Laine Welch

Supply picture, stronger dollar swirl seafood marketing

Alaska seafood marketers are facing some strong headwinds heading into 2015, notably, for sockeye salmon and crab. Snow crab is Alaska’s largest crab fishery, underway now in the Bering Sea. The fleet has a slightly increased 61 million pound catch quota; boats also are tapping on a hefty bairdi, or tanner crab, catch, the larger cousin of snow crab. A 25 percent increase in snow crab, the unexpected 15 million-pound tanner fishery, a weak Japanese yen, plus several million pounds of Russian snow crab from a new fishery in the Barents Sea, (not to mention all the pirated crab) all are combining to give buyers plenty of choices, said market expert John Sackton. Another twist: lower king crab prices have given retail and foods service buyers more alternatives, including a new entry: Argentinean southern red king crab. Global market forces also are causing downward pressure on Alaska sockeye prices. The unanticipated big run at Bristol Bay had processors producing more frozen reds than expected (while at the same time the 10 million sockeye catch from the Fraser River took some of the wind out of Alaska’s fresh sales). In the face of another huge sockeye salmon run expected at the Bay again this summer, unsold sockeye inventory remains piled up in freezers. According to reports by Japan’s Minato-Tsukiji, frozen H&G (headed and gutted) production topped 20,000 tons, and in the face of another huge sockeye run to Bristol Bay this summer,  “the industry believes that 5,000-8,000 tons of products are unsold, because buyers in the EU and U.S. could not catch up with the high prices.” Adding to the mix, record numbers of farmed salmon are coming into the U.S. from Norway and Chile. (A strong U.S. dollar means it’s cheaper for the U.S. to buy foreign fish, and more expensive for other countries/currencies to buy U.S. seafood.) Food commodities tracker Urner-Barry reports that Chile’s farmed coho volumes last year were the highest since a virus wiped out their fish farms in 2010. And Russia’s ongoing seafood ban prompted Norway to turn to the U.S. as an alternative market, with U.S. sales of fresh fillets through the third quarter reaching 18.5 million pounds, a five-year high. The holidays boost seafood demand, and Urner-Barry said the upswing could carry over into the New Year. The Lenten season begins early — on Feb. 18, just four days after Valentine’s Day. Halibut hot seat Amidst some optimism that the Pacific halibut stocks appear to be stabilizing, the stage is set for some tension when halibut managers and stakeholders gather for the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s annual meeting later this month in Vancouver. The IPHC, which oversees halibut science and harvests from Oregon through British Columbia to the Bering Sea, will set catch limits, the fishery start and end dates, and take up regulation proposals. Only one catch limit comment was submitted by the Dec. 31 deadline. To reduce handling and wastage in the fishery, the Seattle-based Fishing Vessel Owners’ Association is asking the IPHC to reduce the minimum size requirement for commercially caught halibut from 32 inches to 30 inches. The FVOA claims that, based on observer data, a two inch size reduction could reduce handling by 58 percent and wastages from 1.35 million pounds to 0.58 million pounds. Two regulation proposals will be considered — one would set a maximum size limit for halibut in both the commercial and sport sectors. Protecting the larger fish, which are the breeders, would help the halibut stocks replenish at a faster pace, it recommends. A second halibut charter proposal suggests retaining a first 29 inches or less halibut in the Central Gulf to decrease throwbacks of injured fish. The biggest fish story in the room will be Alaska’s halibut bycatch problem, and driving the tension is a perverse situation in the Bering Sea. The IPHC doesn’t set bycatch levels; that falls to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The NPFMC in December allotted six million pounds of halibut as bycatch to Seattle-based trawlers in the two billion-pound Bering Sea flatfish fisheries (based on a formula that has not been adjusted for 20 years). That left just 370,000 pounds for small boat halibut fishermen at the Pribilof Islands for the upcoming fishery, a 70 percent reduction. At that harvest level, the IPHC estimates that 93 percent of all halibut removals in the Bering Sea would be from bycatch and not the directed fishery. The communities of St. Paul and St. George, along with the six Alaskan members of the NPFMC including Deptartment of Fish and Game Interim Commission Sam Cotten, have sent an emergency request to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce seeking a 33 percent reduction in the 2015 halibut bycatch limits in the groundfish fisheries. The IPHC meets Jan. 26-30 in downtown Vancouver. Salmon at a glance Everything you want to know about Alaska’s 2014 salmon season — prices, sales, harvests, exports and more — is in new Seafood Market Information bulletins from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. The bulletins, compiled by the McDowell Group in Juneau, cover every salmon species and region, and show yearly comparisons from 2010. They reflect all the preliminary tallies of the salmon season, but don’t include bonuses or retro payments. Some highlights: The 2014 salmon catch of 157 million fish was the 27th year in a row that the catch has topped 100 million. Southeast had its best chinook salmon harvest since 2005 at 423,000 fish. Bristol Bay’s 29 million sockeye catch was the largest since 2010, although the average size of the fish was the smallest in over 15 years. Kodiak salmon fishermen grossed $46 million, the lowest since 2010. Alaska’s Revenue Department tracks sales of salmon products all year — fresh and frozen, fillets, canned and roe. May through August reflects over 90 percent of the year’s fresh salmon sales and gives a hint of how wholesale markets are responding to the recent harvest. Prices for most salmon products were down, except for frozen pinks and chums, called keta in the ASMI bulletin. Salmon roe sales changed dramatically in 2014, down 55 percent from the year before. (There’s that Russian seafood ban kicking in for pink salmon roe sales.) Seafood is still Alaska’s most valuable export totaling $2.6 billion from January through last September. Our number one customer is China, doubling Japan’s purchases. South of the border, seafood sales to Brazil last year were up more than 400 percent. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

No dull moments for Alaska fishing industry in 2014

Alaska still has its share of naysayers who will quibble about the seafood industry’s importance to our great state. They dismiss the fact that fishing was Alaska’s first industry and was fish that spawned the push to statehood. “The canned salmon plants started in the 1870s and by the early 20th century, canned salmon was the largest industry and generated 80 percent of the territorial tax revenues. It had a position in the state economy that oil enjoys today,” said fisheries historian Bob King. The fisheries that Alaska inherited from the federal government at statehood in 1959 were in bad shape. That year the salmon catch of 25 million fish was the worst since the turn of the century, and total seafood production was just 324 million pounds. In contrast, salmon catches today often top 200 million fish, and more than five billion pounds of seafood cross the Alaska docks each year. Here are fishing notables from 2014, in no particular order, followed by my annual “fish picks and pans” (see box): Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood catches last year: Dutch Harbor, Kodiak and Akutan. The 2014 salmon harvest totaled 157 million fish with a dockside value of nearly $577 million. That’s 116 million fewer salmon than last year, and a $113 million drop in value. Prince William Sound squeaked by the Panhandle to claim the year’s highest salmon catch at 49.35 million fish — topping Southeast’s landings by just 103,000 salmon. Bristol Bay’s sockeye catch of 28.8 million was 61 percent higher than expected and rang in at nearly $193 million at the docks. Fish forecasters said in 2015 Bristol Bay can expect the largest red run in two decades — 54 million with a harvest of 38 million. Norton Sound fishermen also saw a nice salmon payday from one of the best chum harvests in 25 years, plus the fourth best for silvers and the highest price in the state at $1.60 per pound. Chums from the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim regions fetched some of the highest prices at 55 cents to 60 cents per pound. Salmon permits in many fisheries tripled in value since 2002. By mid-year Bristol Bay driftnet permits were listed by brokers at $150,000 to $170,000, compared to $90,000 in January. Southeast Alaska seine permits were the priciest in the state topping $300,000. Scientists discovered that crabs can hear through a small sac at the base of their antennae. Even more exciting, they found clues to determining crabs’ ages — parts of the crab stomach and eye stalks remain after molts and show bands similar to rings in a tree. It means that for the first time managers will soon know for sure how fast crabs grow, a key factor in stock assessments. Shrimp remained as America’s top seafood favorite, but salmon bumped canned tuna to take over the second spot. Each American ate 2.7 pounds of salmon, a 34 percent increase in one year. The pollock biomass in the Bering Sea more than doubled its 10-year average to top 20 billion pounds, and the stock is healthy and growing. (The allowed catch is around 3 billion pounds.) A lawsuit challenged a new law designed to clamp down on hired skippers fishing the halibut and sablefish quota shares owned by others. The rule took effect Dec. 1; it bans using a hired skipper to harvest any quota acquired after Feb. 12, 2010. A massive tailings dam breach at the Mt. Polley gold/copper mine fouled lands and waters for miles in neighboring British Columbia. That began an uproar downstream at Southeast Alaska, where five huge mines are planned near watersheds that feed into some of the region’s most productive salmon rivers. Canadian officials rejected calls from Southeast and Alaska Senators for more thorough environmental reviews. More than 100 researchers and three dozen projects got underway to find clues to the seven-year decline of Alaska’s king salmon. The state-backed, five-year, $30 million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative includes 12 major river systems from Southeast Alaska to the Yukon. Xtra-Tuf Boots partnered with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association to help expand training and reduce injuries to all mariners. The company sealed the deal with a $10,000 check at the Alaska State Fair. Russia began a yearlong ban on food products from the U.S. and other nations over political grievances in the Ukraine. For Alaska the ban means a loss of 20 million pounds in seafood sales, mostly salmon roe and pollock surimi, valued at $60 million. Corrosive effects of ocean acids were documented by NOAA scientists on the shells of tiny, snail-like pteropods, which make up 45 percent of pink salmon diets. Unmanned gliders began tracking how melting glaciers may be intensifying corrosive waters in Prince William Sound. A Maritime Workforce Initiative was launched by the state Labor Department that targets 23 different occupation types such as fishing, research, machinists, ship building, and repairs. Right now there are not enough skilled workers to meet demand. Researchers reported that nothing on retail shelves compares to the levels of antioxidants and other healthy compounds seen in Alaska seaweeds. The “graying of the fleet” spawned a multi-year project to find ways to attract more young people to fishing careers. The average age of Alaska permit holders is 47, with twice as many permit holders aged 45 to 60 as there are between 30 and 44. With a $335,000 grant from the North Pacific Research Board, a team with the Alaska Marine Conservation Council and Alaska Sea Grant will focus on the Kodiak and Bristol Bay regions through 2016. Alaska processors launched a new line of pink salmon in smaller cans aimed at endurance athletes. The smaller cans also will let processors use the salmon development tax credit passed this year by the Alaska legislature to upgrade canning lines, many of which are from the 1950s. Bob Tkacz, one of Alaska’s best fishery writers, died suddenly in Juneau. Bob covered seafood industry issues for 33 years and published the weekly Laws for the SEA during the legislative sessions. Approval (or not) of genetically modified salmon, dubbed Frankenfish, remained in FDA limbo.  A new Alaska Mariculture Initiative began “to grow a billion dollar industry within 30 years.” The first phase was bankrolled by a $216,812 federal grant to the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation as part of NOAA Fisheries’ national mariculture expansion policy. Slow growing halibut stocks showed signs of reversing a near decade decline that has seen commercial catches slashed by 70 percent. The price for halibut quota shares hit $50 per pound at Southeast Alaska, the only place where catches have increased in recent years. Dock prices for halibut topped $6 per pound at major ports for much of the eight-month season. A ballot measure to allow the Alaska legislature to ban large mining projects near Bristol Bay passed with a 65/35 vote. Currently, only state and federal agencies can decide on mining permits. Ocean Beauty Seafoods was awarded the 2014 Supplier of the Year by Whole Foods Markets. Whole Foods said it “admires Ocean Beauty’s partnering with port buyers to ensure fishermen are recognized and treated with respect.” Trial fisheries began for seine-caught pollock at Kodiak and Homer with little interest. Alaska seafood remained free of radiation stemming from Japan’s 2011 tsunami and Fukushima nuclear reactor disaster. The EPA concluded that the Pebble Mine would be “devastating” to the Bristol Bay salmon fishery and Native culture. That set the stage for the agency to permanently ban large-scale mining in the region. Federal fishery managers began a move towards a “bycatch mitigation” plan for groundfish trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska, which will include some form of catch sharing. A new Kenai-based sportfish group formed, the Alaska Fisheries Conservation Alliance aimed at banning setnetting near Anchorage, the Kenai Peninsula, Valdez and Juneau. It would eliminate Cook Inlet setnetters and affect 500 fishing families in all. The group is still gathering signatures to bring its case to Alaska voters. The “nation’s fish basket” was closed indefinitely by Pres. Obama to oil/gas development, meaning 36 million acres of the Eastern Bering Sea that include Bristol Bay. This is the 24th year for this weekly column that focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry. It began in the Anchorage Daily News, and now appears in over 20 newspapers and web sites, including in the UK. A spin off – Alaska Fish Radio – airs weekdays on 30 radio stations. The goal of both is to make all people aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of Alaska’s seafood industry, and to inspire more Alaskans to join its ranks. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information. 2014 Fish Picks and Pans Biggest fish wait and see: Sen. Dan Sullivan Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. fisheries in Southeast Alaska Best fishing career builder: University of Alaska Southeast for its hydraulics and vessel electronics courses, fish tech training — all available online. Best Fish Givers: SeaShare, which has provided close to 200 million fish meals to food bank networks since 1994. Biggest fishing industry critic using questionable “facts:” Craig Medred, Alaska Dispatch News Best fish reality show: Kodiak’s fish debate featuring Begich vs. Sullivan and Young vs. Dunbar. Sullivan’s plans to pull a double debate no show backfired when the “fish diss” story went viral. Sullivan showed up, but it was Rep. Don Young who corked the night with death threats and overall bad behavior. Most outstanding fishing town: Once again, no town highlights its local fisheries and supports its future fishermen like Sitka. Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, which now generates nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower. Kodiak also turns its fish wastes into oils and meals at a “gurry” plant owned by local processors. Best fish gadgets: SCraMP iPhone app with vessel stability indicators. It’s free. Biggest fish blunder: Former Gov. Sean Parnell naming Pebble Mine flak Ben Mohr as his fisheries adviser. Best up and coming fish pols: Forrest Dunbar, Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins Scariest fish story: Ocean acidification. Best fish to kids project: The fabulous Fish to Schools Resource Guide by the Sitka Conservation Society. Best fish ambassadors: Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Worst global fish story: Illegal, Undocumented and Unreported (IUU) catches by fish pirates —up to 20 percent of the global fish harvest. Best fish news site: Seafood.com Best fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, Rivers Without Borders Best fish-crats: Duncan Fields, North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Nick Sagalkin, new Alaska Department of Fish and Game Westward Region supervisor Best fish writers: Margie Bauman, Jim Paulin, Molly Dischner Best fish economist: Andy Wink, McDowell Group Worst, most awful, unacceptable, no good, very bad fish story: Giving six million pounds of halibut as bycatch to Bering Sea trawlers in the 2-billion pound flatfish fisheries (not pollock), and leaving just 370,000 pounds for the small boat fishermen at St. Paul, a 70 percent reduction for the upcoming halibut season. The halibut bycatch levels, which are set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, have not been changed for the flatfish fisheries in 20 years. Meanwhile, halibut catches for commercial and sport users have been slashed every year for a decade due to stock depletion and slow growing fish. Biggest fish story of 2014: Mark Begich’s defeat in November meant losing one of Alaska’s most fish savvy U.S. senators, as well as the loss of the chair of the Fisheries/Oceans/USCG committee and an Alaskan seat on Appropriations, where all those federal dollars get doled out.  

High-volume fisheries get underway led by pollock, cod

Salmon will always be the heart of Alaska’s fisheries, and that’s why most people think of summer as the fishing season. But that’s not the case. The heart of winter is when Alaska’s largest fisheries get underway each year. On Jan. 1, hundreds of boats with hook and line gear or pots begin plying the waters of the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska for Pacific cod, rockfish and other groundfish. Then on Jan. 20 trawlers take to the seas to target Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery with annual harvests topping three billion pounds. Crab boats will soon be out on the Bering Sea for snow crab, Alaska’s largest crab fishery. Early March sees the start of the eight-month long halibut and sablefish (black cod) seasons. March also marks the beginning of Alaska’s roe herring circuit, usually at Sitka Sound, and those fisheries will continue for several months all the way up the coast to Norton Sound. And although wild Alaska king salmon is available from Southeast trollers for all but two weeks out of the year, mid-May is considered the “official” start of Alaska’s salmon season, when the runs of kings and reds return home to the Copper River. Salmon fisheries take center stage all summer and into the fall; that means one of Alaska’s highlights: red king crab at Bristol Bay in mid-October … and so it goes through the end and start of each and every year. In all, more than five billion pounds of fish and shellfish crosses Alaska’s docks each year and the industry puts more people to work that oil/gas, mining, timber and tourism combined. Fish watch Here are the 2015 catches for important groundfish species set by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and the percentage of change from this year (courtesy of Deckboss). Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands: pollock, 1.3 million tons, up 3.4 percent; Pacific cod, 250,000 tons, down 1.8 percent; yellowfin sole, 149,000 tons, down 19 percent; Atka mackerel, 54,500 tons, up 68.6 percent; Pacific Ocean perch, 32,000 tons, down 3.3 percent; sablefish, 3,135 tons, down 0.5 percent. Gulf of Alaska: pollock, 199,151 tons, up 13.8 percent; Pacific cod, 75,202 tons, up 16.2 percent; Pacific Ocean perch, 21,012 tons, up 8.8 percent; sablefish, 10,522 tons, down 0.5 percent. Dungie delight Crabbers in Southeast Alaska had their best Dungeness crab fishery ever in terms of both catch and value. The combined summer and fall harvest topped five million pounds, well above the 10-year average of 3.78 million pounds. The 137 participants in the fishery enjoyed an average price of nearly $3 per pound (compared to $2.49 last year), making the Dungie fishery worth $15 million at the Southeast docks. Seafood traditions For centuries seafood has taken a special place on holiday tables all over the world served up with meaning. One of the oldest traditions stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, celebrated by Italian Catholics on Christmas Eve. The number seven is considered the perfect number in the Bible, and the feast symbolized the end of a month-long fast from eating meat or dairy products during Advent. One of the most popular of the seven dishes eaten is bacalào or salted codfish, along with fried fish such as smelt and calamari. Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden that goes back to the days of the Vikings, and is even more popular among Scandinavian Americans. It is made from dried white fish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly like. Or as Garrison Keillor wrote in Lake Woebegone Days: “Each Advent we entered the purgatory of lutefisk, a repulsive gelatinous fishlike dish that tasted of soap and gave off an odor that would gag a goat. We did this in honor of Norwegian ancestors, much as if survivors of a famine might celebrate their deliverance by feasting on elm bark.” Elsewhere, in Japan consuming prawns on New Year’s is to insure long life, and herring roe for fertility. Feasting on pickled herring at midnight in Germany and Poland is done in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch. And in China a fish is served whole, symbolizing a good beginning and end in the coming year. One seafood that isn’t so popular in the holiday celebrations is lobster — because it swims backwards. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Symphony of Seafood adds 'beyond the plate' category

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

Three-year respite from EPA small vessel regulation passes

It went down to the wire, but fishermen were relieved to learn they can continue to hose down their decks without fear of violating the Clean Water Act. Congress voted unanimously Dec. 10 to extend a moratorium for three years that exempts commercial fishing vessels 79 feet and under from needing incidental discharge permits from the Environmental Protection Agency for deck wash. The current moratorium, which affects 8,500 Alaska vessels, was set to expire on Dec.18. The regulation is aimed at preventing fuels, toxins or hazardous wastes from entering the water. That makes sense, said Sen. Lisa Murkowski, but needing permits for hosing down a boat is going overboard — especially when recreational boats, even 300-foot yachts — are exempt from the rule. “We want to abide by environmental regulations that make sense,” Murkowski said in a phone call from Washington, D.C. “But I don’t think any of us believe it should be a requirement for a fishermen who has had a good day out on the water and they are cleaning up the boat and hosing slime and maybe some fish guts off the deck and that then becomes a reportable discharge to the EPA. “What are you supposed to do – direct it all into a bucket and keep it in the fish hold and take it to shore to dump it? Let’s use some common sense here,” Murkowski added, saying she will continue to push for a permanent fix. The discharge exemption is part of the U.S. Coast Guard Act, which also was reauthorized this week with a unanimous and bipartisan vote by Congress. “It’s very exciting to get this bill done,” said Sen. Mark Begich.  “It’s something we’ve worked on for some time and seeing it done is good news for Alaska and good news for this country.” As chair of the Fisheries, Oceans, Atmosphere and Coast Guard subcommittee for four years, it’s the second USCG Act he’s authored and been passed unanimously during his tenure. Among other things, the USCG acquisitions fiscal year 2015 budget represents a nearly $1 billion increase to modernize the fleet and strengthen its capabilities. It also includes permanent funding and inflation adjustment for the Cook Inlet Regional Citizens Advisory Committee, which oversees oil and gas projects and development in that region. So who will fill the seat of Fisheries and Oceans committee chair now that Begich is heading home to Alaska? “That’s a great question,” he said. “It won’t be an Alaskan and it will be a great challenge for us. Senator-elect (Dan) Sullivan does not have the seniority and Sen. Murkowski is not on the committee. So Alaska will not have the authority that it used to have.” What will Begich miss most about being in Washington? Working on behalf of individual Alaskans, he said. “Things like helping with social security needs or a veteran’s disability issue or fishermen and federal bureaucracy,” Begich said. “We had over 300,000 inquiries on individual issues we dealt with every day. I’ll miss that. The job of a senator is not only to represent issues on a national level, but to never forget where you’re from.” Trident buys up processors Trident Seafoods is now a triple owner of fish plants in Kodiak with its purchase last of Western Alaska Fisheries from Maruha Nichiro/Japan. Trident has long operated the large Star of Kodiak processing plant, which is mostly housed in a moored World War II Liberty ship.  Last year Trident bought the small Alaska Fresh Seafoods plant located next door. That property will expand Trident’s frozen holdings, said CEO Joe Bundrant. “We’re building a new freezer facility there, and the fish we used to tender out of the Gulf of Alaska to our Akutan plant will now be processed in Kodiak. Also, when you get your big pink salmon runs in places like Prince William Sound, we’ll be able to tender salmon here as well as handle any large seasons of pinks that come into Kodiak,” Bundrant said. The new freezer plant will mean more jobs for Kodiak’s resident workforce, said Trident plant manager Paul Lumsden. “We’re anticipating a minimum of 50 per shift,” Lumsden said, adding that the facility will be operating by next June or July. Trident’s takeover of Western Alaska Fisheries begins Jan. 1, Bundrant said. “We’re excited to operate that plant and we’ll operate business as usual starting in January and all qualified employees will be offered a job with Trident,” he added. Trident Seafoods was launched by Chuck Bundrant in 1973 and it is now the largest “source to table” seafood company in the nation. Son Joe said one constant is that Trident “is all about its people.” “Trident runs our business for our stakeholders,” Joe said. “My dad has never paid a dividend to the shareholders, it’s all gone back into the business. They are one of the stakeholders — we take equally serious the other stakeholders, and that is the communities and certainly our fishermen. That’s our employees and that’s our customers.” Bundrant said investing in Kodiak holds special meaning for him. “I was born here, my parents lived on Island Lake when I was young,” he mused. “To be able to make this investment in Kodiak is something special.” Trident operates in 10 Alaska communities including the world’s largest crab processing plant at St. Paul and the nation’s largest seafood processing plant at Akutan. Trident also has five research and development facilities, three in the Lower 48, one in China and one in Japan, “to help add value to every pound of fish,” Joe Bundrant said. The company has three project divisions that make and =market pet treats and supplements made from fish meals and oils; another focuses on human nutrition, and a third produces fertilizer. “Full utilization is our goal. We are constantly trying to find new homes and new markets for Alaska seafood.  That commitment and effort is how we really return more to the fishermen. And I challenge anyone to show me another processor that is more committed and done more for innovation,” Joe Bundrant added. “We are totally committed to the state of Alaska,” said Chuck Bundrant with a strong handshake as he went out my door. The story of Trident Seafoods and Chuck Bundrant — who literally began his career in the hold of a crab boat — parallels the development of Alaska’s seafood industry. Read it in “Catching a Deckload of Dreams” by John Van Amerongen. Cargo gets cleaner A new approach to an old idea could pioneer a cleaner planet. A small Seattle-based company called Pacific Sky Power aims to design a new style of cargo ship that cuts air pollution. Experts estimate that the 10,000 or so cargo ships that cover the globe each year produce 20 million tons of greenhouse gases each year. The end goal of the project is to have a fleet of sail powered cargo vessels operating in the Pacific Ocean, traveling from the west coast to Hawaii, then to Asia and back over to Alaska,” said project leader Don Tracy. Pacific Sky Power has come up with a “Transformers” kind of wide stance ship design that can extend and retract its size. “We’re looking at a catamaran configuration that uses a folding cross member and a telescoping mast to collapse at port, so it can efficiently manage the containers to onload and offload without an issue,” Tracy explained. The Sky Power team is designing and conducting trials on two fully operational prototypes of a 300 foot ship carrying more than 200 containers. Sky Power also is raising funds to keep the project afloat via Kickstarter, a web based “crowd funding” community that, according to its website, “brings creative ideas to life.” Since its launch in 2009, Kickstarter claims over 7 million people in 214 countries have pledged $1 billion to fund 71,000 projects. Tracy said the early funding provides fine-tuning and feasibility data before seeking out other backers. “A big part of the project is coming up with all the mechanics that will allow us to fold the ships up and redeploy the sail and give the ship a wide stance at sea,” Tracy said. “It’s a big engineering challenge and it has to be worked out on a small scale first. Then we will be able to work with naval engineers to design the full size ships.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

The Pacific halibut stock appears to be rising from the ashes and that bodes well for catches in some fishing regions next year. It would turn the tide of a decades-long decline that has caused halibut catches to be slashed by more than 70 percent in Alaska, Washington, Oregon and British Columbia. Three Alaska areas showed improvement in the annual stock surveys that range from Oregon to the Bering Sea, and could have higher catch levels in 2015. That’s according to information revealed at the International Pacific Halibut Commission’s interim meeting last week in Seattle. Two are the most prime halibut fishing spots: Southeast and the Central Gulf. The third is the Alaska Peninsula region. The surveys showed that the fish are still growing much slower than normal, but after more than a decade of conservative management, the halibut stock is showing signs of rebounding. Surveys this year showed total weights per unit of effort (fishing gear) were 6 percent higher than in 2013. “The trend estimates for this year are a bit more optimistic,” said Ian Stewart, a quantitative scientist with the IPHC. “What we are starting to see is more sensitivity to management actions than we have seen in previous years. As the stock begins to stabilize at this level, the level of catch is becoming relatively even more important to future trends.” Stewart added that it’s unclear what is causing the individual halibut to grow so slowly. “Probably climate change and prey, or competition with other species, perhaps density dependence and size selective fishing are all playing a role,” he said. One change in factoring the halibut catches is a full accounting for all sizes and sources of fish removals, including for the first time guided sport charters. The 2014 coastwide halibut catch was 27.5 million pounds; Alaska’s share was about 16 million pounds. Final catch decisions for 2015 will be made at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 26-30 in Vancouver. One fish, two fish The tallies for all that seafood crossing the Alaska docks this year are trickling out from various fishing agencies, and, as usual, they show ups and downs. Starting with salmon, the 2014 statewide harvest totaled 157 million fish with a dockside value of nearly $577 million. That’s 116 million fewer salmon than last year, and $113 million less, according to the state Commercial Fisheries Division. Prices to fishermen took a dip for three of the five salmon species: Chinook salmon averaged $4.07 per pound, compared to $5.31 last year; sockeyes averaged $1.37, down from $1.60. For pink salmon, the average price was 30 cents per pound, down a dime. On the upside, coho prices increased by 7 cents to average $1.15; likewise, chums increased 8 cents to 60 cents per pound. Alaska’s halibut fishermen enjoyed high halibut prices during the eight-month season that ended in early November. This year 1,989 longliners participated in the fishery, 35 less than last year, said Troie Zuniga at NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The average dockside halibut price this year was $6.36 per pound, an increase of $1.30 over last year. Still, the overall dockside value of the halibut fishery at $100 million is down $5 million from last year. Once again, Homer held onto the top spot for halibut landings, beating out Kodiak by less than 150,000 pounds for the season (2.76 million pounds vs. 2.61 million pounds). Seward and Petersburg were the other top ports for halibut landings. For sablefish, or black cod, the average fisherman’s price was $3.59 per pound this year, a 55-cent increase. The value of Alaska’s sablefish fishery, at $76 million, is $4 higher than last year. The value of the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay took a big dip in 2014 to $209 million, down $22 million from a year ago. The decrease is blamed primarily on competition from pirated king crab from Russian fleets that is flooding the market. The Alaska crab price this year averaged $6.10 per pound, down more than a dollar. Tanner time out The popular Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak is on hold again for a second year; likewise, at Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. “Based on the results of our 2014 crab survey, the abundance of legal-sized male tanner crab were all below the minimum threshold for us to have a commercial fishery,” said Mark Stichert, area manager at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game at Kodiak. There is a bright side — the surveys also showed one of the largest waves ever poised to enter the tanner fishery since the late 1980s. “In fact, the total abundance of crab specifically in Kodiak was the third- or fourth-highest in the time series of our survey. So there is still a lot of tanner crab in the water, but they are fairly small,” Stichert added. The crab recruits measure 2.5 inches to 3.5 inches, Stichert said, still shy of the 5.5-inch legal size. “So we are cautiously optimistic that those crab will continue to persist and translate into a fishery down the road. But we are looking forward to potentially having stronger seasons again, or reopening again, potentially next year and more likely 2017,” he added. It takes about six years for tanner crab to grow to their full, two-pound size. That’s an educated guess, Stichert said, because crabs can’t be aged by scales or ear bones, like other species.  “We think a male tanner crab will molt up to 15 to 16 times throughout their life history, but we don’t really have a method of aging crab and getting a good idea of how much they grow year to year, or how old they really are when they hit the fishery,” he explained. The mid-January tanner season provides a nice mid-winter boost to 50 or more Kodiak boats and about 30 at the Peninsula. The 2013 total catch was less than one million pounds but it still brought in several million dollars to local communities. Share the Sea Providing one million seafood meals to hungry Americans during the holidays is the goal of a month long campaign by SeaShare, a Seattle-based nonprofit that for 20 years has provided seafood to food banks across the nation. Starting with its “bycatch to food banks” campaign in the 1990s, SeaShare has built a nationwide network that includes fishermen, seafood processors, freight, storage and packaging companies and financial donors to get valuable seafood protein to the needy. The Share the Sea campaign began Dec.1 to receive enough donations to provide one million servings of seafood to the food bank network. For every dollar donated, SeaShare can access eight servings of seafood. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Meeting season underway with halibut, fish board, council

It’s the time of year when Alaska’s fishery meetings kick into high gear — with five set for this week alone. The industry got a first glimpse of potential 2015 halibut catches when the International Pacific Halibut Commission convenes Dec. 2-3 in Seattle. It’s been a wait and see attitude among fish circles — Will Alaska’s catch limits again be reduced, down already 70 percent over a decade to just 16 million pounds? Or has the Pacific halibut stock started to rebound as some of the science indicates? A who’s who of experts hosted a what’s what at the Ocean Acidification in Alaska workshop Dec. 2-3 at the Anchorage Marriott. Satellite listening stations for the workshop are being made available around the state. (Questions? Alaska Ocean Observing System www.aoos.org) Upcoming changes to the observer program for small vessels is the focus of meetings set for Tuesday, Dec. 2 in Kodiak and Dec. 4 at Homer. NOAA outreachers will hold similar observer update meetings in March at Sitka and Petersburg. Salmon, herring and state managed fisheries at Prince William Sound and the Upper Copper/Upper Susitna Rivers will be the focus when the Board of Fisheries gets back to business Dec. 3-8 in Cordova. The Fish Board also will review 57 proposals from region stakeholders. Tune into the meetings live at www.adfg.alaska.gov. Finally, setting next year’s catches and issues surrounding Alaska pollock, cod and other groundfish will take center stage at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting set for Dec 8-16 at the Anchorage Hilton. Ocean users guide Planning and mapping ocean uses, both on and under, is a goal of the National Oceans Policy set in place by the Obama Administration in 2010. It is similar to land use planning, but for marine waters, said Kathryn Sullivan, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “Think of it like in any community when someone proposes to put more houses in, or to set aside a tract of forest as a preserve or establish a new park. When you get a proposal like that, what do you all want to do?” Sullivan said. “You want to come together and say how does that relate to our schools and what impact will it have on our highway system, and where do we run the sewer lines. All those kinds of questions come to the foreground.” The buzz phrase has become “ocean zoning,” but Sullivan said it is more correctly called Marine Spatial Planning (MSP), and is intended to bring together all ocean users, along with multiple layers of information, so everyone is literally on the same page. “It’s using basic Geographic Information Systems to guide community decisions,” she explained in a phone interview. “The central thrust of GIS is that instead of having 12 people each bringing their separate pieces of paper all done to different scales — we can bring them all together into one common, shared view.” Sullivan said with marine mapping, planners can consider the cumulative effects of ocean uses, make industries more sustainable and proactively minimize conflicts between all users. Ultimately, it helps form common understandings among people from coastal regions. “So they can make their decisions of where the fishing grounds are and the shipping lanes, and is there going to be some wind energy developed and if so, where is the favorable area and what impact does that have on fishing and the efficiency of shipping in and out of our harbor,” Sullivan said. “It forms the parts of what you are thinking about together when you make those kind of decisions as a community.” Marine miracles At this time of giving thanks, let’s not overlook the miracles from the deep.  Sponge Bob, for example, could be the next rage in fiber optics. Researchers at Bell Labs have found that a certain type of sponge grows a network of glass fibers far more advanced than any found in today’s telecommunications networks. New Zealand researchers have found that adding fish oil to animal feed reduces the release of methane gas by 25 percent to 40 percent in sheep. More than 20 percent of global methane emissions come from farm animals. It is a potent greenhouse gas that traps nearly 20 times as much heat as carbon dioxide. For hundreds of years Asian cultures have used jellyfish to treat arthritis, high blood pressure and back pain. Some jellyfish have a special bio-luminescence useful in medical research.  Chitin, a substance found in the shells of crab, shrimp and other crustaceans, is packed with medical miracles. The carbohydrate that makes up chitin bonds with red blood cells to form an artificial clot, and seals massive bleeding wounds in just 30 seconds shrimp based bandages are now being used by our troops in Afghanistan. Ground up shrimp shells stirred into a nasal spray are being tested in England as a treatment for allergies and hay fever. Russian researchers have created a product from enzymes in king crab shells that helps heal severe burns. They say sea urchin pigment is remarkable for its anti-oxidant, anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties. From sea cucumbers comes the basis of a new immunity-enhancing drug; another from brown seaweed reduces damage from radiation exposure. The venom of the cone snail is being used as the basis to treat severe chronic pain that doesn’t respond to other treatment. Just a few micrograms is said to be one thousand times more potent than morphine. A drug made from the snail toxin was approved a few years ago in the U.S. Also from the ‘sea pharmacy’ — close to 15 drugs derived from marine organisms are in various stages of testing for cancer treatments. The lowly sea squirt appears to be especially promising. Fish bits A first lawsuit is challenging a new federal rule that aims to clamp down on the use of hired skippers who fish halibut and sablefish quota shares owned by others. The rule takes effect December 1 and will ban using a hired skipper to harvest any quota acquired after a cutoff date of Feb. 12, 2010. Since the Individual Fishing Quota plan was put in place in 1995, the number of hired skippers has topped 50 percent and the quota owners have been charging high rents for the fish that has inflated the cost for IFQs. The goal now is to get back to a predominantly owner operated fleet that provides entry level opportunities for coastal Alaskans. Fairweather Fisheries of Gig Harbor, Wash., and Ray Welsh of Anchor Point, AK filed the 40-page complaint signed by six lawyers against NOAA Fisheries. Welsh claims the new law is discriminatory because he is disabled and can’t fish his quota; Fairweather claims as a corporation, it relies on a hired skipper to harvest its shares. The lawsuit is filed in federal court at Tacoma. Fisherman-owned Silver Bay Seafoods of Sitka has announced that StarKist and Dongwon Fisheries of South Korea have acquired a 12.5 percent equity interest in Silver Bay. A spokesman said it will help build the Alaska brand from boat to retail shelves. Silver Bay was founded eight years ago and has processing and freezing facilities in Sitka, Craig, Valdez, Bristol Bay and Metlakatla. The company also plans to expand to the squid fishery at Ventura, Calif. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Strong 2015 forecasts for pollock, Bristol Bay salmon

Alaska is poised for some big fish stories next year based on predictions trickling in from state and federal managers.  For the state’s (and nation’s) largest fishery — Alaska pollock — the Eastern Bering Sea stock has more than doubled its 10-year average to top nine million tons, or 20 billion pounds. And the stock is healthy and growing, according to annual surveys. “It is one of the most stunning fisheries management successes on the planet,” exclaimed global market expert John Sackton when the pollock numbers were released by the Seattle-based Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Alaska pollock represents 40 percent of global whitefish production, he added. Out of the nine million ton pollock biomass, a catch of 1.3 million tons is being recommended for next year, or about three billion pounds. Federal managers will set all groundfish harvests in early December. The state is projecting an “excellent” catch of 58 million pink salmon next year in Southeast Alaska. That would be well above the 10-year average of 41 million, and would ranks among the top 10 harvests since 1960. The world’s premier sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay can expect the largest red run in two decades in 2015. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game predicts a run of 54 million reds and a harvest of 38 million fish, 10 million more than this year. The 2014 run was 53 percent higher than expected and fish forecasts always are variable and tough to peg, said Tim Sands, area manager at Dillingham. But, he added that all the data points to another big run. “Everybody seems pretty optimistic about the return next year,” he told local radio station KDLG. “Everybody’s looking at all the data in different ways, and they’re all coming up with numbers around 50 million, total run. I think that shows that the run is healthy and sustainable.” Also at Bristol Bay, the state’s largest herring fishery at Togiak is expecting a huge haul again next spring of 29,012 tons in the sac roe fishery, 4,000 tons more than this year. Red king crab wraps up It took crabbers just four weeks to haul up the 9 million pound red king crab quota in this year’s Bristol Bay fishery. The season opened on Oct. 15 and fish managers posted the catch at 100 percent as of Nov. 17.   The fishery was for the most part uneventful and the fleet was able to dodge some gnarly weather. The biggest crab concern came from an unexpected source, said Heather Fitch, regional manager at Dutch Harbor.  “We did have a scare with a lot of barnacles in the beginning of the season and a lot of sorting through the crab at sea. But the fishermen moved off those right away and then that scare went away,” Fitch said. She called the numbers of heavily barnacled red king crab unusual. “Typically, the fishery sees pretty clean shelled crab, so we’re not sure why. We need to look at the data,” Fitch said. It’s likely nothing to worry about, said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA “crab lab” at Kodiak, adding that more of the crusty crabs have been showing up in annual surveys for the past two years. “There is probably just a higher proportion of older shell crab,” Foy explained. “These are crab that are probably not molting every year and the fleet just happened to be working an area where they were aggregated.”  Crabs with barnacle-encrusted shells fetch a lower price because they are less appealing to customers. It also forces more sorting and handling on deck, which crabbers try to minimize to prevent harming the animals.  A fleet of 63 boats fished for red king crab this is year, which has been the standard for several years. They averaged 28 crab per pot, which Fitch called “pretty decent.” Already half of the boats have switched to Tanner crab. That Bering Sea fishery took everyone by surprise when the catch was boosted to 15 million pounds, up from 1.5 million last season. “Normally, when red king crab is over a few boats switch over. This year we’ve got 33 vessels that already switched over to the Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab. That’s quite a few more boats than we’ve seen in the last number of years,” Fitch said.  Oceans amok Making sure Alaska’s crab and other stocks remain healthy is the focus of an upcoming Ocean Acidification in Alaska workshop in Anchorage.  The informal, open event has attracted a who’s who of OA experts to share what is known today about the ocean’s changing chemistry and how it is corroding Alaska’s marine creatures.  In 2011 the state funded $2.7 million over three years to jump start an OA monitoring program in Alaska, and create an OA center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The money also was used to fund monitoring systems and deploy them at four moorings in the Gulf of Alaska and the Bering Sea. What is known is that the effects of increasingly acidic oceans, which prevent creatures from growing skeletons and shells, are already visible, and it is happening faster in colder waters than anyone thought possible.  “Alaskans are used to lots of variability in fisheries — but you talk about ocean acidification and it terrifies people because it is such a big unknown as to what kinds of impacts it is going to have,” said Molly McCammon, executive director of the Alaska Ocean Observing System, host of the workshop. “We want to highlight what we know today, and talk about how we prepare to adapt or mitigate it.”  State funding for Alaska’s OA program is set to expire next June, McCammon said, and national funding has been stalemated at about $6 million a year “with most being spent in other regions of the country.” “We’ll be looking at how we can keep the state program going, where are the gaps in the program, how can we get additional funding and partners, and how we can keep this issue at the forefront of the public and legislators’ minds,” McCammon said.  The Ocean Acidification in Alaska workshop is set for Dec. 2-3 at the Anchorage Marriott.  Satellite listening stations for the workshop are being set up around the state. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fishing adds jobs, salmon moves to second for US consumers

Alaska’s largest employer continues to add more jobs to its roster. Commercial fishing jobs grew last year to a level not seen since the year 2000, according to the state Department of Labor. Driven primarily by an increased salmon harvest, notably from the record run of pinks, fishing jobs grew by nearly 2.5 percent last year. That brought the annual monthly average to 8,400 jobs, just 400 shy of the record over a decade ago. Seafood harvesting and processing jobs are a focus of the November Alaska Economic Trends, which breaks down the numbers by region. Some highlights: Salmon fishing jobs were the main source of growth between 2012 and 2013 with a statewide gain of 452 jobs, or 10 percent. Salmon at Bristol Bay accounted for 98 percent of harvesting jobs, and 73 percent in the Southcentral region. Alaska crabbing dropped by about 100 jobs over those two years, down 17 percent. The average loss for groundfish harvesting jobs was 187 jobs, or 15 percent. Southeast Alaska has steadily been generating the most fishing jobs at 2,510, gaining 210 last year — the most since 2000. Southcentral was next at 1,619 jobs due to the region’s halibut fleets and the Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet salmon fisheries. The Aleutians/Pribilof Islands’ ranked third for fishing employment at 1,513, followed by Bristol Bay with 1,364 fishing jobs. Conversely, jobs in Kodiak fisheries dropped nearly 13 percent last year to 770 due to decreased landings of halibut and groundfish. A total of 380 fishing jobs was listed for the Yukon Delta, and 146 for the Northern region. The Trends report also highlights jobs in 170 Alaska seafood processing plants, which are projected to grow by nearly 7 percent through 2022; the highest-paid processing occupations are expected to grow at nearly twice that rate. These jobs are related to high level management, engineering, metal fabricators and fitters, installation, maintenance and repair. Because of the remoteness of Alaska’s fisheries and the low resident populations, it is necessary for processors to seasonally bring in non-resident workers, which top 73 percent. Interestingly, next to slime line workers, the highest rates of nonresident workers were among vessel engineers (59.5 percent); captains, mates, and boat pilots. The Economic Trends report also looks at Alaska’s Community Development Quota program. Find it at labor.alaska.gov/trends/nov14.pdf. Salmon love Shrimp remained America’s favorite seafood last year — but Alaska is credited for pushing salmon to the second spot due to the huge production of pink salmon. That’s according to the National Fisheries Institute, which compiles the Top 10 list of seafood favorites each year based on NOAA’s annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report. The list makes up nearly 97 percent of all the seafood Americans eat. Each American ate 2.7 pounds of salmon in 2013, an overall 34 percent increase from the year before. Imports of farmed salmon increased just 5 percent to 620 million pounds — meaning it was Alaska salmon that drove increased consumption, said market expert John Sackton. And salmon imports to date this year are up 8 percent, he added, meaning American’s strong usage of salmon is continuing. Salmon pushed canned tuna to third place for favorites, with per capita consumption of tuna down 4 percent. Following the top three favorites were tilapia, pollock and pangasius. Just as Alaska wild salmon faces tough competition from farmed salmon, Alaska pollock faces a similar market squeeze from those two popular farmed whitefish. Cod moved up a notch to seventh place with a nice 16 percent jump in US per capita consumption. Sackton said that increase stems from more availability from that million tons of cod coming out of the Barents Sea. Rounding out the Top 10 list of seafood favorites were catfish, crab — at half a pound person an increase of 5 percent — and finally, clams. In all, each American ate 14.5 pounds of seafood last year, the same as in 2012. The NOAA report says that imports represented 94 percent of all seafood eaten, but that figure is being reworked. For one thing, it doesn’t reflect seafood sent to China for processing and then re-imported to the US.  Fish watch Alaska’s halibut fishery ended Nov. 7 and nearly all of the 16 million-pound catch was pulled aboard during the eight-month season. It’s a toss up to see which will be the top halibut port — Homer’s lead was only about 150,000 pounds more than Kodiak. The halibut fishery will reopen in March. Sablefish also ended on Nov. 7 with longliners taking about 90 percent of that 24 million-pound quota. Bering Sea crabbers were making short work of the red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay. In little more than two weeks the fleet had taken 90 percent of their 10 million pound quota. No word on dock prices, which might not settle out until mid-January, said Jake Jacobsen of the crabbers’ Inter-Cooperative Exchange. Processors have been offering king crab at wholesale for $13 per pound, 50 cents less than last year, according to market reports. Jacobsen said the unexpected 15 million-pound tanner crab fishery might run through the end of March, with price negotiations continuing through June. Various boats are still targeting cod and flatfish in the Gulf and Bering Sea. There’s lots of fishing action in Southeast — trollers are targeting king salmon, the winter food and bait herring fishery is underway and fishing for seven kinds of rockfish opened on Nov. 8. The half million pound pot shrimp fishery is pretty much over in most Southeast districts, crabbing for Dungeness is ongoing and diving continues for sea cucumbers and geoduck clams.  Kodiak’s sea cuke fishery ended Oct. 30. Congratulations to Nick Sagalkin of Kodiak who was named as ADF&G Supervisor of the Westward region. He will oversee fish and shellfish fisheries from Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula and Aleutian Islands, all the way to the Pribilof and St. Matthew Islands. Giving back American Seafoods Co. is granting $43,000 to worthwhile Alaska programs and organizations that focus on such things as hunger, housing, safety, education, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The company awards grants three times each year, and since 1997 has donated over $1.2 million to worthy causes. Deadline to submit an application is Nov. 17. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska ports top seafood landings list once again in 2013

Alaska claimed the nation’s top three fishing ports for seafood catches last year, and wild salmon landings — 95 percent from Alaska — topped one billion pounds, an all-time record and a 70 percent increase from 2012. That’s according to the annual “Fisheries of the U.S.” report for 2013, just released by NOAA Fisheries. Dutch Harbor topped the list for landings for the 17th year running with 753 million pounds of fish crossing the docks last year, valued at nearly $200 million. The Aleutian Islands region ranked second for landings, thanks to the big Trident plant at Akutan; Kodiak ranked third for both seafood landings and value. For the 14th year in a row, New Bedford, Mass., had the highest valued catch at $380 million. That’s due mostly to pricey sea scallops, which accounted for more than 80 percent of New Bedford’s 130 million pound landings. In all, 14 Alaska ports made the top 50 list: the Alaska Peninsula (8), Cordova (9), Ketchikan (10), Sitka (15), Petersburg (16), Seward (20), Naknek (21), Valdez (24), Bristol Bay (26), Kenai (38) and Juneau (41). Most ports showed huge increases in fish landings and values, meaning a nice return in local and state tax dollars. Overall, fishermen were paid less for their catches. The average dock price for salmon (all species) was 67 cents per pound, down a nickel from 2012. For halibut, the average price of $3.89 was a drop of 58 cents. (All but 76,000 pounds of the nation’s halibut came from the Pacific fishery.) The average king crab price of $5.37 per pound was a decrease of 18 cents. While U.S. fishermen landed about the same amount of fish and shellfish last year — 10 billion pounds — the value of $5.5 billion was a $400 million increase from 2012. Maybe the jump in price is the reason Americans didn’t eat more seafood. The NOAA report shows that U.S. per capita consumption stalled at 14.5 pounds of fish and shellfish for the second year in a row. Figures for recreational fishing activities remained strong. Nearly 9.5 million recreational saltwater anglers in the United States took more than 71 million marine fishing trips in 2013 and caught more than 430 million fish, of which, 61 percent were released alive. That data did not include Alaska trips. Fish pirate put down Congress is poised to take direct aim at fish pirates by cutting them out of the seafood trade. The ultimate goal is to put a stop to the poaching of millions of tons of illegal, undocumented and unreported, or IUU, fish and shellfish taken from global waters. Led by the Alaska delegation, a Port State Measures Agreement, or PSMA, is likely to be signed into law by year’s end. The agreement, part of the Pirate Fishing Elimination Act negotiated by the UN and Food and Agriculture Organization in 2009, would strengthen port inspections and toughen standards for foreign flagged vessels and international shipping. By stopping the fish from reaching the market, it will reduce the incentive for poaching. 
 “Essentially, the PSMA relies on the principle that all fish and shellfish must be landed at some port in order to enter into trade,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a harvester trade group.  For decades, no Alaska fishery has been pinched harder by illegal catches than red king crab from the Bering Sea. “We are the poster child of what happens to your markets when it is flooded with illegal product,” Gleason said.  Last year alone 100 million pounds of pirated crab from Russia found its way into U.S. markets. (Studies estimate that more than 30 percent of total seafood imports to the U.S. were caught outside the law). Any country that ratifies the port agreement has four primary obligations, Gleason explained. They must designate which ports foreign flagged vessels can enter; they must restrict port entry and access to port services to any vessels that have engaged in IUU fishing or support activities, including transshipment; the nation must conduct dockside vessel inspections in their ports, and they must share information. The pirate fishing measures have been languishing in various Congressional committees for years, but there is a good chance they will make it through Congress this session. 
 “We’ve already signed the PSMA agreement, the Senate has agreed to ratify it, the final step is to get this implementing legislation passed,” Gleason said. “My hope is that it will be signed into law before the end of the year and the current Congress adjourns.” Alaska Sen. Mark Begich agrees. “As chair of the Fisheries and US Coast Guard Committee, I’m very excited about this. This puts teeth into an international treaty and agreement of our shipments of seafood and how they are handled,” Begich said. “I believe one of two things will happen: it will pass separately or be folded in as part of the USCG Reauthorization Act. I am anxious to get this passed.” “If it was left entirely to the Alaska delegation, it would be a slam dunk,” Mark Gleason added. “Sens. Murkowski, Begich and Congressman Young have been unbelievably supportive of this legislation, of the agreement and certainly of Alaskan crabbers.” Begich said being able to move the pirate fishing and port measures is another good example of bipartisanship and working across the aisle in Congress to get things done for Alaska and U.S. fishermen. Southeast tops in salmon Fishermen in Southeast Alaska hauled in the most salmon of any other region this summer — narrowly edging Prince William Sound by just 404,000 fish. The numbers are preliminary, but state figures show that the Panhandle produced a catch of just more than 49 million salmon, and just under that number at the Sound. Notably, nearly 44 million of the Prince William Sound salmon were pinks.       
 Bristol Bay ranked third in terms of salmon totals at nearly 31 million fish — all but 2 million of the fish were sockeyes.
  Kodiak ranked fourth for total salmon catches this summer at 14.4 million. Pinks made up the bulk of the pack with sockeyes coming in at 3.4 million. That’s followed by the Alaska Peninsula with a harvest of 5 million salmon, mostly reds. Cook Inlet landings were sixth at about 3.7 million salmon, nearly all sockeyes. More than 2 million salmon came out of the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim region this summer. In all, Alaska’s preliminary total statewide salmon catch stands at 156 million fish, 20 million more than expected. That’s thanks to a bumper harvest of nearly 44 million sockeyes. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

Throughout history, arguments over land and water usages have run the gamut from tussles over fences with next-door neighbors to shootouts over interstate grazing rights in the old west. But when land and water rights pit one country against another, that’s when things really get tricky.  That is the situation in Southeast Alaska, where residents find themselves downstream from several massive open pit gold/copper mines being developed in bordering British Columbia. The mines are located in the headwaters of some of Southeast’s largest and most productive wild salmon rivers: the Taku, Stikine, and Unuk. Canada operates under different permitting and environmental rules than the U.S. and currently, no safeguards are in place to protect Alaska waters and fisheries from chemical and heavy-metal contaminants leaching from the B.C. mines. Recall the Aug. 4 tailings dam breach at the Mount Polley mine, and it’s easy to understand why Southeast residents are seeing red. “Right now the U.S. and certainly Alaska have no say in how these watersheds we share with Canada are developed,” said Heather Hardcastle, Trans-boundary Rivers Campaign Director for Trout Unlimited, and co-owner of Taku River Reds in Juneau. That is unacceptable to the people of the panhandle, who are being urged to respond with the power of their pens! Meetings are scheduled in Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg, Ketchikan and Wrangell to inform people about the threats being posed by the big mines upriver, and to give them a way to take action. “And that is primarily by writing letters to our congressional delegation and the State Department, as well as urging law makers, municipalities, advisory committees, boards and commissions and businesses to send similar letters. What we are asking is for the U.S. State Department to engage with Canada on this matter, and activate the Boundary Waters Treaty,” said Hardcastle who has teamed with Salmon Beyond Borders and the United Tribal Transboundary Mining Working Group in the grass roots outreach efforts. An International Joint Commission (IJC) was created by the Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 to prevent and resolve transboundary water disputes between Canada and the U.S. “We feel that the best mechanism by which we can have a say in the Taku, Stikine and Unuk watersheds is to have the IJC activated and review these watersheds and the development that Canada is proposing and constructing even as we speak,” Hardcastle added. Both the U.S. and Canadian federal governments must “refer an issue” to activate the joint commission. “The first step is convincing the U.S. State Department that they should look at this matter,” Hardcastle said, “and then to continue building ties across the border to similarly urge Canadians to push for the same thing.” Alaska’s congressional delegation has come out strongly in support of the IJC oversight. Is Canada receptive? The short answer, she said, is no. “When it comes to the Canadian federal government and the BC provincial government, their agenda is mineral development,” Hardcastle said. “They have not reached out to Alaskans in any meaningful way.” Be a seafood ambassador A call is out for fishermen who want to be unofficial ambassadors for Alaska seafood. “For several years we’ve felt that some of our best spokespeople, the best brand advocates for Alaska seafood are the people most involved in the fisheries,” said Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute in Juneau. A big challenge, he added, is how to stay connected with the fishing fleet. To make contact with fishermen, ASMI has launched a confidential online database. It asks basic questions such as how long you’ve fished in Alaska and in what fisheries, if you use social media — and if you’re willing to do interviews and be a ‘face’ for Alaska seafood. “There’s a lot of times when individual retailers or media outlets are looking for folks to talk with who are involved in the fisheries in Alaska, and this offers a great tool to help fishermen get out there,” Fick said. “So when we have press tours or trade missions or events around the state or the country, we have this wealth of knowledge and individuals to call on to advance our Alaska brand and maximize the value.” Sign ups get a custom Alaska Fisherman hat from the Aurora Projekt. Annual salmon dip Wholesale prices for Alaska salmon products were down nearly across the board this summer compared to the same time last year. Every four months, Alaska processors provide price reports to the Department of Revenue/Tax Division on how much they sold fresh or frozen salmon, fillets, roe and canned products at wholesale by Alaska region. Here are some highlights on sales from May through August: By far most of Alaska’s salmon pack goes out headed and gutted (H&G) and frozen.  Chinook salmon in that form fetched $3.95 per pound, down from $4.51 last summer. Sockeye at $3.14 was a drop of $1.07 per pound. Cohos wholesaled for $2.91, compared to $3.60. The price for H&G frozen pink salmon increased a quarter to $1.28; chums saw the biggest gain at $1.54, a 45-cent increase. All Alaska salmon prices decreased for fresh fish during the summer, with H&G sockeyes averaging $4.43 per pound, down 66 cents from the same time last year. Processors produced four million pounds of fresh sockeye fillets valued at $8.80 a pound, a drop of 48 cents. Prices for fresh coho fillets also declined to $6.63, down $1.56. Likewise, chum fillets at $2.19 were down $1.19 a pound from last summer. Likewise, wholesale prices for Alaska salmon roe also declined from May through August. Sockeye roe at $5.72 was down from $6.89 a pound. Pink roe at $7.72 was a drop of 38 cents. The biggest seller — chum roe — dipped by $1.33 to $12.07 per pound.  Fall is an important sales period and wholesale seafood prices are likely to reflect changes from the summer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

The Bering Sea crab fleet now stands at 77 vessels, a far cry from the nearly 250 boats in a frenzied race to pull pots before the fishery downsized to catch shares in 2005. Fewer boats means less hands on deck, and as with other fisheries, the Bering Sea crabbers are “graying” and need to recruit young entrants to sustain the iconic fisheries. The shareholders have devised a way to give captains and crews a first crack at available crab. “The long term future of the fishery is dependent on bringing young people in. That’s not unique to crab, we are seeing it all over Alaska and fisheries in the U.S.,” said Mark Gleason, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers (ABSC), a harvester group. “There just isn’t that pipeline of young people coming up through the ranks, and a Right of First Offer (ROFO) program is one of the ways we hope to change that.” It has long been a goal of fishery managers to make sure that active participants have access to crab quota shares. Gleason said in numerous workshops, ABSC got feedback from captains and crewmembers on roadblocks to buying in and that helped shape the ROFO program. “Basically, it carves out at a minimum 10 percent of a (catch share) transaction, and that is then offered on a right of first offer basis to active participants. So there is prior notification when quota becomes available, it takes large blocks and chops it up into smaller chunks, and it increases transparency.” Gleason called it a more affordable way to get ownership in the crab fisheries, without the need to buy or build a big boat. “With quota based management, and the opportunity to buy smaller chunks of quota, a guy can get in with relatively little amount of money. He can buy quota, bring that to the boat he’s fishing on, and use it to build his assets over time. That’s a new pathway into ownership in this fishery that never existed before, he said.” All crab transactions are handled by permit brokers, such as Dock Street in Seattle, which is regarded as the “go to” place for crab shares. Specialist Jeff Osborn admits availability is sketchy, and shares of red king crab are very rare. Dock Street currently has one listing for 120,000 pounds of snow crab at $20 per, and four listings of bairdi Tanners at $18 to $20 per share. Bering Sea crabbers can register to be notified when quota becomes available at www.crabqs.com. Seafood bash gets bigger Alaska’s biggest seafood bash is expanding to include more new products and a third venue. Added to the traditional mix of retail, food service and smoked entries at the 22nd annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood, judges and fish fans will taste and rate items in a new byproducts category called “Beyond the Plate. “The definition of this category is a consumer-ready product that is made with parts of seafood which would typically be deemed fish waste or a by-product of the primary processing,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, which hosts the symphony. “The seafood industry has heavily invested in the development of new products from traditionally unused seafood parts. We are excited to offer this new category to highlight and promote the improvements the industry has made to reduce fish waste, develop new products and increase the value of Alaska’s seafood.”
 All of the new products will be judged in February by a panel of experts in Seattle. That’s followed by a seafood soiree in Anchorage where all the winners are announced, and then it’s off to a new venue — Juneau — for a third seafood celebration. The event is topped off for the winners with a trip and booth space at the International Boston Seafood in mid-March. “The multiple locations give seafood promoters the opportunity to introduce new value-added products from Alaska and gain exposure with industry and culinary experts, seafood distributors, and national media,” Decker said. “The overall goal is to inspire innovative ways to use Alaska’s natural seafood resources.” The Symphony of Seafood dates and the Call for Products will be out by the end of October. Entry forms are due by Dec. 31. Diving for dollars Every October swarms of divers head down to the depths for sea cucumbers, giant geoduck clams and sea urchins. Most of the action occurs in Southeast Alaska, where 70 divers are searching the bottom for booty. For cukes the harvest guideline is just over one million pounds, an increase of 8.5 percent from last year, and for geoducks, the 750,000 pound harvest is a 12 percent decrease. Southeast’s red urchin availability often tops 5 million pounds, but there is little interest in that fishery which pays out at about 30 cents per pound. Kodiak is the only other region where dive fisheries for sea cucumbers and urchins occur, although on a much smaller scale. This year the harvest for 20 divers is set at 140,000 pounds for cukes, which could fetch $5 per pound. No divers have signed on for more than 15 years for the Kodiak’s green sea urchin fishery, which typically paid out at over $1 per pound. Fish Watch Alaska’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay will be even bigger next year. State managers are expecting a harvest of 29,012 tons next spring, an increase of nearly 4,000 tons over the 2014 fishery. The grounds price was a dismal $50 per ton — that could increase if processors add canning lines to their operations instead of using only the herring roe. 
Salmon fishermen at Upper Cook Inlet caught fewer fish but scored higher prices. The catch of 3.2 million sockeye salmon was 20 percent below the 10-year average, but the value of the fishery at $35 million was the 9th best since 1960. Sockeye salmon represent more than 90 percent of the value of the Upper Inlet fishery. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ballot measure would require legislative approval of Pebble

A ballot measure to protect salmon in Southwest Alaska hasn’t grabbed as many headlines as pot and campaign politics. Ballot Measure 4, sponsored by the group Bristol Bay Forever, asks voters to give the Alaska Legislature final say on any large oil, gas and mining projects in the 36,000 square miles of the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve. The initiative does three significant things to the existing reserve, said Dick Mylius, a former state director for the Division of Mining, Land, and Water. “It adds large-scale metallic mines to things requiring legislative approval, it broadens the geographic area to include the entire drainage including uplands, and it also applies to state, private, and federal lands within the reserve,” Mylius said at a recent forum hosted by Alaska Common Ground in Dillingham.  The proposed Pebble mine, he said, would take a direct hit if the ballot measure passes. “Pebble is within the Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, it would be greater than 640 acres, and it is a large scale metallic sulfide mine. So if this (ballot measure) passed, it would require that the legislature approve the Pebble mine at the end of the permitting process,” Mylius told KDLG. The Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve was created in 1972 as a way to safeguard salmon from oil and gas development. Legislative approval would add another layer of protection, said Anders Gustafson, director of the Renewable Resources Coalition. “In the end, there’s no one saying, ‘you’ve got this permit to dredge here, you’ve got that permit to build this road,’ but where is the permit that says should we do it at all?” Gustafson said. “I see the ‘could’ permits, but where’s the should? Is this going to have a bad effect overall, is this the right thing to do in general? There is no end result that evaluates the impacts of all these permits together.” Mining engineer Richard Hughes argued that the Alaska Legislature doesn’t have the authority to regulate permits. “They could have the right to designate a special area, no question about it,” Hughes said, “but I think moving the approval process to the Legislature is a separation of powers issue, and a usurpation of the authority of the state administrators.” Regardless, Alaska voters will have their say on protecting salmon at Bristol Bay at the polls on Nov. 4. Crab creeps up Alaska’s biggest crab fisheries in the Bering Sea just got a bit bigger. When the season opens Oct. 15, crabbers at Bristol Bay can drop pots for 10 million pounds of red king crab, a 16 percent increase. Similarly, the snow crab harvest was bumped up 26 percent to 68 million pounds. The biggest Bering Sea crab surprise is the whopping increase for bairdi tanners, the larger cousin of opilio, or snow crab. Long closures to help rebuild the stock over the past 20 years appear to be paying off: State managers announced a Tanner harvest of 15 million pounds this year, the largest in 20 years, and an increase from just 1.4 million pounds last season.   At far away St. Matthew Island, a blue king crab fishery will reopen with a small 655,000-pound catch limit. That fishery has been closed for two years.  Closer to shore, the news isn’t so good for Southeast Alaska crabbers. Biologists say the stock of red and blue king crab is at the lowest level in over two decades and will remain closed. The region has not had a king crab fishery since 2011, after being closed for six years prior. Hats off! Kenai attorney and longtime fisherman Jim Butler headed a list of Fisherman of the Year awards at the United Fishermen of Alaska 40th anniversary celebration in Anchorage. Butler was cited for his long advocacy for Alaska fishermen, notably, his work on advisory groups and oil legislation after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The 2013 award also went to Bruce Schactler of Kodiak, a veteran fisherman and USDA food aid program coordinator for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Schactler is credited with breaking trail to get Alaska fish into hunger relief and food aid programs around the world. Jim and Rhonda Hubbard of Kruzof Fisheries in Seward scored the high honor for 2014. The Hubbards were hailed for drawing attention to the complexity of state and federal regulations for seafood sellers, and for their advocacy for “fair and reasonable regulations” for the fishing industry. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest commercial fishing group, representing 35 fishing organizations and thousands of fishermen. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fireworks featured at traditional Kodiak fisheries debate

I must admit that U.S. Senate candidate Dan Sullivan achieved something I have been trying to accomplish as a fisheries writer for more than a quarter of a century: he gave long legs to media stories about Alaska’s fisheries and, more importantly, it attracted unparalleled recognition of the seafood industry nationwide. How did that come about for a fractious industry that bemoans a la comedian Rodney Dangerfield —“I don’t get no respect?” When Sullivan’s campaign announced that he would not attend a traditional Kodiak fisheries debate scheduled with all U.S. Senate candidates in late May, he said it was due to a military obligation. Then, after winning the August primary, and despite months of advance notice, Sullivan’s campaign abruptly brushed off a fisheries face off against incumbent Sen. Mark Begich set for Oct. 1. Dan had no other commitment, his manager said, his travel schedule was just “too busy.”  The fish gurry immediately hit the fan. Press releases from opposing factions started flying, newspaper, radio, TV and blog headlines screamed that Sullivan dissed Alaska’s largest work force and simply didn’t give a crappie. The story even outran the 24-hour news cycle and for weeks it stayed in the news and on people’s minds. (Still is.) Enter Sen. Lisa Murkowski. Word quickly spread on the fish vine that she advised Dan that a no-show was a really bad move and to reconsider. He did, and Murkowski, who can talk fish with the best of them, schooled him for two weeks in a total immersion kind of way. Murkowski even accompanied Sullivan to Kodiak a day before the fisheries debate to make an even bigger splash. It paid off fairly well. Sullivan held his own against Begich, who is a passionate fisheries whiz, as well as chairman of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and U.S. Coast Guard. It was a first opportunity for Alaskans to hear Dan Sullivan’s ideas and opinions on fishery-related issues. As a result, he fielded the most questions from the media panelists, along with hard balls from Sen. Begich. No one could pin Sullivan down on his position on the Pebble mine. Claiming that he “has never come out in support of the mine,” he resorted to the tiresome talking points of “not trading one resource for another” and “supporting the process.” Begich has come out strongly against the proposed mine, and echoed the words of the late Ted Stevens that Pebble is “the wrong mine in the wrong place.” 
 Begich pressed Sullivan to answer yes or no on his support of oil and gas exploration leases set to become available in federal waters off Bristol Bay in 2017, an area dubbed “the nation’s fish basket.” “I’d look at the science and see what the federal agencies are doing to balance resource opportunities in the state. When I see the science and the recommendations I would make the decisions,” Sullivan responded. “These leases have happened before and we bought them out based on the science,” retorted Begich, who opposes the idea. When asked by Begich if he acknowledges climate change, Sullivan said, “Yes, but as for the causes, the science is still out. I would not be for a one size fits all solution.  We’ve got to get the science right before we take some big action that will further limit or hurt our fisheries.” The Kodiak fisheries debate, which is always broadcast statewide, was also covered by Japan Broadcasting Corp., C-Span, National Public Radio, The Associated Press, KTUU, KTVA, Alaska Dispatch News and Alaska Journal of Commerce. House raucous Following U.S. Senate candidates Begich and Sullivan to the fish debate stage were Alaska Congressman Don Young and Democratic challenger Forrest Dunbar. It was the first time the two candidates had met face to face, and Dunbar was clearly prepared to take on the 42-year House of Representatives veteran. 
 Young set an argumentative tone by quibbling over debate protocols, referring to 30-year-old Dunbar as “naïve” and “immature,” and often glaring at and interrupting moderator John Whiddon, a decorated retired U.S. Coast Guard helicopter pilot who has pulled off some of the hairiest rescues on record in the Bering Sea. (He didn’t bat an eye.) The audience gasped when Young glibly announced that he had not bothered to prepare any questions for Dunbar as part of the debate format. But it did not take him long to get serious once he realized how well prepared, knowledgeable and articulate his opponent is on Alaska’s fisheries. Young and Dunbar agreed on many issues, such as the need to make sure fishing futures exist for young Alaskans, and the need to reduce chinook and halibut bycatch by trawlers. “The Gulf is where most of the problem lies, not the Bering Sea,” Young said. “It can be done with excluder panels and modern technology. If they don’t clean up and do it better, someone else will do it for them.” 
 Likewise, they saw mostly eye to eye on: the need for better seafood labeling, stopping fishing pirates on the high seas, opposing genetically modified fish and offshore fish farming, home porting more vessels in Alaska and increasing resident and corporate involvement, and that ocean “assification” (Young’s term) is a threat to Alaska’s fisheries. Dunbar is strongly opposed to the Pebble Mine, whereas Young said: “It is the state’s land and it has control over the resources. Let the state do its job.”  No one can discount Young’s knowledge and caring for Alaska’s seafood industry. He helped write and pass laws in the 1970s that “Americanized” our nation’s fisheries, by booting foreign fleets to beyond 200 miles from U.S. shores. He also is credited with pushing through an international ban on the use of miles of driftnets on the high seas. But his condescension of Dunbar did not reflect well on Alaska’s lone Congressman. “Why do you think in your young years that you can better represent Alaska,” Young asked his competitor. Dunbar, who is from Eagle and Cordova and has a Yale law degree, responded that he was an intern in D.C. for Frank Murkowski and another legislator. 
 “I have more experience than you did when you went to DC. And I grew up in this state and represent Alaska values,” Dunbar said. 
   “Sounds good, looks good, but it doesn’t quite pass the smell test,” Young retorted. “You are a very ambitious young man, but you don’t know the ropes. What I have done is represent and fight for all Alaskans every day.” 
 When Dunbar questioned Young about past ethics violations and referred to his “lack of clout” in Congress, Young upbraided him saying: “Right now you are a young man all fired up and wanting to make an impression. Attacking a congressman for 42 years is wrong and demeans the office. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.” Fish watch Many Alaskans are surprised to learn that salmon fishing goes on in Southeast Alaska almost year round. Trollers there are heading back out for winter king salmon on Oct. 11 in a season that can run all the way through April. Southeast’s pot shrimp season opened Oct. 1 with a region wide harvest of about half a million pounds. Crabbers also began dropping pots that day for the fall Dungeness fishery. The total Dungie catch this year could top six million pounds. Dive fisheries for sea cucumber and urchins also got underway October first in Southeast and Kodiak. A little more than 1 million pounds remain for Alaska’s halibut fleet out of a nearly 15 million-pound catch limit. Prices at major ports remained in the high $6 and more than $7 range for fishermen. Weekly landings have been less than 500,000 pounds over the past month. Sablefish prices also are through the ceiling, topping $4.25 for under three pounders and $7.55 for seven and ups. The Alaska pollock fishery wrapped up nearly a month early in the Bering Sea. At nearly 3 billion pounds, that’s a lot of fish sticks! Fleets are also targeting cod, flatfish, and many other types of groundfish. In the Central and Western Gulf, trawl, hook and line, pot boats and jig boats are targeting Pacific cod. Gulf trawlers also are back out on the water for the final pollock fishery of the year. The Aleutian Islands golden king crab fleet is tapping away at its 6 million-pound quota. Catches for Bristol Bay red king crab and Bering Sea snow crab should be out any day. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Crab, pollock stocks show abundance in latest surveys

Alaska’s conservative management combined with the grace of Mother Nature is swelling the abundance of two of the state’s largest and most important fisheries. Bering Sea crab scientists and stakeholders met last week to discuss the outlook for Alaska’s biggest crab fisheries that open Oct. 15.  The takeaway was that the stocks of red king crab, bairdi tanners and snow crab all showed big increases in mature size classes, based on data from the annual summer surveys. (Only mature male crabs cans be retained in Alaska’s crab fisheries.) That has industry watchers predicting little, if any, change to the crab catches, said market expert John Sackton. The data did show some peculiarities though — there are indications that a spike in water temperature (by 2 degrees Celsius) might have redistributed the crabs into survey areas as they moved in search of colder waters. That could discount stock increases, Sackton said.   Raw data showed an increase in the red king crab biomass from 34,000 tons to nearly 48,000 tons, well above the five-year average, and mature females also increased. For snow crab, mature males increased from 58,000 tons to more than 105,000 tons, Sackton said, and the level of male recruits increased 40 percent to more than 140,000 tons.  The crab catch quotas for the 2013/2014 season were 8.6 million pounds for Bristol Bay red king crab; 1.6 million for Tanners, and 54 million pounds for snow crab. The Bering Sea crab fisheries are jointly managed by the state and federal government; the catch quotas are set by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game.   Similarly, Alaska’s pollock stocks may be at the highest level since 1982. Even better, trawl and acoustic surveys also showed several big year classes coming into the pollock fishery, said Dr. Jim Ianelli, NOAA’s chief pollock scientist. The Alaska pollock fishery accounts for 70 percent of the total Bering Sea harvest, and is the nation’s largest fishery. However, the robust stock won’t translate into a higher catches. The fishery is managed under a two million-ton cap for several groundfish species; last year’s pollock quota was 1.3 million tons, equaling nearly 3 billion pounds. Sockeye watch The sockeyes are still running at Fraser River in British Columbia, with the latest date on record for commercial catches. The total run now is pegged at about 21 million, and the harvest last week topped the preseason forecast of 10 million fish.  Fishing could continue for another week. Early prices for the Fraser sockeyes were at U.S. $1.50 per pound. Alaska’s sockeye salmon catch this year stands at 44 million fish. The 2014 Fraser River sockeye run will be noted for more than its healthy size. Seafood.com reported that warmer than usual ocean temperatures caused a change in migration pattern and almost the entire run took the northern route around Vancouver Island. That bypassed U.S. waters giving American fishermen landings of just 625,000 reds. The two countries share the Fraser salmon return in an 83.5 to 16.5 percentage split in the catches. The Fraser fish also fell prey to increased attacks of lamprey eels this summer. Fake fish fracas A group of 90 scientists and biotechnology execs from around the world is pushing President Barack Obama to expedite final approval of genetically modified salmon for U.S. markets. They urged in a letter last week that the Food and Drug Administration put an end to the long wait for final approval of laboratory produced salmon made by Aqua Bounty Technologies. The company has been trying for FDA approval for 20 years for what would be the first animal OK’d for human consumption. The scientists argue that the genetic techniques used in salmon are no different that used in the hundreds of millions of acres of GMO crops that are planted each year. The Frankenfish backers said that the Aqua Bounty salmon has met or exceeded all federal requirements and reviews, and called the 16-month review of public comments “unprecedented.” More than 1.5 million people wrote in opposition to the genetically tweaked salmon, and 65 supermarkets have said they won’t carry it. Sen. Mark Begich was the first to pounce on the prospect of “test tube” fish in a retaliatory letter. “These East Coast scientists should learn a lesson from Dr. Frankenstein — just because you create something in a lab doesn’t mean it is safe for the public. The claims that GMO salmon are safe are simply not true,” said Begich. Studies have shown that GMO salmon, which can grow three times faster than normal, can breed with wild fish. Begich said that escapees could decimate Alaska’s wild salmon stocks due to negligence, just as GMO wheat has been found growing in the wild — a development we were assured could never happen. “You can’t put the genetics genie back in the bottle, and that’s why I will keep fighting to make sure GMO salmon are never approved by the FDA,” he added. Begich and Sen. Lisa Murkowski co-sponsored legislation to stop FDA approval, and to require labeling if Frankenfish is approved. Murkowski has questioned if it can even be called a real fish.  “This takes a transgenic Atlantic salmon egg, which has genes from an ocean pout, somewhat akin to an eel, and it combines with the genes of a Chinook salmon,” she has testified to Congress. “I have questioned time and time again, why we would want to be messing with Mother Nature like this? We are trying to invent a species that would grow quicker to out compete our wild stocks. This experiment puts at risk the health of our fisheries not only in Alaska, but throughout the Pacific Northwest.” Fish trends New packaging, new flavors and easy to prepare meals made a big splash last week at the New Product Showcase at Seafood Expo in Barcelona, Spain. SeafoodSource reports that a product called “Sum Boxes” by Vivos Y Perecederos is self-assembled, recyclable and waterproof. Compared to expanded polystyrene seafood boxes, the Sum Boxes costs 30 to 40 percent less. Fish Snack’s by Savia Nature are crispy salmon and cod skins of in different flavors. Seafood burgers, sausages, brochettes and meatballs made of salmon, tuna, bonito and swordfish were presented by the company Josmares. Cream cheese with caviar also drew rave reviews. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Sullivan reverses, will attend Kodiak fisheries debate

Fish on! The lure of reaching a statewide audience was too much to pass up for U.S. Senate hopeful Dan Sullivan, who will be at the Oct. 1 fisheries debate at Kodiak after all. Sullivan was able to reshuffle a packed travel schedule to fit in the fisheries event, said Ben Sparks, campaign manager. Sullivan initially was going to be in Bethel on a multi-day swing through Southwest Alaska during the time of the Kodiak event. “Dan recognizes the importance of Alaska’s fisheries, and our campaign has rescheduled our southwest swing to ensure that Dan could make the debate. He looks forward to a healthy exchange of ideas with Mark Begich on the future of Alaska’s fisheries, and is excited to attend the debate in Kodiak,” his campaign said in a prepared statement. Since 1990 the fisheries debates have been an election year tradition and always have attracted 100 percent participation by leading candidates. The debates are limited to one topic: Alaska’s seafood industry. Sullivan, a former Alaska Attorney General and Department of Natural Resources Commissioner, will face off for one hour against incumbent Sen. Mark Begich, chair of the U.S. Senate subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard. Also on deck: for a second hour, U.S. House Rep. Don Young will debate fish issues against Democratic newcomer Forrest Dunbar, who said he is expecting it to be tough. “Don Young has 40 years inside the Beltway; it will be difficult to match his knowledge of all the federal regulations he helped create. But I worked as a commercial fisherman growing up in Cordova, and I care passionately about our fishing industry,” said Dunbar. “I’ll be taking my own preparation seriously in the coming weeks.” The Congressional Fisheries Debate is set for Oct. 1 from 7 to 9 p.m. and will be broadcast live via KMXT/Kodiak and AK Public Radio Network stations. Naked truth World class fisheries depend on clean water and Southeast Alaskans are stripping down to make that point. “Water quality issues are becoming the biggest issues we have to deal with in Southeast. Long ago it was forestry, but as that industry has slowed down and mining and industrial tourism via cruise ships has sped up, our relatively pristine waters face more threats than they ever have,” said Malena Marvin, executive director of the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council which has advocated for protecting the world’s largest temperate rain forest, the Tongass, since 1970. To highlight the need to keep it clean, the Council has launched the Inside Passage Water Keeper program, and aligned itself with the International Water Keeper Alliance. “We’ll have our own chapter here that will be networked with water keepers all over the world,” Marvin said. A Naked Truth about Clean Water calendar for 2015 is one of the items being rolled out this fall to introduce the Inside Passage program. The call is out for photos from Southeast fishermen, charters, whale watchers — water lovers of all kinds can bare it all, but demurely hiding the goods. “We want people to have fun and think of cool ways to showcase how their family or their business depends on Southeast Alaska’s amazing clean water,” Marvin said. “Obviously, we are only looking for G rated photos, so keep the fish or the kayak or what have you strategically placed.” Entries should also include a statement with your take on the naked truth about clean water. Deadline is Oct. 1 ([email protected]). Along with the calendar display, winners get “regional notoriety” and a T-shirt.  Fish watch Fall means it is time for fish meetings that shape the management and oversight for all of Alaska’s fisheries. The plan to rein in Gulf of Alaska trawl bycatch via some form of catch share program will top the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s agenda in early October. Also up: setting a Pacific cod quota for a CDQ small boat fishery and observer deployment plans for next year. The Council oversees all fisheries in federal waters, meaning three to 200 miles out. The NPFMC meets Oct. 6 to 14 at the Anchorage Hilton. Closer to shore, the state Board of Fisheries will get its meeting cycle underway at a two day work session starting Oct. 15 in Juneau. Salmon and other fisheries at Prince William Sound, Upper Copper River and the Upper Susitna River start the regional focus this year, followed by Southeast and Yakutat finfish and crab management issues. The fish board oversees all commercial, sport and subsistence fisheries in state waters. It will meet in Cordova, Wrangell and Sitka throughout the winter. The meetings could get shaken up by the 27 out of cycle agenda changes being proposed by various fishing stakeholders. One third of the proposals come from Cook Inlet where big management changes were put in place by the Board last year.  Coming soon — catch numbers for mid-October Bering Sea crab fisheries will be out soon, followed by preliminary catch numbers for 2015 halibut catches. Hats off to the United Fishermen of Alaska, which is celebrating 40 years of advocating for Alaska’s fishing industry. UFA is the nation’s largest fishing trade association with nearly 40 member groups. An awards ceremony and banquet is planned for Sept. 26 at the Captain Cook in Anchorage. Veteran fisheries writer Wesley Loy is the editor at Pacific Fishing Magazine. He takes over for Don McManman who retired. Loy also writes the popular Deckboss blog. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Sullivan will attend Kodiak Chamber fisheries debate

Editor's Note: via Laine Welch on Friday morning: "Dan Sullivan is coming to the Kodiak fish debate after all. I confirmed it with Ben Sparks this morning.  So it will be an hour of Begich/Sullivan, then an hour of Don Young and Forrest." “Surprised and disappointed” was the reaction by Sen. Mark Begich upon learning that his opponent Dan Sullivan has bowed out of an Oct. 1 fisheries debate in Kodiak. It is the second time this year that Sullivan has declined to participate in the Chamber of Commerce event that has been an election year tradition since 1990. “I can’t recall a time that a candidate has not participated in the Kodiak debate,” Begich said as he readied to head back to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 5. “It’s a must-do for statewide candidates. It’s not an option. It’s clear he doesn’t have the same Alaska values as we do when it comes to our fisheries, and I think he is doing an incredible disservice to Alaskans. But that is his MO. He avoids issues, only shows up at very controlled settings, and talks in bumper stickers and applause lines and that’s all he likes to do.” Sullivan campaign manager Ben Sparks told debate organizers that Sullivan does not have a prior commitment keeping him from the fisheries debate, but that “he is just too busy with all the traveling he is doing.” The two-hour debate is broadcast live to over 330 Alaska communities. “I think it’s a shame because Alaskans will miss out on a forum that focuses on the largest employer in the state,” Begich added. “Seafood is our biggest export by far and nearly 85 percent of all the fish caught in Alaska comes from waters that are under federal jurisdiction. If you can’t even have a debate, how do Alaskans know where he stands?” Sullivan already has a reputation for shunning Alaska media and was criticized last week for avoiding a debate on Native rights issues in Juneau. “The Alaska way is to debate fiercely, discuss, find solutions to challenges, and move forward. It is not to abandon, run, hide and not talk to people who might disagree with you,” Begich retorted. “You have to show up in order to work together. He is unwilling to talk about issues that are important to Alaska, and leaving thousands of Alaskans wondering where he stands.” The fisheries debate will go on, said Trevor Brown, executive director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce. “We have pre-sold lots of sponsorships and lined up all the radio stations. Senator Begich will be there, and hopefully, other third party U.S. Senate candidates. We also are talking about adding an hour for U.S. House candidates Don Young and Forrest Dunbar if both can make it,” Brown said. History shows that since 1990, no candidate who has skipped the Kodiak fisheries debate has gone on to win their election. Case in point: Sean Parnell vs. Don Young in 2008.  Plug in! Electricity is any boat’s lifeline. A new self-paced, online course will show all mariners how to spot and fix basic electrical problems on any vessel. “You get a 30-year-old boat and some of the wiring is just amazing. Somebody adds or takes something out and they leave the old wiring behind,” said Alan Sorum, a former Valdez harbormaster and collaborator on the Boat Electrical Systems course offered now at the University of Alaska/Southeast.   Wiring is just one of eight modules in the course that use animations, YouTube videos and direct contacts with experts at the Sitka campus. Being able to deliver it on line and at a distance has been the “great bridge,” said Torie Baker, an Alaska Sea Grant advisor in Cordova and a partner in the project. “There’s been a real need for this basic but upgraded look at these kinds of electrical systems.  Classes like this help you systematically understand what you’re up against and how to troubleshoot it, and the tools that you need,” Baker said.   Both agreed a top feature of the electrical course is the focus on troubleshooting. Sorum said just knowing the basic rights and wrongs of bonding and grounding, for example, would prevent a harbormaster’s biggest headache. “Boats have AC systems and DC systems and if they’re not wired correctly, you end up getting voltage or current in the wrong places and it causes all kinds of problems — for your boat and your neighbor’s,” he said. “Plus it costs money for the power, it causes electrolysis. For me that was always the biggest hassle — someone would complain about having a hot harbor or a prop getting eaten up, and it’s so hard to track down who’s causing the problem.” The Boat Electrical Course is open for sign-ups now. The 10-15 hour course is self-paced over three months and costs $125.  Contact UAS for more info.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Banning Russian seafood would pinch its king crab sales

If Russia won’t buy seafood from the U.S., we won’t buy seafood from them.  That’s the gauntlet being thrown down by Alaska’s Congressional delegation to retaliate against Russia’s year-long ban on food products from the U.S. and several nations. In a letter to President Obama spurred on by Sen. Lisa Murkowski, the delegation wrote: “Our purpose here is to ask that your Administration respond to the Russian action with a two-step process. First, we ask that you use all diplomatic means available to persuade the Russians to immediately rescind the seafood import ban. Second, if Russia fails to comply, we ask that a ban be imposed on Russian seafood imports to the United States.” If a ban is imposed, the letter said, “It is critical that U.S. trade officials implement it in a way which tracks and covers all Russian-origin products throughout the distribution chain, including those that are re-processed and or transshipped through third countries. This is the only way the ban will be truly effective and will achieve the intended goal of protecting U.S. interests.” For Alaska, the Russian seafood ban adds up to a loss of 20 million pounds of seafood sales valued at $60 million, mostly salmon roe and pollock surimi. But the U.S. bite back would be far more hurtful for Russia. “A complete ban would upend the king crab market,” said market expert John Sackton. “Last year the U.S. imported more than $220 million dollars worth of king crab and snow crab from Russia. In fact, nearly 90 percent of the king crab eaten by Americans comes from Russia.” This year, imports of Russian king crab to the U.S. were 50 percent higher through June than in 2013, at 12.5 million pounds. (That compares to Alaska’s catch of about 8 million pounds.) The U.S. also imported 63 million pounds of frozen pollock blocks and 70 million pounds of frozen salmon blocks and fillets of Russian products, after reprocessing in China. Flying and tying in the Bay Thirteen new graduates of Bristol Bay River Academy are ready to guide visitors and help them work a mean fly rod for salmon and trout. The students mastered the “place-based” curriculum at the academy where they learned the basic skills of fly-fishing, casting, knots and fly tying. “They also learn the basics of customer service, and what it is like in the guiding and hospitality business out in the Bay,” said Nelli Williams, a program coordinator for Trout Unlimited, which runs the Academy with partners from all over the region. “They take tours of local lodges and we have guest speakers come in and explain about their businesses and what it’s like to be a guide. And the third strand of the curriculum is river ecology and biology and what keeps trout and salmon healthy. They get the whole picture.” The idea for the academy was spawned in a steam bath six years ago by local elders as a way to foster sustainable outdoor employment opportunities for Bristol Bay young people. “When you’re out in Bristol Bay you see a lot of fishing guides from the Lower 48 with people on our local rivers and they thought, ‘wouldn’t it be great if instead local kids were in those boats with the visitors to our region,’” she said. The free, week-long academy rotates throughout the region and has so far graduated 66 students. Many have gone on to get other certifications and guiding licenses and work in the industry. An apprenticeship program is also in the works. “I think the beauty of this program is the opportunities it holds for both local young people as well as the sport fishing community in Bristol Bay,” Williams said, adding that the local guides are the most requested by visitors. “When it’s a rainy day and the fishing isn’t as spectacular as it sometimes is, our graduates can tell stories about what plants along the river you can eat and how their family preserves them, or about seal hunting in Lake Iliamna and what life is like in the winter — all of the things that inherently come from growing up in Bristol Bay. It certainly adds to the experience for the visitor.” The river academy is the only program of its kind in Alaska and she hopes the idea will catch on elsewhere. XtraTuf Training XTRATUF Boots has partnered with the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association, or AMSEA, to help expand their training, reduce injuries and save the lives of fishermen and other mariners.  The company sealed the deal with a $10,000 check presented to AMSEA at the Alaska State Fair last week by country music star Brett Eldredge. “XTRATUF Boots partnered with AMSEA because the organization mirrors XTRATUF’s mission — to support marine safety. AMSEA does this via training and education, and XTRATUF does it by building the toughest, most durable, slip resistant boots for commercial fishermen and recreational boating enthusiasts,” wrote director of footwear Sean O’Brien in an email. Since 1991 Sitka-based AMSEA, under the leadership of Jerry Dzugan, has trained more than 7,000 people in more than 700 Drill Conductor courses (more than 5,000 were Alaskans). The course includes hands-on survival skills and emergency drills onboard a vessel such as firefighting, emergency signals, Coast Guard evacuations, flooding control, cold water survival skills, life raft and immersion suit use, abandon ship procedures, man overboard recovery techniques, and more. Get growing A request for proposals is out for phase one of an economic analysis of Alaska’s mariculture potential. The Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation believes it can be a billion dollar industry in 30 years and is funding the analysis through a NOAA Fisheries grant. The analysis will serve as a road map for a statewide strategic plan. Deadline is Sept. 19. Find links at www.afdf.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Chinook research begins; Fraser River prices decline with strong run

More than 100 researchers and three dozen projects are underway to find clues as to why Alaska’s chinook salmon production has declined since 2007.    The ambitious effort marks the start of a state-backed five-year, $30-million Chinook Salmon Research Initiative that includes 12 major river systems from Southeast Alaska to the Yukon. And while it will be years before the project yields definitive data, the scientists have pinned down some early findings. “It’s not the fresh water production of the juvenile chinook that is the reason this decline is occurring, it’s being driven by poor marine survival,” said Ed Jones, the lead for the Initiative and sport fish coordinator for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We don’t know why, but once these juvenile chinook salmon are entering the ocean they are not surviving at the rates they once did,” Jones added. “And at the same, we also are seeing younger and smaller chinook returning to spawn and this obviously results in smaller fish being caught.” At each river system, the chinook team is estimating how many young fish are going to the ocean, refining estimates of how many older fish are returning to spawn, and tracking the marine catches. “That’s an effort to estimate the harvests of these 12 indicator stocks in detail,” he explained. “So we’re going to implement tagging programs on the juveniles and as they go out to the ocean they’ll be marked with an adipose fin clip. We also will include a tiny coded wire tag in their heads and those will be sent to the Juneau lab where we can tell when and where those fish were released. With those three components we can do full stock reconstruction.” Jones said his primary focus is on the Kuskokwim and Yukon Rivers because of the importance of Chinook salmon to subsistence users. “A major part of this initiative is to make sure we can help those folks fish when there’s fish around and pull the reins back when they are not around. But we need to gather the information that allows us to do that accurately each and every year. We are trying to learn from the users and gather information on historical harvests, what the people know and what they’ve learned for centuries. We’ll feed that information into our stock assessment program,” he said. Chinook salmon spend up to five years in the ocean and production goes through up and down cycles. A few years ago, West Coast and British Columbia stocks were said to be doomed — but they have rebounded and are at record numbers in some cases. Jones believes that’s what will also occur in Alaska. “The take home message is that productivity cycles and unfortunately in Alaska right now, we are at the low end of that cycle”,” he said. “We are experiencing a tough time right now, but it will turn around so don’t lose hope.”  Chinook checks The first installment of disaster relief money will soon be on its way to Alaska fishermen hurt by low Chinook salmon returns to the Yukon, Kuskokwim and Cook Inlet regions. Disasters were declared by Gov. Sean Parnell for those three regions in 2012, opening the door for relief payments from the feds. NOAA Fisheries announced last week that $7.8 million will be distributed in direct payments to fishermen for their losses. The payments break out at $3.2 million for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Region and $4.6 million for the Cook Inlet Region. The checks will be administered by the Pacific States Marine Fishery Commission, and according to Sen. Mark Begich’s office, should be in the mail in September or October. More money will follow — Alaska’s Chinook Salmon Fishery Disaster Relief Program netted nearly $21 million out of $75 million approved by Congress for fisheries in six US regions. NOAA said the remaining funds for Alaska of about $13 million will be based on a second grant proposal that the Pacific Commission is developing using spending plans by groups identified by the State and Alaska’s congressional delegation. Fraser River update Prices for Fraser River sockeye salmon are on a downward slope as managers continue to call for a strong run. The first fish a few weeks ago fetched starting prices at $1.75 to $1.85 per pound, and then dipped to $1.65 (U.S. $1.50). British Columbia’s Fraser River Panel said the early summer run topped two million sockeye; they estimated the so-called summer run at 6.3 million reds through Aug. 20. The bulk of the Fraser run usually occurs at the end of August and no one is making any calls on that yet. Some are predicting a total catch of 10 million Fraser sockeyes, but that remains to be seen. State mum on mine mess Last week a coalition of Alaskans and some of the state’s largest fishing groups joined with the Congressional delegation to urge Secretary of State John Kerry to intervene with Canada as five large scale mines prepare to go on line in watersheds that feed into Southeast Alaska’s most productive salmon rivers. The five mines are part of a larger mineral development push by B.C. Premier Christy Clark who has pledged to create eight new mines and expand nine more by next year. Alaskans are citing the Boundary Waters Treaty between the U.S. and Canada, which states that trans-boundary waters “shall not be polluted on either side to the injury of health or property on the other side.”     “Using that Treaty might get the Canadians’ attention. At least it would start the conversation,” said Brian Lynch, director of the Petersburg Vessel Owners Association. The state of Alaska has made no statements on either the Aug. 4 Mount Polley mining disaster or the threats the new BC mines pose to Southeast waters. Double ban whammy Alaska’s major seafood companies are calling for a ban on Russian seafood exports to the US, and are seeking support from the Alaska congressional delegation and the US Trade Representative. The food ban resulted from trade sanctions imposed on Russia by the U.S. and several other nations due to its aggressive actions in the Ukraine. The proposed embargo would remain in effect until Russia rescinds its year-long ban on U.S. foods, and also includes mechanisms to prohibit all seafood imports of Russian origin to the US, including Russian-caught seafood that is transferred through other countries before reaching this country. Hundreds of millions of dollars of Russian seafood imports are sold in the U.S. every year, with much of it coming through China. “We did not start this fight, and we hope the Russians will call off their embargo. But a U.S. ban will signal to President Putin that America will not sit idly by while Russia disregards international law and tries to coerce the world into ignoring its transgressions through retaliatory actions,” said Terry Shaff, president & CEO of UniSea Inc. Those endorsing the ban include Alaska General Seafoods, Alyeska Seafoods, Icicle Seafoods, North Pacific Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods, Peter Pan Seafoods, Trident Seafoods, UniSea, Westward Seafoods, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Russia-Ukraine conflict impacting Alaska seafood markets

Seafood is by far Alaska’s top export and as it heads overseas, global politics play a big role in making sales sink or swim. That dynamic took center stage last week when Russia banned imports of foods for one year from the U.S., Canada, Europe, Norway and Australia in retaliation for sanctions imposed due to its aggressive actions in Ukraine. It is a direct hit to Alaska, which last year exported nearly 20 million pounds of seafood to Russia, valued at more than $60 million. The primary product it hurts is pink and chum salmon roe; Russia is also a growing market for Alaska pollock surimi. “After Japan, Russia is our largest market for salmon roe,” explained Alexa Tonkovich, International Program Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Japan takes about $125 million worth of salmon roe and Russian takes about $46 million (over seven million pounds). The next closest market is China at $20 million. And if you don’t have diversified markets for a product, you’re in a less powerful negotiating position and that impacts pricing.” Also in play — the ban on Norwegian salmon means thousands of tons fish destined for Russia are displaced and has to find a home somewhere. “And that is either the EU, the U.S., or possibly China or Brazil,” Tonkovich said, “and that impacts pricing for salmon overall.” Russia is Norway’s third-biggest salmon buyer — exports of farmed Atlantics in 2013 approached 300,000 tons, valued at $1.1 billion. Russia’s ban also takes a bite out of Alaska pollock surimi exports, valued at over $8 million in 2013. But that market is much more diversified than Alaska’s salmon roe. “There are good markets in Japan and Europe, and we see potential in Brazil for surimi products. So that may be a bit easier to absorb. The salmon roe is a pretty significant volume so I see a greater impact for salmon than for pollock,” Tonkovich said. Frozen pink salmon also will be affected, said John Sackton. “In 2013, virtually no frozen pinks were sold to Russia, but in 2014 that jumped from less than $250,000 to $3.3 million,” Sackton said. Even before the ban, the troubled political climate had ASMI’s international team planning new and expanding market opportunities for Alaska seafood. At this point, Tonkovich said uncertainty rules the day. “There is a bit of stress in the seafood industry right now,” she said. “Things are in limbo and it is hard to know how it will play out over time.” Polley wanna panel? The Mount Polley mine tailings disaster in British Columbia quickly prompted both Alaska U.S. Senators to urge the State Department for more oversight on mining projects on trans-boundary rivers. In letters last week to Secretary John Kerry, Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich both specifically referenced the KSM Mine being built less than 20 miles from Southeast Alaska’s border. Plans call for KSM to be seven times larger than Mount Polley and a similar accident could affect the Taku, Unuk and Stikine rivers, all major salmon producers. Murkowski and Begich are calling for a bilateral Panel Review on KSM and other planned mines that could affect Southeast fish and habitat, and for accelerated U.S. oversight before the B.C. projects are finally approved. The Red Chris mine is located in a watershed that drains into the Stikine River near Wrangell; the Tulsequah Chief mine is in the Taku River watershed near Juneau. Meanwhile, Alaska state officials are defending mine regulators in Canada, saying their environmental protection measures are as strong as those in Alaska or the Lower 48. Department of Natural Resources large project permit coordinator Kyle Moselle told the Juneau Empire he believes “the environmental assessment process in Canada is thorough and rigorous.” Moselle said the decision about whether Alaska will join the call for a panel review and increased U.S. oversight on the KSM mine will be made by DNR Commissioner Joe Balash, Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell, and Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Larry Hartig. Moselle said he is reviewing the KSM mine proposal and will submit the State’s comments by the Aug. 20 comment deadline.  It takes guts to talk fish Candidates for Alaska governor will be in the nation’s No. 3 fishing port next week to “talk fish” to a statewide audience. Gov. Sean Parnell, Democrat Byron Mallott and Independent Bill Walker all were quick to confirm several months ago. Since 1990 Kodiak’s Chamber of Commerce has hosted fisheries debates for Alaska governor and U.S. Senate candidates. The debate is limited to a single topic: the seafood industry. As always, the two-hour event will be broadcast live via the Alaska Public Radio Network, and streamed by host station KMXT. Check your local radio listings. The “goober” debate (irreverently short for ‘gubernatorial’) is set for Aug. 28, at the Kodiak High School world-class auditorium from 7 to 9 p.m. Dungies do it! Crabbers in Southeast Alaska just wrapped up their best summer Dungeness crab season ever. The total catch is pegged at four million pounds — the largest summer harvest since 2002, and a 142 percent increase from 2013. That makes for a nice payday for 150 crabbers who averaged about $3 a pound, up 50 cents from last year. The summer catch adds up to at least $11 million at the docks, making it one of the highest on record. Likewise for Oregon crabbers. Oregon is the nation’s leader for Dungie deliveries and that fishery also ended last week. Although the catch appeared to be below average at 14.5 million pounds, the ex-vessel value of nearly $50 million is the highest on record. Seafood.com’s John Sackton said that the huge growth of live exports has fueled the Dungie market, especially in a year with overall lower volume. Alaska’s most far flung crab fishery got underway on Aug.15: golden king crab along the Aleutian Islands. It’s the state’s most stable crab fishery with a conservative harvest each year capped at just over 6 million pounds. The crabbers believe the catch could be higher, but there have been few stock surveys due to distance. Starting this year, the fleet working with managers to undertake the biggest survey ever done on the entire range of the golden crab stock — an 800 mile span from Dutch Harbor to Atka. It will be several years before the data yields results — but experts believe Aleutian goldens could soon overtake Bristol Bay as Alaska’s largest king crab fishery. Salmon blast Help is on the way for Washington state salmon, where migration is blocked by dams or environmental hazards. A company called Whooshh Innovations has come up with a literal fish cannon! Salmon swim into a tube and can be shot more than 500 feet into the air, landing safely in waters upstream. A test run is underway at the Roza Dam 10 miles north of Yakima, with more planned. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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