Laine Welch

Chuitna water reservation decision delayed until this fall

Alaskans will have to wait until fall to learn if salmon habitat prevails over a coal mine proposed at Upper Cook Inlet. A decision due earlier this month by the state Department of Natural Resources, or DNR, has been delayed until after a public hearing later this summer, said Ed Fogels, DNR Deputy Commissioner. At issue are competing water rights claims filed in 2009 by the Chuitna Citizens Coalition and PacRim Coal of Delaware and Texas. The coalition wants to protect spawning tributaries of the salmon-rich Chuitna River, dubbed the Kenai of the West Side; PacRim wants to dewater the streams and dig Alaska’s largest coal mine. DNR received over 7,500 public comments in favor of water rights for salmon by the May 9 deadline. It’s no surprise that the coal vs. fish face-off moves on to a hearing, as both sides want a final say. “This will be a public hearing with testimony to be provided by individuals or groups who filed objection(s) to the reservation of water applications, or to the information and analyses produced by water resources section staff,” Fogels said via email, adding that the hearing details are being worked out. Should DNR rule in favor of coal over salmon habitat, the decision will set an unsettling state precedent. “It would be the first time in Alaska’s state history that we would allow an Outside corporation to mine completely through a salmon stream,” said Bob Shavelson, a director at Cook Inletkeeper. “And the sole purpose is to ship 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. It could soon be coming to a river near you.” Cook Inletkeeper, along with the Coalition and Alaska Center for the Environment, requested the hearing. They objected to aspects of DNR’s analyses, such as including only coho salmon and using only dock prices to quantify the value of the entire Chuitna watershed. PacRim spokesmen have argued for years that they can restore the salmon habitat after all the coal is extracted. PacRim data show that the first phase alone would remove and dewater 20 square miles of salmon habitat, dig down 300 feet and discharge seven million gallons of mine waste a day into the Chuitna River. The total project calls for extracting 12 million tons of low-grade coal per year for 25 years. Dave Schade, DNR’s Water Resources Section Chief, 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 hearing is scheduled for Aug. 21 at the U.S. Federal Building Annex in Anchorage. DNR’s Ed Fogels said a decision is expected on or before Oct. 9. Council conundrum Two Alaskans will not be able to vote on cutting halibut bycatch when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council convenes the week of June 1 in Sitka. Council members Simon Kinneen of Nome and David Long of Wasilla are recused from voting due to financial conflicts of interest. Kinneen is vice president and quota and acquisitions manager for the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp.; Long is a Captain and Fish Master for Glacier Fish Company. Both will be able to participate in deliberations as the 11-member council (seven from Alaska counting the National Marine Fisheries Service Alaska Region representative) grapples with reducing the more than 6-million pound halibut bycatch allowance in Bering Sea groundfish fisheries by up to 50 percent. Fish futures North Pacific Processors is poised to put pen to paper and purchase Inlet Fish of Kenai and Kasilof. Seafood.com reports that John Garner, chief operating officer of North Pacific, confirmed last week that the company is “in advanced talks to purchase Inlet Fish.” Inlet buys and processes salmon from Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Rivers. The purchase would expand North Pacific’s processing plants to seven, including at Kodiak, Bristol Bay and Southeast Alaska. Garner said he is “optimistic about the future of Alaska salmon.” Likewise, Alaskan-owned Cannon Fish Company opens its doors last weekend in Kent, Wash. The company was purchased in 2013 by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, one of six western Alaska Community Development Quota, or CDQ, corporations. The CDQ program gives a percentage of all Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands fishing quotas to regional communities to enhance economic opportunities. Cannon Fish is a high-end seafood processing and marketing company started in 1991 that caters to a nationwide network of retailers, restaurants, and specialty grocers. Most of the fish processed at Cannon is caught by fishing families from six Aleutian Island villages, said Larry Cotter, APICDA chief executive officer. “It ties directly to our Alaska processing plants, Atka Pride Seafoods in Atka and Bering Pacific Seafoods at False Pass,” he added. Off the radar The appointment of U.S. Air Force veteran Bob Mumford to the state Board of Fisheries came as a surprise to most Alaskans. Gov. Bill Walker announced the news on May 20, crediting Mumford’s “vast range of experience in multiple fields as a commercial pilot, hunting instructor and state trooper, which has taken him all over the state.” Mumford, who lives in Anchorage, is a retired U.S. Fish and Wildlife trooper, worked for 18 years on sport and commercial fishing enforcement and also has served on the state Board of Game. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Halibut comments rolling in, salmon opener underway

Nowhere in the world do people have as much opportunity to speak their minds to fish policy makers as they do in Alaska. As decision day approaches, a groundswell of Alaska voices is demanding that fishery overseers say bye-bye to halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea. They are speaking out against the more than 6 million pounds of halibut that are dumped overboard each year as bycatch in trawl fisheries that target flounders, rockfish, perch, mackerel and other groundfish (not pollock). The bycatch levels, which are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, have not been changed for 20 years for the so-called “Amendment 80” fleet of 28 Seattle-based trawlers. At the same time, the halibut catches for commercial, sport and subsistence users have been slashed every year for 14 years due to stock depletion and slow growing, small fish. The North Pacific council will decide on cutting the halibut bycatch level by up to 50 percent when it meets the week of June 1 in Sitka. Federal data show that the multi-billion pound trawl fisheries discarded seven times more halibut in 2014 than were landed by fishermen in the same Bering Sea region.  “Halibut bycatch comes off the top,” said Jeff Kauffman of St. Paul, one of nearly 2,000 Alaskans who holds fishing shares of the halibut stocks. Kauffman has seen his region’s share of the small boat halibut catch dwindle by 63 percent to less than 400,000 pounds.  “There has been a de facto reallocation from the directed fisheries to the bycatch fisheries,” he said. “Conservation of the stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen.” “Alaska is the model for fishery sustainability and we should not prioritize bycatch over all the other harvests. And this is what we are seeing out in the Bering Sea,” agreed Theresa Peterson of Kodiak, an outreach coordinator for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. Just because the fish is far away, doesn’t mean it has no impact on all other fishing communities, she pointed out. “Tagging studies show clearly that a halibut born in the Bering Sea could end up virtually in any management area within a couple years of its life. It’s a bycatch issue that affects all user groups throughout the state,” Peterson said. Data also show the average size of the halibut caught as bycatch last year in the Bering Sea was 4.76 pounds, less than half the weight of a typical 26-inch halibut. Between 70 percent to 90 percent of those smaller fish are slated to migrate out of the region upon maturity. So far, 16 Alaska groups and communities have passed resolutions and/or written strongly worded letters to the North Pacific council pushing for a 50 percent bycatch cut. A dozen Alaska legislators also have written to urge the council to make the cut. Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Bering Sea fleet said the current bycatch issue draws “reckless conclusions.” The fishermen have worked extremely hard to reduce bycatch by maximizing halibut avoidance, said Chris Woodley, executive director of the Groundfish Forum. “Suggesting that a 50 percent reduction in bycatch is a ‘fair share’ action is ridiculous. There is nothing fair, equitable or reasonable in using the blunt tool of a 50 percent reallocation that could cost hard working Alaskans and fishermen hundreds of jobs, and could remove well over $100 million dollars from the State of Alaska’s economy in a single year,” Woodley wrote in an open letter to the industry. “This iconic species to subsistence, commercial and sport users is too valuable to waste and we can do better,” Peterson rebutted. “It has been 20 years since that bycatch level has been addressed in a meaningful way. It is absolutely time to act.” Public comments will be accepted by the council through May 26. Email them at [email protected]/ Poke preventer Few fishermen go to sea without their Vicky – the small, sharp Victorinox Swiss Army knife used for everything that needs a quick cut. But traditional knife sheaths point downward, and Vickys can badly poke fishermen scrambling atop huge pots used for crab or cod. To prevent injuries, fishermen customarily duct tape the knives sideways to their belts. Anne Morris of Sand Point knew there had to be a better way. She designed and made a snazzy new Vicky sheath that lies horizontally on belts — pokey problem solved. The knife sheath topped 23 entries to win the $1,000 first place prize last month at the Aleutian Marketplace Business Idea Competition, hosted each year by the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association and the Aleut Corp. “A big safety issue in my presentation was it is quicker to get the knife out of the sheath with it lying horizontal,” Morris said. “A big reason they wear the Vicky, too, is because nobody wants to go over with a crab pot.” She credits her son, Justin Drew, a pot cod fishermen, for the winning idea and has dubbed it the JD Beltz. The Marketplace competition is two-tiered and Morris now moves to a business plan phase that begins in October. “My idea is to include the sheath, the belt and the knife as a package deal. It might change as I get further along,” she said, adding that she hopes to work with a manufacturer and have the Vicky sheaths available by next year. Salmon starts Alaska’s 2015 salmon season officially began on May 14 with the first runs of reds and kings to the Copper River near Cordova. In coming weeks salmon openers will kick off all over Alaska and regional catch forecasts are up across the board. In all, Alaskans are bracing for a huge season – state managers project a harvest of 221 million salmon, 39 percent higher than last year. Driving the numbers are big forecasts for both sockeye and pink salmon. A whopping 59 million sockeye catch is set to come out of Alaska this summer, a 33 percent increase and the largest harvest since 1995. A sockeye catch of more than 38 million is projected at Bristol this summer. For those hard to predict pinks, the statewide harvest could top 140 million, a 46 percent increase. At Southeast Alaska, home to the state’s largest wild pink salmon runs, the catch is pegged at 58 million fish. Chum salmon harvests are expected to double this year to more than 17 million. On the downside, a coho harvest of 4.6 million would be a drop of nearly 2 million fish from last year. You can track salmon catches daily during the season via the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Blue Sheet. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Studies for fishermen's health; first yearly shellfish poisoning

How much are fishermen affected by long term health problems like hearing loss, lack of sleep and high blood pressure? A pilot study aims to find out and researchers are using the 500-plus members of the Copper River salmon driftnet fleet as test subjects. “The Copper River fishing season lasts five months and most of the fleet is very digitally connected so it seemed a great fit,” said Torie Baker, a Sea Grant Marine Advisory Agent in Cordova. Baker is the point person for the project being done by the School of Public Health at the University of Washington and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, which is funding the study. “The genesis stemmed from wanting to take a proactive look at the contributing health factors and health issues that are in commercial fishing,” Baker explained. “They’re trying to compare what the offseason health habits and behaviors are versus what might be sacrificed or stressed during the fishing season. So it’s set up as a pre- and mid-season effort.” The things the researchers are interested in include hearing loss, the presence or absence of hypertension, the amount of exercise that can be documented during the offseason and the fishing season, and sleep and fatigue management. “That is a really big one,” Baker said. “The big body of literature on fatigue and sleep management in the marine world is largely informed by tests and research done in the military. There are a lot of folks in high risk occupations, such as airline pilots or truckers and ship captains where fatigue is a big driving force in productivity and safety management.” The first part of the study was a basic online survey that ended May 8. Another will be done in mid-July. At that time, volunteer fishermen also will take a basic health exam. Many also are wearing Fitbit watches to track steps and activity, and most importantly, to remotely monitor sleep behavior over a three-day span.  “It will be interesting to be able to do some remote sampling and see how those devices work in an outdoor, very physical industry to learn how that technology might inform researchers,” Baker said. She called the study an “intriguing first attempt” at helping an industry that  from a health perspective, hasn’t had much attention. “The ultimate goal,” Baker said, “is to learn ways to reduce risks and keep fishermen healthy. Clam diggers beware! The state confirmed the first case of paralytic shellfish poisoning, or PSP, was confirmed this month near Ketchikan prompting reminders that it’s the time of year to pay close attention to shellfish advisories. PSP is caused by tiny marine organisms in algae blooms often referred to incorrectly as red tides. The toxin is commonly found in all kinds of clams, and neither cooking nor freezing neutralizes it. PSP attacks the nervous system and it can be a quick killer. “It’s a thousand times more toxic than strychnine,” said Ray RaLonde, a long-time aquaculture specialist with Alaska Sea Grant in Anchorage. “It often starts out with a tingling around the face and extremities, the hands. Then it works its way through a number of symptoms, blurred vision, double vision, nausea, ultimately, paralysis and cardiac arrest. Death is very quick.” PSP is a tricky array of 24 different toxins, some deadly, some not, RaLonde said. Toxicity levels can differ from one clam hole to another on the same beach, and change with the tide. RaLonde says PSP levels also differ between popular clams. “The two most likely to be confused are littleneck clams, called steamers, and butter clams,” RaLonde explained. “Both are about the same size, so it’s important to be aware of the differences between the two. A littleneck clam is relatively nontoxic compared to a butter clam, which can retain the toxin for two years, so you can get toxicity off-season. Both can be dug in the same hole in the tide flats, but butter clams tend to be a little deeper.” No one is sure why, but Kodiak Island and parts of the South Peninsula have some of the highest PSP levels in the world. “The PSP blooms on occasion can be quite intense. In one incident, the level on blue mussels reached 20,000 micrograms. The FDA level is 80 micrograms,” RaLonde said. Some clam diggers test for PSP with their tongues, he said, and believe that if it tingles, it’s not safe. But from tongue to tummy, toxicity can increase six-fold. “To put that in perspective, at 20,000 micrograms I tell people if you eat a blue mussel your life is worth 11 cents. A dime and a penny worth of mussel weight and you just got a lethal dose,” he said. The state strictly monitors all commercially caught shellfish catches for PSP, but that is not the case for recreational clam diggers. The Alaska Department of Epidemiology claims those folks are playing “Alaskan Roulette.” Fish watch Alaska’s 2015 salmon season officially got underway on May 14 with the first 12-hour opener at Copper River. The forecast calls for a catch of 2.2 million sockeye salmon and about 6,000 kings. A dozen trawlers are tying up for the year early due to tripping the 2,700 chinook salmon bycatch cap in Central and Western Gulf groundfish fisheries. Only half of the allotted cod catch and 10 percent of the flatfish were taken when the closure was called last week, said NOAA Fisheries. The closure is set to last until the end of the year, although a re-opening is set for consideration Oct. 1. This is the first year for chinook bycatch caps in the federally managed (non-pollock) trawl fisheries — the total cap for the Gulf of Alaska is 7,500 salmon. The pollock and rockfish fleets are far from their caps and are still fishing. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Hatchery cos. dispute study faulting pink salmon releases

Alaskan salmon producers are not buying the presumption that growing numbers of pinks are eating too much food in the ocean, causing sockeye salmon to grow slower and smaller. That’s the claim of a new study by Seattle and British Columbia researchers, who say the race for food ultimately affects sockeye abundance and survival. “Our data sets extend up to 55 years each. In terms of looking at productivity or survival of salmon, they’ve included 36 sockeye populations,” said Greg Ruggerone, a researcher at Natural Resources Consultants in Seattle and study co-author. The project was aimed originally at finding causes for declining sockeye runs at British Columbia’s Fraser River in 2009, but has since broadened to include the whole North Pacific. “Hatcheries in Alaska, Russia and Japan have continued to increase production of salmon, primarily chums and pinks. Up to five billion hatchery salmon are released into the Pacific Ocean each year,” Ruggerone said in a phone interview. “Concerns have been raised at fisheries conferences that the release of so many salmon is impacting the growth and survival of wild stocks, including salmon originating thousands of miles from those hatcheries.” Ruggerone also has published similar food competition studies for Bristol Bay. So how does he account for big back-to-back red runs to the Bay? “Because there are relatively few pinks in Western Alaska compared to Russia, the sockeyes most likely encountered favorable conditions in their early marine life that supported these large runs,” Ruggerone said. “But that doesn’t mean the pinks don’t have an adverse effect on them during the second or third year at sea. It’s just overshadowed by very favorable conditions earlier.” The report recommends a Pacific Rim approach to managing salmon resources, and more immediately, capping hatchery production. “Do you think we can control Russia?” quipped said Steve Reifenstuhl, longtime general manager at Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture in Sitka. “If there was a cap, Russia and Japan would quickly move to fill any void,” Reifenstuhl called the food competition claims “alarmist,” and cited several peer-reviewed reports that refute Ruggerone’s claims. “My reaction is that he is speculating that there is a correlation, and that it is causative,” Reifenstuhl said. “I would disagree that it’s causative.” He pointed out that Alaska’s largest pink salmon runs occur at the Panhandle and over 95 percent are wild stocks. “Certainly increased competition can decrease salmon body size, as we’ve often seen in big runs, but it doesn’t mean more will die,” he added. “Where 10 to 90 percent of the sockeyes do die is in nearshore waters, before they even head out to sea.” Kodiak hatchery operators agree. “If the ocean’s carrying capacity has reached its limit, we wouldn’t be seeing returns like we had in 2013 for pink salmon, which also wasn’t a bad sockeye year,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director for the Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association, or KRAA, which operates two hatcheries. “Look, too, at the Bristol Bay forecast for 2015, it’s huge, and it’s the same for Southeast pinks. I don’t believe it is a valid argument.” “I don’t see how we are a primary contributor on the grand scale,” said Trent Dodson, KRAA Production and Operations Manager. He also pointed out that Ruggerone’s Alaska pink salmon hatchery numbers are way off. Whereas his report claims that 1.4 billion hatchery-produced pink salmon are released into the ocean annually, primarily in Prince William Sound and at Kodiak, Dodson said Kodiak releases average 144 million juvenile pinks each year. State data show the Prince William Sound pink salmon release for 2014 was 672 million fish. The report titled “Productivity and life history of sockeye salmon in relation to competition with pink and sockeye salmon in the North Pacific Ocean” was featured in the March Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Capital celebration! The Sixth annual Juneau Maritime Festival celebrates fishing and every other industry that moves upon the water, and makes its home in the state capital. “Just the seafood industry alone — there are about 800 Juneau residents who make their living from ocean harvests. And we have the Coast Guard and NOAA, our marine transportation, cruise ships, just a myriad of other professions that are linked to the sea,” said Brian Holst, executive director of the Juneau Economic Development Council, host of the event. Several thousand people always attend the Saturday event, Holst said, which starts with the arrival of two canoes from the One People Canoe Society and a traditional Native welcoming ceremony. Events include a Coast Guard rescue in the channel, onboard vessel visits and a fillet contest. The date is May 8. Bycatch begone Alaskans have had it with high rates of halibut bycatch in the Bering Sea and a push is afoot to slash it by half. At issue is 6 million pounds of halibut allowed as bycatch in the multi-billion pound Bering Sea flatfish fisheries, a rate that hasn’t been changed for 20 years. At the same time, declining halibut stocks statewide have seen managers cut catches by commercial, sport and subsistence users by 70 percent. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council is set to make a decision at its meeting in June and advocates are really putting on the heat. Last week in a strongly worded letter, 16 Alaskan groups and communities urged Alaska’s Congressional reps to push for the 50 percent bycatch cut, saying, “Conservation of the halibut stock is riding solely on the backs of the halibut fishermen.” That follows a similar action in April by a dozen Alaska legislators who urged the NPFMC to make the 50 percent cut as soon as possible. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Hatchery salmon, season updates, and FDA 'Frankenfish'

Each year more than one third of all the salmon caught in Alaska begin their lives in a hatchery. There are 31 hatchery facilities in Alaska: 15 privately owned, 11 state owned, two federal research facilities, one tribal hatchery at Metlakatla, and two state-owned sport fish hatcheries. Alaska’s hatchery program is very different from fish farming, where salmon are crammed tightly into net pens until they’re ready for market. All salmon born in Alaska’s hatcheries come from wild brood stock, and are released as fingerlings to the sea. When those fish return home, they make a huge contribution to the catch. According to the annual Salmon Enhancement Report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, 58 million hatchery salmon were caught in the common property salmon fishery last year. That equated to 34 percent of Alaska’s 157 million fish harvest, with a dockside value of $113 million. The breakdown by species: 56 percent chums, 47 percent pinks, 23 percent coho, 12 percent chinook and 5 percent of the sockeye were hatchery starts. Prince William Sound fishermen have the highest hatchery fish catches. Last year, 45 million salmon returned to the five hatcheries there, accounting for 87 percent of the total harvest; 93 percent of the fish were pinks and 68 percent were chums. In all, the Sound’s hatchery catch added up to 62 percent of the total with a dockside value of $64 million. It’s a different story at Southeast Alaska where 95 percent of the pinks are from wild production, and 85 percent of the chums are hatchery starts. “Southeast has the largest pink production in the state of Alaska,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager at Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture at Sitka. Coho salmon returned in record numbers (1.6 million) last summer to the region’s 21 hatcheries, and accounted for 27 percent of the coho catch. In all, hatchery salmon contributed 12 percent to the Panhandle harvest and $28 million, 26 percent of salmon fishermen’s earnings. Reifenstuhl said he believes the hatchery programs in both Southeast and Prince William Sound are not likely to grow much more. “We have utilized the water sources we’ve been able to find and it’s not easy to locate a new hatchery at all,” he said. “I think we are getting to the point where we are not going to have major increases in production.” Kodiak ranks third in terms of Alaska hatchery production. Two facilities accounted for 41percent of the island’s total salmon take last summer, mostly pinks and chums. The hatchery catch value was $10 million, 22 percent of the Kodiak total. At Cook Inlet, small hatchery returns of sockeyes (2 percent) and pinks (6 percent) contributed $547,000 of the fishery value, or 2 percent. This year nearly 63 million hatchery produced salmon are projected to return home to Alaska, similar to last season. The Salmon Enhancement report also shows that over 180 Alaska elementary schools participate in hatchery salmon egg take and release programs each year. Fish watch Salmon trollers are back out on the water at Neets Bay near Ketchikan and it’s hard to believe that the 2015 salmon season will officially kick off in about two weeks at Copper River. About 35 boats have dropped pots for nearly 70,000 pounds of spot shrimp at Prince William Sound. A beam trawl shrimp fishery opens in Southeast May 1 for pinks and side stripes. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery was slow going two weeks into the fishery. Still no action at Togiak, where boats and five buyers await a herring harvest of 29,000 tons. Halibut landings have topped 2 million pounds, on par with last year’s pace. The Alaska catch limit this year is 17 million pounds. Prices remain in the $6-$6.50 per pound range or slightly higher at major ports. Nearly half of the halibut has crossed the docks at Seward, and that port also stomps all others for sablefish, or black cod, landings. Nearly 4 million pounds of sablefish have been landed statewide out of the 23.5-million pound quota. Dock prices reportedly have ranged from $3 per pound for small sizes to more than $7 per pound for large fish. The snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea is winding down with the fleet’s 61-million pound quota within reach. About 80 percent of the 15-million pound bairdi tanner crab catch has been landed. Commercial fishing also is ongoing for cod, pollock, mackerel, perch, rockfish, numerous flounders and more throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The Alaska legislature ended up lopping $8 million from the ADFG budget; $5.5 million of that from the Commercial Fisheries Division. Frankenfish watch As a decision to approve genetically modified salmon languishes at the Food and Drug Administration in Washington, D.C., the longtime activist group Food and Water Watch has taken the “very unusual” step of filing dual petitions to stop the manmade fish. According to the FDA Law Blog, Food and Water Watch filed both a Citizen Petition and a Food Additive Petition in an effort to block marketing of AquAdvantage salmon, should it be approved. The genetically tweaked fish grow three times faster than normal fish. The application has been under consideration by the FDA for two decades. Specifically, Food and Water Watch seeks to have the AquAdvantage Salmon listed as a substance which is prohibited from use in human food, the Law Blog said. “Under Food and Water Watch’s petitions, FDA would promulgate a regulation that would specifically and explicitly deem AquAdvantage Salmon adulterated food as a matter of law, irrespective of whether the food from AquAdvantage Salmon poses any risk at all to consumers. Seemingly unsure of how to go about making such a request of FDA, Food and Water Watch filed both petitions, each asking FDA to consider the other in the event that one of the petitions is not the proper avenue for making the unusual request,” the Law Blog said. If the Frankenfish gets the nod from the FDA, it will be the first animal ever approved for human consumption. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Lost blackcod pots in the Sound, and sputtering state fishery startups

A mile long string of 29 sablefish pots was lost last month in Prince William Sound after being run over by tugs towing barges at Knight Island Passage. “It appears that some tug boats passed back and forth across where the gear was set, and now we have no idea where it is,” said Maria Wessel, a groundfish biologist at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office at Cordova. The pots are part of an ongoing tagging study started in 2011 to track the movement of the Sound’s sablefish stock. It was intended to be the third test run for the project. “We’re trying to see how well our population is mixed with the population in the wider Gulf of Alaska,” Wessel explained. The state research vessel Pandalus has done several swipes of the grounds to no avail. Both ends of the gear were anchored with 400 fathoms of buoy line with sets of three buoys each. Wessel called it “unusual” to lose a string of pots. “It’s buoyed on both ends and unusual to lose both and not be able to retrieve it. But it does happen as witnessed by this event.” Prince William Sound has an exclusive sablefish fishery that has been limited entry since 1996. Its 59 participants divide the annual 242,000-pound harvest using a shared quota system that is based on the vessel size and catch percentages of permit holders from 1991-1994. Wessel said the lost string of gear poses no threat to navigation, but sablefish longliners could get snagged. “There is a potential hazard of longline gear getting hung up on these lost pots and we want guys to be aware that is there.” The missing gear poses no threat to the 53 shrimpers out on the grounds, she added. “It’s highly unlikely. The sablefish pots were set in about 1,200 feet of water so it’s far deeper than someone targeting spot shrimp would be fishing,” Wessel said.  Fish opp flop Alaska is trying to provide new and more fishing opportunities inside state waters but the two latest have fallen flat as a flounder. A scallop fishery that reverted to open access this year drew no takers by the April 1 deadline, said Mark Stichert, state area manager for groundfish and shellfish for the Westward Region, which includes Kodiak, Chignik and the Western Peninsula. “We only had four vessels that registered, and those are the same vessels that have historically been participating in the fishery in recent years,” he said, adding that one vessel registered to fish for scallops near Yakutat. Stichert said he wasn’t surprised at the apparent lack of interest in the fishery. “The scallop fishery is a high capital investment and there’s not a lot of extra scallop gear laying around the state. So I think if the fishery were to grow, it’s going to take some time,” he said. Alaska’s Weathervane scallop fleet typically produces about a half million pounds of shucked meats each year, mostly dredged from federal waters, three to 200 miles offshore. It is pricey scallops that each year make New Bedford, Mass., the nation’s most valuable fishing port. In 2013, for example, the dockside value of New Bedford’s landings was $380 million; over 80 percent from scallops. Likewise, there were few takers once again for a pollock fishery that opened this month and will continue into June. It’s the second year for the trial fishery, and while it attracted a couple of Homer boats this winter, it’s only been tire kickers at Kodiak. The pollock catch limit for seiners is 100,000 pounds per trip. Even at 12-13 cents a pound, it adds up to a good payday. Icicle update Of all the global fish news sites, London-based Undercurrent News has risen to the top when it comes to scoops on sales of Alaska seafood companies. The latest: Icicle Seafood owners Paine and Partners of San Francisco are having a tough go selling their wild salmon assets in the face of a tight market and another big wild harvest on the horizon. Icicle produces fresh, frozen and canned salmon at plants in Petersburg, Seward, Egegik/Bristol Bay, Larsen Bay/Kodiak Island; and near Dillingham. “Final bids are in and news on if Icicle will be broken up, or sold as a combined entity should come in early May,” wrote Undercurrent’s Tom Seaman and Matt Whittaker. Other Undercurrent inside info: Thai Union Frozen Products is a possible bidder on the canned salmon side only. Trident Seafoods may be interested in the wild salmon business along with Icicle’s pollock block; likewise, Coastal Alaska Premier Seafoods, a part of the Coastal Villages CDQ group, also is named as a “strong contender” for those same components. Canada’s Cooke Aquaculture is likely to be the winner of the farmed salmon business, Undercurrent said, although Pacific Seafood Group is said to be very interested in the fish farms. Pacific also may be interested in taking on more, if not all, of Icicle at the right price. Asking prices are reportedly $80 million for the salmon farms, $125 million for the wild salmon part of the business and $100-$125 million for the groundfish, Undercurrent reported.  Good job, fish watchers! The number of U.S. fish stocks listed as overfished or subject to overfishing has dropped to an all-time low since 1997, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, began tracking stock status. According to the annual Status of U.S. Fisheries report to Congress released last week, by the end of 2014 just 26 stocks were on the overfishing list and 37 stocks were on the overfished list, a seven percent reduction in one year. The only Alaska fishery named to the overfished list was blue king crab at the Pribilof Islands. Overfishing means the annual catch rate is too high to support a maximum sustainable yield, or MSY; an overfished stock means a current fish population is well below that parameter, which can be the result of environmental issues such as disease. NOAA Fisheries tracks 469 stocks and stock complexes via 46 fishery management plans across the nation. The number of stocks rebuilt since 2000 increased to 37, the report said. “Our agency wants to let consumers know that the United States’ global leadership in responsible fisheries and sustainable seafood is paying off,” said Eileen Sobeck, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Subsistence sack lunches; ADFG budget; bycatch breakdown

Caribou instead of corn dogs…salmon instead of Trout Treasures… seal meat in place of spaghetti — all could soon be available to more Alaskans if traction continues on a new bipartisan bill before the Alaska legislature. The bill, House Bill 179, allows schools, senior centers, hospitals, child care centers and other facilities to accept and serve fish, game, plants and eggs that are donated by subsistence and sport users. Currently, well-meaning state laws intended to prevent the commercial sale of wild game make the practice illegal if a program accepting food donations charges for the meal at any point before it is consumed. This means schools and senior centers, for example, are unable to provide meals containing subsistence- or sport-caught wild food if they accept any payment, including from federal or state meal programs. Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, introduced the measure, saying: “It will nourish Alaska’s children and elders, both physically and spiritually. It will limit the amount of expensive and unhealthy processed food shipped to communities that have incredible food available just a short boat or snow machine ride away. Children will develop an appreciation where their food comes from and elders will be able to keep eating the foods they love. “Out in the bush, a lot of people in Western or Northern Alaska will frequently donate caribou to the senior center, so that elders can eat caribou stew. And that’s technically not simpatico with the rule of the law,” Kreiss-Tomkins said in a KCAW/Sitka interview. “So this bill basically brings what happens in Alaskan communities — which is people coming together and donating fish and game for children or for elders — and makes that compatible with what Alaska’s laws say.” The measure affirms the Department of Environmental Conservation’s authority to oversee the safety of the donated foods. HB 179 already has garnered seven co-sponsors across party lines from Kodiak, Juneau, Anchorage, Ketchikan, Nome and North Pole. Kreiss-Tomkins credited its momentum to a statewide movement within schools to offer healthier, local foods, such as Sitka’s Fish to Schools program, Dillingham’s salmon donation programs, and community shared agriculture in the Mat-Su Valley. He said he is very optimistic the measure will pass this session. “We’d like to see pass this into law quickly, and we’re on that path right now. It’s got hearings coming up, it’s got a huge list of co-sponsors, and it’s a ‘kumbaya’ Alaska issue. Everyone gets it.” Fish budgets The (last) 10 days (of the session) will tell the tale of just how painfully Alaska’s budget will be cut. Three lawmakers each from the state Senate and House were appointed last week to a conference committee, which will dicker over differences between their respective budget drafts until they can come to agreements. They include Sens. Pete Kelly, R-Fairbanks, Anna MacKinnon, R-Eagle River, Donald Olson, D-Nome, along with Reps. Mark Neuman, R-Wasilla, Steve Thompson, R-Fairbanks, and Les Gara, D-Anchorage. The lawmakers disagree on a number of differences in the Alaska Department of Fish and Game budget, reports Juneau Resources Weekly. The department is set to lose $12 million in state general funds; that could increase to $15 million depending on the whims of the conference committee. Already slashed by the Senate are a dozen conservation projects, and funding for Marine Mammal Protection Act compliance. Senators added $850,000 to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute’s budget, although it could be taken back if the committee opts for the House version of the ASMI budget, which stands now at almost $25 million. More buyers at Bristol Bay Copper River Seafoods has purchased the Extreme Seafoods salmon plant in Naknek. Company CEO Scott Blake confirmed the deal to Undercurrent News last week. “It’s likely no coincidence this comes as Copper River’s new sockeye salmon jerky takes off. Demand for the product — which is similar to outdoor clothing company Patagonia’s successful salmon jerky — had outstripped supply as of the Boston Seafood Show (in mid-March), at which point the company was looking to move processing in-house to a new plant and expand production,” Undercurrent reported. It added that the purchase “grew partly out of a desire to fill an increasing market need for Marine Stewardship Council certified sockeye.” Extreme Seafoods arrived in Bristol Bay in 2013, amid promises of $2 per pound reds for fishermen. It left amid gripes of slow or no pay. Extreme no longer lists any contact information on its website, but claims to specialize in wild sockeye salmon products. Bycatch breakdowns As federal managers grapple with reducing levels of chinook salmon taken as bycatch in groundfish fisheries, they are learning where the accidentally caught kings come from and where they are bound. A report by ADFG outlines the genetic origins of the chinook bycatch. Some highlights based on 2013 data: For chinook taken by Bering Sea pollock trawlers, 71 percent were estimated to come from Alaska river systems, mostly from Western Alaska (50 percent), followed by the North Alaska Peninsula and Upper Yukon. Chinook bycatch in the Bering Sea declined to 13,033 in 2013, over 24,000 fish below the 22-year average. In the Gulf of Alaska, pf 693 samples of chinook taken as bycatch in the pollock fishery, 43 percent were from British Columbia, 42 percent originated from the U.S. West Coast, followed by Southeast Alaska at 11 percent and the Northwest Gulf at three percent. For the Gulf rockfish fleet, 60 percent of the chinook bycatch came mostly from U.S. West Coast stocks, 31 percent from British Columbia, and 6 percent from Southeast Alaska. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

2015 salmon overload, petition for Chuitna salmon rights

File this fish story under the “can there be too much of a good thing” category. Alaska is expecting another bumper run of salmon this year — state managers announced a projected total catch of 221 million salmon, 39 percent higher than last year (the numbers for chinook salmon are still being calculated). Regional catch projections for this summer are up across the board, according to Runs and Harvest Projections for Alaska’s 2015 Salmon Fisheries and Review of the 2014 season by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Driving the numbers are the big forecasts for both sockeyes and pinks — a whopping 59-million sockeye salmon catch is set to come out of Alaska this summer, a 33 percent increase and the largest harvest since 1995. Those reds will follow on the heels of last year’s big haul of 44 million sockeye, tons of which remain in freezers. For those hard-to-predict pink salmon, the statewide harvest is projected to top 140 million, a 46 percent increase.  Chum salmon harvests are expected to rebound and double this year to more than 17 million. For coho salmon, a harvest of 4.6 million would be down nearly 2 million fish from last year. Alaska will be facing a strong headwind when it comes to selling all that salmon this year. Global factors buffeting sales include a strong US dollar which makes seafood more expensive for foreign customers with devalued currencies (conversely, it makes imports to the U.S. a far cheaper buy). The Russian embargo continues against U.S. seafood, meaning another big bite out of Alaska pink salmon roe sales; and large holdovers of Alaska canned salmon, both pink and sockeye, remain in warehouses. Another broadside to Alaska salmon sales in the U.S. will come from Costco’s announcement last week that it is switching the bulk of its fresh, farmed salmon purchases from Chile to Norway “to test the market’s appetite for antibiotic-free fish.” Costco purchases over 600,000 pounds of farmed salmon fillets each week. Fish pros speak out for salmon A group of 20 retired Alaska state and federal biologists and managers has submitted a letter urging the Walker administration to choose salmon over coal at the Chuitna River in Upper Cook Inlet. The public can weigh in on the decision through April 9. At issue is competing claims made in 2009 for rights to the water at Chuitna tributaries: Alaskans want to reserve the water to protect traditional salmon runs; Delaware-based PacRim wants to remove the water, dig down to bedrock and extract 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. The company plans to mine 12 million tons of low grade coal each year for 25 years for export to Asia. In the letter to Deptartment of Natural Resources Commissioner Mark Myers the professionals said, “We are greatly concerned with the growing imbalance between resource development and resource conservation in Alaska regarding reservation decisions,” adding: ”Now, we are faced with one of the most important salmon habitat decisions Alaska has ever faced, and the reservation of water in the Chuitna watershed represents a historic precedent for salmon habitat management across the state.” DNR Water 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 ends April 9 at 5pm. Unless there is an appeal by either party, a decision could be made 30 days after. Contact [email protected]/. More fish for moms & babes For the first time since 1980 the popular Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program is being revised, and the US Dept. of Agriculture is asking for input. Americans can suggest what healthy foods should be offered to moms and their babies — and Alaskans are pushing for more fish, notably salmon. “They want to hear from mothers, heck, they probably want to hear from kids too. They want to hear from the people who are actually eating the product, and raising their families on it,” said Bruce Schactler, Global Food Aid Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We are looking for pregnant women to comment, and mothers who have two- to three-year-olds, four- to five-year-olds, and mothers of infants who want to start making salmon baby food in their own kitchen,” Schactler said, explaining that the WIC items fall under designated “baskets” according to kids’ ages. Right now, canned salmon is only included in mothers’ pre-natal packages. “We want them to add salmon to all the WIC baskets,” he said. “They are reviewing that whole thing right now and taking comments in it.” Studies around the world show that omega 3 fatty acids found in salmon and other fish support brain and eye development, and digestive health in babies and children. The Institute of Medicine is reviewing all WIC comments and recommendations until further notice. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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.  

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