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.