Laine Welch

New Coast Guard safety rules; new fish aide for Sullivan

Volunteers are needed to help craft new safety rules that are being written for older boats, which includes the bulk of Alaska’s fishing vessels. Called the Alternate Compliance Safety Program, or ACSP, it is part of the 2010 U.S. Coast Guard Authorization Act and is aimed at vessels that will be 25 years old by 2020, are greater than 50 feet in length, and operate beyond three nautical miles. The program will include most of Alaska’s fishing fleet — a 2014 maritime study by the Juneau-based McDowell Group shows that the majority of Alaska’s boats were built between 1970 and 1989. “The requirements won’t become mandatory until Jan. 1, 2020, for most vessels. However the Coast Guard needs to prescribe the program by Jan. 1, 2017,” explained Troy Rentz, Alternate Safety Compliance Coordinator for the USCG 13th District. Right now safety teams are compiling data on losses from fishing fatalities, injuries and vessel sinkings, Rentz said, and from that they will evaluate the risks based on the various regions and fisheries. “That is going to have a big influence on these programs because we know that each fishery has different gear and risks in different operating environments specific to what they are doing,” Rentz said. And that’s where vessel volunteers come in. “We’re looking for volunteer vessels where we could get on board and talk about what their best practices are for preventing casualties from collisions or falls overboard, for instance,” Rentz said. “We have some pretty good ideas, and we want to talk with vessel owners about things that have been recommended and see if it’s something that would be effective for their particular fishery and operating area.” In fact, a Congressional requirement of the new safety compliance program, Rentz said, is that it be developed in cooperation with the industry. “We want people to feel like this is their program, not the Coast guard’s program. It is a cooperative program that is specific to what they are doing and their operations.” Between now and early 2016, safety planners will be meeting with regional work groups and fishing stakeholders to decide what the actual compliance requirements will be. Then they are set to be written up and in place by 2017, giving fishing operators three years to comply. Other safety compliance deadlines are happening faster. By October 15 of this year, mandatory dockside vessel exams take effect. The requirement for survival craft that remove all parts of the body from the water has been extended to Feb. 16, 2016. Troy Rentz will be going over the Alternative Safety Compliance Program during ComFish, April 2-4 in Kodiak. Fish Watch Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan has selected fellow Ohioan Erik Elam as his fisheries advisor. Elam was a former legislative aide for Rep. Don Young. In an email message, Sullivan said: “Mr. Elam is the Staff Director for the Fisheries, Water, and Wildlife Subcommittee, upon which I chair. Additionally, he focuses on energy, federal lands, fisheries, the Coast Guard, and oceans.” More millions were cut last week from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget by a Senate finance committee chaired by Sen. Mike Dunleavy, R-Wasilla. The additional $2.1 million cut brings the total ADFG reductions to $15 million. Juneau Resources Weekly reports that commercial fisheries are set to take the biggest hit at $815,000. A half million dollars of that sum comes from compliance efforts for the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The Sport Fish Division is set to lose more than $500,000; a dozen habitat conservation projects are set to be slashed, along with one habitat biologist. A $240,000 allotment for the state’s sport fishing enhancement and hatchery program is also on the cutting room floor. Trollers wrapped up their winter king salmon season last week, the earliest closure ever. The fishery opened in October and continues until the fleet catches up to 47,000 kings or until the end of April, whichever comes first. Participation was above average this winter, with 396 permits fished. The average price per pound dropped to $8.73 per pound in the final weeks, after topping $10 per pound for much of the season. Slow but steady sums up the wrap of Alaska’s first herring fishery at Sitka Sound. The week long fishery yielded close to 8,700 tons of roe-rich herring, down by half from last year. Less than half of the Sound’s 48 permit holders participated, instead opting for a cooperative fishery where boats split up the quota and each boat fished for a set amount. Sea farmers Growing less labor intensive underwater ocean veggies is an exploding market around the world, especially for products made from kelp. Globally, kelp drives a $5 billion industry. Some examples: Ocean Approved of Maine, which claims to be America’s first and only commercial kelp farm, launched a line of kelp cubes this month at the Boston Seafood Show. The cubes are aimed at the popular smoothie market, which has expanded the use of green veggie in its juices. The company also sells kelp “sea slaw,” “sea rounds” and “wraps.”  Ocean Approved began in 2009 and has been seeded with a half million dollars in grants from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Fisheries and the Maine Technology Institute. The company produces 33,000 pounds per acre on five acres annually and business has increased 400 percent in two years, according to the Casco Times. Kelp also is the latest crop that Canada’s fish farmers are cashing in on. The country’s largest salmon grower, Cooke Aquaculture, recently debuted its own brand of certified organically winged and sugar kelp. It can be cooked or served up fresh, and is sold under Cooke’s True North brand. Chile also is getting into the kelp mix. Based on a 2013 economic study, Chile estimates a kelp industry in its northern fish farming region would bring in $540 million annually. The growing interest and uses for kelp is not lost on Alaska, where a Mariculture Initiative is building support for expansion, notably in Western Alaska. Currently, there are 31 sea farms operating in Alaska; five are growing kelp along with oysters and other shellfish. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Stoltze fights for personal use priority, other fish bills move

Seven times is the charm for building some momentum on a measure that aims to give personal use, or PU, fisheries a priority over commercial and sport users. As it stands now, the three fisheries all are on equal footing in the eyes and actions of state managers. The priority shift has been introduced during each of the last seven legislative sessions by (now) Sen. Bill Stoltze, R-Chugiak, but has never made it past a first hearing — until now. “It only took Sen. Stoltze, the bill sponsor, chairing the hearing committee himself,” quipped Dave Theriault in his Juneau Resources Weekly. The measure (Senate Bill 42) is dubiously dubbed “The Alaskans-First Fishing Act” and it concerns salmon, without saying so directly. It “directs the Board of Fisheries to place restrictions on sport and commercial fisheries before putting restrictions on personal use fisheries when the harvest of a stock or species is limited to achieve an escapement goal.” The issue is driven primarily by the salmon demands of users at the Kenai and Kasilof rivers, and the popular Chitina dipnet fishery at Copper River. Lawmakers said PU fisheries “need more protections from commercial fishermen.” “I’m more sympathetic to those in streams who see commercial fishermen taking tonnage where we’re restricted to poundage,” said Sen. John Coghill, R-North Pole. The PU priority got a friendly reception by lawmakers in a first Senate hearing two weeks ago. Stoltz said that the Board of Fisheries would still hold the authority to set fish allocations; he called a PU preference “an additional tool for managers.” Most messages sent to lawmakers last week were in favor of the shift in fishing priorities; of nearly 70 posted to the legislative website, only four were opposed. The United Fishermen of Alaska’s position on the PU issue has remained the same for seven years: the legislature should leave prioritization of fishery allocations to the Board of Fisheries and management to the Department of Fish and Game. The PU bill is now on its way to the Senate Resources Committee. A duplicate law has been filed in the House by Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake. Fishy bills to watch A bill to limit all Alaska salmon seiners to a maximum 58 feet in length has been offered by Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan. A new law filed by freshman Rep. Dave Talerico, R-Healy, would pull the plug on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, and exempt Alaska from the agency’s ability to regulate and limit carbon emissions. Talerico filed the bill two months after retiring from Usibelli, the state’s only active coal mine, where he worked since 1974. The EPA is set to finalize new rules limiting carbon emissions in June, and will draft a plan for Alaska if the state fails to do so. Fifteen other states have filed similar laws to slow or fight the EPA’s plan to reduce carbon limits. The measure breezed through Alaska’s Senate Energy and Resources Committees and is on its way to Finance. Talerico also has proposed increases to fishing and hunting licenses for both residents and non-residents by up to 50 percent. ComFish is coming! Kodiak is rolling out the red carpet for special visitors who are coming to ComFish in early April. Lt. Governor Byron Mallott, ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten, and commercial fisheries director Jeff Regnart will hold an open meeting the afternoon of April 2. Another highlight on Saturday, April 4: watch those fillet knives fly in a “fish off” among Kodiak’s fastest fish cutters, organized by Ocean Beauty Seafoods. Each of Kodiak’s seven processing companies will field a professional who will cut into piles of halibut, flounders and other species. Each event is timed and then judged based on the trimming quality of the fillets. The top winner receives round trip airline tickets to Anchorage. It’s the 36th year for the ComFish trade show and policy forum, hosted by the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. Dates are April 2-4, and many of the events will be video streamed as they happen. Names named Gov. Bill Walker has made his selections for two upcoming vacancies on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council oversees fisheries in federal waters (3-200 miles from shore), which each year produce nearly 85 percent of Alaska’s seafood harvests. Walker’s recommends reappointment of fisherman Dan Hull of Cordova, who has been a council member since 2009. He also named sport fish charter operator Andrew Mezirow of Seward. Other names on the list include commercial fishermen Buck Laukitis of Homer and Paul Gronholdt of Sand Point, sport fish reps Richard Yamada of Juneau and Art Nelson, director of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. The final decision is made by the U.S. Secretary of Commerce, who usually accepts the governor’s top recommendations. Fish Watch By the time you read this, Alaska’s first roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound could be just about over. The 8,712-ton quota is down by half from last year and the lowest Sitka catch since 2003. That, combined with historically low herring prices, has fewer boats fishing and they are doing so as a co-op. Blustery weather kept most of Alaska’s halibut boats off the water for the March 14 start of that fishery. Only 52 landings were made by March 20, totaling about 395,000 pounds. No reliable word on prices until more poundage crosses the docks, and the first fresh landings always fetch inflated prices. However, reports from the West Coast and Canada listed initial wholesale prices coming in higher than the past three March openers. Seafood.com reported $8.05 for 10/20s; $8.25-$8.50 for 20/40s, and $8.50-$8.75 for 40 ups. Anyone interested in weathervane scallops must register with Fish and Game by April 1. The scallop fishery, which was limited to about four boats until 2013, is now an open access fishery in waters near Yakutat, Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Prince William Sound is closed to scallops this year.

ADFG online store offering print-and-go fishing licenses

Print your licenses at home and go fishing! The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s revamped Online Store is the go to place for all fishing (and hunting) licenses and it now offers two new features. “Fishermen, both sport and commercial, can now print their licenses at home. They can purchase it online, immediately print it and go out fishing,” said Michelle Kaelke, Financing and Licensing Supervisor for the department. “They can buy it before they go out to the fishing grounds, or if they’re traveling from Seattle or wherever, they can have everything ready for when they head up to Alaska,” she added. Another first: printing out multiple licenses. “Now you can buy for your whole family in one transaction, with different options,” Kaelke explained. “One can have a fishing and a hunting license, or a commercial crew license, and one can just have a sport fish license or a big game tag.” The print-and-go licenses will also be a huge plus for Alaska seafood processors. “They will buy their crew member licenses and they’ve had to do it one at a time, or they mail us paper applications,” Kaelke said. “So now they can do it right from their office and print all their licenses and give them to their crew and off they go.” All transactions are followed up by an email with licenses attached for future use or printings. The print at home procedure also is the same for sport fish guides and anglers, hunting, trapping, or getting king salmon or duck stamps. The department knows people will appreciate the easy new system, Kaelke said, adding that she does, too. “Getting this information right away, we can know what our license sales are, and we don’t have to sit and enter paper licenses into our system. That can be really difficult because people don’t always have the best handwriting,” she said with a laugh. “Now we can immediately have the statistics, and it’s far more accurate and we can quickly get it out to our managers.” Coming soon: electronic license printing setups for vendors across the state and perhaps, licenses to go. “We’re hoping that the legislature this year will give us the ability to allow people to carry licenses on their cell phone and mobile devices,” Kaelke said. Call for future fishing guides A few openings remain for students who want to get schooled on a river. About one dozen students are accepted each year by the Bristol Bay River Academy to participate in its unique to Alaska, place-based curriculum that teaches youths ages 14 to 24 how to make the grade in the guided sport fish business. Now in its seventh year, the free, week long course teaches students the basics of fly fishing, along with customer service skills and the realities and demands of the guiding and hospitality business out in the Bay. A third part of the curriculum is river ecology and what keeps trout and salmon healthy. The training rotates each year throughout the Bristol Bay region and this summer will take place at the Kulik Lodge in Katmai National Park. So far 58 students have graduated from the Academy and many have gone on to good jobs as sport fish guides. “Several of our students have worked multiple seasons in lodges in Bristol Bay; it is a great opportunity and perfect fit for many of these young people,” said Nelli Williams, program coordinator for Trout Unlimited, which sponsors the Academy along with a host of local supporters. For decades, fishing guides were brought in by lodge owners from other states, usually college students. Now, the local guides are the most requested, Williams said. “There is so much value in recruiting locally,” she said. “They know the rivers in and out. They know that July on the Kvichak can be as cold and nasty as in October. So there is a lot of benefit, both from the job opportunities for local young folks as well as the businesses that are thriving out there.” Halibut scholarships The International Pacific Halibut Commission funds several Merit Scholarships to support undergraduate university, technical college, and other post-secondary education. The fund is targeted to Canadian and U.S. students connected to the halibut fishery and industry. The scholarships are for $2,000 per year for four years. Find applications for fall 2015 at the IPHC website, or call Tamara Briggie at (206) 634-1838 (ext. 7660). Deadline to apply is June 30. ‘but’s up! Alaska’s 2015 halibut season opened on March 14 and runs through November 7. The catch to be shared by more than 2,000 Alaska longliners increased 6.5 percent this year to 21.2 million pounds. The sablefish (black cod) fishery runs concurrently with halibut and also is harvested by the longline fleets. That catch quota this year is 10,522 metric tons, similar to last year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

$12 million in ADFG cuts; fun fish facts; pink forecast

A nearly $12 million cut in state funds is on tap for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game if state policy makers have their way. That was one early outcome of legislative House finance subcommittee meetings last week, as they wrapped up the first step in a budget process that will see cuts in agencies and programs almost across the board. According to Juneau Resources Weekly, the ADFG budget reductions cut across all divisions with sport fishing facing the most personnel losses at 12 seasonal jobs. The Division of Habitat could lose $400,000; commercial fishing programs are set to lose five positions and an additional $2 million in general fund support. Other fisheries-related items include a 40 percent cut in the $7.5 million the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute receives in state funds, double what Gov. Bill Walker had proposed. The JRW said that members of the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Lance Pruitt, R-Anchorage, voted to cut $2.8 million from the ASMI budget. The state’s lone marketing arm is largely funded by self-imposed fees from the seafood industry. The committee recommended that ASMI increase those fees to support its global marketing efforts. Other cuts proposed by the same committee include $600,000 for a mapping project by the Marine Exchange of Alaska to identify vessel-tracking gaps in the Gulf of Alaska, Western Alaska and the Arctic. Also removed was a $187,500 grant to the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association. The lawmakers recommended eliminating the Department of Environmental Conservation’s fish tissue studies that assure consumers that Alaska’s seafood is safe to eat. Also on the chopping block: the Alaska Farm to School program run by the Department of Natural Resources. The small program promotes local use of farm and seafood products in state schools. Rep. Pruitt, who also chairs the DNR finance committee, advised cutting the program’s $180,000 in the upcoming school year. On a lighter note, Rep. Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham has filed a bill to make Aug. 10 of each year Alaska Wild Salmon Day. It would “celebrate the enormous bounty that wild king, sockeye, coho, chum, and pink salmon bring to the state every year,” the bill says, and “may be observed by educational and celebratory events, projects, and activities.” Fishing facts What Alaska town ranks as number one for total commercial fishing participation? Based on the number of fishing permits, crew licenses and skippers, Anchorage comes out on top. Cordova is the leading homeport for 704 vessels, followed by Kodiak at 685, Sitka at 661 and Petersburg is home to 596 fishing boats. Those are just a few of the findings in the latest seafood industry fact sheets provided by the United Fishermen of Alaska. The facts include well-documented statewide data; added new this year are breakdowns for the Nome and Wade Hampton Census Areas, as well as for Washington, Oregon and California, which rank as the top three states for nonresident fishermen in Alaska. Even better — UFA includes a breakdown of how fishery taxes and fees add up to $250 million annually and benefit Alaskans who live far from the coast. “Due to the wide range of state and federal agencies involved in fisheries, it is challenging to understand the many different positive impacts and revenues that Alaska’s fisheries provide throughout the state and beyond. UFA’s fact sheets help consolidate this information and make it easy to understand,” said Julianne Curry, UFA executive director. Some highlights for 2015: the seafood industry remains Alaska’s largest private sector employer creating over 63,000 direct jobs throughout the state. • Alaska resident active commercial fishing permit holders: 7,089 • Percent of Alaska resident active commercial fishing permit holders: 72 percent • Alaska commercial fishing full-year resident crewmember licenses: 10,563 • Total annual landings for Alaska: 5.79 billion pounds • Alaska total seafood export value: $3.27 billion, by far the leading export Find the UFA fishing fact sheets at www.ufafish.org/ Pink outputs Forecasts for this year’s salmon season have been trickling in over the past months, and state fishery managers will announce the official projections in a couple of weeks. When it comes to pink salmon  — Alaska’s “bread and butter” catch — one market watcher already is calling the 2015 humpy harvest at just over 117 million fish, 22 percent higher than last year. The fish news site Undercurrent News generated the projection based on Fish and Game’s preliminary wild and hatchery salmon numbers for Alaska’s most productive pink regions: Southeast, Prince William Sound and Kodiak. State managers are calling for “excellent” catches throughout Southeast this summer of 58 million pink salmon. At Prince William Sound, the run forecast of wild pinks is 15.4 million fish; and the hatchery returns are pegged at 36 million. If 87 percent of the Sound’s pink catch is from hatcheries as it was last year, Undercurrent said, it would bring the combined Prince William Sound catch to 46.7 million pinks. At Kodiak, managers are calling for a wild pink harvest of 6.9 million, and combined with local hatchery fish, the total catch should produce 11 million pinks. When Kodiak’s projected take is combined with the other two regions, the pink salmon catch adds up to nearly 116 million. Add in the lower catches from lower Cook Inlet and other regions, and Undercurrent News deduces Alaska’s statewide catch this summer at just over 117 million pink salmon. The 2014 total pink salmon harvest was just over 95 million fish. Image booster Unalaskans are bankrolling a media makeover to contrast the town’s image from what is portrayed on the popular Deadliest Catch program. The goal is to “offset what is seen by some as a negative public image created by the reality show, and to encourage oil company workers to make permanent homes locally,” wrote Jim Paulin in the Bristol Bay Times/Dutch Harbor Fisherman. The Deadliest Catch presents a “fishing town with a bar problem,” said City Manager Patrick Jordan. The Unalaska City Council has hired Anchorage-based Northwest Strategies to develop an ad campaign to promote the many positives of the far-flung community to Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. With the onset of oil/gas exploration off Alaska’s north coast, Unalaska is uniquely positioned to welcome more families to town. The council’s goal is to “encourage professionals, small business owners and trades people to choose Unalaska as a place to live and work.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for [email protected] for information.

Hot halibut permits, Chuitna, Seafood Symphony hat trick

Right after the yearly halibut catch limits are announced each January, brokers usually are busy with buying and selling and transferring shares of the catch. But it’s been slow going so far, even with slight harvest increases in nearly all Alaska fishing areas for the first time in nearly a decade. The buyers are there – it’s the sellers that are scarce. “There’s less of a rush this year, but there are less quota shares available,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits at Petersburg. “We’ve had some good sales in Southeast (2C), and we’re seeing very strong interest for halibut quota pretty much across the board. But shares for both halibut and sablefish are practically non-existent in the Central Gulf. I think the increases in both areas and the higher prices might bring out some more sellers, and of course, the buyers are sitting there waiting.” Blocks of halibut shares in Southeast Alaska are selling at $50 per pound, Olsen said. Recent sales in the Central Gulf reached a high of $45 per pound, with others fetching a few dollars less. “These are record high prices, and of course, the folks that are buying must believe that the resource is recovering,” said Doug Bowen at Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “I have my doubts with very modest catch increases we’ve seen just this year, but there certainly is a feeling out there that maybe things have bottomed out and will improve from here on. We see that in the prices that people are willing to pay for halibut quota. It’s amazing.” Olsen said the biggest sellers in Southeast at the moment are “the charter halibut permits, and any 2C quota we can come with.” The cost for charter halibut permits is based on the number of anglers aboard the boat. The prices last year ranged from $20,000 to $29,000 for parties of four to six, the most common numbers of clients, Olsen said. Her company also brokers Guided Angler Fish (GAFs) – halibut poundage that charter operators can lease from quota shareholders, which last year started out at $7 per pound. Both brokers said interest in sablefish quota shares also is picking up with those fetching $15-$30 per pound in prime fishing areas. The Alaska halibut catch limit for 2015 to be divided up among shareholders is 21.2 million pounds; the catch quota for sablefish is 10,522 metric tons, similar to last year. Both fisheries open March 14. Dock Street brokers in Seattle is the go-to place for Bering Sea crab shares, which also have more interested buyers than sellers. Listings show 1,750 pounds of red king crab offered at $52 per pound; 5,000 pounds of snow crab at $16; and 16 offers for Tanners at $13-$16 per pound. Salmon or coal strip mine? The state Dept. of Natural Resources is getting ready to choose between giving water rights to a traditional salmon stream or to Alaska’s largest coal mine being proposed at Upper Cook Inlet. If DNR opts for the mine, the decision will set a legal precedent for Alaska. “It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine 14 miles through a salmon stream,” said Bob Shavelson of Cook Inlet Keeper. “And the purpose is to ship all the coal to China. It’s really a very dangerous precedent, because if they can do it here in Cook Inlet they will be able to do it anywhere in the state.” Driving the issue is an application filed back in 2009 by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition to reserve water rights to Middle Creek, a key tributary of the salmon-rich Chuitna River dubbed the “Kenai of the West Side.” The Parnell administration dragged its feet on the decision until two years ago when a Superior Court judge ordered DNR to prioritize the Chuitna application. Meanwhile, mine developer PacRim Coal filed its own application to divert all water from Middle Creek to get to the underlying coal. Based on PacRim data, the first phase of the strip mine would remove 20 square miles of salmon habitat, and discharge seven million gallons a day of mine waste into the Chuitna River. PacRim aims to mine 12 million tons of low-grade coal each year for 25 years. “Never, ever in the history of restoration has anyone ever dug down 300 feet to the geology and the hydrology of a salmon system and put it back together. And experts have not been able to find any examples of where it has been done,” said Shavelson. DNR waters resources chief Dave Schade agreed that the water rights decision is precedent setting, and that it comes down to “saying yes to one applicant, and no to the other.” The public comment period has been extended to April 9. Unless there is an appeal by either party, a decision could be made 30 days after. “Do we leave water in streams for salmon, or do we give it to Outside companies to ship coal to China?” said Terry Jorgensen, who owns a setnet site at the mouth of the Chuitna River.  “For the next few weeks, Alaskans will have the opportunity to weigh in on this important decision.” Seafood three-peat  Record crowds turned out to taste and vote on the latest seafood products debuted last Saturday at the 22nd annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood. The new seafood items always are judged first in early February by a private panel in Seattle with criteria including packaging and presentation, overall eating experience, price and potential for commercial success. Winners are kept secret until the final Symphony soiree a few weeks later in Anchorage. This year the Symphony made a third stop in Juneau, where self-proclaimed “fish snob” Senator Lisa Murkowski welcomed a SRO crowd, and Governor Walker announced the People’s Choice Award voted by ballot at the event. The People’s Choice Award was a surprise three-peat this year. Kodiak’s Pickled Willy’s Black Cod Tips (known jokingly in town as “crack cod,”) won the popular vote at all three venues. “That was very unusual,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the seafood event. “ That was wonderful to see,” and a real testament to what a good product it is.” Pickled Willy’s also took first place in the food service category, as selected by the judges. The biggest surprise was the Symphony’s Grand Prize Winner in a new category this year called Beyond the Plate –Anchorage’s Arctic Paws Yummie Chummies dog treats. “This demonstrates that we have some very good innovative, top quality co-products coming out of Alaska. It’s a perfect time to be promoting them,” Decker said, adding that AFDF plans to expand and separate the category next year. “I know there are a lot of companies in Alaska that are producing products … cosmetics and skin care, fish skin leather, supplements, even clothing from crab and shrimp shells. They would qualify for this and I hope word of mouth will encourage them to enter,” Decker said. Other winners: Copper River Seafoods’ Zesty Cod Portions won top honors in retail; Tilgner’s Smoked Seafoods of Ninilchik took home a first in the smoked category for its Ruby Red Sockeye Salmon Chips and a second for its Ruby Red Salmon Candy. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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.” Salmon permit sales peak from March through May, and early indicators point to lower salmon prices this year in a plentiful market. A strong U.S. dollar against the yen, euro and other currencies also makes it more expensive for foreign customers to buy Alaska salmon. At the same time, record numbers of cheaper, farmed salmon continue to flood into the U.S. from Norway and Chile. Combined, those factors are having a downward press on permit prices — notably, at Alaska’s bellwether sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay. Drift permits last fall were fetching a record $175,000; now they’ve dipped to $164,000. “Permit prices have softened in the Bay and actually kind of across the board for any salmon permits,” said Doug Bowen with Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer, adding that there “is concern about the price in the Bay this year. “A lot of sockeye is left in the market from the big run in the Bay last year, plus from the Fraser River. And another big sockeye run is forecasted for Bristol Bay this summer. So there are some negative price rumors out there about the ex-vessel (dock) price in the Bay dipping below a dollar a pound.” Even if a permit buyer is interested, both brokers said it could be tough going for anyone trying to break into the fishery. “Some of these guys buying in are having quite a bit of difficulty just lining up a market and finding anyone who will take them on, because the processors at Bristol Bay are bracing for another big year and not really looking to expand their fleets,” Bowen explained. Elsewhere, Prince William Sound seine permits have dropped below $200,000 for the first time in several years. Cook Inlet drifts are at $65,000, down from $90,000 two years ago. Kodiak seine permit interest is flat at around $50,000. Still, both brokers said the mood on the Alaska waterfront is very upbeat. “I could feel it in the fall with how busy we were,” Olsen said. “People are looking forward to a good year.” Bowen added: “We do see a lot of optimism among the fleets and people are building new boats. That is definitely the biggest vote of confidence that you can make.” I’ll focus on Alaska broker trends in IFQs/catch shares in next week’s column. Praise seafood! The 40-day Lenten season began early this year — Ash Wednesday was Feb. 18 — giving the traditional boost to seafood sales. The season will end on Easter Sunday, April 5. Lent, derived from the Old English lencten, meaning spring, is a time of fasting and soul searching for hundreds of millions of Christians around the world that dates back to the fourth century. Many believers give up favorite foods, or devote time to volunteering or charity work. What the peak holiday selling season from Thanksgiving to Christmas means to retailers, Lent means to the seafood industry. Food Services of America, for example, reports that Ash Wednesday is the busiest day of the year for frozen seafood sales, and the six weeks following is the top selling season for the entire year. Restaurant trades say weekly sales of seafood increase 25 percent to 40 percent during Lent. In many countries, the day before Lent — called Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday — has become a last fling before the start of the long fast. For centuries, it was customary to not eat meat during Lent, which is why the festival is called carnival, Latin for farewell to meat. While nearly all seafood enjoys a surge of interest during Lent, the most traditional items served are the “whitefish” species, such as cod, pollock, flounders and halibut. But no matter what the seafood favorite, the six-week Lenten season is good news for Alaska, which provides over 60 percent of America’s wild caught seafood to our nation’s restaurants and grocery stores. Crabby clothes Stylish workout gear made from crab and shrimp shells is drawing raves from exercise enthusiasts in Vancouver, British Columbia. “The clothes are breathable, durable and fast drying. Everything we use is non-toxic so they are environmentally friendly as well,” said Quincy Samycia, co-founder of Strongbody Apparel. The fashion-forward line is designed for the gym, and its uniqueness comes from its “odor crush” technology.  “The magic ingredient comes from the ocean – it’s a natural biopolymer in crab and shrimp shells called chitosan. When it is combined with the fabric, it inhibits the growth of bacteria on the clothing and that is what makes it odor free,” explained Megan Conyers. Samycia and Conyers spent years researching fabrics and making designs to fit their active life style before launching the apparel last year (Google chitin-based fabric producers). Between 500 to 700 crab and shrimp shells are used to make a few ounces of solution that is then combined into the fabric. Because chitosan’s structure is similar to cellulose, it blends easily with cotton and other fabrics. “One thing that definitely drew us to this particular solution is that it is environmentally friendly and a by-product of the fishing industry. All that stuff is just going to go to waste, so why not find a use for it,” she added. Estimates claim that nearly 25 billion tons of chitin from seafood is dumped each year. Along with being odorless, the chitosan-infused fabric also is super durable — and it is safe for those who may be allergic to shellfish. The Strongbody line includes workout shorts and leggings, tanks and sports bras, and Quincy’s favorite — the pulse elite tee. He agreed that it’s the chitin technology that has made their clothes stand out in the market of fitness gear.  “People like different. Nobody just wants to go out and get just another T-shirt. There is a strong market for what we are doing, and people are definitely looking to have a unique piece of clothing and they want a story to tell,” he added. Chinook News Volume 2 gives updates on the king salmon stocks and research projects at 12 key river systems, with special features on marine sampling at Kodiak and the Westward regions, Cook Inlet and Southeast Alaska. Chinook News, compiled by Alaska Department of Fish and Game, began last year as part of the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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.” The links between seafood and love have a long history, including the belief that oysters enhance male desire and performance. Until recently there was no scientific evidence to back that up, but new studies by Miami and Italian researchers revealed that oysters contain compounds that prompt the release of sexual hormones. The scent of oysters resembles the most potent female pheromone; oysters also are loaded with zinc, a key nutrient for testosterone production in both men and women. Many “experts” have touted omega-3 fish oils as serious libido lifters because they help raise the amount of compounds that control “feel good” levels in the brain, and stimulate the release of sex hormones. Author Marrena Lindberg also sings the praises of fish oil in “The Orgasmic Diet.” Fish oil, like Viagra, increases nitric oxide levels in artery linings, she claims, which increases blood flow to the brain and sex organs. Seafoods from colder waters contain the most omega 3s. Pacific oysters pack a special punch at 1,700 micrograms, the same as Alaska king salmon. The Alaska seafood with the most omegas of all? Sablefish. Salmon Love The Salmon Project is spreading the love on Valentine’s Day with special “salmon swag” gift packs created by women whose biggest passion is fish. “We feel like it is a natural holiday for us to help celebrate,” said Erin Harrington, director of The Salmon Project. “One of our brands and one of the key ideas that people really recognize about the Salmon Project is the concept of salmon love.” Since 2012, the Salmon Project has been undertaking in-depth, widely-traveled scientific public opinion research to better understand Alaskans’ relationships with salmon. For the Valentine’s Day promotion, Harrington hooked up with Claire and Emma Laukitis of Homer, aka the Salmon Sisters. They created “his and hers” selections of their popular Salmon Love hoodies for women, and a new Lifeblood t-shirt design for men. “It really speaks to how salmon are the lifeblood of Alaska, and that is something we hear from people over and over again,” said Claire. The Salmon Love packs also include handcrafted salmon soap by Melissa Bravo of Kodiak and salmon rubs from Summit Spice in Anchorage. Fish watch The Alaska pollock fishery opened on Jan. 20 to trawlers in the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska; those fleets also will target cod, perch, flounders and other groundfish. Bering Sea crabbers were nearing 40 percent of their 61 million-pound snow crab quota. About 6 million pounds remain in the 15 million-pound tanner crab catch. A tanner crab and golden king crab fishery open concurrently at Southeast Alaska on February 13. The tanner fishery will be assessed after five days to see how many pots are on the grounds. The stocks are looking good, and last year’s take of more than 1.25 million pounds was the best in 13 years. The limit for golden king crab is 336,000 pounds. Also at Southeast: the demersal shelf rockfish season opens on Feb. 6. It includes seven different rockfish species with a combined catch of 72,000 pounds. Black rockfish is another catch around Kodiak while jig and pot boats await a state water cod opener in a few weeks. A pot cod fishery opens Feb. 9 at Dutch Harbor to boats under 58 feet. Up next: the halibut fishery opens on March 14; the herring fishery at Sitka Sound should follow soon after. Mmmm, maggot meal Mix up a batch of manure, flies and fish guts and you end up with a maggot-based meal that’s irresistible to fish. Idaho University scientists (and others around the world) have developed a maggot-based fish feed that also devours manure and fish wastes. Idaho is America’s largest producer of farmed rainbow trout, and with a half million cows, it also is the nation’s fourth-biggest dairy state. But along with all those cows come billions of pounds of poop. With fish meal prices skyrocketing and mountains of manure piling up, Idaho researchers created something cheaper, that also eats up tons of dung and fish guts in the process. To the rescue black soldier flies, used widely in Asia to eat restaurant wastes. In tests by animal waste management engineers, the flies quickly reduced 700 buckets of cow manure by half, and seeded it with their eggs. Two months later, fish guts from local farms were added to the brew to enrich the maggots with omega fatty acids. Then they were cleaned, frozen, ground up and fed to rainbow trout in test stations along the Snake River. The fish snapped up the feed, which made sense to the scientists since flies are a far more natural fish food than corn and soybean-based feeds. Waste engineers believe it could become an important niche industry for Idaho’s dairy farmers who can count on their cows to produce 30 billion pounds of manure each year. Giving back American Seafoods Co. is accepting applications for its Alaska community grant program. A total of $38,000 will be donated to projects that address hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of grant awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. Deadline to apply is Feb. 17. Contact Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Company stores already carry Alaska halibut and sockeye salmon. Added to the mix now is Alaska cod loins and fillets, coho, keta and king salmon, rockfish, sole, and Alaska king and snow crab. Also debuting last week: The Alaskan, from Trident Seafoods, featuring separately bagged items that include grilled salmon, pollock fillets, whitefish burgers and more. “We’re particularly excited about our expanded assortment which is highlighted by our exclusive line of The Alaskan,” Ales said in a phone interview. “These items are new 100 percent Alaska seafood products exclusively for us. They’re all caught in those great Alaska waters and processed locally either in the state or in the Pacific Northwest.” The new partnership with Trident, Ales added, is Walmart’s “Made in the USA Manufacturing Initiative” in action. “In 2013 we committed to American renewal by announcing that we intend to help boost job creation here in the US along with manufacturing, and we’re going to do that by buying an additional $250 billion in products that support American jobs by 2023,” he said. Walmart operates 11,202 stores in 27 countries. Might the Alaska seafood blitz extend to other stores? “We’re always listening to our customers and providing the assortments and items they want,” Ales said. “We know customers in all parts of the world recognize that Alaska produces high quality seafood; it’s a premium item with great dependability and great taste. And as our customers seek those items out, we absolutely want to be there to make these products available and to meet their needs from store to store and community by community.” Get growing! Grow what you’ve got is the trend in Juneau as the way to boost and sustain its economy. Last week’s annual Innovation Summit showcased ideas in four clusters: Oceans, Visitors, Forests and Renewable Energy. “In an advanced economy like the U.S. and Europe most of the growth comes from new ideas. We’ve tapped out most of our opportunities to just pull resources out of the ground or water, so real growth happens when we innovate,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, host of the summit. It also promoted the cluster-based model of growing an economy, which recognizes the strengths in a region and encourages building on those strengths. “Clusters are concentrations of businesses in a particular region that rely on a similar labor market,” Holst explained. “These firms complement each other but also compete. Think of the seafood industry, tourism, visitor products. Those businesses that bring in money from Outside are especially important for our economy. “We know that 95 percent of jobs come from industries that already exist within an economy. A lot of people say let’s attract a new company or industry into a town or region, but that is very difficult and the return is very low. The best return is to focus and grow what you have.” The Ocean Products Cluster for the region is focusing on growing the mariculture industry, a sea otter garment business and full utilization of fish parts. Juneau has become a busy fishing town, Holst said, and all combined, it is the community’s largest employer. He believes there is heightened awareness of the seafood industry’s importance in the capitol city. “I believe Juneau recognizes that the ocean and ocean harvests are going to be part of who we were, who we are and who we will be in the future,” Holst said, “and we want to invest in and support the industry.”  ‘But’s up! Alaska’s 2015 halibut catch is 21.2 million pounds, an overall increase for the first time in a decade, and nearly 1.5 million pounds higher than last year. The International Pacific Halibut Commission finalized the numbers at its annual meeting on Jan. 30. All but two Alaska regions will enjoy slightly bigger harvests. The 2015 halibut season begins on March 14 and ends on Nov. 7. Seafood trends Seafood eating trends and market outlooks were a focus of the Global Seafood Market Conference last week in Las Vegas, hosted annually by the National Fisheries Institute. Undercurrent News provided highlights and predictions by a wide range of experts at its on-site blog: For halibut, strong demand and high prices for fresh fish is set to continue, with halibut almost exclusively seen today at high-end restaurants. Markets for tilapia, a tasteless farmed whitefish, continues to grow, with most of it coming from Mexico, Central and South America. Honduras increased its US market share from 28 to 38 percent last year. Global tilapia production is pegged at 4.7 million metric tons this year, or more than 10 billion pounds. Alaska pollock is the fish to push, said food service reps, because “anything can be done with it” and it is sustainably abundant. Prices for fresh Pacific cod fillets should increase due to drops in production on the east coast, and a 100,000-ton cut in the Barents Sea cod quota. For four years Sablefish Canada of British Columbia has been shipping farmed sablefish (black cod) from its Saltspring Island facility to white tablecloth restaurants in the US and Asia. The goal is to produce one million sablefish annually. Sablefish are tough to grow and very carnivorous, and it took 10 years before they were successful, a company spokesman said. Most of the world’s sablefish comes from Alaska, where the supply picture is flat. More U.S. oyster growers are following the lead of wine makers by promoting the regions where their shellfish come from. More production is needed to meet demands, as regulations, water quality and limited hatchery production are limiting supplies in the Lower 48. Ocean acidification also was cited as a threat to shellfish mariculture. Panelists said world currency weaknesses will hurt frozen sockeye sales this year. The Canadian dollar, British pound, euro, yen and Norwegian kroner all have plummeted making it more expensive for them to buy Alaska sockeye. The market for pink salmon, however, is still strong. Jumbo Humboldt squid, which can grow to five feet, are continuing to move north to Alaska with red flags they could slam the salmon fishery. The squid are very aggressive predators that eat everything in their path. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Fisheries was just one of the topics that 250 Alaskans brainstormed about in 17 teams that newly elected Walker convened in late November. Their task was to identify the top five priorities in diverse categories, as well as the barriers to success and ways to overcome them. Their reports were released to the public last week. The 25-member Fisheries Team, which included commercial, sport, subsistence and science stakeholders, strongly recommended re-enacting the Coastal Zone Management Program in its “fish first” priority list. They also said that no significant loss of fish habitat should knowingly be permitted in the state. Roadblocks to success are cited as lack of scientific data due to lack of money, and “subversion of science to politics.” They called it a “myth” that fish, nature or habitat can be recreated, or that wild runs can be replaced with hatchery fish. The transition report also said that “the economic value of fisheries is undervalued and not understood, and the monetary dollar value of clean water and habitat is not understood.” No. 2 on the transition list is to “prioritize and improve fishery access for Alaskans.”  That includes creating state funds or Fishery Trusts to recapture fishing licenses, permits or IFQs (with a subset for young entries), and allowing “community entities” to do the same. The report also recommends making it easier for small-scale processors and marketers to operate, and eating more locally caught seafood. Adequate funding for Alaska Department of Fish and Game and fisheries science is ranked as the No. 3 priority. No. 4 is that fisheries should be managed based on science over politics, with several suggestions for Board of Fisheries reforms. Finally, the team prioritized locally based, adaptive fisheries management. They recommend that area managers be based year round in the regions they manage, and that lawmakers and administrators get out and listen to Alaskans in far-flung places. Find the Transition Team reports at www.gov.alaska.gov. Iceland leads in adding value Iceland is a top fishing nation and it leads the world in turning fish parts into high value marine products. State and Alaska seafood company reps visited recently to learn more about how Iceland does it. “The purpose was to increase our knowledge about the new full utilization technologies that Iceland companies are using to produce a variety of high value marine goods. It’s what they’re known for,” said Matt Catterson, an economist with the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development, which organized the trade mission. Also participating were the Iceland Ocean Cluster, Juneau Economic Development Council and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The two countries share similar challenges in developing high-value products from fish parts, Catterson said, but Iceland has some clear advantages. “Iceland is a unique place in a lot of ways. They have really abundant and inexpensive energy from all their geo-thermal resources. They also have great logistic connections within their country and to the European market,” he said. One thing that really stood out was Iceland’s “collaborative culture,” especially with biotech companies and academia. “It’s a model that doesn’t really exist yet in Alaska yet, where smaller biotech companies that are associated with the university in Iceland have partnered with some of the larger seafood companies to produce these high value marine products from fish wastes,” Catterson said. “They include a variety of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products, as well as basic marine ingredients like collagen or other enzymes that have really valuable commercial applications worldwide.” Nine Alaska seafood companies are currently producing fish oils and meals, which is nothing new, and the volume and value has ticked upwards steadily since 2010. The value of 25 million pounds of fish oils produced in 2013, for example, was $15 million, a $3 million increase since 2010. Many large and small companies already are creating products from fish parts, such as Trident’s oil supplements and pet treats. Bering Select in Dutch Harbor last week began producing omega-3 products from cod, and the Alyeska Plant in Dutch Harbor (a Pacific Seafoods subsidiary) has started to produce collagen. “The global trend is utilizing all of the resources,” Catterson said. “There isn’t necessarily going to be more fish available to catch and process, so increasing the value of what you catch and process is how the industry will grow in Alaska. And this is not news to any of the seafood companies operating here.” Salmon milt magic Salmon sperm, or milt, is being called a miracle product by Japanese researchers for its ability to extract rare earth elements from various wastes. It turns out that salmon sperm has phosphate in its DNA, and previous studies showed that phosphate on the surface of some bacteria extracted rare earth elements. To test the idea, the researchers poured dried salmon milt into a beaker containing liquid ore waste. The semen did indeed absorb several rare elements from the solution, which were easily extracted using a centrifuge, and did it 10 times more efficiently than conventional methods. The scientists claim salmon sperm could someday replace the hazardous chemicals that are currently used to extract rare earth elements. And take note Alaska: the Japanese researchers said that before salmon milt can replace industrial pollutants, “cooperation from commercial fisheries will be required”... and “infrastructure will have to be set up for capturing and processing it at its source.” The scientists noted that in its dried form, milt is very easily stored. It’s not the first time salmon sperm DNA has been called a miracle. It was the first biological material ever used in LED lighting, found everywhere. Photonics expert Dr. Andrew Steckl at the University of Cincinnati said it is the unique shape of the salmon DNA that produces the bio-magic. He added that the semi-conductor and flat panel display industries fear that the rare specialty metals they need to make their devices will soon run out. Steckl believes plentiful biomaterials will help save the day. “We have one of the biggest and most competitive industries in America with agriculture and fishing,” he said, “and it produces huge amounts of biomaterials which can be used in many different ways.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Alaska’s approach will be patterned after the $1 million canned pink salmon campaign when the record catch in 2013 plugged that market, said Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We’re targeting in particular the U.K., Japan and Canada with canned sockeye, and domestically with retailers to the tune of 6,000 to 7,000 individual stores to run sockeye promotions through the spring, as well as a joint promotion with Chateau St. Michele that will reach another 10,000 or so stores,” Fick said. “And then in food service we’re working through Sysco with a Lenten promotion that will run from February through April, specific to frozen sockeyes.” The campaign also will advertise in overseas media, and as with pink salmon, work directly with retailers and distributors to move product and “move the needle on awareness.” “We look to take advantage of some of the larger food trends — knowing where your food comes from, local seafood, clean waters, things like that,” Fick said. It’s a good strategy, but he admits there are many factors over which the industry has no control. “Currency exchanges, international global politics and what not. But the whole idea of this marketing operation is to buffer that and to at all times have a preference for Alaska out there,” Fick said. Referring to the pink campaign that has kept sales steady, he added: “All of the data coming back indicates it’s working pretty well.” New products debut The Alaska Symphony of Seafood attracted 17 new products for its 22nd annual competition. The contest showcases new seafood items in retail, food service and smoked categories with top winners getting a trip to the Boston Seafood Show. This year the Symphony added a Beyond the Plate category for fish parts, which attracted five entries: Baltica Style Fish Broth by Ed’s Kasilof Seafoods, 54 Degrees North Omega-3 Oil by American Seafoods Co., and three pet treat products — Alaska Naturals Wild Seafood by Trident Seafoods, Wild Catch for Pets Salmon Sticks by Copper River Seafoods and Yummy Chummies by Arctic Paws. Other new seafood entries include Trident’s Alaskan Whitefish Burger, Copper River Seafoods’ Zesty Grilled Cod Portions, Kodiak’s Pickled Willies with Smoked Black Cod Tips, and several offerings from C&H Classic Smoked Fish and Tilgners Specialized Smoked Seafoods of Ninilchik, last year’s grand prizewinner. A notable thing about the annual Symphony is that it includes seafood producers ranging from the very small to the majors. “No matter what size you are or whether you’re trying to get into a niche market or competition on a global basis, winning the Symphony of Seafood really makes you stand out. And it showcases what the industry does all the way to the final product on the plate,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the event. Inlet watchers One good thing that came out of the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill was laws creating citizen councils to oversee oil industry activities and regulators. Since 1990, the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Council, or CIRCAC, has promoted environmentally safe transportation and oil facility operations in the region, which includes downstream. The Council has several seats set to expire, including a commercial fishing seat on its board of directors. “Those seats belong to certified aquaculture associations and commercial fishing groups, and the Cities of Kenai, Homer and Kodiak,” said Lynda Giguere, CIRCAC Public Outreach Director. “If something happens upstream, they are definitely in our area of concern. And our role is to continue to bring local voices and communities to the table.” Cook Inlet is home to a patchwork of 16 fixed platforms tapping into about 250 oil and gas wells and 1,000 miles of pipelines. Giguere said people are surprised to learn that the citizen’s group does much more than oil spill prevention and response programs. “We have a biological and chemical monitoring program, and we have taken the scientific lead for Alaska on a contaminant study for the Western Gulf including Kodiak,” Giguere said. “We also introduced the Alaska shore zone mapping project, which has since expanded to include the entire state.” Add to that habitat mapping, studying winter prey for beluga whales, and working with the Coast Guard to create an area-wide harbor safety committee. Fish buzz Paine & Partners of San Francisco has announced the sale of Icicle Seafoods. Pacific Seafoods is seen as a frontrunner for buying Icicle, reports Undercurrent.com. The bankers handling the process also are contacting Community Development Quota groups to assess their interest. Along with a fleet of 11 vessels, Icicle owns shore plants in Petersburg, Seward, Egegik at Bristol Bay, Larsen Bay at Kodiak and near Dillingham. Cora Campbell, former Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner, has been named CEO of Siu Alaska Corporation, a subsidiary of the Norton Sound Economic Development Corporation (a Community Development Quota group). Siu is involved in seafood harvesting, processing and product development. www.siualaska.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. A 25 percent increase in snow crab, the unexpected 15 million-pound tanner fishery, a weak Japanese yen, plus several million pounds of Russian snow crab from a new fishery in the Barents Sea, (not to mention all the pirated crab) all are combining to give buyers plenty of choices, said market expert John Sackton. Another twist: lower king crab prices have given retail and foods service buyers more alternatives, including a new entry: Argentinean southern red king crab. Global market forces also are causing downward pressure on Alaska sockeye prices. The unanticipated big run at Bristol Bay had processors producing more frozen reds than expected (while at the same time the 10 million sockeye catch from the Fraser River took some of the wind out of Alaska’s fresh sales). In the face of another huge sockeye salmon run expected at the Bay again this summer, unsold sockeye inventory remains piled up in freezers. According to reports by Japan’s Minato-Tsukiji, frozen H&G (headed and gutted) production topped 20,000 tons, and in the face of another huge sockeye run to Bristol Bay this summer,  “the industry believes that 5,000-8,000 tons of products are unsold, because buyers in the EU and U.S. could not catch up with the high prices.” Adding to the mix, record numbers of farmed salmon are coming into the U.S. from Norway and Chile. (A strong U.S. dollar means it’s cheaper for the U.S. to buy foreign fish, and more expensive for other countries/currencies to buy U.S. seafood.) Food commodities tracker Urner-Barry reports that Chile’s farmed coho volumes last year were the highest since a virus wiped out their fish farms in 2010. And Russia’s ongoing seafood ban prompted Norway to turn to the U.S. as an alternative market, with U.S. sales of fresh fillets through the third quarter reaching 18.5 million pounds, a five-year high. The holidays boost seafood demand, and Urner-Barry said the upswing could carry over into the New Year. The Lenten season begins early — on Feb. 18, just four days after Valentine’s Day. Halibut hot seat Amidst some optimism that the Pacific halibut stocks appear to be stabilizing, the stage is set for some tension when halibut managers and stakeholders gather for the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s annual meeting later this month in Vancouver. The IPHC, which oversees halibut science and harvests from Oregon through British Columbia to the Bering Sea, will set catch limits, the fishery start and end dates, and take up regulation proposals. Only one catch limit comment was submitted by the Dec. 31 deadline. To reduce handling and wastage in the fishery, the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association is asking the IPHC to reduce the minimum size requirement for commercially caught halibut from 32 inches to 30 inches. The FVOA claims that, based on observer data, a two inch size reduction could reduce handling by 58 percent and wastages from 1.35 million pounds to 0.58 million pounds. Two regulation proposals will be considered — one would set a maximum size limit for halibut in both the commercial and sport sectors. Protecting the larger fish, which are the breeders, would help the halibut stocks replenish at a faster pace, it recommends. A second halibut charter proposal suggests retaining a first 29 inches or less halibut in the Central Gulf to decrease throwbacks of injured fish. The biggest fish story in the room will be Alaska’s halibut bycatch problem, and driving the tension is a perverse situation in the Bering Sea. The IPHC doesn’t set bycatch levels; that falls to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The NPFMC in December allotted six million pounds of halibut as bycatch to Seattle-based trawlers in the two billion-pound Bering Sea flatfish fisheries (based on a formula that has not been adjusted for 20 years). That left just 370,000 pounds for small boat halibut fishermen at the Pribilof Islands for the upcoming fishery, a 70 percent reduction. At that harvest level, the IPHC estimates that 93 percent of all halibut removals in the Bering Sea would be from bycatch and not the directed fishery. The communities of St. Paul and St. George, along with the six Alaskan members of the NPFMC including Deptartment of Fish and Game Interim Commission Sam Cotten, have sent an emergency request to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce seeking a 33 percent reduction in the 2015 halibut bycatch limits in the groundfish fisheries. The IPHC meets Jan. 26-30 in downtown Vancouver. Salmon at a glance Everything you want to know about Alaska’s 2014 salmon season — prices, sales, harvests, exports and more — is in new Seafood Market Information bulletins from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The bulletins, compiled by the McDowell Group in Juneau, cover every salmon species and region, and show yearly comparisons from 2010. They reflect all the preliminary tallies of the salmon season, but don’t include bonuses or retro payments. Some highlights: The 2014 salmon catch of 157 million fish was the 27th year in a row that the catch has topped 100 million. Southeast had its best chinook salmon harvest since 2005 at 423,000 fish. Bristol Bay’s 29 million sockeye catch was the largest since 2010, although the average size of the fish was the smallest in over 15 years. Kodiak salmon fishermen grossed $46 million, the lowest since 2010. Alaska’s Revenue Department tracks sales of salmon products all year — fresh and frozen, fillets, canned and roe. May through August reflects over 90 percent of the year’s fresh salmon sales and gives a hint of how wholesale markets are responding to the recent harvest. Prices for most salmon products were down, except for frozen pinks and chums, called keta in the ASMI bulletin. Salmon roe sales changed dramatically in 2014, down 55 percent from the year before. (There’s that Russian seafood ban kicking in for pink salmon roe sales.) Seafood is still Alaska’s most valuable export totaling $2.6 billion from January through last September. Our number one customer is China, doubling Japan’s purchases. South of the border, seafood sales to Brazil last year were up more than 400 percent. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. The fisheries that Alaska inherited from the federal government at statehood in 1959 were in bad shape. That year the salmon catch of 25 million fish was the worst since the turn of the century, and total seafood production was just 324 million pounds. In contrast, salmon catches today often top 200 million fish, and more than five billion pounds of seafood cross the Alaska docks each year. Here are fishing notables from 2014, in no particular order, followed by my annual “fish picks and pans” (see box): Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood catches last year: Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and Akutan. The 2014 salmon harvest totaled 157 million fish with a dockside value of nearly $577 million. That’s 116 million fewer salmon than last year, and a $113 million drop in value. Prince William Sound squeaked by the Panhandle to claim the year’s highest salmon catch at 49.35 million fish — topping Southeast’s landings by just 103,000 salmon. Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch of 28.8 million was 61 percent higher than expected and rang in at nearly $193 million at the docks. Fish forecasters said in 2015 Bristol Bay can expect the largest red run in two decades — 54 million with a harvest of 38 million. Norton Sound fishermen also saw a nice salmon payday from one of the best chum harvests in 25 years, plus the fourth best for silvers and the highest price in the state at $1.60 per pound. Chums from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim regions fetched some of the highest prices at 55 cents to 60 cents per pound. Salmon permits in many fisheries tripled in value since 2002. By mid-year Bristol Bay driftnet permits were listed by brokers at $150,000 to $170,000, compared to $90,000 in January. Southeast Alaska seine permits were the priciest in the state topping $300,000. Scientists discovered that crabs can hear through a small sac at the base of their antennae. Even more exciting, they found clues to determining crabs’ ages — parts of the crab stomach and eye stalks remain after molts and show bands similar to rings in a tree. It means that for the first time managers will soon know for sure how fast crabs grow, a key factor in stock assessments. Shrimp remained as America’s top seafood favorite, but salmon bumped canned tuna to take over the second spot. Each American ate 2.7 pounds of salmon, a 34 percent increase in one year. The pollock biomass in the Bering Sea more than doubled its 10-year average to top 20 billion pounds, and the stock is healthy and growing. (The allowed catch is around 3 billion pounds.) A lawsuit challenged a new law designed to clamp down on hired skippers fishing the halibut and sablefish quota shares owned by others. The rule took effect Dec. 1; it bans using a hired skipper to harvest any quota acquired after Feb. 12, 2010. A massive tailings dam breach at the Mt. Polley gold/copper mine fouled lands and waters for miles in neighboring British Columbia. That began an uproar downstream at Southeast Alaska, where five huge mines are planned near watersheds that feed into some of the region’s most productive salmon rivers. Canadian officials rejected calls from Southeast and Alaska Senators for more thorough environmental reviews. More than 100 researchers and three dozen projects got underway to find clues to the seven-year decline of Alaska’s king salmon. The state-backed, five-year, $30 million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative includes 12 major river systems from Southeast Alaska to the Yukon. Xtra-Tuf Boots partnered with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association to help expand training and reduce injuries to all mariners. The company sealed the deal with a $10,000 check at the Alaska State Fair. Russia began a yearlong ban on food products from the U.S. and other nations over political grievances in the Ukraine. For Alaska the ban means a loss of 20 million pounds in seafood sales, mostly salmon roe and pollock surimi, valued at $60 million. Corrosive effects of ocean acids were documented by NOAA scientists on the shells of tiny, snail-like pteropods, which make up 45 percent of pink salmon diets. Unmanned gliders began tracking how melting glaciers may be intensifying corrosive waters in Prince William Sound. A Maritime Workforce Initiative was launched by the state Labor Department that targets 23 different occupation types such as fishing, research, machinists, ship building, and repairs. Right now there are not enough skilled workers to meet demand. Researchers reported that nothing on retail shelves compares to the levels of antioxidants and other healthy compounds seen in Alaska seaweeds. The “graying of the fleet” spawned a multi-year project to find ways to attract more young people to fishing careers. The average age of Alaska permit holders is 47, with twice as many permit holders aged 45 to 60 as there are between 30 and 44. With a $335,000 grant from the North Pacific Research Board, a team with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Alaska Sea Grant will focus on the Kodiak and Bristol Bay regions through 2016. Alaska processors launched a new line of pink salmon in smaller cans aimed at endurance athletes. The smaller cans also will let processors use the salmon development tax credit passed this year by the Alaska legislature to upgrade canning lines, many of which are from the 1950s. Bob Tkacz, one of Alaska’s best fishery writers, died suddenly in Juneau. Bob covered seafood industry issues for 33 years and published the weekly Laws for the SEA during the legislative sessions. Approval (or not) of genetically modified salmon, dubbed Frankenfish, remained in FDA limbo.  A new Alaska Mariculture Initiative began “to grow a billion dollar industry within 30 years.” The first phase was bankrolled by a $216,812 federal grant to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation as part of NOAA Fisheries’ national mariculture expansion policy. Slow growing halibut stocks showed signs of reversing a near decade decline that has seen commercial catches slashed by 70 percent. The price for halibut quota shares hit $50 per pound at Southeast Alaska, the only place where catches have increased in recent years. Dock prices for halibut topped $6 per pound at major ports for much of the eight-month season. A ballot measure to allow the Alaska legislature to ban large mining projects near Bristol Bay passed with a 65/35 vote. Currently, only state and federal agencies can decide on mining permits. Ocean Beauty Seafoods was awarded the 2014 Supplier of the Year by Whole Foods Markets. Whole Foods said it “admires Ocean Beauty’s partnering with port buyers to ensure fishermen are recognized and treated with respect.” Trial fisheries began for seine-caught pollock at Kodiak and Homer with little interest. Alaska seafood remained free of radiation stemming from Japan’s 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. The EPA concluded that the Pebble Mine would be “devastating” to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and Native culture. That set the stage for the agency to permanently ban large-scale mining in the region. Federal fishery managers began a move towards a “bycatch mitigation” plan for groundfish trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include some form of catch sharing. A new Kenai-based sportfish group formed, the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance aimed at banning setnetting near Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. It would eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and affect 500 fishing families in all. The group is still gathering signatures to bring its case to Alaska voters. The “nation’s fish basket” was closed indefinitely by Pres. Obama to oil/gas development, meaning 36 million acres of the Eastern Bering Sea that include Bristol Bay. This is the 24th year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites, including in the UK. A spin off – Alaska Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s seafood industry, and to inspire more Alaskans to join its ranks. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information. 2014 Fish Picks and Pans Biggest fish wait and see: Sen. Dan Sullivan Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. fisheries in Southeast Alaska Best fishing career builder: University of Alaska Southeast for its hydraulics and vessel electronics courses, fish tech training — all available online. Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, which has provided close to 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994. Biggest fishing industry critic using questionable “facts:” Craig Medred, Alaska Dispatch News Best fish reality show: Kodiak’s fish debate featuring Begich vs. Sullivan and Young vs. Dunbar. Sullivan’s plans to pull a double debate no show backfired when the “fish diss” story went viral. Sullivan showed up, but it was Rep. Don Young who corked the night with death threats and overall bad behavior. Most outstanding fishing town: Once again, no town highlights its local fisheries and supports its future fishermen like Sitka. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which now 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. Best fish gadgets: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It’s free. Biggest fish blunder: Former Gov. Sean Parnell naming Pebble Mine flak Ben Mohr as his fisheries adviser. Best up and coming fish pols: Forrest Dunbar, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins Scariest fish story: Ocean acidification. Best fish to kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Worst global fish story: Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported (IUU) catches by fish pirates —up to 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best fish news site: Seafood.com Best fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, Rivers Without Borders Best fish-crats: Duncan Fields, North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Nick Sagalkin, new Alaska Department of Fish and Game Westward Region supervisor Best fish writers: Margie Bauman, Jim Paulin, Molly Dischner Best fish economist: Andy Wink, McDowell Group Worst, most awful, unacceptable, no good, very bad fish story: Giving six million pounds of halibut as bycatch to Bering Sea trawlers in the 2-billion pound flatfish fisheries (not pollock), and leaving just 370,000 pounds for the small boat fishermen at St. Paul, a 70 percent reduction for the upcoming halibut season. The halibut bycatch levels, which are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, have not been changed for the flatfish fisheries in 20 years. Meanwhile, halibut catches for commercial and sport users have been slashed every year for a decade due to stock depletion and slow growing fish. Biggest fish story of 2014: Mark Begich’s defeat in November meant losing one of Alaska’s most fish savvy U.S. senators, as well as the loss of the chair of the Fisheries/Oceans/USCG committee and an Alaskan seat on Appropriations, where all those federal dollars get doled out.  

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. Crab boats will soon be out on the Bering Sea for snow crab, Alaska’s largest crab fishery. Early March sees the start of the eight-month long halibut and sablefish (black cod) seasons. March also marks the beginning of Alaska’s roe herring circuit, usually at Sitka Sound, and those fisheries will continue for several months all the way up the coast to Norton Sound. And although wild Alaska king salmon is available from Southeast trollers for all but two weeks out of the year, mid-May is considered the “official” start of Alaska’s salmon season, when the runs of kings and reds return home to the Copper River. Salmon fisheries take center stage all summer and into the fall; that means one of Alaska’s highlights: red king crab at Bristol Bay in mid-October … and so it goes through the end and start of each and every year. In all, more than five billion pounds of fish and shellfish crosses Alaska’s docks each year and the industry puts more people to work that oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined. Fish watch Here are the 2015 catches for important groundfish species set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the percentage of change from this year (courtesy of Deckboss). Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: pollock, 1.3 million tons, up 3.4 percent; Pacific cod, 250,000 tons, down 1.8 percent; yellowfin sole, 149,000 tons, down 19 percent; Atka mackerel, 54,500 tons, up 68.6 percent; Pacific Ocean perch, 32,000 tons, down 3.3 percent; sablefish, 3,135 tons, down 0.5 percent. Gulf of Alaska: pollock, 199,151 tons, up 13.8 percent; Pacific cod, 75,202 tons, up 16.2 percent; Pacific Ocean perch, 21,012 tons, up 8.8 percent; sablefish, 10,522 tons, down 0.5 percent. Dungie delight Crabbers in Southeast Alaska had their best Dungeness crab fishery ever in terms of both catch and value. The combined summer and fall harvest topped five million pounds, well above the 10-year average of 3.78 million pounds. The 137 participants in the fishery enjoyed an average price of nearly $3 per pound (compared to $2.49 last year), making the Dungie fishery worth $15 million at the Southeast docks. Seafood traditions For centuries seafood has taken a special place on holiday tables all over the world served up with meaning. One of the oldest traditions stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, celebrated by Italian Catholics on Christmas Eve. The number seven is considered the perfect number in the Bible, and the feast symbolized the end of a month-long fast from eating meat or dairy products during Advent. One of the most popular of the seven dishes eaten is bacalào or salted codfish, along with fried fish such as smelt and calamari. Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden that goes back to the days of the Vikings, and is even more popular among Scandinavian Americans. It is made from dried white fish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly like. Or as Garrison Keillor wrote in Lake Woebegone Days: “Each Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark.” Elsewhere, in Japan consuming prawns on New Year’s is to insure long life, and herring roe for fertility. Feasting on pickled herring at midnight in Germany and Poland is done in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch. And in China a fish is served whole, symbolizing a good beginning and end in the coming year. One seafood that isn’t so popular in the holiday celebrations is lobster — because it swims backwards. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. In today’s climate of planet consciousness, “co-products” is the place to be, Bechtel added. To that end, Alaska’s most celebrated seafood bash — the Symphony of Seafood — has added a new category to its annual new products competition called Beyond the Plate. “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,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which has hosted the Symphony for 22 years as a way to showcase new Alaska seafood products. The event always attracts a wide array of entries from major companies to small mom-and-pops. Whereas the retail, food service, and smoked contest entries always feature tasty new fish and shellfish dishes, the new category literally goes beyond the plate. “It can be anything from fish oil capsules to salmon leather wallets,” Decker said, adding that AFDF hopes to attract people who might not be aware of the Symphony, or who haven’t participated before. “I personally believe that creativity is a key to solving some of our challenges in a positive way, and that’s shat we focus on with the Symphony of Seafood,” Decker said. Deadline to enter the 2015 competition is Dec. 31. All entries will be judged at a Seattle soiree on Feb. 5. Winners will be announced at a yet to be dated Symphony in Anchorage, followed by another gala in Juneau. Top winners in the four categories get a free trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood Show in March. Get with the gurry, Alaska Alaska’s annual fish wastes top one million metric tons (2.2 billion pounds) but the bulk is not making its way into new markets. In fact, production of fishmeals and oils has declined, and state figures only appear through 2009. Based on figures from the Commercial Operators Annual Report at the state Department of Commerce, total pounds of fishmeal production in Alaska declined from 111.5 million pounds in 2000 to 68.5 million pounds in 2009. The volume of fish oil more than doubled and the price increased fourfold between 2000 and 2009 with 11 million pounds of fish oil worth $2 million processed in 2000 compared with 22.7 million pounds worth $7.5 million in 2009 (inflation adjusted to 2009 dollars). The number of fish oil processors ranged from a high of 19 in 2001 to just three in 2008, while the number of fishmeal processors declined from a high of 62 in 2001 to 12 through 2009. How old is that crab? Knowing the age compositions of marine stocks is crucial to sustainable management. Fish can be aged easily by examining their ear bones (otoliths) or scales. Not so with crabs, because they molt. “For years it’s been assumed that crabs that don’t retain their hard parts throughout their lifetime due to growth by molting, at which they lose their exoskeleton. It was always assumed everything went with that,” said Joel Webb, a researcher at Alaska Department of Fish and Game age determination unit in Juneau. But about three years ago, researchers in Australia and Eastern Canada produced evidence to the contrary. “Parts of the crab (and shrimp) stomach and the eye stalks are retained through the molt and may be retained through the lifetime,” Webb explained. “And if you process those structures into very thin sections and look at them under a microscope and shine light through them, there are band patterns present similar to rings in a tree, otoliths or scales used to age fish.” Researchers always are trying to determine how many crabs die of natural causes like old age, Webb said, because that death rate is factored in to annual fishing quotas. “It’s a key parameter — when you know how big an organism is and what age it is, you know fast it grows. The growth rates and mortality rates are key pieces of information for fisheries management and stock assessments,” Webb said. Studies are ongoing in Juneau to apply the aging technique with red king crab, tanner crab and spot shrimp from Southeast Alaska, and preliminary evidence is showing promising results. It might be three to five years before the aging process transfers to the fisheries, Webb said, adding that it will be “transformative.” “It’s a phenomenal thing because the availability of age information is transformative for what we know about how these organism grow and survive,” Webb said. “Those are two key pieces of uncertainty as to how we currently manage and assess these populations and set our harvest rates. The availability of accurate information would shift the paradigm in what we know.” Researchers estimate it takes male king and tanner crabs five to six years before they are big enough for harvest. Soon, they’ll know for sure. Buyback ok, but how? Trimming the number of salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay has been discussed for decades. When limited entry began in the 1970s, the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission adopted an optimum number of 1,669 permits for the Bay’s drift gillnet fishery. Ten years ago, a CFEC study concluded that an optimum range of 900 to 1,400 permits would provide a “reasonable balance of economic, conservation and fishery management concerns.” Today there are 1,858 drift permits active at Bristol Bay. A buyback would retire 300 to 500 boats from the fishery. At a packed Expo gathering last month in Seattle, a majority of permit holders said that favored reducing the fleet. “When the question was raised of ‘do you support a fleet reduction?’ probably two-thirds of the folks raised their hands. Then when the question was focused down to ‘how many of you prefer a buyback?’ it dropped to about a third,” said Sue Aspelund, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, which is operated and funded by drift fishermen with a one percent tax on their catches. At issue is how to pay for a permit buyback, which would likely come in the form of a hefty federal loan to be repaid by the fleet.  Aspelund said the RSDA will survey drift permit holders again to see if they want a second study to analyze the socio-economic impacts of a buyback. “I think that’s the study that a lot of people, especially in the Bay, are really interested in,” Aspelund told KDLG. “The take home is how is it going to affect real people living in Alaska who are really dependent on that fishery.” The BBRSDA will organize and fund the study; it has not taken a position on the permit buyback. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. The regulation is aimed at preventing fuels, toxins or hazardous wastes from entering the water. That makes sense, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, but needing permits for hosing down a boat is going overboard — especially when recreational boats, even 300-foot yachts — are exempt from the rule. “We want to abide by environmental regulations that make sense,” Murkowski said in a phone call from Washington, D.C. “But I don’t think any of us believe it should be a requirement for a fishermen who has had a good day out on the water and they are cleaning up the boat and hosing slime and maybe some fish guts off the deck and that then becomes a reportable discharge to the EPA. “What are you supposed to do – direct it all into a bucket and keep it in the fish hold and take it to shore to dump it? Let’s use some common sense here,” Murkowski added, saying she will continue to push for a permanent fix. The discharge exemption is part of the U.S. Coast Guard Act, which also was reauthorized this week with a unanimous and bipartisan vote by Congress. “It’s very exciting to get this bill done,” said Sen. Mark Begich.  “It’s something we’ve worked on for some time and seeing it done is good news for Alaska and good news for this country.” As chair of the Fisheries, Oceans, Atmosphere and Coast Guard subcommittee for four years, it’s the second USCG Act he’s authored and been passed unanimously during his tenure. Among other things, the USCG acquisitions fiscal year 2015 budget represents a nearly $1 billion increase to modernize the fleet and strengthen its capabilities. It also includes permanent funding and inflation adjustment for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Committee, which oversees oil and gas projects and development in that region. So who will fill the seat of Fisheries and Oceans committee chair now that Begich is heading home to Alaska? “That’s a great question,” he said. “It won’t be an Alaskan and it will be a great challenge for us. Senator-elect (Dan) Sullivan does not have the seniority and Sen. Murkowski is not on the committee. So Alaska will not have the authority that it used to have.” What will Begich miss most about being in Washington? Working on behalf of individual Alaskans, he said. “Things like helping with social security needs or a veteran’s disability issue or fishermen and federal bureaucracy,” Begich said. “We had over 300,000 inquiries on individual issues we dealt with every day. I’ll miss that. The job of a senator is not only to represent issues on a national level, but to never forget where you’re from.” Trident buys up processors Trident Seafoods is now a triple owner of fish plants in Kodiak with its purchase last of Western Alaska Fisheries from Maruha Nichiro/Japan. Trident has long operated the large Star of Kodiak processing plant, which is mostly housed in a moored World War II Liberty ship.  Last year Trident bought the small Alaska Fresh Seafoods plant located next door. That property will expand Trident’s frozen holdings, said CEO Joe Bundrant. “We’re building a new freezer facility there, and the fish we used to tender out of the Gulf of Alaska to our Akutan plant will now be processed in Kodiak. Also, when you get your big pink salmon runs in places like Prince William Sound, we’ll be able to tender salmon here as well as handle any large seasons of pinks that come into Kodiak,” Bundrant said. The new freezer plant will mean more jobs for Kodiak’s resident workforce, said Trident plant manager Paul Lumsden. “We’re anticipating a minimum of 50 per shift,” Lumsden said, adding that the facility will be operating by next June or July. Trident’s takeover of Western Alaska Fisheries begins Jan. 1, Bundrant said. “We’re excited to operate that plant and we’ll operate business as usual starting in January and all qualified employees will be offered a job with Trident,” he added. Trident Seafoods was launched by Chuck Bundrant in 1973 and it is now the largest “source to table” seafood company in the nation. Son Joe said one constant is that Trident “is all about its people.” “Trident runs our business for our stakeholders,” Joe said. “My dad has never paid a dividend to the shareholders, it’s all gone back into the business. They are one of the stakeholders — we take equally serious the other stakeholders, and that is the communities and certainly our fishermen. That’s our employees and that’s our customers.” Bundrant said investing in Kodiak holds special meaning for him. “I was born here, my parents lived on Island Lake when I was young,” he mused. “To be able to make this investment in Kodiak is something special.” Trident operates in 10 Alaska communities including the world’s largest crab processing plant at St. Paul and the nation’s largest seafood processing plant at Akutan. Trident also has five research and development facilities, three in the Lower 48, one in China and one in Japan, “to help add value to every pound of fish,” Joe Bundrant said. The company has three project divisions that make and =market pet treats and supplements made from fish meals and oils; another focuses on human nutrition, and a third produces fertilizer. “Full utilization is our goal. We are constantly trying to find new homes and new markets for Alaska seafood.  That commitment and effort is how we really return more to the fishermen. And I challenge anyone to show me another processor that is more committed and done more for innovation,” Joe Bundrant added. “We are totally committed to the state of Alaska,” said Chuck Bundrant with a strong handshake as he went out my door. The story of Trident Seafoods and Chuck Bundrant — who literally began his career in the hold of a crab boat — parallels the development of Alaska’s seafood industry. Read it in “Catching a Deckload of Dreams” by John Van Amerongen. Cargo gets cleaner A new approach to an old idea could pioneer a cleaner planet. A small Seattle-based company called Pacific Sky Power aims to design a new style of cargo ship that cuts air pollution. Experts estimate that the 10,000 or so cargo ships that cover the globe each year produce 20 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. The end goal of the project is to have a fleet of sail powered cargo vessels operating in the Pacific Ocean, traveling from the west coast to Hawaii, then to Asia and back over to Alaska,” said project leader Don Tracy. Pacific Sky Power has come up with a “Transformers” kind of wide stance ship design that can extend and retract its size. “We’re looking at a catamaran configuration that uses a folding cross member and a telescoping mast to collapse at port, so it can efficiently manage the containers to onload and offload without an issue,” Tracy explained. The Sky Power team is designing and conducting trials on two fully operational prototypes of a 300 foot ship carrying more than 200 containers. Sky Power also is raising funds to keep the project afloat via Kickstarter, a web based “crowd funding” community that, according to its website, “brings creative ideas to life.” Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter claims over 7 million people in 214 countries have pledged $1 billion to fund 71,000 projects. Tracy said the early funding provides fine-tuning and feasibility data before seeking out other backers. “A big part of the project is coming up with all the mechanics that will allow us to fold the ships up and redeploy the sail and give the ship a wide stance at sea,” Tracy said. “It’s a big engineering challenge and it has to be worked out on a small scale first. Then we will be able to work with naval engineers to design the full size ships.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Two are the most prime halibut fishing spots: Southeast and the Central Gulf. The third is the Alaska Peninsula region. The surveys showed that the fish are still growing much slower than normal, but after more than a decade of conservative management, the halibut stock is showing signs of rebounding. Surveys this year showed total weights per unit of effort (fishing gear) were 6 percent higher than in 2013. “The trend estimates for this year are a bit more optimistic,” said Ian Stewart, a quantitative scientist with the IPHC. “What we are starting to see is more sensitivity to management actions than we have seen in previous years. As the stock begins to stabilize at this level, the level of catch is becoming relatively even more important to future trends.” Stewart added that it’s unclear what is causing the individual halibut to grow so slowly. “Probably climate change and prey, or competition with other species, perhaps density dependence and size selective fishing are all playing a role,” he said. One change in factoring the halibut catches is a full accounting for all sizes and sources of fish removals, including for the first time guided sport charters. The 2014 coastwide halibut catch was 27.5 million pounds; Alaska’s share was about 16 million pounds. Final catch decisions for 2015 will be made at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 26-30 in Vancouver. One fish, two fish The tallies for all that seafood crossing the Alaska docks this year are trickling out from various fishing agencies, and, as usual, they show ups and downs. Starting with salmon, the 2014 statewide harvest totaled 157 million fish with a dockside value of nearly $577 million. That’s 116 million fewer salmon than last year, and $113 million less, according to the state Commercial Fisheries Division. Prices to fishermen took a dip for three of the five salmon species: Chinook salmon averaged $4.07 per pound, compared to $5.31 last year; sockeyes averaged $1.37, down from $1.60. For pink salmon, the average price was 30 cents per pound, down a dime. On the upside, coho prices increased by 7 cents to average $1.15; likewise, chums increased 8 cents to 60 cents per pound. Alaska’s halibut fishermen enjoyed high halibut prices during the eight-month season that ended in early November. This year 1,989 longliners participated in the fishery, 35 less than last year, said Troie Zuniga at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The average dockside halibut price this year was $6.36 per pound, an increase of $1.30 over last year. Still, the overall dockside value of the halibut fishery at $100 million is down $5 million from last year. Once again, Homer held onto the top spot for halibut landings, beating out Kodiak by less than 150,000 pounds for the season (2.76 million pounds vs. 2.61 million pounds). Seward and Petersburg were the other top ports for halibut landings. For sablefish, or black cod, the average fisherman’s price was $3.59 per pound this year, a 55-cent increase. The value of Alaska’s sablefish fishery, at $76 million, is $4 higher than last year. The value of the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay took a big dip in 2014 to $209 million, down $22 million from a year ago. The decrease is blamed primarily on competition from pirated king crab from Russian fleets that is flooding the market. The Alaska crab price this year averaged $6.10 per pound, down more than a dollar. Tanner time out The popular Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak is on hold again for a second year; likewise, at Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. “Based on the results of our 2014 crab survey, the abundance of legal-sized male tanner crab were all below the minimum threshold for us to have a commercial fishery,” said Mark Stichert, area manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak. There is a bright side — the surveys also showed one of the largest waves ever poised to enter the tanner fishery since the late 1980s. “In fact, the total abundance of crab specifically in Kodiak was the third- or fourth-highest in the time series of our survey. So there is still a lot of tanner crab in the water, but they are fairly small,” Stichert added. The crab recruits measure 2.5 inches to 3.5 inches, Stichert said, still shy of the 5.5-inch legal size. “So we are cautiously optimistic that those crab will continue to persist and translate into a fishery down the road. But we are looking forward to potentially having stronger seasons again, or reopening again, potentially next year and more likely 2017,” he added. It takes about six years for tanner crab to grow to their full, two-pound size. That’s an educated guess, Stichert said, because crabs can’t be aged by scales or ear bones, like other species.  “We think a male tanner crab will molt up to 15 to 16 times throughout their life history, but we don’t really have a method of aging crab and getting a good idea of how much they grow year to year, or how old they really are when they hit the fishery,” he explained. The mid-January tanner season provides a nice mid-winter boost to 50 or more Kodiak boats and about 30 at the Peninsula. The 2013 total catch was less than one million pounds but it still brought in several million dollars to local communities. Share the Sea Providing one million seafood meals to hungry Americans during the holidays is the goal of a month long campaign by SeaShare, a Seattle-based nonprofit that for 20 years has provided seafood to food banks across the nation. Starting with its “bycatch to food banks” campaign in the 1990s, SeaShare has built a nationwide network that includes fishermen, seafood processors, freight, storage and packaging companies and financial donors to get valuable seafood protein to the needy. The Share the Sea campaign began Dec.1 to receive enough donations to provide one million servings of seafood to the food bank network. For every dollar donated, SeaShare can access eight servings of seafood. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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? A who’s who of experts hosted a what’s what at the Ocean Acidification in Alaska workshop Dec. 2-3 at the Anchorage Marriott. Satellite listening stations for the workshop are being made available around the state. (Questions? Alaska Ocean Observing System www.aoos.org) Upcoming changes to the observer program for small vessels is the focus of meetings set for Tuesday, Dec. 2 in Kodiak and Dec. 4 at Homer. NOAA outreachers will hold similar observer update meetings in March at Sitka and Petersburg. Salmon, herring and state managed fisheries at Prince William Sound and the Upper Copper/Upper Susitna Rivers will be the focus when the Board of Fisheries gets back to business Dec. 3-8 in Cordova. The Fish Board also will review 57 proposals from region stakeholders. Tune into the meetings live at www.adfg.alaska.gov. Finally, setting next year’s catches and issues surrounding Alaska pollock, cod and other groundfish will take center stage at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting set for Dec 8-16 at the Anchorage Hilton. Ocean users guide Planning and mapping ocean uses, both on and under, is a goal of the National Oceans Policy set in place by the Obama Administration in 2010. It is similar to land use planning, but for marine waters, said Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Think of it like in any community when someone proposes to put more houses in, or to set aside a tract of forest as a preserve or establish a new park. When you get a proposal like that, what do you all want to do?” Sullivan said. “You want to come together and say how does that relate to our schools and what impact will it have on our highway system, and where do we run the sewer lines. All those kinds of questions come to the foreground.” The buzz phrase has become “ocean zoning,” but Sullivan said it is more correctly called Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), and is intended to bring together all ocean users, along with multiple layers of information, so everyone is literally on the same page. “It’s using basic Geographic Information Systems to guide community decisions,” she explained in a phone interview. “The central thrust of GIS is that instead of having 12 people each bringing their separate pieces of paper all done to different scales — we can bring them all together into one common, shared view.” Sullivan said with marine mapping, planners can consider the cumulative effects of ocean uses, make industries more sustainable and proactively minimize conflicts between all users. Ultimately, it helps form common understandings among people from coastal regions. “So they can make their decisions of where the fishing grounds are and the shipping lanes, and is there going to be some wind energy developed and if so, where is the favorable area and what impact does that have on fishing and the efficiency of shipping in and out of our harbor,” Sullivan said. “It forms the parts of what you are thinking about together when you make those kind of decisions as a community.” Marine miracles At this time of giving thanks, let’s not overlook the miracles from the deep.  Sponge Bob, for example, could be the next rage in fiber optics. Researchers at Bell Labs have found that a certain type of sponge grows a network of glass fibers far more advanced than any found in today’s telecommunications networks. New Zealand researchers have found that adding fish oil to animal feed reduces the release of methane gas by 25 percent to 40 percent in sheep. More than 20 percent of global methane emissions come from farm animals. It is a potent greenhouse gas that traps nearly 20 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. For hundreds of years Asian cultures have used jellyfish to treat arthritis, high blood pressure and back pain. Some jellyfish have a special bio-luminescence useful in medical research.  Chitin, a substance found in the shells of crab, shrimp and other crustaceans, is packed with medical miracles. The carbohydrate that makes up chitin bonds with red blood cells to form an artificial clot, and seals massive bleeding wounds in just 30 seconds shrimp based bandages are now being used by our troops in Afghanistan. Ground up shrimp shells stirred into a nasal spray are being tested in England as a treatment for allergies and hay fever. Russian researchers have created a product from enzymes in king crab shells that helps heal severe burns. They say sea urchin pigment is remarkable for its anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. From sea cucumbers comes the basis of a new immunity-enhancing drug; another from brown seaweed reduces damage from radiation exposure. The venom of the cone snail is being used as the basis to treat severe chronic pain that doesn’t respond to other treatment. Just a few micrograms is said to be one thousand times more potent than morphine. A drug made from the snail toxin was approved a few years ago in the U.S. Also from the ‘sea pharmacy’ — close to 15 drugs derived from marine organisms are in various stages of testing for cancer treatments. The lowly sea squirt appears to be especially promising. Fish bits A first lawsuit is challenging a new federal rule that aims to clamp down on the use of hired skippers who fish halibut and sablefish quota shares owned by others. The rule takes effect December 1 and will ban using a hired skipper to harvest any quota acquired after a cutoff date of Feb. 12, 2010. Since the Individual Fishing Quota plan was put in place in 1995, the number of hired skippers has topped 50 percent and the quota owners have been charging high rents for the fish that has inflated the cost for IFQs. The goal now is to get back to a predominantly owner operated fleet that provides entry level opportunities for coastal Alaskans. Fairweather Fisheries of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Ray Welsh of Anchor Point, AK filed the 40-page complaint signed by six lawyers against NOAA Fisheries. Welsh claims the new law is discriminatory because he is disabled and can’t fish his quota; Fairweather claims as a corporation, it relies on a hired skipper to harvest its shares. The lawsuit is filed in federal court at Tacoma. Fisherman-owned Silver Bay Seafoods of Sitka has announced that StarKist and Dongwon Fisheries of South Korea have acquired a 12.5 percent equity interest in Silver Bay. A spokesman said it will help build the Alaska brand from boat to retail shelves. Silver Bay was founded eight years ago and has processing and freezing facilities in Sitka, Craig, Valdez, Bristol Bay and Metlakatla. The company also plans to expand to the squid fishery at Ventura, Calif. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. “It is one of the most stunning fisheries management successes on the planet,” exclaimed global market expert John Sackton when the pollock numbers were released by the Seattle-based Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Alaska pollock represents 40 percent of global whitefish production, he added. Out of the nine million ton pollock biomass, a catch of 1.3 million tons is being recommended for next year, or about three billion pounds. Federal managers will set all groundfish harvests in early December. The state is projecting an “excellent” catch of 58 million pink salmon next year in Southeast Alaska. That would be well above the 10-year average of 41 million, and would ranks among the top 10 harvests since 1960. The world’s premier sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay can expect the largest red run in two decades in 2015. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a run of 54 million reds and a harvest of 38 million fish, 10 million more than this year. The 2014 run was 53 percent higher than expected and fish forecasts always are variable and tough to peg, said Tim Sands, area manager at Dillingham. But, he added that all the data points to another big run. “Everybody seems pretty optimistic about the return next year,” he told local radio station KDLG. “Everybody’s looking at all the data in different ways, and they’re all coming up with numbers around 50 million, total run. I think that shows that the run is healthy and sustainable.” Also at Bristol Bay, the state’s largest herring fishery at Togiak is expecting a huge haul again next spring of 29,012 tons in the sac roe fishery, 4,000 tons more than this year. Red king crab wraps up It took crabbers just four weeks to haul up the 9 million pound red king crab quota in this year’s Bristol Bay fishery. The season opened on Oct. 15 and fish managers posted the catch at 100 percent as of Nov. 17.   The fishery was for the most part uneventful and the fleet was able to dodge some gnarly weather. The biggest crab concern came from an unexpected source, said Heather Fitch, regional manager at Dutch Harbor.  “We did have a scare with a lot of barnacles in the beginning of the season and a lot of sorting through the crab at sea. But the fishermen moved off those right away and then that scare went away,” Fitch said. She called the numbers of heavily barnacled red king crab unusual. “Typically, the fishery sees pretty clean shelled crab, so we’re not sure why. We need to look at the data,” Fitch said. It’s likely nothing to worry about, said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA “crab lab” at Kodiak, adding that more of the crusty crabs have been showing up in annual surveys for the past two years. “There is probably just a higher proportion of older shell crab,” Foy explained. “These are crab that are probably not molting every year and the fleet just happened to be working an area where they were aggregated.”  Crabs with barnacle-encrusted shells fetch a lower price because they are less appealing to customers. It also forces more sorting and handling on deck, which crabbers try to minimize to prevent harming the animals.  A fleet of 63 boats fished for red king crab this is year, which has been the standard for several years. They averaged 28 crab per pot, which Fitch called “pretty decent.” Already half of the boats have switched to Tanner crab. That Bering Sea fishery took everyone by surprise when the catch was boosted to 15 million pounds, up from 1.5 million last season. “Normally, when red king crab is over a few boats switch over. This year we’ve got 33 vessels that already switched over to the Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab. That’s quite a few more boats than we’ve seen in the last number of years,” Fitch said.  Oceans amok Making sure Alaska’s crab and other stocks remain healthy is the focus of an upcoming Ocean Acidification in Alaska workshop in Anchorage.  The informal, open event has attracted a who’s who of OA experts to share what is known today about the ocean’s changing chemistry and how it is corroding Alaska’s marine creatures.  In 2011 the state funded $2.7 million over three years to jump start an OA monitoring program in Alaska, and create an OA center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The money also was used to fund monitoring systems and deploy them at four moorings in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. What is known is that the effects of increasingly acidic oceans, which prevent creatures from growing skeletons and shells, are already visible, and it is happening faster in colder waters than anyone thought possible.  “Alaskans are used to lots of variability in fisheries — but you talk about ocean acidification and it terrifies people because it is such a big unknown as to what kinds of impacts it is going to have,” said Molly McCammon, executive director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System, host of the workshop. “We want to highlight what we know today, and talk about how we prepare to adapt or mitigate it.”  State funding for Alaska’s OA program is set to expire next June, McCammon said, and national funding has been stalemated at about $6 million a year “with most being spent in other regions of the country.” “We’ll be looking at how we can keep the state program going, where are the gaps in the program, how can we get additional funding and partners, and how we can keep this issue at the forefront of the public and legislators’ minds,” McCammon said.  The Ocean Acidification in Alaska workshop is set for Dec. 2-3 at the Anchorage Marriott.  Satellite listening stations for the workshop are being set up around the state. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Seafood harvesting and processing jobs are a focus of the November Alaska Economic Trends, which breaks down the numbers by region. Some highlights: Salmon fishing jobs were the main source of growth between 2012 and 2013 with a statewide gain of 452 jobs, or 10 percent. Salmon at Bristol Bay accounted for 98 percent of harvesting jobs, and 73 percent in the Southcentral region. Alaska crabbing dropped by about 100 jobs over those two years, down 17 percent. The average loss for groundfish harvesting jobs was 187 jobs, or 15 percent. Southeast Alaska has steadily been generating the most fishing jobs at 2,510, gaining 210 last year — the most since 2000. Southcentral was next at 1,619 jobs due to the region’s halibut fleets and the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet salmon fisheries. The Aleutians/Pribilof Islands’ ranked third for fishing employment at 1,513, followed by Bristol Bay with 1,364 fishing jobs. Conversely, jobs in Kodiak fisheries dropped nearly 13 percent last year to 770 due to decreased landings of halibut and groundfish. A total of 380 fishing jobs was listed for the Yukon Delta, and 146 for the Northern region. The Trends report also highlights jobs in 170 Alaska seafood processing plants, which are projected to grow by nearly 7 percent through 2022; the highest-paid processing occupations are expected to grow at nearly twice that rate. These jobs are related to high level management, engineering, metal fabricators and fitters, installation, maintenance and repair. Because of the remoteness of Alaska’s fisheries and the low resident populations, it is necessary for processors to seasonally bring in non-resident workers, which top 73 percent. Interestingly, next to slime line workers, the highest rates of nonresident workers were among vessel engineers (59.5 percent); captains, mates, and boat pilots. The Economic Trends report also looks at Alaska’s Community Development Quota program. Find it at labor.alaska.gov/trends/nov14.pdf. Salmon love Shrimp remained America’s favorite seafood last year — but Alaska is credited for pushing salmon to the second spot due to the huge production of pink salmon. That’s according to the National Fisheries Institute, which compiles the Top 10 list of seafood favorites each year based on NOAA’s annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report. The list makes up nearly 97 percent of all the seafood Americans eat. Each American ate 2.7 pounds of salmon in 2013, an overall 34 percent increase from the year before. Imports of farmed salmon increased just 5 percent to 620 million pounds — meaning it was Alaska salmon that drove increased consumption, said market expert John Sackton. And salmon imports to date this year are up 8 percent, he added, meaning American’s strong usage of salmon is continuing. Salmon pushed canned tuna to third place for favorites, with per capita consumption of tuna down 4 percent. Following the top three favorites were tilapia, pollock and pangasius. Just as Alaska wild salmon faces tough competition from farmed salmon, Alaska pollock faces a similar market squeeze from those two popular farmed whitefish. Cod moved up a notch to seventh place with a nice 16 percent jump in US per capita consumption. Sackton said that increase stems from more availability from that million tons of cod coming out of the Barents Sea. Rounding out the Top 10 list of seafood favorites were catfish, crab — at half a pound person an increase of 5 percent — and finally, clams. In all, each American ate 14.5 pounds of seafood last year, the same as in 2012. The NOAA report says that imports represented 94 percent of all seafood eaten, but that figure is being reworked. For one thing, it doesn’t reflect seafood sent to China for processing and then re-imported to the US.  Fish watch Alaska’s halibut fishery ended Nov. 7 and nearly all of the 16 million-pound catch was pulled aboard during the eight-month season. It’s a toss up to see which will be the top halibut port — Homer’s lead was only about 150,000 pounds more than Kodiak. The halibut fishery will reopen in March. Sablefish also ended on Nov. 7 with longliners taking about 90 percent of that 24 million-pound quota. Bering Sea crabbers were making short work of the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay. In little more than two weeks the fleet had taken 90 percent of their 10 million pound quota. No word on dock prices, which might not settle out until mid-January, said Jake Jacobsen of the crabbers’ Inter-Cooperative Exchange. Processors have been offering king crab at wholesale for $13 per pound, 50 cents less than last year, according to market reports. Jacobsen said the unexpected 15 million-pound tanner crab fishery might run through the end of March, with price negotiations continuing through June. Various boats are still targeting cod and flatfish in the Gulf and Bering Sea. There’s lots of fishing action in Southeast — trollers are targeting king salmon, the winter food and bait herring fishery is underway and fishing for seven kinds of rockfish opened on Nov. 8. The half million pound pot shrimp fishery is pretty much over in most Southeast districts, crabbing for Dungeness is ongoing and diving continues for sea cucumbers and geoduck clams.  Kodiak’s sea cuke fishery ended Oct. 30. Congratulations to Nick Sagalkin of Kodiak who was named as ADF&G Supervisor of the Westward region. He will oversee fish and shellfish fisheries from Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, all the way to the Pribilof and St. Matthew Islands. Giving back American Seafoods Co. is granting $43,000 to worthwhile Alaska programs and organizations that focus on such things as hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The company awards grants three times each year, and since 1997 has donated over $1.2 million to worthy causes. Deadline to submit an application is Nov. 17. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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. Dutch Harbor topped the list for landings for the 17th year running with 753 million pounds of fish crossing the docks last year, valued at nearly $200 million. The Aleutian Islands region ranked second for landings, thanks to the big Trident plant at Akutan; Kodiak ranked third for both seafood landings and value. For the 14th year in a row, New Bedford, Mass., had the highest valued catch at $380 million. That’s due mostly to pricey sea scallops, which accounted for more than 80 percent of New Bedford’s 130 million pound landings. In all, 14 Alaska ports made the top 50 list: the Alaska Peninsula (8), Cordova (9), Ketchikan (10), Sitka (15), Petersburg (16), Seward (20), Naknek (21), Valdez (24), Bristol Bay (26), Kenai (38) and Juneau (41). Most ports showed huge increases in fish landings and values, meaning a nice return in local and state tax dollars. Overall, fishermen were paid less for their catches. The average dock price for salmon (all species) was 67 cents per pound, down a nickel from 2012. For halibut, the average price of $3.89 was a drop of 58 cents. (All but 76,000 pounds of the nation’s halibut came from the Pacific fishery.) The average king crab price of $5.37 per pound was a decrease of 18 cents. While U.S. fishermen landed about the same amount of fish and shellfish last year — 10 billion pounds — the value of $5.5 billion was a $400 million increase from 2012. Maybe the jump in price is the reason Americans didn’t eat more seafood. The NOAA report shows that U.S. per capita consumption stalled at 14.5 pounds of fish and shellfish for the second year in a row. Figures for recreational fishing activities remained strong. Nearly 9.5 million recreational saltwater anglers in the United States took more than 71 million marine fishing trips in 2013 and caught more than 430 million fish, of which, 61 percent were released alive. That data did not include Alaska trips. Fish pirate put down Congress is poised to take direct aim at fish pirates by cutting them out of the seafood trade. The ultimate goal is to put a stop to the poaching of millions of tons of illegal, undocumented and unreported, or IUU, fish and shellfish taken from global waters. Led by the Alaska delegation, a Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, is likely to be signed into law by year’s end. The agreement, part of the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act negotiated by the UN and Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009, would strengthen port inspections and toughen standards for foreign flagged vessels and international shipping. By stopping the fish from reaching the market, it will reduce the incentive for poaching. 
 “Essentially, the PSMA relies on the principle that all fish and shellfish must be landed at some port in order to enter into trade,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a harvester trade group.  For decades, no Alaska fishery has been pinched harder by illegal catches than red king crab from the Bering Sea. “We are the poster child of what happens to your markets when it is flooded with illegal product,” Gleason said.  Last year alone 100 million pounds of pirated crab from Russia found its way into U.S. markets. (Studies estimate that more than 30 percent of total seafood imports to the U.S. were caught outside the law). Any country that ratifies the port agreement has four primary obligations, Gleason explained. They must designate which ports foreign flagged vessels can enter; they must restrict port entry and access to port services to any vessels that have engaged in IUU fishing or support activities, including transshipment; the nation must conduct dockside vessel inspections in their ports, and they must share information. The pirate fishing measures have been languishing in various Congressional committees for years, but there is a good chance they will make it through Congress this session. 
 “We’ve already signed the PSMA agreement, the Senate has agreed to ratify it, the final step is to get this implementing legislation passed,” Gleason said. “My hope is that it will be signed into law before the end of the year and the current Congress adjourns.” Alaska Sen. Mark Begich agrees. “As chair of the Fisheries and US Coast Guard Committee, I’m very excited about this. This puts teeth into an international treaty and agreement of our shipments of seafood and how they are handled,” Begich said. “I believe one of two things will happen: it will pass separately or be folded in as part of the USCG Reauthorization Act. I am anxious to get this passed.” “If it was left entirely to the Alaska delegation, it would be a slam dunk,” Mark Gleason added. “Sens. Murkowski, Begich and Congressman Young have been unbelievably supportive of this legislation, of the agreement and certainly of Alaskan crabbers.” Begich said being able to move the pirate fishing and port measures is another good example of bipartisanship and working across the aisle in Congress to get things done for Alaska and U.S. fishermen. Southeast tops in salmon Fishermen in Southeast Alaska hauled in the most salmon of any other region this summer — narrowly edging Prince William Sound by just 404,000 fish. The numbers are preliminary, but state figures show that the Panhandle produced a catch of just more than 49 million salmon, and just under that number at the Sound. Notably, nearly 44 million of the Prince William Sound salmon were pinks.       
 Bristol Bay ranked third in terms of salmon totals at nearly 31 million fish — all but 2 million of the fish were sockeyes.
  Kodiak ranked fourth for total salmon catches this summer at 14.4 million. Pinks made up the bulk of the pack with sockeyes coming in at 3.4 million. That’s followed by the Alaska Peninsula with a harvest of 5 million salmon, mostly reds. Cook Inlet landings were sixth at about 3.7 million salmon, nearly all sockeyes. More than 2 million salmon came out of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region this summer. In all, Alaska’s preliminary total statewide salmon catch stands at 156 million fish, 20 million more than expected. That’s thanks to a bumper harvest of nearly 44 million sockeyes. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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