Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: China poised to snap up even more Alaska seafood

China holds big promise to become a top customer for Alaska salmon, and not just for the bright red fillets.

Since 2011 China has been the No. 1 customer for Alaska seafood with purchases nearing $800 million and comprising 54 percent of all Alaska exports to China.

In Chinese food culture, fish symbolizes abundance and prosperity, which plays into a growing middle class that now earns the equivalent of about $25,000 in U.S. dollars a year.

North Pacific council director takes top federal fish job

Chris Oliver, the former executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, has moved up the ladder to lead the agency overseeing the all the federally managed fisheries in the U.S.

Oliver, who has lived in Alaska since 1990 and been the executive director of the council since 2001, officially took the post of assistant administrator at the National Marine Fisheries Service effective June 19.

Copper River outlook improves

Things are looking better than expected for Copper River kings.

Sportfishermen, personal-use dipnetters, subsistence fishermen and commercial fishermen are all out now on the Copper River drainage.

When the season began May 18, the forecast estimated that only about 29,000 kings would return to the river system, leaving about 5,000 for total harvestable surplus.

Assembly passes tax incentive for fresher fish

DILLINGHAM — Some Bristol Bay fishermen are getting a little extra incentive to upgrade their boats.

On June 5, the Bristol Bay Borough Assembly passed an ordinance that will allow fishermen who install a refrigerated seawater system in 2017 or 2018 to get a one-time $1,500 fish tax credit.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry gains momentum

Homegrown shellfish and kelp are gaining momentum in Alaska, spurred on by growing markets and the steadfast push by Gov. Bill Walker’s visionary mariculture task force.

Applications for more than 1,000 acres of oyster and kelp farms were filed with the Department of Natural Resources by the April 30 deadline, far more than usual.

Fifteen are for new farms in the Southeast, Southcentral and Westward regions of which seven plan to grow kelp exclusively. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations.

FISH FACTOR: Trump budget dumps NOAA funding

The 2018 budget unveiled on May 23 by the Trump Administration is bad news for anything that swims in or near U.S. waters.

At a glance: the Trump budget will cut $1.5 billion from the U.S. Commerce Department, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, taking the hardest hit.

The NOAA budget for its National Marine Fisheries Service operations, research and facilities would be slashed by about $43 million. It would eliminate NOAA’s coastal research programs and the Sea Grant program.

After season closure, board revises Tanner crab strategy

Bering Sea Tanner crab fishermen have a new harvest strategy in place, though it likely won’t be the last time the plan gets revised.

The Board of Fisheries held a special meeting in Anchorage May 17 and 18 to deal with just the harvest strategy.

Copper River managers proceed cautiously after large king harvests

Commercial fishing managers in Prince William Sound are planning to continue opening the fishery, despite concerns about low king salmon returns to the Copper River system.

In the first two commercial fishing periods of the season on May 18 and May 22, salmon fishermen brought in about 3,600 king salmon, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game in-season harvest summaries.

The first wild-caught king salmon of the season, the fish garnered a record-breaking $50 per pound in the Lower 48, where they arrived late last week.

FISH FACTOR: Managers deploy across state amid budget impasse

Alaska salmon managers are hoping for the best and planning for the worst as lawmakers extend into a special session to try and agree on a state budget. It is the third year in a row they have not finished their legislative session on time due to budget differences.

The haggling, which could last up to 30 days, means pink slips could go out to all state workers in less than two weeks in advance of job layoffs.

Record Copper River king prices celebrated at annual seafood event

Restaurants from Seattle to New York City paid about $50 per pound — a new record — for the Copper River king salmon sold direct from Cordova fishermen on May 19.

A representative 45-pound Copper River king was the royal guest at a public seafood event celebrating spring’s famous run in Alaska on May 19.

About 100 people turned out for a five-star restaurant sampling as part of the festivities featuring the king on square white paper plates.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood values stable, new crab surveys and a fish promotion

The U.S. seafood industry’s contribution to the nation’s economy sank a bit, while Alaska’s output increased slightly and dollar values held steady.

An eagerly anticipated annual report released May 9 by NOAA Fisheries measures the economic impacts of U.S. commercial and recreational fisheries.

It highlights values, jobs, and sales for 2015, along with a 10-year snapshot of comparisons. A second report provides the status of U.S. fish stocks for 2016.

FISH FACTOR: Alaska salmon season ready to kick off in Cordova

Alaska’s salmon season officially gets underway in less than two weeks!

The first fishery for sockeye and king salmon is set for May 18 at Copper River and the town of Cordova is buzzing, said Christa Hoover, executive director of the Copper River/Prince William Sound Marketing Association.

“The mood changes at the start of May with all the folks back in town and boats going in and out of the water,” she said.

Enthusiasm among the fleet of more than 500 drift gillnetters has not been dampened by a reduced harvest projection.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits slide, but quota shares skyrocket

The values of Alaska salmon permits are on a downward slide, while prices for quota shares of other catches continue to skyrocket.

Despite an optimistic outlook this year for Alaska salmon catches and markets, buyers and sellers are still feeling a hangover from last year’s tough fishing season.

FISH FACTOR: Legislation takes on ‘graying of the fleet’

Numerous studies over the past decade have highlighted Alaska’s “graying of the fleet” (the average age of permit holders is 50), and the lack of opportunities for younger people to launch a career in commercial fishing.

State data show that between 1975 and 2014, more than 2,300 limited entry permits (nearly 28 percent) migrated away from Alaska’s rural fishing communities to non-residents.

2017 sockeye forecast weak for Cook Inlet

KENAI — Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial salmon fishermen are predicted to have another slow season, if the forecast proves accurate.

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s 2017 commercial salmon fishery outlook predicts a total run of about 4 million fish to all the stream systems in Upper Cook Inlet, which includes the Kenai, Kasilof and Susitna rivers as well as a number of smaller streams.

Commercial fishermen are projected to harvest about 1.7 million of that, the lowest projected harvest in the last 15 years.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon outlook looks bright for 2017

A brighter outlook for Alaska’s upcoming salmon season just got even better.

Markets are looking good, the statewide salmon catch forecast of 204 million is up by a million fish, and the world’s biggest sockeye salmon fishery at Bristol Bay is breaking records for chilling its fish.

Last year nearly 40 percent of Alaska’s total salmon value came out of Bristol Bay. When its fish fetch a better paycheck for boosted quality due to chilling, it is felt throughout the entire salmon industry.

Habitat bill draws attention, but won’t get vote this year

JUNEAU — It is already being dubbed, “fish first, nothing else.”

Reps. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, have introduced a bill that would set up a new fisheries habitat permitting system, to be administered by the state Department of Fish and Game, for construction projects that affect waterways.

Critics say the legislation would add serious burdens to environmental permit systems that are complicated enough, and set standards that many development projects will be unable to meet.

FISH FACTOR: Electronic monitoring rollout coming soon

Automation is coming to Alaska fishing boats in the form of cameras and sensors to track what’s coming and going over the rails.

Starting next year, electronic monitoring systems, or EM, can officially replace human observers as fishery data collectors on Alaska boats using longline and pot gear.

Vessel operators who do not voluntarily switch to EMS remain subject to human observer coverage on randomly selected fishing trips.

North Pacific council takes first step in creating salmon plan

A lot of new faces are coming to the table at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, and not a lot of them are happy about it.

Fishermen who had never previously been involved with the council now have to show up to have a hand in how their fisheries will be incorporated into a federal fishery management plan, or FMP.

The council, which regulates federal fisheries off the coast of Alaska, on April 6 started in on the topic of the salmon plan for Cook Inlet, part of the Alaska Peninsula and part of Prince William Sound near Cordova.

FISH FACTOR: Retail seafood sales up sharply led by wild choices

Seafood sales at American retail stores are on an upswing and should remain that way for the foreseeable future. Better yet — demand for fish captured wild in the U.S.A. showed the biggest gains of all.

That’s good news for Alaska, which provides nearly 65 percent of wild-caught seafood to our nation’s supermarkets (95 percent for salmon!).

A new survey by trade magazine Progressive Grocer showed that retail seafood sales rose nearly 40 percent over the past year, and 56 percent predicted an upturn in seafood sales this year.

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