers are again facing the possibility of a delayed fishery as congressional Republicans threaten to shut down the government, this time over federal funding of Planned Parenthood. A shutdown two years ago stalled the crab opener by two days, costing the fleet more than $5 million in food, fuel and other fees as the boats stood idly by for a week or more awaiting an outcome. “It was a huge mess last time,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of the trade group Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. “We have a very tight time frame — when the fishery opens on Oct. 15, we need to be out there getting that crab caught, processed and on its way to Japan to take advantage of the holiday market.” A shutdown means no federal workers are on the job to issue permits for those holding catch shares of the crab. No permits, no fishery. “You have a situation where you not only have harm to the crab fishermen, but also to the processors in the area. You have an economic impact to a whole region because you don’t have somebody in an agency who is there to pick up the phone, sign the piece of paper to issue the harvest limits, nothing can happen,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. The thing is, the Bering Sea crab fisheries are not beholden to federal dollars. The crabbers pay an annual fee each July based on their catches, which covers all management and enforcement costs (Alaska longliners with shares of halibut and sablefish do the same). “We’ve made the case that we pay our bills up front, we cover the costs of management, the money is in the bank and because this money is not subject to federal appropriations, the workers shouldn’t be subject to the furloughs and we should have the quotas issue on time,” Gleason said. In fact, according to the Federal Register, the fee was increased from 0.65 percent in 2013 to 1.48 percent last year and this year to cover increased costs to maintain and upgrade the permitting and Internet landings systems. That’s yielded more than $3 million in fishery coverage costs. “This is a program where the user fees cover the costs. It pays for itself, so you don’t need to wait around for a budget,” Murkowski added. The crabbers are hopeful senior fishery managers get the message, Gleason said. A government shutdown will have adverse impacts on all federally managed fisheries, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore. More than 80 percent of Alaska’s seafood by volume comes from federal waters. Train at home Many a fishing trip has been cut short by a hydraulics or electrical system break down, from a single pot hauler on a skiff to freezers on huge floating processors. That’s why self-paced, basic courses in both are offered to fishermen and other mariners online from the University of Alaska Southeast at Sitka. “There’s no class meetings, so whenever you have the time to get online and work through the material, as long as you have it finished in three months, you’re good to go,” said Teal Gordon, a UAS program support specialist. Fishermen brought the need for the training courses to university program planners, said Paul Rioux, who teaches the hydraulics course, the first of its kind, which was launched in 2011. “We jokingly refer to the hydraulics as the ‘ghost of the machine’ because a lot of fishermen have a real understanding of their engines and most of their gear, but few have a really good working knowledge of the technical side of how the hydraulics actually work,” Rioux said. “The real simple trollers or gillnetters only have an anchor winch or a set of gurdies or a net reel, but some boats have multiple systems with components controlling water pumps and freezer compressors and deck cranes and all sorts of things.” The hydraulics course takes six hours to complete on average and costs just $90. The Boat Electrical course includes basic theory, power generation and distribution, safety and wiring. “You get a 30-year-old boat and somebody adds something or takes something out and they leave the old wiring behind. Some of the wiring is just amazing,” said Alan Sorum, a former longtime Valdez harbormaster and port director who collaborated on the Boat Electrical course, now in its second year. A top feature, Sorum said, is the focus on troubleshooting. Just knowing the rights and wrongs of basic bonding and grounding, for example, would prevent a harbormaster’s biggest hassle. “Boats have AC and DC systems and if they’re not wired correctly you end up getting voltage or current in the wrong places and it causes all kinds of problems – for your boat and your neighbor’s boat – such as electrolysis,” Sorum said. “For me that was always the biggest hassle – someone would complain about having a hot harbor or a prop getting eaten up and it’s so hard to track down who’s causing the problem. The Boat Electrical course takes up to 15 hours to complete and costs $125. Both courses also count for continuing education credits and are available now. Visit the University of Southeast at Sitka or call 907-747-7762 to register. Fish watch Alaska’s salmon catch is nearing 256 million fish, well above the preseason forecast of 221 million. Hundreds of divers at Southeast Alaska will head down for geoduck clams starting Oct. 1 with a harvest set at 534,000 pounds in all regions but Sitka, which may not open. A sea urchin haul of more than 3.8 million pounds also opens that same day. The region’s sea cucumber dive fishery opens on Oct. 5 with a harvest of nearly 1.5 million pounds. Dungeness crabbing opens on Oct. 1 throughout the Panhandle. Kodiak and the Westward Region also will open for a sea cucumber fishery in October with a combined harvest 185,000 pounds. Alaska’s halibut catch has just over two million pounds remaining in this year’s 17 million pound catch limit. That fishery will close this year on Nov. 7. Fishing continues in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea for pollock, cod and other groundfish. Finally, 11 Alaskans are in the running for one seat on the International Pacific Halibut Commission. They include the incumbent Don Lane of Homer, Hunter Mann-Dempster of Sitka; Doug Vincent-Lang, former state Director of the Division of Wildlife Conservation; Karl Johnstone, former chair of the Board of Fisheries; Richard Yamada, a Juneau charter operator; Bob King of Juneau, former legislative assistant to Sen. Rob Begich; Stephanie Madsen of Juneau, director of the At-Sea Processors Association; Linda Behnken of Sitka, director of the Alaska Longline Fisheries Association; Jeff Kauffman, CEO of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association; Rob Edwardson, a former state environmental program manager, and Dan Hull (alternate only), chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Comments and support letters may be sent to [email protected] by Oct. 23. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Crab takes a dip; marine debris Christmas ornaments

Catches for Alaska’s premier crab fisheries in the Bering Sea could take a dip this year based on results from the annual summer surveys. The annual report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries division, called “The Eastern Bering Sea Continental Shelf Bottom Trawl Survey: Results from Commercial Crab Species” (long dubbed the ‘crab map’), shows tables reflecting big drops over the past year in abundance of legal sized males for both snow crab and red king crab at Bristol Bay. Only legal males are allowed to be retained for sale. But there is a bright side — both stocks appear to have strong numbers of younger crab set to recruit into the fisheries in coming years. The crab surveys — done since the 1970s — are conducted using trawl nets during June and July each year, and cover a span of 140,000 nautical square miles. The data from this summer show that for red king crab, legal male abundance was 8.7 million crabs, a 30 percent decrease. “In 2014, the harvest level was set at 9.98 million pounds, so one likely extrapolation may be a reduction in harvests in the 15 to 25 percent range,” said market expert John Sackton. An encouraging sign is that 99 percent of the females observed in Bristol Bay had full egg clutches, indicating high mating success. According to Jake Jacobsen of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents 70 percent of crab harvesters, the value of the 2014 Bristol Bay red king crab fishery, based on a dock prices of $6.77 per pound, was nearly $68 million. For snow crab, the survey numbers were down substantially, and Sackton predicts catch reductions will likely “be in excess of 20 percent” of last season’s 68 million pound harvest. The 2014 value of the snow crab fishery, based on a fishermen’s price of $2.04 per pound, was about $139 million at the docks. Last season’s biggest surprise was a whopping 15 million pound tnner crab catch, the largest in 20 years (bairdi tanners are the larger cousin of snow crab). This summer’s survey showed levels of male tanner crabs continued to increase, especially in the Eastern Bering Sea where the legal male biomass is the second largest since 1994. Most crabbers received $2.42 a pound for their Tanners making that fishery’s dockside value worth $36.5 million. The report also noted that for a second year in a row, average bottom and surface temperatures were warmer in both Bristol Bay and the rest of the eastern Bering Sea relative to recent years Catch quotas for the 2015 Bering Sea crab fisheries will be announced within a couple of weeks. The crab fisheries open on Oct. 15. Marine debris and the Christmas tree Four thousand ornaments representing Alaska’s marine life, landscapes, wildlife, heritage and more will adorn the 215 U.S. Capitol Christmas tree this holiday season. The Chugach National Forest was chosen to provide the “People’s Tree” this year, which will sit on the front lawn of the White House. Since 1970 the U.S. Forest Service has chosen a different national forest each year to provide the famous tree. Ten artists from the honored state are handpicked (in this case, by the Alaska State Council of the Arts) to create ornaments that reflect something special about their particular area. The artists also provide lesson plans and patterns for students and community members to make the ornaments for the People’s Tree. For Bonnie Dillard, a retired high school art teacher from Kodiak, her chosen theme is fish ornaments made from marine debris. “This isn’t just a cute idea, this is something that is trying to communicate a problem,” Dillard said. “Every time you walk on the beach you see garbage, especially plastics. When people are handling the marine debris while they are making the ornaments, I want the conversation to be about what happens to our garbage. And when people see the ornaments, I want them to think about the things they are throwing away and where it ends up. I’m hoping this will be an avenue to get the word out.” More Alaskan ornaments are needed by Oct. 1. Acid oceans road show A first of its kind, interactive learning tool to help people better understand the impact of corrosive oceans is traveling to coastal communities across Alaska. The Alaska Marine Conservation Council, or AMCC, along with Cook Inletkeeper, created an ocean acidification educational kiosk, which made its debut two weeks ago in Homer. “Even though there have been a lot of scientific presentations in our communities, there hasn’t been a regular presence of information for people to learn from. Our goal is to make the science more understandable and more available so people can get involved in addressing the issue,” said Dorothy Childers, AMCC associate director. The oceans are absorbing more carbon dioxide than ever before from the burning of fossil fuels, which changes the chemistry to become more acidic. An irrefutable effect is that marine organisms, such as crabs, snails and shrimp, are unable to grow their shells. Kiosk visitors can press different buttons to watch and hear scientific facts and fears about ocean acidification from experts and fishermen. Childers said AMCC hopes to get funding to make the kiosks permanent fixtures at harbors throughout Alaska. For now, the plan is to share the one with other communities. “We are hoping that communities around the Gulf and Bering Sea will be interested in inviting the kiosk to come to their harbor,” she said. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Regnart retires at ADFG; Kodiak boat repair courses offered

Alaska’s fishing industry was dismayed by the sudden news that Jeff Regnart, director of the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division, will leave the job on Oct. 2. “I’m resigning due to family reasons, aging parents…I just can’t be in the state full time like this job demands,” Regnart explained. Jeff Regnart started as an Alaska Department of Fish and Game field tech in high school, and over 30 years worked his way to management positions at Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet and Bristol Bay. He took over as director of the commercial fisheries division in 2011, which has a staff of 300 fulltime and 400 seasonal employers and a $73.3 million budget for this fiscal year. By all accounts, Regnart has been widely respected and well liked. “It has been my great pleasure to work with and alongside Jeff,” said Sue Aspelund, who served as the division’s deputy director until she retired two years ago. “The State of Alaska is losing a consummate professional. Alaska’s fisheries and those dependent upon them have greatly benefitted by Jeff’s hard work and commitment.” “Jeff has been an outstanding director and he will be greatly missed,” said Linda Kozak, a longtime fisheries consultant from Kodiak. “The Aleutian King Crab Research Foundations has been working with the department for years on trying to develop cooperative research projects for golden and red king crab, and Jeff was instrumental in helping to create that important industry/agency partnership. Whoever takes over as ComFish director will face many challenges, and has some very big shoes to fill.” “Jeff demonstrated a deep dedication to Alaska’s fisheries and the sustainability of the seafood we all rely on. He was always available to address concerns and took pride in making the Division of Commercial Fisheries better,” said Julianne Curry, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. Regnart said things have changed dramatically during his four-year tenure as director, most notably, the budget belt tightening. “We’ve gone from a fiscal climate of growth — new products, new fishery opportunities — to one now of fiscal restraint. Now we’re looking at what should be left in the water, what can we give up and hopefully still perform the job,” he said. “I’m concerned about where we’ll be financially over the next few years. We have a plan in place to take care of the division this year and probably next year, but things are changing so quickly as far as the state’s fiscal ability to continue to provide state services. It’s hard to guess what things will look like.” Another big challenge, Regnart said, is a retiring workforce “Over the next few years we are going to potentially lose a lot of senior people to retirement,” he said. “When you lose that corporate knowledge, that resident intellectual property of what is gathered as we go through our careers, it’s hard to replace.” Regnart said the biggest change he’s seen over three decades is the rapid transfer of information. “We’ve really had to change our game on how we manage fisheries,” he said. “We have to be much more on the ball with written explanations and justifications because people want to know why you’re doing what you’re doing, and they want to know it right now. So we’ve had to change how we bring data in from the field, how we process it, synthesize it and get it out into the public.” Regnart said while there always will be natural ups and downs, Alaska’s fish stocks are in good shape “across the board.” He is quick to credit his co-workers for any fishery successes. “My success has all been because of the people who did the work, quite truthfully. From financials to management to research every day they impress me. They are a rock star team,” he said. Regnart agreed that the economic importance of Alaska’s commercial fishing/processing industry doesn’t get full credit from most policy makers. “I don’t think it’s not wanting to know, it’s not being exposed to it. A large percentage of the legislature, especially the current leadership, are based in urban areas. Commercial fishing is something that is in the background, it’s not something that’s on their radar a lot,” he said. “I think it’s up to the department, United Fishermen of Alaska and others to get the word out. It’s a compelling story so don’t stop trying.” Deputy Director Forrest Bowers will serve as acting director until a replacement is named by ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten. Jeff Regnart will remain involved with Alaska’s fisheries as a consultant for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Boost for fishing jobs! Kodiak College is the first in Alaska to offer certification classes for industry-recognized, quality repair and maintenance standards in small boats. The program is an offshoot of the Alaska Maritime Workforce Development Plan launched by the Alaska Department of Labor last year. Minimum safety standards for many repairs are defined by the nonprofit American Boat and Yacht Council, or ABYC, created in 1954 to develop safety standards for the design, construction, equipage, repair and maintenance of boats. “The fact that ABYC courses are now being taught in Alaska — especially in a huge fishing port like Kodiak — is a big deal,” said L.A. Holmes, Maritime Workforce Development Coordinator at Kodiak College. “Passing the courses means you are a certified marine technician for that topic.” Kodiak College also is now one of only seven Marine League Schools in the nation, meaning local residents will soon be trained to teach ABYC repair standards courses instead of visiting experts. As an example, Holmes said nearly all boat fires would be eliminated if ABYC wiring standards were followed. “We bring a lot of land based wiring practices to boats, which is pretty dangerous,” she said. “The solid conductors and wire nuts you use in your home are absolutely forbidden on a boat. Solid conductors will get fatigued and break and wire nuts collect moisture and cause problems.” Holmes said repair standards are being more scrutinized by business affiliates. “We’re finding that more banks, surveyors, lenders, and insurance companies are interested in whether or not a boat was built or repaired to any particular standard. If you meet some kind of standard, they are more likely to see that favorably in any sort of critique,” she said. Kodiak College plans to integrate all ABYC standards into its Vessel Repair and Maintenance curriculum that is being developed now. A four-day ABYC corrosion certification course is set for October 6-9. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Bumper haul of humpies adds to salmon price woes

Alaska’s pink salmon catch is pushing 180 million fish, making it the second largest harvest ever (219 million pinks was the previous record set in 2013). The humpie haul has been pushed by record production in three regions — more than 15 million pinks were taken at the Alaska Peninsula, compared to less than 1 million last year. Kodiak’s record pink catch was nearing 30 million, triple last year’s take; and Prince William Sound’s harvest so far had topped a whopping 97 million pink salmon.  All that fish goes into a competitive global market and in a word, the pink market stinks. There is still a glut of pink salmon products stemming from Alaska’s record 2013 catch, and devalued currencies are bedeviling sales with overseas customers. “We’ve had some big years backed up and that ripples through the supply chain and affects prices, and it doesn’t help that the currency markets have gone against us so badly during this time when our supply has goes up so dramatically,” said Andy Wink, Senior Seafood Analyst with the McDowell Group. Exports typically account for 60 to 70 percent of Alaska’s seafood sales. Last week the euro was worth $1.14, down from $1.32 at the same time last year. And the Japanese yen was at 84 to the dollar, down from 96 to the dollar. “It gives you a sense of the dramatic shifts we’re seeing in the currency markets, and it has thrown such a change into the different supply relationships and the normal price ranges. It’s been very difficult,” he added. Another huge market hit comes from the ongoing U.S. seafood embargo by Russia — one of the biggest buyers of pink salmon roe. The roe usually accounts for 25 to 30 percent of the value of the entire pink pack, sometimes more. “Other than Japan, Russia is our largest market for salmon roe,” said Alexa Tonkovich, International Program Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Japan takes about $125 million worth of salmon roe and Russian takes about $46 million. The next closest market is China at $20 million. And if you don’t have diversified markets for a product you’re in a less powerful negotiating position.” “There is just not another market like Russia or Eastern Europe waiting out there with a strong currency to buy our pink roe,” echoed Wink. “It’s easy to see how it could drag down total first wholesale value by a quarter or a third compared to averages of years past.” Season totals for frozen and canned pinks have yet to be tallied. Cases of cans are still piled up from two years ago, keeping a downward press on prices. Alaska fishermen are getting paid on average 17 cents per pound for pinks, compared to a statewide average of 30 cents last summer. Sockeyes in the red “A perfect storm” of rough conditions is how market watchers are summing up sales of sockeye salmon. First wholesale prices for Alaska’s big money fish are down 20 to 25 percent on average across all markets, according to Undercurrent News. Sluggish sales stem from a huge supply, the overall average weight of the fish is puny making them harder to sell, and as with pinks, the biggest pile driver is global currencies. Fully half of the Bristol Bay sockeye taken this summer weighed in at just more than five pounds. Larger reds bigger than six pounds, most in demand because they yield higher profit margins, made up just 4 to 5 percent of the Bay harvest. The larger fish are wholesaling at $4.50 to $4.75 a pound, down 16 percent from last year, Undercurrent reported. Mid-sized four- to six-pounders are selling at $3 per pound, down 15.5 percent from the $3.50 to $3.60 paid last year. First wholesale prices for the smallest sockeyes bottomed out at $2.25 per pound. Fishermen at Bristol Bay received a base price of 50 cents per pound for their sockeye salmon this summer, slightly higher elsewhere. The statewide average price for sockeye salmon last year was. $1.37 per pound. Another market upset for all Alaska salmon prices is coming from that constant competitor: farmed fish. “Through the first half of 2015, fresh farmed Atlantic salmon imports — including fillets and whole fish — reached a year-to-date high by a large margin, driven by heavy imports in June,” said analyst John Sackton of “With official data available now, note that the U.S. imported record monthly volumes of fresh Atlantic salmon for both fillets and whole fish.” Seafood pros Alaska’s seafood industry depends on recruiting and maintaining processing professionals and Sea Grant helps build that specialized workforce. Each year its Marine Advisory Program sponsors the Alaska Seafood Processing Leadership Institute, or ASPLI, which provides an intense 80 hours of technical training, and the management and leadership skills needed to understand and succeed in the industry. The program is designed for mid-level managers in a seafood plant, such as assistant plant managers, production managers, quality control supervisors, engineers, human resource managers and administrators who are recognized by their employer as having leadership potential. Direct marketers and small seafood processors also are eligible to apply. The course begins with technical training in Kodiak from Nov. 9 to 13, followed by leadership training in Anchorage, Feb. 29 to March 4, and a trip to Seafood Expo North America in Boston, March 6 to 8. More than 50 Alaska processing professionals from 21 seafood companies have attended ASPLI over the past five years. The deadline to register is Sept. 30. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.


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