Laine Welch

A busy year for permits; fish for Lent; crabby gym gear

Last year was one of the busiest years ever for Alaska brokers who help fishermen buy, sell and trade fishing permits and quota shares.

“I was really happy to see such a good mix of permits we were selling — it wasn’t just one thing,” said Olivia Olsen of Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. “We had a lot of Dungeness crab permits, charter halibut permits, salmon and shrimp permits, sea cucumbers, and then whatever IFQs (individual fishing quota) we could find.”

Valentine's Day fish secrets; 'Salmon love'; pollock opens

Lovers choose lobster as the top Valentine’s Day dish to share with that special someone. Crab legs and shrimp also get the nod as “romantic meals” on Feb. 14 — one of the busiest dining out days for U.S. restaurants.

In a national survey by Harris Interactive, chefs called lobster an “exotic delicacy that results in an intimate moment because it is hand-held and shareable.” In fact, respondents called all shellfish “a catalyst for connection like no other food.”

Alaska seafood line launched; halibut quotas rise in '15

Freezer displays at Walmart superstores in Alaska and Washington now include a new lineup of 14 Alaska seafood items. The world’s largest grocer announced the expanded commitment to Alaska seafood last week.

“We are so proud to bring these to our customers, and we also know how important it is to local fishermen and folks across the state,” said John Forrest Ales, Director of Corporate Communications for Walmart.

Transition team sends suggestions to Walker on fisheries

The need for a clear “fish first” policy in Alaska tops the list of priorities compiled by the Fisheries Transition Team for Gov. Bill Walker. The group also stated that “fish and fishermen in Alaska are viewed as barriers to development,” and that there is “irreplaceable optimism” that fish can coexist with development at any scale.

Symphony attracts new fishy products

Alaska seafood marketers are ramping up promotions and bankrolling a $1 million global media blitz to counteract a tough sockeye salmon market.

Sockeyes are by far the most valuable salmon catch, often worth two-thirds of the value of Alaska’s entire salmon fishery. But last summer’s unexpected surge of reds left lots of inventory in freezers, and record U.S. imports of competing farmed salmon from Chile and Norway combined with the prospect of another big run at Bristol Bay make for a sockeye sales squeeze.

Supply picture, stronger dollar swirl seafood marketing

Alaska seafood marketers are facing some strong headwinds heading into 2015, notably, for sockeye salmon and crab.

Snow crab is Alaska’s largest crab fishery, underway now in the Bering Sea. The fleet has a slightly increased 61 million pound catch quota; boats also are tapping on a hefty bairdi, or tanner crab, catch, the larger cousin of snow crab.

No dull moments for Alaska fishing industry in 2014

Alaska still has its share of naysayers who will quibble about the seafood industry’s importance to our great state. They dismiss the fact that fishing was Alaska’s first industry and was fish that spawned the push to statehood.

“The canned salmon plants started in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, canned salmon was the largest industry and generated 80 percent of the territorial tax revenues. It had a position in the state economy that oil enjoys today,” said fisheries historian Bob King.

High-volume fisheries get underway led by pollock, cod

Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska’s fisheries, and that’s why most people think of summer as the fishing season. But that’s not the case.

The heart of winter is when Alaska’s largest fisheries get underway each year.

On Jan. 1, hundreds of boats with hook and line gear or pots begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other groundfish. Then on Jan. 20 trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery with annual harvests topping three billion pounds.

Symphony of Seafood adds 'beyond the plate' category

Alaska seafood innovators are getting serious about “head to tail/inside and out” usages of fish parts, and they see gold in all that gurry that ends up on cutting line floors. Fish oils, pet treats, animal feeds, gelatins, fish scales that put the shimmer in nail polish — “almost anything that can be made out of seafood byproducts has increased in value tremendously in the last few years,” said Peter Bechtel, a U.S. Department of Agriculture researcher formerly at the University of Alaska.

Three-year respite from EPA small vessel regulation passes

It went down to the wire, but fishermen were relieved to learn they can continue to hose down their decks without fear of violating the Clean Water Act.

Congress voted unanimously Dec. 10 to extend a moratorium for three years that exempts commercial fishing vessels 79 feet and under from needing incidental discharge permits from the Environmental Protection Agency for deck wash. The current moratorium, which affects 8,500 Alaska vessels, was set to expire on Dec.18.

Some hopeful signs in halibut; salmon prices dip from '13

The Pacific halibut stock appears to be rising from the ashes and that bodes well for catches in some fishing regions next year. It would turn the tide of a decades-long decline that has caused halibut catches to be slashed by more than 70 percent in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia.

Three Alaska areas showed improvement in the annual stock surveys that range from Oregon to the Bering Sea, and could have higher catch levels in 2015. That’s according to information revealed at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s interim meeting last week in Seattle.

Meeting season underway with halibut, fish board, council

It’s the time of year when Alaska’s fishery meetings kick into high gear — with five set for this week alone.

The industry got a first glimpse of potential 2015 halibut catches when the International Pacific Halibut Commission convenes Dec. 2-3 in Seattle. It’s been a wait and see attitude among fish circles — Will Alaska’s catch limits again be reduced, down already 70 percent over a decade to just 16 million pounds? Or has the Pacific halibut stock started to rebound as some of the science indicates?

Strong 2015 forecasts for pollock, Bristol Bay salmon

Alaska is poised for some big fish stories next year based on predictions trickling in from state and federal managers. 

For the state’s (and nation’s) largest fishery — Alaska pollock — the Eastern Bering Sea stock has more than doubled its 10-year average to top nine million tons, or 20 billion pounds. And the stock is healthy and growing, according to annual surveys.

Fishing adds jobs, salmon moves to second for US consumers

Alaska’s largest employer continues to add more jobs to its roster.

Commercial fishing jobs grew last year to a level not seen since the year 2000, according to the state Department of Labor. Driven primarily by an increased salmon harvest, notably from the record run of pinks, fishing jobs grew by nearly 2.5 percent last year. That brought the annual monthly average to 8,400 jobs, just 400 shy of the record over a decade ago.

Alaska ports top seafood landings list once again in 2013

Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood catches last year, and wild salmon landings — 95 percent from Alaska — topped one billion pounds, an all-time record and a 70 percent increase from 2012.

That’s according to the annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report for 2013, just released by NOAA Fisheries.

Friction continues over B.C. mines; ASMI seeks seafood ambassadors

Throughout history, arguments over land and water usages have run the gamut from tussles over fences with next-door neighbors to shootouts over interstate grazing rights in the old west. But when land and water rights pit one country against another, that’s when things really get tricky. 

Crab quota owners make attempt to get shares on market for crew

The Bering Sea crab fleet now stands at 77 vessels, a far cry from the nearly 250 boats in a frenzied race to pull pots before the fishery downsized to catch shares in 2005. Fewer boats means less hands on deck, and as with other fisheries, the Bering Sea crabbers are “graying” and need to recruit young entrants to sustain the iconic fisheries. The shareholders have devised a way to give captains and crews a first crack at available crab.

Ballot measure would require legislative approval of Pebble

A ballot measure to protect salmon in Southwest Alaska hasn’t grabbed as many headlines as pot and campaign politics. Ballot Measure 4, sponsored by the group Bristol Bay Forever, asks voters to give the Alaska Legislature final say on any large oil, gas and mining projects in the 36,000 square miles of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve.

The initiative does three significant things to the existing reserve, said Dick Mylius, a former state director for the Division of Mining, Land, and Water.

Fireworks featured at traditional Kodiak fisheries debate

I must admit that U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan achieved something I have been trying to accomplish as a fisheries writer for more than a quarter of a century: he gave long legs to media stories about Alaska’s fisheries and, more importantly, it attracted unparalleled recognition of the seafood industry nationwide.

How did that come about for a fractious industry that bemoans a la comedian Rodney Dangerfield —“I don’t get no respect?”

Crab, pollock stocks show abundance in latest surveys

Alaska’s conservative management combined with the grace of Mother Nature is swelling the abundance of two of the state’s largest and most important fisheries.

Bering Sea crab scientists and stakeholders met last week to discuss the outlook for Alaska’s biggest crab fisheries that open Oct. 15.  The takeaway was that the stocks of red king crab, bairdi tanners and snow crab all showed big increases in mature size classes, based on data from the annual summer surveys. (Only mature male crabs cans be retained in Alaska’s crab fisheries.)

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