Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Trade war escalates with seafood import tariffs

President Donald Trump’s trade war now includes tariffs on seafood going to and from China. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer purchasing 54 percent of Alaska seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. On July 6 a 25 percent tariff went into effect on U.S. imports to China, including all Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, sablefish, geoduck clams and more. Then on July 11 Trump added a 10 percent tariff on all seafood sent from China to the US. According to market expert John Sackton of Seafoodnews.com, it includes products that are reprocessed in China and sent back for distribution in this country. The total value of the 291 seafood products China sends to the U.S. each year is $2.75 billion. Sackton called the 10 percent tariff “a $275 million dollar direct tax on Americans.” It will hit 70 percent of imports of frozen cod fillets. Likewise, 23 percent of all frozen salmon fillets come into the U.S. from China, including pink salmon that is reprocessed into salmon burgers and fillets. Trade data show that China represents 47 percent of U.S. breaded shrimp imports and 37 percent of frozen squid imports. China also supplies 20 percent of the U.S. frozen scallop market. Sackton said the economic hit will go far beyond the $275 million consumer tax. “As sellers are forced to raise prices, competitive products from other countries will follow suit resulting in across the board seafood price increases. That will discourage seafood buying so sellers will lose business as customers back away,” he added. China has been the fastest growing global market for high-end seafood. In late May, Gov. Bill Walker led a trade mission to China with several Alaska seafood companies which have spent millions to expand their brand even more. “All this money will go up in smoke,” Sackton said. In recent years, Alaska seafood sales to China have increased by millions of dollars through e-commerce activity, said Hannah Lindoff, international program director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Lindhoff said ASMI will try to expand sales to other markets, such as Brazil, Spain and Ukraine. But, as Sackton points out, it is more expensive to mount campaigns in multiple countries than in a single large market like China. ASMI operates on a shoestring international budget of less than $7 million per year, mostly from grants and federal dollars. Its overall budget is about $22 million, nearly all from processor taxes. Trump’s seafood tariffs come at a time when the Alaska legislature has zeroed out the state’s $1 million dollar contribution to ASMI. Compare that to Norway’s more than $50 million marketing budget from a small tax on its seafood exports. Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported on Thursday that “scant” American fish or shellfish was for sale at Jingshen, Beijing’s largest wholesale seafood market which supplies restaurants and grocers across China. Several distributors said that the recent 25 percent tariff has made American seafood unaffordable. Unless Congress intervenes, the additional 10 percent will take effect in September. Alaska’s delegation has yet to comment. Gearing up for crab Boats already are signing up to participate in fall Bering Sea crab fisheries that begin Oct. 15. Meanwhile, many crabbers are still awaiting word on what their payouts are for last season. Prior to the crab fisheries changing from “come one, come all” to a catch share form of management in 2005, prices were set before boats headed out, said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange which negotiates prices for most of the fleet. “Since then the price is based on the historical division of revenues and there is a formula that is applied to sales. It takes a long time for sales to be completed to the point where we know or can predict what the final wholesale prices will be, and then we can apply the formula to it,” he explained. Prices to fishermen were down a bit from last year but historically very high, Jacobsen said. For snow crab and bairdi Tanners, which typically are hauled up after the start of each year, prices were just settled and won’t be made public for another week. “Most of the snow crab and bairdi prices were over $4 a pound, so that’s very good,” he hinted. According to processor data, last season’s average snow crab price was $4.07 a pound; Tanner crab averaged $3.33. For golden king crab, fishermen averaged $5.51 per pound. For Bristol Bay red king crab, the price averaged $9.20 a pound last year, down from the record $10.18 in 2016. Heading into the fall, Jacobsen said the price outlook is good. “We expect king crab to be very high this year. There is quite a bit of demand throughout the world and it’s in short supply,” he said, adding that a huge reduction in illegally caught crab imports from Russia has helped boost the market for Alaska crab. Right now stakeholders are “on pins and needles” that crab stock surveys underway now will yield good news for the 2018-19 crab catches, which have been on a downward trend for several years. “Based on last year’s surveys it looks like we might have another decline in snow crab and we’re not sure about red king crab as it was kind of on the margin last year,” Jacobsen said. “With Tanners, we never know. If we can get some good quotas it should be a good year,” Last season’s catch limit for Bristol Bay red king crab was 6.6 million pounds, down 20 percent. For golden king crab the quota has remained stable at 6.3 million pounds. The snow crab catch quota at 19 million pounds was a 12 percent decline. For bairdi Tanners, a catch of just 2.5 million pounds was down from over 20 million pounds two years prior. The combined value of the 2017/2018 Bering Sea crab fisheries was nearly $190 million at the Alaska docks. Fish prices The first thing any fisherman wants to know is what he’s getting paid for his catch. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for nearly every fish species with comparisons going back to 1984 in its Commercial Operator’s Annual Report, or COAR, compiled from inputs by Alaska processors. Here’s a sampler of some of the average prices from 2017: The price for cod was 32 cents per pound, an increase of 4 cents from 2016. The lingcod price averaged $1.88, up 33 cents. Those 3 billion pounds of Alaska pollock fetched 12 cents per pound for fishermen, down a penny. Herring also dropped a penny to 11 cents. Octopus averaged 60 cents per pound, a 14-cent increase; sea cucumbers fetched $5.02, up nearly a dollar. For 11 types of flounders, pesky arrowtooth increased 3 cents to 10 cents per pound; rex sole held as the priciest flatfish at 34 cents. Alaska plaice was the cheapest at 3 cents per pound. For 20 types of rockfish, yellow eye (red snapper) topped the list at $1.49, up 20 cents. Geoduck clams paid out at $6.27, down 32 cents. Longnose skates fetched 49 cents, up a nickel. Halibut averaged $6.25, an increase of 19 cents per pound. Sablefish averaged $7.36 compared to $6.50 the year before. Sockeye salmon averaged $1.26, up 20 cents. At $5.73, chinook salmon increased from $4.88; cohos at $1.23 were up a nickel, chums at 70 cents increased by 8 cents, and pinks at 36 cents per pound dropped a penny. The priciest Alaska catch was spot shrimp paying out at $9.32, up 36 cents. Sculpins were the cheapest at one penny a pound. Another report shows how much each fishery produced and what processors sold it for. Alaska pollock topped them all with 1.3 billion pounds processed for a first wholesale value of $1.5 billion. Sockeye salmon was second at nearly $790 million for 208 million pounds. Why should all Alaskans care about fish prices? With annual catches coming in at 5 billion to 6 billion pounds per year, adding just one penny per pound to the total catch makes a difference of nearly $1 million dollars in landing taxes for the state and local governments each. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Board rejects emergency petition over pink salmon hatchery production

The Valdez Fisheries Development Association can move ahead with its plan to increase its pink salmon production after the Alaska Board of Fisheries rejected an emergency petition from groups led by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association who oppose the plan. The seven-member board ultimately decided the issue does not constitute an emergency on a 4-3 vote during a Tuesday afternoon meeting in Anchorage. Board members Israel Payton of Wasilla, Reed Morisky of Fairbanks and Orville Huntington of Huslia voted in favor of the petition meeting emergency criteria for consideration. Those voting against were chair John Jensen of Petersburg, Alan Cain of Anchorage, Robert Ruffner of Soldotna and Fritz Johnson of Dillingham. The petition was signed by KRSA Executive Director Ricky Gease and 18 individuals representing Lower Cook Inlet commercial fishing interests, the Chitina Dipnetters Association, the Kenai River Professional Guide Association, the Fairbanks Fish and Game Advisory Committee, among others. It urged the board to reverse a previously approved increase of 20 million pink salmon eggs by the Valdez Fisheries Development Association this year for expanding future hatchery-produced harvests. KRSA first submitted the petition May 1. The first version was signed by nine sport and personal use fishing groups, sans the Lower Cook Inlet commercial representatives. The board subsequently voted to a 3-3 tie on the issue during a May 14 teleconference meeting. The petition alleges that increasing the number of hatchery produced salmon poses a threat to wild salmon stocks as the hatchery fish compete with wild salmon for food while they are collectively rearing in the ocean. It highlights that a sampling study found up to 70 percent of pink salmon returning to some small Lower Cook Inlet streams in 2017 were found to be from Prince William Sound hatchery stocks. “In addition to the straying issues of PWS hatchery-origin pink salmon observed in Lower Cook Inlet, recent scientific publications (building on past published reports and internal Alaska Department of Fish and Game reviews) have provided cause for great concern over the biological impacts associated with continued release of very large numbers of hatchery salmon into the North Pacific Ocean, including the Bering Sea and the Gulf of Alaska,” the petition states. Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten wrote to a letter to Gease June 14 in which he denied the petition via authority delegated to him by the Board of Fisheries, but noted two board members had already requested a special meeting to discuss the matter. Fish and Game officials as well as board chair Jensen said at the Tuesday meeting that emergency findings are rare; there must be an unforeseen event that threatens a resource or an instance where action would lead to a loss of harvest opportunity that couldn’t be had in the future. “I don’t think taking eggs is an emergency,” Jensen said. Gease said in an interview that the state has policies in place that make it illegal to transport salmon between regions, but the department is passively allowing it to happen by approving increased hatchery production when the fish are known to stray. “It seemingly now is OK that there is no standard for hatchery fish straying,” Gease said. Valdez Fisheries Development Association leaders could not immediately be reached for comment in time for this story. Morisky said he feels instances where 70 percent of the fish spawning in a stream have strayed from hatchery stocks constitutes an emergency and allowing an egg take that will lead to more hatchery fish could threaten wild salmon stocks, the health of which Fish and Game is required to prioritize above other salmon. Payton said the potential issue of hatchery fish competing with wild salmon for food in the ocean is of particular concern to him. “I do think there is a potential threat to the wild stock resource here,” Payton said. Fish and Game Commercial Fisheries Division Director Scott Kelley said the Valdez-area hatcheries originally wanted to take an additional 70 million eggs and increase the total egg take to 300 million from 230 million, but the department agreed to a phased approach of increases in 20 million-egg increments in 2016 and 2018. It’s an approach that is commonly used with hatcheries across the state, according to Kelley. “That’s why we ease in — test the waters, literally,” he said. Kelley noted recent wild stock returns of pink salmon to Prince William sound in 2013 and 2015 — pinks typically return in two-year high and low abundance cycles — were among the most prolific on record. Board member Johnson of Dillingham said the egg take is supposed to happen in three days, adding the board is already scheduled to take up hatchery issues during an October 15-16 work session in Anchorage. It was also emphasized at the meeting that the department, in conjunction with hatchery groups, is working on a long-term study to flesh out theories of how hatchery salmon from Prince William Sound and Southeast Alaska do or don’t impact wild fish stocks. Cain, of Anchorage, said the issues of how hatchery salmon interact with wild salmon are very important but the petition didn’t meet the board’s threshold for an emergency. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

Reprocessed state seafood exports exempted from Chinese tariffs

It appears the blowback from President Donald Trump’s trade dispute with China will fall on some, but not all of Alaska’s seafood exports to the country. The Trump administration’s 25 percent tariff on an estimated $34 billion of goods imported to the U.S. that took effect July 6 prompted Chinese leaders to respond with their own 25 percent tariff on U.S. goods headed for their country, including seafood, Alaska’s primary export. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Director of International Affairs John Henderschedt said June 28 that seafood products destined to be reprocessed and re-exported from China will be exempt from the tariffs after agency officials discussed the issue with the U.S. Embassy there. While a positive development for Alaska fishermen and processors, the cumulative impact the tariffs could have on the commercial fishing industry in the state is still unknown, Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute Technical Program Director Michael Kohan said in an interview. Overall, Alaska exported more than $4.9 billion of goods in 2017, of which more than $2.4 billion was seafood, according to the state Office of International Trade. China bought $1.3 billion worth of Alaska’s exports last year, including $796 million — nearly a third — of the state’s total seafood exports. Kohan said leaders at ASMI, the state’s flagship seafood advocacy group, have been wondering what role the tariffs would play in their industry since they were officially announced June 15. She noted that the ever-shifting dynamics of the volatile industry make it difficult to pin down exactly how much Alaska seafood stays in China and how much is sent back out after value-added processomg. Part of the challenge of tracking the Chinese market is that it has grown rapidly, according to Kohan, which of course is a good thing. Prior to about 2003, China bought minimal amounts of Alaska seafood — less than $100 million per year — mirroring demand growth in the country for other Alaska products as well. “We do know that higher end species are consumed domestically, so those are geoducks, sea cucumber, crab, sablefish; and most of the species that are going to be reprocessed and re-exported are pollock and pink and keta (chum) salmon,” Kohan said. Adding to the challenge of trying to quantify and track what goes where is the fact that each processing company sends different volumes of various products to different countries every year, Kohan said further. “With a billion dollars of seafood exports to China it’s a very serious issue for Alaska and could have potential effects on harvesters,” she said. “However, it’s too soon to know the full impact on Alaska seafood harvesters or the state’s overall economy.” Chris Woodley, executive director of The Groundfish Forum, a trade association the for Bering Sea Amendment 80 factory trawler fleet, said the vast majority of U.S. exports of frozen seafood to China are reprocessed to be shipped out of the country later. Such U.S. exports to China that are then re-exported are not subject to Chinese duties or the countries value-added tax because imposing them would just raise the cost of the products when they are resold. Kohan said the true impact of the tariffs should be better known in the coming weeks as more geoducks and other seafood is shipped to China and processors begin making decisions on where to send their products now that the tariffs are in place. If those impacts prove to be unworkable, the seafood could be sent elsewhere in the future, but that move would be gradual as well, she said. “Alaska seafood has a strong and growing demand worldwide. The products that are being exported to China now could fill markets for Alaska seafood such as South Korea, Japan, Brazil, the U.K., northern and southern eastern Europe are all large markets for us so there’s a great network for Alaska seafood internationally,” Kohan said. “However, as with the (2014) Russian embargo, these shifts in markets take time to develop and so we will see possibly some changes but obviously we’ll be searching to develop our other strong markets with these seafood products in the future.” ^ Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected] Correspondent Jim Paulin in Unalaska contributed to this report.

FISH FACTOR: Bristol Bay lone bright spot for salmon so far

Sockeye salmon catches often add up to half of the value of Alaska’s total salmon fishery, and the so-called reds dominate the season’s early fisheries starting in mid-May. But sockeye catches so far range from record-setting highs at Bristol Bay to record lows nearly everywhere else. For example, the Copper River sockeye harvest of just 26,000 is the lowest in 50 years. At Kodiak just 212,000 sockeyes were taken through July 6, making it the weakest harvest in 38 years. Sockeye fishing at Yakutat has been closed due to the lowest returns in 50 years; likewise, fishermen at Chignik also have yet to see an opener. Sockeye harvest levels at Cook Inlet and the Alaska Peninsula also are running well below average. Fishery scientists suspect the downturns are due to the warmest sea-surface temperatures ever recorded running from 2014-16, which likely depleted food sources before the sockeyes returned from the ocean this year as adults. At the other extreme, the early sockeye run at Bristol Bay set records for some of the best catches ever. By July 6 fishermen at the Nushagak district had four harvests that topped 1 million reds per day, including a record 1.77 million fish taken on July 1. Salmon trackers Anyone can easily track Alaska’s daily and weekly salmon catches with two free sources. The Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s “Blue Sheet” updates salmon catches daily for every Alaska region from May through September. Through June 6 it showed that just over 22.2 million salmon had been taken so far: 16.5 million sockeyes, nearly 5 million chums, 91,000 chinook, 8,000 coho and 636,000 pink salmon. ADFG also provides a weekly in-season summary and catch tally by region. The harvests are graphed to show the progression of catches for the fishing season, with comparisons to the previous year and 5-year averages. The timing charts can be customized by region, area, district or fishery and all five salmon species. Another Alaska salmon source is the harvest summary done weekly by the McDowell Group for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. It also shows catches by species and region with comparisons to the previous year’s catch. As of July 5 the summary showed that the pace of Alaska’s salmon harvest was about 25 percent below the same time last year, an improvement from the previous week. Sign up for the summary by contacting Garret Evridge at [email protected] Fish watch Lots of fishing is going on besides salmon all summer across Alaska. Cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish are being hauled in from the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The Dungeness crab fishery in Southeast is ongoing with a summer harvest pegged at 2.25 million pounds. A red king crab fishery is underway at Norton Sound with a limit of 290,282 pounds. Golden king crab along the Aleutians opens Aug. 1 with a 6.3 million pound harvest. Lingcod fisheries continue in portions of Prince William Sound and the Panhandle. Shrimp fisheries also are ongoing in both regions. Scallop fisheries opened across Alaska on July 1 with a total take of 265,000 pounds of shucked meats. The Dutch Harbor food and bait herring fishery opened July 1 with a catch quota set at 1,810 tons. For halibut, 47 percent of Alaska’s 17 million-pound catch has been taken so far with less than 9 million pounds remaining. For sablefish, about 15 million pounds are left in the nearly 26 million-pound quota. Both fisheries run through Nov. 7. In other fish news: the Alaska Board of Fisheries will hold a special meeting on July 17 in Anchorage to address several emergency management petitions, including hatchery production in Prince William Sound, sockeye failures at Chignik, Kodiak and the Alaska Peninsula, and gillnet chum fishing on the Yukon. Finally, Trump’s trade war with Alaska’s top seafood buyer, China, went into effect on July 6. A 25 percent tariff will be imposed on Chinese imports of Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, sablefish, geoduck clams, mackerel and more. That’s on top of existing tariffs ranging from 5 to 15 percent. China purchased 54 percent of Alaska’s seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. Ferry science The state ferry Columbia now has more than six months of data since it began testing the waters for acidity last fall from Southeast Alaska across British Columbia to Bellingham, Wash. The weekly testing is part of an unprecedented Alaska-Canada collaboration to learn how increasing ocean acidity affects regional fisheries. “Nowhere in the world is there a ferry system that’s outfitted with CO2 sensors running that scale of a transit. It is really exciting,” said Wiley Evans, the technical lead for Canada’s Hakai Institute who rigged the 418-foot ferry to suck up water samples while it is underway. The samples are measured automatically for oxygen, temperature, salinity and carbon dioxide, which indicates the acidity of the water. “We’re trying to understand the time and space patterns in surface ocean CO2 chemistry near shore. In this area, it’s extremely data-poor, Evans said.” The project aims to discover how ocean acidity levels change seasonally, and where there are hot spots or refuges from corrosive waters. Off kilter oean chemistry makes it hard for marine creatures — and the micro-organisms they feed on — to form shells, among other things. The ferry information can help scientists estimate the rate at which acidification is occurring in near-shore waters. Preliminary ferry data point to an extremely variable seascape in which the surface water is primarily corrosive in fall and winter, representing the most vulnerable time of year for species sensitive to ocean acidity. When spring arrives, two primary factors create a change: the phytoplankton bloom removes CO2 from the water through photosynthesis, and the water gets warmer making conditions more favorable for shell production. The Columbia data is uploaded daily to the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network website. Major studies show the southeast and southwest regions of the Gulf of Alaska will take the hardest economic hits from increasingly acidic waters. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

King salmon run on Yukon River well below average so far

FAIRBANKS (AP) — This year's king salmon run on the Yukon River is on track to be the second- or third-worst ever recorded. Just over 90,000 kings were counted as they swam past the Pilot Station sonar site near the mouth of the Yukon River this summer, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported. The run has thus far been similar to 2015, the second-worst year for king salmon ever recorded, after 2013. The migration from the Bering Sea to the mouth of the river is usually more than halfway over by this point in the summer. Fishery managers expect enough kings will return upriver to satisfy a treaty with Canada and allow enough salmon to reach their spawning grounds where the fish reproduce, the Department of Fish and Game said in a recent statement about the Yukon River. Restrictions on subsistence fisheries will be necessary to meet the escapement goal. The department restricted fishers to 6-inch (15-centimeter) gill nets, instead of the 7½-inch (19-centimeter) size in many areas of the Yukon. The smaller mesh is too small to catch larger king salmon, but is still enough to trap smaller, but more numerous chum salmon. The chum salmon run is relatively strong this year, and it's expected that a large number of chum salmon will make it upriver because of the commercial fishery restrictions in the lower river. The department has also cut in half the number of subsistence fishing hours announced in the pre-season schedule for several districts. Information from: Fairbanks (Alaska) Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com  

Salmon struggles extend to unprecedented restrictions at Chignik

A tough sockeye salmon commercial fishing season is shaping up in the Gulf of Alaska, from the Copper River across to Kodiak Island and back to the mainland at Chignik. And the Yukon River is seeing dismal chinook salmon returns, although the summer chum run is strong. “I haven’t put my net in the water once,” complained Chignik purse seiner Roger Rowland on June 26. “It’s literally the worst run ever.” Rowland commented from the fishing district on his cellphone, via teleconference in an Unalaska City Council meeting, about 300 miles to the southwest where he lives, during a break between votes. Rowland, a longtime seiner, city councilor and boat repairman, said he was hoping for better results from the second lake in the river system. Earlier in the month, the Chignik crisis prompted an unprecedented emergency order restricting a neighboring fishery from Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten. “Since statehood there has never been this low of an escapement of sockeye salmon at this time through the Chignk weir,” Cotten wrote on June 18. That’s nearly 60 years ago, since Alaska became a state in 1959. ADFG tracks fish passing though the two-gated weir in the river, using video cameras, counted for 10 minutes of every hour by ADFG staff viewing indoor monitors at the remote site on the western side of the Alaska Peninsula. Cotten’s emergency order slashed the hours for commercial fishing in neighboring Area M/South Alaska Peninsula, including Sand Point, King Cove, and False Pass, because Chignik salmon migrate through those areas, traveling northeast back to where they were born about four years earlier in freshwater. “That’s never been done before,” said ADFG Biologist Lisa Fox in Sand Point. Fishing periods in the South Peninsula waters were reduced to 40 hours, down from the normal 88-hour openers, as conservation measures to protect Chignik salmon. While the Area M fleet is catching fish this year, it’s nothing like the amazing previous season. “Last year was a pretty phenomenal year for sockeye, for everything, really,” said Fox. In 2017, the seiners, gillnet boats and setnetters landed 1.76 million sockeye, well above the 10-year average of 1.19 million. As of June 25, the catch stood at 671,000 reds, substantially below average. “This year’s sockeye harvest has been very low,” Fox said, although the chum salmon harvest is strong. The sockeye harvest total increased a few days later to 877,640 on June 28 for Area M. According to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial harvest strategy for 2018, the Chignik River watershed is managed with an early run to Black Lake, and a late run to Chignik Lake. The early run to Black Lake, in the interior of the peninsula, was forecast at 844,000 sockeye, or red, salmon. The harvest was projected at 448,000 reds. The Chignik harvest strategy document, written by state fisheries biologist Dawn Wilburn, said the early run typically peaks in late June. The late run goes to Chignik Lake, closer to the ocean, with a forecasted run of about 900,000, and a projected catch of 563,000 fish. Last year, Chignik fisherman caught a total of about 1 million sockeye, accounting for 45 percent of the total paid to salmon fishermen of $15.8 million, with 41 percent of the ex-vessel dollars paid for pink salmon. The 67 permit holders fishing in 2017 earned an average of $236,000, including kings, chums and coho. “It’s all hypothetical, but it’s probably related to the warm ocean conditions,” Wilbur said. Earlier this salmon season, disappointing sockeye and chinook salmon returns were reported at another Gulf of Alaska salmon fishery, Copper River, on the east side of the gulf, about 500 miles away. Sport, dipnet and commercial fishing were all closed in response. The poor returns were attributed to the “blob” that raised water temperatures several degrees between 2014 and 2016, the same phenomenon linked to an 80 percent cut in the Pacific cod commercial fishing quota in the gulf this year. The Copper River harvest, limited to just three fishing periods in mid-May before being shut down, is the second-lowest in the past 50 years. In Kodiak, the major river systems had met escapement goals, but commercial salmon fishermen weren’t catching very many fish despite the same amount of boats as usual, according to biologist Jeff Spalinger, who called any link to water temperatures “speculative.” On June 27, ADFG reported a sockeye harvest of 102,000 thousand, and in a normal year the Kodiak catch would be closer to a half million. The Yukon River is closed to commercial king salmon fishing, and subsistence times have been reduced, in a run that’s looking like the poor season of 2015. “It looks like a weak run at this point,” said Wayne Jenkins, of the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association. But in a bright note, the summer chum salmon run is “very robust,” he said. The 2015 season had the second poorest Yukon king harvest on record, and the worst catch was the year before, in 2014, according to Holly Carroll of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Emmonak. “The return is below average, and it appears to be below the preseason forecast,” Carroll said. ^ Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Copper River crash will cost commercial fishermen millions

Copper River sockeye fishermen are facing historic low returns this year, prompting some commercial fisherman to target other species elsewhere in Prince William Sound, and leaving others waiting onshore in what is usually a profitable fishery to the tune of $15 million or more in ex-vessel value. Through mid-June, the commercial Copper River District drift gillnet fishery had landed just less than 26,000 sockeye salmon and a little more than 7,000 kings during three mid-May fishing periods. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game had expected a harvest this summer of nearly 1 million sockeye in the district, and about 13,000 kings. As the harvest stands now, it’s the second-lowest in the past 50 years. The Copper River fish typically fetch a premium price as the first of the season, and this year was no exception, with prices as high as $75 per pound for kings at the Pike’s Place market in Seattle after the May 17 season-opening period. But the district hasn’t re-opened after the first three periods because the sockeye returns are so poor, so the final value is likely to be far lower than the $20 million-plus the fishery often nets. ADFG Area Management Biologist Jeremy Botz said it would take a significant improvement for the fishery to re-open. “(There’s) not anything to support a commercial fishery at this time,” he said on June 19. Botz said there’s a chance the commercial fishery could re-open if the numbers improved, but that wasn’t looking likely in the near-term. Typically, the sockeye fishery winds down in late July. Coho management begins Aug. 15, and Botz said that should be unaffected by the slow sockeye run. Before the season began, the ADFG forecast noted that the wild sockeye and king returns to Copper River were expected to be smaller than in years past, with a total sockeye run predicted to come in about 16 percent below the 10-year average, and a chinook run estimated at 4 percent below the average. Through June 19, the sonar counter that is about 70 miles downstream of the popular Chitna dipnet fishery had counted just above 243,000 fish, with slow daily counts. The in-river goal past the sonar this year is 644,000 to 1.03 million salmon. The low end of the escapement goal is 360,000 sockeyes. Botz said it is still possible to meet that goal, but it will depend how the rest of the run shapes up. The count so far is about the eighth-lowest on record, Botz said. The department also does an aerial survey count on the Copper River Delta, which was well below the anticipated range, too. Re-opening the fishery would depend both on the aerial survey numbers, and the sonar count, Botz said. The low numbers have meant restrictions for the in-river fisheries too, not just the commercial side. The department has closed the popular personal use fishery at Chitna, as well as sportfishing in-river. The run does look close enough to meeting its escapement goals that the department has offered some subsistence fishing time, Botz noted. Ocean conditions impacting size, run strength The fish that are showing up also aren’t as big as they used to be. “Overall, the average weight has continued to remain down,” Botz said. That was seen in the first few commercial openings, and continues to be the case for the subsistence fishery, he said. Botz said this is about the fourth year in a row of small sockeye in the Copper River. In 2015 and 2016, the average weight was down to about 5 pounds. Last year, it increased slightly, to 5.5 pounds, still far smaller than the typical size, which is typically more than 6 pounds. Botz said there are several theories about what is causing the smaller fish, which have also been seen in other parts of the state in the last few years, but some things are certain. “The smaller size-at-age, there’s definitely some competition or shortage of food out at the ocean,” he said. It’s hard to say exactly what causes poor fish runs, but Botz said it’s likely that ocean conditions play a role, including warmer ocean temperatures caused by the “Blob” of warm water that moved into the Gulf of Alaska in 2015 and 2016. He noted that although there were some large escapements in the years producing the current sockeye run, the large number of stocks in the Copper River system typically mitigate any big impact coming from a large escapement. “Overall, the bigger driver is out in the ocean,” Botz said. Small run, lean earnings The Copper River isn’t the only struggling fishery in Alaska this summer. By mid-June, the returns in Kodiak were weak as well, and several king fisheries were shut down around the state including the early run of Kenai king salmon. Staff for Gov. Bill Walker did not respond to a question about whether he was likely to seek a disaster declaration for the Copper River fishery, or any other shortcomings in the state. More often, that happens after the season is over. The high Copper River prices could help mitigate some of the economic impact of the shutdown, but not all. Copper River drifters typically harvest 60 to 70 percent of total Prince William Sound drift-harvest of sockeye each year, and take home a slightly larger proportion of the drift sockeye fishery’s ex-vessel value, because the Copper River and Bering districts typically fetch a better price per pound than the rest of the sockeye caught by PWS drifters. In 2016, they landed 1.1 million sockeye out of a total 1.6 million for all Prince William Sound drift fisheries, worth about $13.3 million at the average price for that district of $2.30 per pound. That was then considered a relatively lean year for the fishery, but 2018 is unlikely to match it. Botz said many fisherman are also fishing elsewhere in Prince William Sound since they can’t fish the Copper River district, the western Prince William Sound enhanced chum and sockeye fisheries are seeing the biggest uptick in effort. “Most folks, even folks that don’t typically go over to the westside, are over there this year,” he said, noting that just a few “die-hard” Copper River drifters are waiting in Cordova to see if their favorite fishery re-opens. But that won’t completely offset the losses fishermen face from the slow year in what Botz said is “normally a reliable fishery.” The only comparable years were 1979, when the fishery shut down after just a few periods, and 1980 when it was pre-emptively closed. “Now it’s kinda wait and see if we see some improvements here,” Botz said in June.

Coastal Villages study renews fight over CDQ quota allocations

A new study reaffirms that large and long-standing inequities still exist in a federal program aimed at improving the economic situation in Western Alaska. Coastal Villages Region Fund commissioned the report conducted by the Seattle-based research firm Community Attributes Inc., which concludes the fisheries allocations in the Community Development Quota Program prevent the groups representing the poorest regions in Western Alaska from fully achieving their mission. Coastal Villages is the CDQ group for 20 villages on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, which is one of the most economically depressed regions not only of Alaska, but the country as well. The Western Alaska CDQ Economic Needs Report notes that Coastal Villages serves 35 percent of the population meant to benefit from the program, yet has access to just 24 percent of the pollock, about 18 percent of the crab and 17 percent of the Pacific cod quota dedicated to the CDQ Program. Those fisheries quotas are allocated amongst the six CDQ groups that cover residents within 50 miles of the Bering Sea coast in an area starting north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula south and west through Bristol Bay and out the Aleutian chain. Overall, the CDQ Program is allocated 10 percent of federal groundfish fisheries quota as a means to keep more of the economic benefits from the fisheries in the region. The program was established in 1992 and is part of the federal Magnuson-Stevens Act fisheries management law. Comparatively, the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association, or APICDA, covering communities on the western Alaska Peninsula and the island chain, and the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, or CBSFA, dedicated to St. Paul Island, represent just 2 percent and 1 percent of the total CDQ population but get 14 percent and 5 percent of the program’s pollock quota, respectively, according to the report. It states further that Coastal Villages represents 41 percent of the total CDQ population that lives on incomes below 125 percent of the federal poverty line while APICDA and CBFSA again are in the 1 to 2 percent range of the metric. “From this report we’re seeing that the most economically disadvantaged people in the region are receiving less benefit from the program than others,” Coastal Villages Outreach Manager Michelle Humphrey said in an interview. The goal of the study, which reinforces a message Coastal Villages has long been sending, was to again illustrate the economic disparities between the CDQ sub-regions and motivate officials to restructure the allocations amongst the groups, according to Humphrey. CDQ allocations were last addressed by Congress in the 2006 Coast Guard authorization bill, which generally kept the allocations in place but also directed the State of Alaska to conduct performance reviews of the groups and recommend quota reductions if they aren’t meeting their mission. The last reviews published in January 2013 concluded that Coastal Villages, APICDA and CBSFA all met the goals of economic improvement in their regions to varying degrees and thus no changes to quota allocations were recommended. However, Humphrey said the study also highlights the fact that the Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. and the Yukon Delta Fisheries Development Association also receive allocations that are disproportionately small relative to the economic need in their regions, but the disparity is not quite as great as it is for Coastal Villages. She said the allocations have never been based on a formula that takes into account population or economic need. Exactly how the quota distribution was originally determined is unclear, but Coastal Villages insists “they were created in a very political atmosphere,” Humphrey said. Coastal Villages acknowledges changing the allocations is a challenging process as it requires an act of Congress, but notes similar assistance programs are often driven by needs-based calculations. “I think at this point we’d be interested in seeing what the best practice for (this) type of program is. There’s lots of formulas that are currently in place for housing funds and other federal programs,” Humphrey said further. “So I hope that we can start the discussion about what that formula would look like but I don’t think we have a formula at this time.” Members of Alaska’s congressional delegation have generally shied away from the issue, insisting the CDQ groups need to agree on the matter before they can act. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s spokeswoman Karina Petersen wrote in an email that Murkowski has encouraged the group’s leaders to discuss the issue. “If a reallocation effort is to move forward, it should be consensus-based and flow out of a constructive dialogue between all six groups,” Petersen wrote. A spokeswoman for Rep. Don Young, who authored the 2006 Coast Guard bill through his leadership position on the House Transportation Committee at the time, did not answer emailed questions in time for this story. In the past, Young has been emphatic that the allocations will not change without the CDQ leaders reaching agreement on what the changes should be. APICDA CEO Larry Cotter did not respond to requests for an interview on the topic and — exemplifying its sensitive nature — neither did Norton Sound officials, despite the report’s conclusions that the Nome-area group is on the short end of the stick. And while the performance of the CDQ groups has generally been positive, they have drawn criticism over executives’ pay and investment decisions in some instances. In 2009 Coastal Villages opened a $35 million fish processing plant in the village of Platinum that was meant to employ 125 people and make the group the third-largest employer in the region. Coastal Villages said at the time the plant would likely operate at a deficit for the first five years. It has been closed since 2016 and Humphrey said the group does not foresee itself working in local fisheries in the near future. Instead, Coastal Villages is focused on programs that bring broader benefits to all of its region’s residents, she said. Yukon Delta Executive Director Ragnar Alstrom testified in August 2017 before the Senate subcommittee covering oceans and fisheries and chaired by Sen. Dan Sullivan that the program has enabled the region’s communities to directly participate in the commercial fishing industry and now provides more than 5,500 jobs and $60 million in wages and other forms of income. Yukon Delta is the largest private employer in its region, accounting for 615 direct jobs in 2016 and investments of $10.2 million into the region over the year, according to Alstrom. He said that overall the program has worked well and needs stability, but the Western Alaska Community Development Association established in 2006 to act as a collective body for the CDQ groups to interact with Congress “has ceased to function in any meaningful way.” At the same time, Alstrom said Yukon Delta is encouraged that all six groups want to make the association functional again. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaska seafood exports hit with tariffs by China

Shockwaves rocked the Alaska seafood industry when China announced on June 15 that it will add an additional 25 percent tariff on seafood imports starting July 6 in retaliation to tariffs set by President Donald Trump. “The 25 percent will be added to the current base tariffs which typically range from 5 to 15 percent,” said Garrett Evridge, a fishery analyst with the McDowell Group. The list of seafood products includes all Alaska salmon, pollock, cod, herring, flatfish, Dungeness crab, snow crab, Atka mackerel, sablefish, geoduck clams and more. “This is devastating news,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, which represents 34 groups. “The tariff will not just impact commercial fishermen but will also affect the more than 60,000 individuals who are employed by the state’s fishing industry.” China has been Alaska’s top seafood customer since 2011, purchasing 54 percent of all seafood exports valued at $1.3 billion in 2017. The bulk of Alaska’s fish harvests go to China for reprocessing before they are sent to customers around the world. Those also will be subject to the 25 percent tariff, said market expert John Sackton of SeafoodNew.com. “China has become the de facto export destination for virtually all seafood reprocessing done overseas. The cost of these tariffs will slam the seafood industry, because ultimately there is little choice but to continue to send these products to China,” he said. “So through no fault of our own, most companies will see a big hit to their bottom line because they will have to agree to lower prices in order to maintain marketability in the face of this 25 percent increase in costs.” “This represents the worst outcome feared by the industry,” Sackton added. “The Chinese are deliberately targeting smaller industries that have little ability to fight back.” Candidates mostly pan Pebble Five candidates for Alaska governor met up at the Bristol Bay Fish Expo in Naknek last week. The debate focused on a wide range of topics affecting rural Alaska, including two hot fish issues. Naknek is the hub of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run at Bristol Bay, which also is at the heart of the proposed plans for the Pebble Mine. Gov. Bill Walker said emphatically that he is not in favor of the Pebble mine. “I had an interesting discussion with a group that said it can be done safely. My response was ‘what if it doesn’t?’ Look at all that is at risk. I am very pro-development and pro-mining but not in that location,” Walker said. Mead Treadwell, a Republican candidate from Anchorage, said he will not trade one resource for another. As a former deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, Treadwell said he helped write state water quality standards. “If this mine cannot meet the kind of water quality and habitat protection standards that we have created to protect our fisheries, then it won’t happen,” he stated. “From what I’ve seen it is going to be very hard for Pebble to make it through the process…But it makes sense to have a strong public process where we get to analyze what is happening,” Treadwell added. Republican candidate Scott Hawkins of Anchorage said the mine has the legal right to go through the permitting process, but that it “very well may be the wrong mine in the wrong place because if anything goes wrong, there is just so much at stake.” “I think the mine is losing momentum,” Hawkins added. “All the big investors have decided that it just doesn’t work on several levels. A lot of it is just how controversial it is to the people in this region and that is hurting the mining industry.” Mark Begich, a Democrat from Anchorage, has long touted the “wrong mine/wrong place” meme, which was first stated years ago by former Sen. Ted Stevens. “When people say they are against it, they should be against it all the way,” Begich said. “The first thing I would do as governor would be to immediately make sure the Corps of Engineers knows that state land or state right of way or state access would not be part of their plans or participate in any way. I believe that would finally put an end to this project and end the divisiveness it has caused throughout all of Alaska. This issue is like Groundhog Day, it never goes away and just keeps coming back.” Mike Dunleavy, a Republican candidate from Wasilla, was more equivocal saying it was difficult for him to answer until Pebble goes through the study process. “Once we can examine that data, then I think a final decision can be made,” Dunleavy said, adding that if the mine is going to endanger fisheries or other resources in the area, “I think we all should be against it.” “I do think there is a danger in politicizing this study process that we have. In the end, if it is not a good project we shouldn’t have it permitted.” No backers for salmon initiative The Stand for Salmon initiative that aims to update habitat protections for the first time since statehood could go before voters in November. But the measure has little support from the gubernatorial candidates. “While I don’t support it, I certainly understand that local input is critical in the process,” said Walker. “I believe the reason we have Stand for Salmon is because the Coastal Zone Management Program died in the 2011 legislative session and that took away local input into the development process,” Walker added. “I think this is what happens when you take away input by the people: you meet them at a ballot initiative or you meet them in the court room and I think that is unfortunate.” Treadwell also said he does not support the salmon initiative. “This bill essentially assumes that every stream is anadromous when it’s not. This would take away your property rights without protecting the fish,” Treadwell said. “Do I stand for salmon and believe we need to protect salmon? Absolutely. I don’t think this is the right law to do it.” Hawkins said the “devil is in the details” and he believes the ballot initiative would have a lot of unintended consequences and “shut down a lot of things in this state.” “It’s not that our permitting process couldn’t do with some tightening up,” Hawkins added. “We need to have a process that knows how to say no. Just because you apply for a permit should not mean that at the end of the day you are going to get it. We need a very stringent permitting system that holds projects to very high standards, but I don’t think the initiative is the way we get there.” Dunleavy echoed those sentiments. “I believe there are a number of projects throughout the state that could be at risk. This is a resource state and we need to develop our resources,” Dunleavy said. “We need to do it responsibly and I think the projects should be reviewed separately and held to a permitting and processing standard. I just don’t think an initiative such as Stand for Salmon is good for Alaska.” Begich said he will take a position when a state court rules on the constitutionality of the salmon ballot initiative. “At that point I will make a decision. But I will say that the laws should be revamped and reviewed and that has not been done,” Begich said. “This is a clear symbol of what’s broken in Juneau,” he added. “When you have almost 50,000 Alaskans bring forward an initiative, you have to respect their views and figure out how to fix this problem and make sure our salmon preserved for generations to come.” The entire debate is posted at KTVA’s website. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Net challenge builds on success; BSAI tops industry impact

Plastics in recycled fishing nets are being used to make an amazing array of products around the globe and Alaska plans to get in on the action. An Alaska Net Hack Challenge is being planned for Sept. 8 and 9 that aims to identify potential opportunities for using the tons of old nets piled up in landfills and storage lots across the state and develop new items from the materials. Fishing nets can weigh from 5,000 to 20,000 pounds each. “The purpose of the program is to change how people look at fishing nets and ropes. Instead of looking at them as waste materials, hopefully, they will start seeing them as a valuable resource and materials they can use in a different way,” said Nicole Baker, a former fisheries observer and founder of www.netyourproblem.com.  Baker spearheaded a project last summer in Dutch Harbor that collaborated with the local fishing industry and Global Ghost Gear Initiative to ship nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, to a company called Plastix in Denmark where they were melted down, pelletized and resold to manufacturers of plastic products. “Socks are being made from recycled fishing nets, water bottles, cell phone cases, carpets, bathing suits, sneakers, sunglasses, skateboards, rugs, bowls, even 3-D printing and injection molds. People are becoming so creative about finding ways to reuse these plastic products,” Baker said. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is based on the Circular Ocean program in the U.K. and Iceland that “aims to inspire enterprises and entrepreneurs to realize the hidden opportunities in discarded fishing nets.” Along with Baker, the two-day events are being organized in Anchorage by the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, or AOCI, and by Brian Himelbloom, a retired University of Alaska seafood specialist in Kodiak. “We will dump a bunch of waste nets and rope in the middle of a room and encourage artists, students, designers, business owners, engineers, recyclers and others to take the materials and design products out of it,” Baker explained, adding that Arctic Wire and Rope of Anchorage and gear manufacturers in Seattle are providing supplies for the Anchorage challenge, whereas Kodiak has plenty of “end of life” nets to offer. “On the first day we will show presentations about the context and scale of the issue, the type of materials available, and some products and business models that have been implemented already to get people’s gray matter warmed up,” she added. “On the second day, teams will get together and use the material and design a prototype that will be presented to the judges to get their feedback.” Judges will score the projects on creativity, usefulness and scalability and follow the development over six months. Video conferencing also will be available so that other interested communities can have a guideline on organizing Net Hack Challenges in their fishing towns. The ultimate hope is that some of the prototype projects will become commercially viable through the AOCI’s Blue Economy push that helps develop products to their final stages. The Alaska Net Hack Challenge is in its early organizational stage and a website and social media where people can register will be up and running in a few weeks, said AOIC director Joel Cladouhos. In the interim, emails to [email protected] will serve as the contact point. Meanwhile, later this month Nicole Baker will be back in Dutch Harbor and also at St. Paul to collect more nets and give them new life in different useful forms. “My goal is to fill more than seven container loads and top least year’s take,” she said. BS/AI booming In Alaska’s fisheries, the regions of Southeast, Cook Inlet, Bristol Bay and Kodiak attract the most attention. But it turns out that the more far-flung and remote areas provide some of the state’s biggest fish bucks — notably, the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands regions, called BS/AI. A new McDowell Group report measured the statewide economic impacts of shoreside processing operations in Dutch Harbor, Saint Paul, King Cove, Sand Point, False Pass, and other small communities based on an average of 2015 and 2016 harvests and production. It turns out that approximately 30 percent of the seafood industry’s total economic impact in Alaska can be attributed to BS/AI inshore processing and related fishing activity, adding up to nearly $1.6 billion in 2016. Forty-four percent of all seafood processing wages paid in Alaska stemmed from that region, totaling almost $440 million. And a whopping 56 percent of all fish taxes paid in Alaska, including Fisheries Business Tax and taxes levied by local governments, totaled nearly $60 million. Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, with a population of about 4,300, is the largest community in the region and has been the top seafood port in the U.S. by volume for more than 20 years. Forty-seven percent of the town’s workers were employed in seafood processing. All other BS/AI communities have fewer than 1,000 residents. The seasonality and huge volumes of seafood require bringing in workers from elsewhere, but the proportion of Alaska residents on the job in the BS/AI has increased from 17 to 24 percent since 2006. The Economic impact of inshore seafood processing in the Bering Sea/Aleutian Islands Region was produced for Icicle Seafoods Peter Pan Seafoods Trident Seafoods UniSea, Westward and Alyeska Seafoods. Crab shell creations The young Tidal Vision entrepreneurs of Juneau continue to expand their line of “upcycled” products made from a crab shell extract called chitosan. An all-natural solution called High Tide enhances plant growth by triggering the natural immune response that results in larger and hardier crops. “In different plants that means increased yield or sap production, and increased likelihood of plants surviving fungal infections,” said Craig Kasburg, Tidal Vision president, adding that High Tide has been tested on a variety of plants from turf to trees. “It helps to revive stressed trees that are grown in nurseries, such as those that are transported or subjected to a sudden drop in temperature. It has increased their survival rate,” he said. “It also increases the size of berries and tomato plants and decreases the number that die of disease.” High Tide also has produced similar results in the growing of marijuana. “We did trials with over 500 cannabis growers and found the same results,” Kasburg said. “By increasing the sap production, it increased the essential oils and the THC and CBD, everything that makes cannabis valuable.” A crab shell infused spray called Game Meat Protector also is being sold to hunters that protects meat from spoiling and being infested by insects. “It’s simply water, chitosan, and citric acid,” Kasberg said. “When it’s applied it leaves a thin film on the game meat. Because of chitosan’s natural anti-microbial properties and the low pH citric acid, it acts as a preservative and protects the quality of the game meat. It also prevents bugs and insects from landing and burrowing into it.” “It is sort of an insurance policy for hunters,” he added. “When hunting deep in the backcountry there is always a risk of bad weather or other things that can cause a delay. Having a natural way to preserve the quality of the meat as it is being harvested is an important step for hunters.” One eight-ounce bottle is enough to cover an entire large game animal and it can also be sprayed on game bags for extra protection. Purchase Game Meat Protector at Amazon and other outdoor outlets, as well as at the Tidal Vision website. You’ll also find sponges, beverage fining agents, pool clarifiers and more — all originating from Alaska crab shells. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.  

FISH FACTOR: Hagfish studied for fishery potential; questions sought for Bay debate

Hagfish is the real name for what are commonly called slime eels and could become a viable fishery with ready markets standing by. Little is known about hagfish in Alaska, although they are commonly caught elsewhere in the U.S. and abroad. In Oregon, for example, a fleet of 15 to 20 boats catches up to 2 million pounds each year in customized five-gallon buckets or large barrels and pay fishermen up to $1.25 per pound. Now, two Alaska biologists who were given a special permit to catch 60,000 pounds of hagfish for their studies are testing the waters for a fishery with a longliner in Southeast. “It’s commonly seen as a pest,” said Andrew Olson, a biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Douglas. “In longline fisheries for sablefish, they often leave slime blobs on the hooks and strip bait, and they get into shrimp pots as well.” Olson is in the second year of a hagfish study with fellow researcher Aaron Baldwin. Their goal is to “keep the science ahead of any fishery to make sure it is sustainable” by learning more about the unique species. “We are looking at basic biology such as length, weight and egg counts in females. We can’t yet age the fish and they don’t thrive well in captivity. We are really starting from scratch,” Olson said. Reproduction and spawning have never been witnessed or documented, and biologists don’t know where or when hagfish do so. “We’ve seen eggs, and juveniles, but nothing in between,” said Baldwin. “No one has ever seen a baby hagfish.” A single foot-and-a-half, nine-ounce hagfish can fill a bucket with slime in seconds from 100 glands alongside its body. “It’s extruded and looks like a white latex liquid that comes out when it’s dry and it expands when it hits seawater. The slime molecules will entrap water molecules and it is an amazing substance,” he said. The slime has several functions: it suffocates predators, helps hunt prey by forcing them out of burrows and it lubricates entry into fish through the anus. “It has digestive enzymes so when you open up a sablefish, for example, it is literally bones, hagfish slime and a few hagfish inside the fish. They start with the internal organs and eat every bit of flesh that’s in there,” Baldwin explained. Most slime, as with slugs, is just mucus, he said and doesn’t have the capability of absorbing water molecules and expanding. “Hagfish produce a very unique substance. It is definitely one of a kind,” Baldwin added. Studies by the U.S. Navy and other researchers has shown that the chemical makeup of hagfish slime is stronger than spider silk. “Because of its qualities there are lots of efforts to make synthetic duplicates or bioengineer bacteria to produce the slime for industrial purposes,” Baldwin said. “The U.S. Navy is using synthetic hagfish slime to produce a substance that is lighter and stronger than Kevlar. The slime also shows potential as an anti-foulant for ship hulls. And medical research has shown that hagfish slime heals burns quickly and may be used as microfibers for cell repair.” A well-established market for hagfish is Korea where the meat is a barbecue and stir fry favorite and the skin is sold as “eel skin leather” products. “It’s been a fun project to work on,” Baldwin said. “We get to work with fishermen on developing a fishery and it’s a species we haven’t paid much attention to so everything we are learning is really new to us.” If Alaska fishermen encounter hagfish in waters outside of Southeast, Olson and Baldwin would like to know about it. Learn more about hagfish at Alaska Fish and Wildlife News where you also can see videos of commercial hagfish fishing aboard the Viking Sunrise and a biologist handling hagfish slime. Alaska tops for salmon catches Salmon catches throughout the North Pacific remain near all-time highs, and Alaska’s take tops them all. For 25 years the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its member countries Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S. The Commission tracks chums, cohos, pinks, sockeyes, chinook and steelhead trout in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also provides the venue for coordinating research and enforcement activities. For 2017, just more than 460 million salmon weighing more than 2 billion pounds were caught in those waters, less than recent odd-year averages. Salmon catches tend to increase in odd-numbered years when the most abundant species — pink salmon — tend to run higher. Last year the U.S. fleets topped Russia by catching more than any other nation with 53 percent of the total salmon catch, topping 1 billion pounds, with Alaska taking all but 22 million pounds of that. Russia took 38 percent of the N. Pacific salmon last year (nearly 77 million pounds), with all other countries in single digit percentages. As usual, pink salmon made up the bulk of the commercial catch at 49 percent by weight, followed by chums at 29 percent and sockeyes at 19 percent. Cohos made up three percent of the total N. Pacific catch, with Chinook salmon at one percent. The NPAFC report said catch trends for pinks and especially chums in Asia have been declining for 10 years with 2017 the lowest harvest since 2002. In North America, the abundance of salmon species varies from north to south. In Alaska, pink and sockeye salmon are the primary species, followed by chums. In Canada, sockeye, pink, and chums have historically comprised the largest catch, while in Washington, Oregon, and California chums, chinook and coho salmon are the most abundant species. The Commission also tracks releases of hatchery salmon. Member countries released just over five billion fish in 2017, similar to numbers over the past three decades. U.S. hatcheries released the most at 37 percent of the total (nearly 1.9 billion fish), followed by Japan at 35 percent and Russia at 21 percent. Canada released 7 percent of the hatchery fish in the North Pacific and Korea less than 1 percent. Chum salmon made up 64 percent of all hatchery releases, followed by pinks at 25 percent, sockeyes at 5 percent, Chinook salmon at four percent and cohos at less than one percent. Got questions? Organizers of the upcoming Bristol Bay Fish Expo are asking Alaskans to submit questions for the governor candidates’ debate on June 9 in Naknek. “This debate is so important for us in rural Alaska to educate our next governor about what issues we face every day,” said Katie Copps-Wilson. Gov. Bill Walker, Mike Dunleavy, Scott Hawkins and Mike Chenault quickly agreed to participate in the two-hour event. Chenault has since dropped out of the race and Mark Begich is in, causing some last-minute shuffling. “Anyone who has filed will get an invitation,” Copps-Wilson said. “We want to make sure that we address what’s on the minds of people in the community and the state of Alaska.” The question topics will include outmigration, substance abuse, domestic violence, mental health issues, energy needs and economics, “The candidates will be debating in Bristol Bay, the heart of the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, and at the forefront of that is the Pebble mine. There will definitely be a conversation about where the candidates stand on the mine,” Copps-Wilson said. The two-hour debate will be moderated by Rhonda McBride of KTVA and broadcast live on radio stations KDLG and KAKN. Alaskans are invited to submit written questions on line at [email protected] or at the Expo prior to the debate. The 2nd annual Expo is a fundraiser for Little Angels Childcare Academy and has attracted over 50 exhibitors so far to Naknek, home to 10 fish processing companies and over 1,000 fishing boats. The two-day event has a packed line up of presentations and events, including the biggest money-maker on Friday night – live and silent auctions with professional auctioneer Dan Newman of Alaska Premier Auctions and Appraisals in Anchorage. “We have some really cool items donated, such as breakfast with Governor Walker and a flight around the Pebble Mine site,” Copps-Wilson said. Other items include eight hours of welding, five hours of professional logo or website design and “a boatload of gear from Grundens.” Auction donations are still being accepted and can be made at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com The Expo takes place June 8 and 9 at the Naknek school. All events are free but visitor registration is encouraged. Last year’s Expo raised nearly $15,000 for Little Angels Childcare Academy and with more participants coming from far and wide, the organizers believe that this year’s tally will likely be even higher. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon fishermen should see strong prices

Forces are aligned for a nice payday for Alaska’s salmon fishermen. There is no backlog from last season in cold storages, a lower harvest forecast is boosting demand, prices for competing farmed salmon have remained high all year, and a devalued U.S. dollar makes Alaska salmon more appealing to foreign customers. “Over the past year the dollar has weakened 11 percent against the euro, 9 percent against the British pound, 5 percent against the Japanese yen, and 7 percent against the Chinese yuan. That makes Alaska salmon and other seafood more affordable to those top overseas customers,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries analyst at the McDowell Group. Last year Alaska seafood exports set records in terms of volume and value: 1.1 billion metric tons valued at $3.45 billion. Alaska salmon accounted for 22 percent of the volume and 36 percent of the value. On the home front, the weaker dollar will make imports from Chile, the largest farmed salmon importer to the U.S. followed by Norway, more expensive. That also will apply to imports of competing wild salmon from Canada where — if it materializes — a big sockeye run is predicted at nearby British Columbia. “About every four years we expect a relatively large harvest from the Fraser River run in B.C. In 2014 they produced about 83 million pounds of salmon and sockeye was the largest component,” Evridge said. “Likewise, a weaker dollar will make wild salmon imports from Russia and Japan more expensive for U.S. buyers.” Russia, which had grown from a $10 million customer of primarily pink salmon roe to $60 million in 2013, has banned all imports of U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, that country continues to send millions of tons of salmon and other seafood into the U.S. For example, 2017 trade data from the National Marine Fisheries Service show that Russia sent nearly 4 million pounds of frozen sockeye salmon to the U.S. valued at just more than $13 million, a $2 million increase over the previous year. Alaska’s salmon forecast for 2018 calls for a harvest of 149 million fish, down 34 percent from last year. Salmon starters Copper River salmon fishermen were beached for a third scheduled opener on May 24 due to concerns over low numbers of sockeyes. The first fishery on May 17 produced a catch of just 1,900 reds out of an expected 38,600. For the second opener on May 21 the sockeye catch was 3,900 fish – predicted landings were 80,000. The king salmon take from the two 12-hour fisheries totaled 4,000 fish. Fishery managers said it’s too soon to say if the low numbers indicate a delay or a much smaller run than expected. The breakup of the Copper River is behind schedule and water levels are low. They also blame cold ocean temperatures for the delay in sockeye returns. “We will know soon where we are in the early run, which usually peaks on June 1,” said longtime fisherman Jerry McCune. Latest prices at Copper River were reported at $14 per pound for king salmon and $10.50 for sockeyes after the second opener. That’s down from $15.65 for kings and $10.65 for reds (or higher), plus delivery bonuses on opening day. More salmon fisheries around the state will start kicking off within days, with other areas in Prince William Sound opening on May 31. Districts at Lower Cook Inlet open June 1 with Upper Cook Inlet fisheries starting on June 18. Togiak at Bristol Bay also opens on June 1 with other Bay districts opening on June 4; the Nushagak district opens on June 11. Chignik also is set to open for sockeyes on June 1. Yakutat gillnetters will get to fish starting June 7, as will salmon fishermen at the South Alaska Peninsula. Kodiak’s first opener for sockeyes is tentatively scheduled for June 9 but could open as early as June 1 depending on runs to the west side. Southeast Alaska drift gillnet openings start on June 17. Once again there is unlikely to be any commercial salmon fishing at the Kuskokwim due to a lack of buyers since the new plant at Platinum stopped operating a few years ago. Norton Sound opens to salmon fishing on June 25 and Kotzebue on July 10. At the Yukon River, commercial fishing for chums will be based on in-season run estimates. As many as 1.4 million chums could be available to Yukon fishermen this summer, and 1.2 million in the fall. Find links to regional salmon summaries at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries page. Big chill in the Bay Salmon fishermen at Bristol Bay set a record last summer for chilling their fish. Despite an unexpected hit of one of the biggest sockeye runs in 20 years, 73 percent of the salmon deliveries by the region’s 1,447 driftnet boats were chilled, adding up to a record 130 million pounds of salmon. That’s a 5 percent increase over the previous year and compares to a 24 percent chilling rate from 2008. In addition, chilled raw product purchase amounts from the set net fleet increased by more than 33 percent. That good news came from the annual 2017 Processor Survey done by Anchorage-based Northern Economics for the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The RSDA is operated and funded by the drift fleet with a one percent tax on their catches. The better fish quality meant most of the salmon shifted away from the low value canning line into pricier products. Last year a record 83 percent of the sockeyes were put up whole/headed and gutted, or as fillets; only 14 percent of the Bay’s sockeye salmon last summer went into cans. That compares to upwards of 75 percent being canned 20 years ago. When asked if there are any notable quality improvements gained from chilled, floated fish in RSW systems (refrigerated sea water) compared to chilled, non-floated fish in slush ice, all respondents said the quality of RSW salmon is typically better. Consistent chilling combined with lower brailer weights (500 to 600 pounds or less per bag) were reported as the best practices having the largest impact on the quality of delivered fish. So what’s the big deal about Bristol Bay salmon if you fish or live elsewhere? “The sockeye resource at Bristol bay is very unique because of its size. Typically, it’s 35 to 40 percent of the global sockeye supply, and it is a huge chunk of Alaska’s salmon value overall,” said fisheries economist Andy Wink. Last year, Bristol Bay’s catch of nearly 37 million sockeye accounted for fully half of the value of Alaska’s entire salmon fishery, and a similar harvest is expected this summer. The size of that harvest, Wink said, has a big impact on salmon prices elsewhere. “Certainly in 2015 when the base price was just 50 cents at Bristol Bay and they had a large harvest, we saw coho prices come way down and sockeye prices in other areas were down quite a bit too,” he explained. “It’s a market moving fishery and that is why it affects so many other Alaska fishermen even if they don’t fish in the Bay.” The 2017 sockeye salmon price at Bristol Bay averaged $1.02 a pound, a six-cent increase over the year before, and the price is expected to be higher this summer. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Fight over America’s Finest vessel part of bigger processor battle

UNALASKA — The mothershippers are fighting with the groundfish shoreplants in a politicized Bering Sea commercial fishing tussle reaching all the way to Washington, D.C. The battle over Pacific cod pits the factory trawlers of the Amendment 80 fleet against Alaska shoreplants and local governments. And in February, it pitted two local governments against each other. A delegation of municipal and business leaders from Anacortes, Wash., traveled to the Aleutian Islands to ask the Unalaska City Council to reverse itself but didn’t change anybody’s mind. The brand spanking new factory trawler America’s Finest remains stranded in an Anacortes, Wash., shipyard, unable to fish in the United States because it hasn’t received a waiver from the Jones Act. The ship was built with too much foreign steel in its hull, a Jones Act violation, and it may be sold at a loss, probably to Russia. The Jones Act, which is intended to protect American ship-building and jobs, allows for no more than 1.5 percent foreign steel in a vessel. The America’s Finest has 7.5 percent. The visitors from Washington state asked the Unalaska City Council to stop asking the U.S. Congress to prohibit the stranded factory trawler from buying cod at sea in a practice known as mothershipping. Earlier, Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty sent the Alaska congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions on offshore cod deliveries from catcher vessels attached to any Jones Act waiver. Now, the state-of-the-art $74 million flatfish factory trawler commissioned by the company Fishermen’s Finest can’t fish in the U.S., unless it gets a waiver. If the vessel can’t fish in the U.S., the fishing company won’t pay, leaving the shipyard with a huge loss and major negative impacts on the Anacortes economy, especially the 375 “family wage” welder and other skilled jobs in Anacortes. The visiting delegation included the mayor of Anacortes, Laurie Gere; the president of Fisherman’s Finest, Dennis Moran; and Dick Nelson, the owner of the shipyard Dakota Creek Industries. Nelson said the error occurred after shipyard officials overlooked “fine print” in federal rules that he said were “almost impossible to find.” Mayor Gere said Unalaska and Anacortes share a common bond in the boat business, citing the various vessels that work in the Bering Sea that were built in Anacortes, including the Aurora, Auriga, Nordic Viking, and Starbound. “We truly are connected,” she said. Moran said that Unalaska’s request for cod restrictions could block the waiver. He asked the city to reconsider, and allow the issue to be worked out at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The floor of the U.S. Senate, he said, is a bad place to solve fisheries problems. Bigger battle The America’s Finest’s problems are part of a bigger “food fight,” as shoreplants and communities including Unalaska and the Aleutians East Borough oppose the fleet of about 17 Amendment 80 factory trawlers acting as motherships, buying cod from catcher boats offshore at the expense of local government revenues and shoreplant profits. (The groundfish fleet is known as the Amendment 80 fleet for the amendment in the Bering Sea fishery management plan that divided up the harvest for the many species among the bottom trawlers that target them.) The Amendment 80 flatfish factory trawlers are different from the larger American Fisheries Act pollock factory trawlers. The shoreplants were well represented at the city council meeting, sending in delegations of top officials and subordinates from Unisea, Westward, Alyeska and Trident. Don Goodfellow of Alyeska Seafoods in Unalaska said that he was sympathetic to Anacortes, but wanted to close a “loophole” in the American Fisheries Act to stop factory trawlers from mothershipping cod. Chris Riley of Trident Seafoods said the factory trawlers are already benefiting from rationalization through Amendment 80, which limits access into their fisheries. They harvest yellowfin sole, rex sole, Greenland turbot, Atka mackerel, Pacific Ocean perch, and idiots and other rockfish. He said rationalization programs aim to curb abuses of overcapitalization, now being perpetrated by the mothershippers. He said Trident strongly supports Congressional restrictions. “We think it needs to be done now,” Riley said. Sinclair Wilt of Alyeska Seafoods complained of cod catcher vessels stopping deliveries to shoreplants mid-season, and delivering offshore. That caused shoreplants to shut down cod processing lines early, he said. Speaking in support of the America’s Finest were Mark Horn of Sundance Stevedoring, of Unalaska, and Layton Wolf of Coastal Transportation, which operates a fleet of freighters with a big local dock. Wolf said Dakota Creek Industries is vital to maintaining the Bering Sea fishing fleet. Fishermen’s Finest Chief Vessel Officer Kristian Uri praised the new high-tech factory trawler as a necessary upgrade to the company’s aging two-boat fleet. Fisherman’s Finest owns two aging factory trawlers, the U.S. Intrepid and the American No. 1. The America’s Finest was intended to replace the two aging vessels, each about 40 years old, according to the company, which complains that Trident Seafood is in weak position to criticize Jones Act waivers. Both the company and Horn said Trident’s yacht, the Annandale, received a Jones Act waiver. The company calls the pleasure craft a “lobbying vessel.” Unalaska Mayor Kelty, with the city council’s approval, sent the state’s congressional delegation a letter urging “sideboard” restrictions which would keep the America’s Finest from receiving at-sea deliveries of Pacific cod from catcher vessels. “Alaska’s fishery dependent communities depend on catcher vessel deliveries to shoreplants,” Kelty wrote. During the pollock battles of the 1990s, the onshore and offshore sectors would encourage their various vendors and contractors to provide lobbying support. The pollock inshore-offshore battles ended with the passage of the American Fisheries Act, which established permanent quotas for the various sectors and guaranteed 50 percent of the pollock harvest would be delivered to shoreside plants. In a case of history repeating itself, one of Fisherman’s Finest’s local contractors in Unalaska is stepping up to the plate for the company. Horn, owner of Sundance Stevedoring, said the company is a major customer of his Unalaska cargo handling business. Horn said he’s spent $250,000 on new equipment to offload the state-of-the-art vessel. He views the restrictions sought by Kelty as part of an attempt to stifle competition by the big processing companies onshore. Unalaska Vice Mayor Dennis Robinson urged the denial of any waiver, saying the Jones Act protects communities. Horn countered that the community of Anacortes stands to lose big if the Dakota Creek shipyard fails should the vessel not be allowed to fish in the U.S. Horn said he’s been lobbying Congress in support of the America’s Finest. More recently, Horn, a Wasilla resident, said he plans to run for U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan’s seat, because of the factory trawler issue. The factory trawler company has recently posted vessel jobs on local bulletin boards in Unalaska. The same proposed sideboard restrictions favored by shoreplants opposed to Amendment 80 factory trawlers serving as cod motherships are also under consideration by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. Fishermen’s Finest fires back Unalaska opposes a loss of local fish tax revenues from offshore cod processing. Kelty is also angry about Fisherman’s Finest’s efforts to repeal the state’s resource landing tax, a 3 percent tax imposed on factory trawlers and split between the state and local governments. “This tax has been very important to communities such as Unalaska that are impacted by the offshore fleet’s use of area jobs, roads, docks, airports, clinic and jails,” Kelty said in the letter to Sullivan, Sen. Lisa Murkowski, and U.S. Rep. Don Young. Fisherman’s Finest complained that their tax appeal was leaked to the news media in a statement from a Seattle public relations firm. “Regarding the tax issue, Fishermen’s Finest’s engagement with the Alaska Department of Revenue is, like all tax cases, confidential and not subject to public disclosure under Alaska statutes, and disclosure of any such information by an agent of the state subjects the perpetrator to a punishment of two years in prison and $5,000 fine,” the company stated. “Mayor Kelty knows this. Further, Mayor Kelty knows full well that he is using confidential tax documents that were illegally stolen from the files of the Alaska State Department of Revenue to unfairly advance his personal position on this issue. The entire matter is still subject to a protective order and Mayor Kelty knows perfectly well he should not be discussing it.” But the company does have its issues with the fish tax. “However, on the general subject of fish taxes: Mindful of the importance of the revenue from the landing tax to the State of Alaska, Fishermen’s Finest has advocated that the Fisheries Landing and Business Taxes be repealed in favor of a single Commercial Fisheries Marine Fuel Tax,” the company stated. “The current fisheries landing and business tax structure has deep flaws, including exorbitant compliance cost, rampant cheating, uncertain revenue due to variable fish pricing, and the fact that very little of the revenue actually goes to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to pay for fisheries management costs.” The statement went on to call the shoreside plants and the vessels the companies own a “cartel.” “The America’s Finest is an Amendment 80 replacement vessel and Amendment 80 is a rationalized fishery. These vessels are prohibited by existing law from mothershipping pollock in the Bering Sea, cod and pollock in the Gulf of Alaska. In any case, mothershipping requires the cooperation of independent catcher vessels. Eighty-three percent of the catcher-vessel fleet is either owned or controlled by foreign-owned and Seattle-based shoreside processor companies who would never deliver fish to an Amendment 80 mothership. “That means we’re only talking about 20 independent vessels, so there is no real threat to shoreside Alaska communities. The sideboards would force these vessels to deliver to the shoreside cartel, at lowball prices dictated by that cartel.” Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Federal study seeking input on long-term fisheries changes

The way that fisheries are managed determines the daily tempo for fishing families’ lives. Managers set the dates and times…the whens and wheres and whos … and the amounts that fishermen can catch. What happens to fishing families when any of the rules change? A new federal study aims to find out. “Those things are important for fishery managers to consider and try and integrate into their decision making, because there really are universal themes as far as how management changes have affected families,” said Marysia Szymkowiak, a social scientist for NOAA Fisheries based in Juneau. Over the past year, Szymkowiak has held scoping meetings in communities across Alaska to learn the impacts of fishing changes. The results, she said, will represent a history of how generations of families have adapted with the implementation of limited entry and catch share programs, and now with the decreasing abundance in certain key fisheries. “We’re getting into the thousands of years in terms of cumulative experiences and knowledge of Alaska’s fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “It’s a wealth of information that we haven’t tapped into, and I feel so privileged to be able to talk with people who share heartfelt stories about families and the things that are built from that experience.” The project emerged from a 20-year review Szymkowiak co-authored about impacts of the halibut and sablefish fisheries that in 1995 switched from being open-to-all to an Individual Fishing Quota, or IFQ, system that gave shares of the catch to fishermen based on their historical participation. “One of the things we heard was the different impacts on women who participated prior to IFQs,” Szymkowiak said. “One said the new program made the halibut season too long and she could no longer participate because it conflicted with her responsibilities as a mom.” Limited access to fisheries is a main theme voiced in scoping meetings, combined with environmental concerns affecting the stocks. “For some families there is less of a buffer when a stock declines in terms of their ability to diversify within fisheries,” Szymkowiak said. “This can really lead to stress within families, having to seek other employment, and can really change the social fabric of fishing communities.” Another theme, she said, is a strong sense of resilience and values that go beyond the economics of going fishing. “In terms of shaping young people and creating a work ethic and a sense of place and community, there is a cross generational participation in fisheries that is really unique,” she added. A final Fishing Families scoping meeting is set for Kodiak on June 4, after which Szymkowiak will begin compiling a report on the findings. Questions? Contact [email protected] Nearly $500 for a Copper River king Alaska’s salmon season got off to a slow and drizzly start on May 17 at the first opener at the Copper River. The low catches by more than 500 gillnetters pushed prices to unprecedented levels. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s “blue sheet” of daily catches showed totals of just 3,000 king salmon and 2,000 sockeyes taken during the 12-hour opener. Bill Webber, a 51-year veteran highliner of the famous fishery, ended up with 10 king salmon and six sockeyes by closing time. “It’s not a great start to the season,” Webber said aboard his F/V Paradigm Shift while waiting for a slack tide to turn. If the fish tickets match the reports from the grounds, Thursday’s opener could be one of the slowest starts to the Copper River season since record keeping began 40 years ago, said Jeremy Botz, regional manager for ADFG in Cordova. The slim early catches had customers scrambling to source enough Copper River salmon for their “first fish of the season” celebrations, many promised within 24 hours of the salmon being caught. That pressure pushed prices to record levels. “The price wars are definitely going on due to the low production,” Webber said, adding that early price reports were $8.50 per pound for sockeyes and $13 a pound for king salmon. That compares to $8 and $11, respectively, during the first opener last year. The salmon prices ticked upwards all day, skyrocketing to $10.65 per pound for sockeyes and $15.65 for kings shortly after the 7 p.m. closure, “with a 65-cent dock bonus everywhere,” said a spokesperson for Alaska Wild Seafoods. “This opener is taking the cake on fish prices so far,” Webber added. Alaska Airlines made its first delivery of 16,000 pounds salmon to Seattle by early Friday morning. The airline celebrated its 9th annual Copper Chef Cook Off on the SeaTac tarmac, where chefs compete to prepare the best salmon recipe — in this case a 31-pound king salmon donated by Trident Seafoods. With the high prices at the end of opening day, that single “first fish” had a value of more than $485 at the Cordova docks. The Copper River salmon prices will drop off sharply after the early season hoopla fades, but the region’s famous fish will maintain some of the highest prices into the fall. The forecast calls for a Copper River harvest of about 950,000 sockeyes and 19,000 kings for the 2018 season. Football sidelines fish The North Pacific’s oldest and most popular marine trade show has been sidelined by Thursday night football. “Folks that have been with us for a long time know that holding Pacific Marine Expo at the CenturyLink Field Event Center in Seattle means that we have to come second to the NFL,” said Denielle Christensen, event organizer for Diversified Communications. The trade show, now in its 52nd year, has traditionally been held in November at the CenturyLink center the week before Thanksgiving. Last month organizers learned that a Thursday night game of the Seattle Seahawks versus Green Bay would spike those dates. “CenturyLink has been an excellent partner to us,” Christensen graciously added. “When they called us, they knew we were not going to be happy with our options. But they have always been clear with us that NFL and sports in general is their primary business.” The Expo team canvassed customers about holding the event either during Thanksgiving week or right before Christmas. “Most folks wanted us to stay closer to the usual time in November. So we’ve ended up at the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday of Thanksgiving week, which is November 18, 19 and 20.” Christensen said she does not expect the date change to dampen Expo enthusiasm. “I don’t think it will have a particularly large impact on the exhibits or attendance just because of the loyalty this show has built up over the years. People really love it,” she said. Pacific Marine Expo is rated as one of the nation’s top trade shows and last year it attracted 500 exhibitors and over 6,000 visitors from 40 states and 24 countries. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon season set for May 17 start at Copper River

Alaska’s 2018 salmon season officially gets underway this week with the first 12-hour opener on May 17 for sockeyes and kings returning to the Copper River. The catch there this year calls for 19,000 kings and 942,000 sockeye salmon targeted by a fleet of more than 500 drift gillnetters. Here’s a primer of how fishery managers project the rest of Alaska’s salmon season may play out: Statewide, the 2018 salmon harvest is projected at 149 million fish, down 34 percent from the 2017 take of 226 million salmon. The shortfall this season stems from lower projections for hard-to-predict pink salmon. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is forecasting a total humpie harvest of just more than 70 million, down by half from last year. For sockeyes, a statewide catch of about 52 million is down by 1.8 million fish from 2017, which was the fifth-largest red salmon catch since 1970. By far, most of the sockeyes will come from Bristol Bay’s nine river systems where a harvest of 37.5 million is projected. For chum salmon, this year’s Alaska catch is pegged at 21 million, down by nearly 4 million from last year’s huge 25 million haul, the largest catch in 47 years. The 2018 coho catch should be nearly 6 million, an increase of 600,000 silvers from last season. For chinook salmon, a catch of 99,000 is projected in areas outside of Southeast Alaska, where the numbers are determined by treaty with Canada. The Southeast harvest will be just 130,000 fish for all users, down 80,000 from last year. For commercial trollers the take is 95,700 taken from a few select areas. The salmon market outlook is good heading into the 2018 season. “Demand for Alaska salmon is fairly strong and competing farmed salmon prices are high. And despite catching over a billion pounds of salmon last year, there are no big inventory concerns,” said longtime fisheries economist Andy Wink of Wink Research and Consulting. Alaska sockeye could face some competition in its expanding fresh market sales from fish at the Fraser River in British Columbia. “Their runs have popped every four years and this is an up year for that system. That would bring a significant volume of fish to market this year,” Wink said, adding, “I’m not too concerned because demand for Alaska sockeye is robust and farmed prices are providing a lot of support.” The average sockeye price paid to Alaska salmon fishermen in 2017 was $1.13 per pound. The price for chinook salmon was $5.86; coho salmon at $1.19, pinks at 32 cents; and chum salmon averaged 66 cents per pound at the docks. The total value of the 2017 salmon fishery was nearly $680 million for Alaska’s fishermen, nearly a 67 percent increase over 2016. Clam diggers get down Razor clams from Alaska are a rare delicacy and are snapped up by restaurants on the west coast and Canada. The giant clams, which can reach more than 10 inches, are harvested by hand from a single 10-mile stretch of beach on the west side of Cook Inlet at the southwest corner of Polly Creek. The fishery, which opens in May and can run into August, is the only commercial razor clam fishery in Alaska. The diggers are allowed to take 350,000 to 400,000 pounds of clams in the shell this year and are paid 65 cents to 75 cents per pound. “About half of that is clam meat. Any broken clams go to the pet food market,” said Pat Shields, regional manager at ADFG in Soldotna. Coolers filled with whole clams are flown four to six times per day from the beach to the Pacific Alaska Shellfish plant in Nikiski, where they are immediately processed and sent to awaiting markets. “The processors also get 60 cents to 70 cents a pound to shuck them. Then they are vacuum packed and sent fresh or frozen to a lot of markets. It’s a really good product,” Shields said. Nearly all of the clam diggers out on the Cook Inlet flats are from out of state. “Most of the diggers are Hispanic from California,” Shields said. “It’s such hard work that we have a hard time finding local folks to participate.” “You put this big bag on your belt and you’re stooped over for hours at a time,” Shields explained. “Most of them use their hands or a very small spade. They dump them into a bucket and the clams get sorted in coolers.” Other Cook Inlet beaches have been closed to clam digging since 2014 due to a drop off in the stocks. More recently state fishery biologists have found encouraging signs of lots of juvenile razors signaling a potential rebound of the delicious clams. Cash for tags Hook a sablefish (black cod) with a bright orange or green tag and you would win cash. State fish managers awarded $3,000 to seven lucky winners in cash prizes ranging from $250 to $1,000. Their names were drawn by lottery among all those who had returned tags over the past year. Fishery biologists at ADFG have been tagging sablefish in Southeast Alaska since 1979 to learn more about the fish’s movement, growth, and abundance. The farthest north returned sablefish tag was from St. Matthew Island in the Bering Sea; the farthest south came from Humboldt, Calif. But for the most part, most sablefish stay close to home. “You have your sablefish that are like I love my home, I’m just going to stay here,” said Naomi Bargmann at ADFG in Sitka. “That is about 85 to 90 percent of the fish that we get in Chatham (Strait), they stay,” she added. “The rest of them will pick up like Magellan and go explore other places.” One of the oldest tags was 34 years old, returned in 2013, and nearly 35,000 have been recovered in all. This month 7,000 more tagged sablefish were released, bringing the total to more than 140,000 tags since the project began. To qualify for the lottery, the returned tags must include the latitude and longitude where the sablefish was caught and the capture date and method. Anyone who returns a tag receives a T-shirt. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Still deadliest job, but fishing deaths down drastically

Commercial fishing remains one of the most dangerous jobs in the nation, with a fatality rate that is 23 times higher than for all other workers. Vessel sinkings account for half of all fishing fatalities; second is falling overboard in deaths that are largely preventable. From 2000 through 2016, 204 U.S. fishermen died after falling overboard, according to a just released study called Fatal Falls Overboard in Commercial Fishing by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH. Nearly 60 percent of the falls were not witnessed, and almost 90 percent of the victims were not found. In all instances, not a single fisherman was wearing a PFD (personal flotation device). “I think there is a social stigma against it. It’s a sort of macho thing. I also think there is a lack of awareness that there are really comfortable PFDs,” said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association for more than three decades. Today’s life jackets are not the bulky, cumbersome clunkers that most people are familiar with from childhood or have stashed in the cubbies of recreational boats. Newer models are lightweight and built right into rain bibs, or fit comfortably over or into deck gear. “I’ve got a couple that are so comfortable that when I leave my boat, I forget I have them on,” Dzugan said. He estimated that less than 10 percent of Alaska fishermen wear PFDs while working, whereas “a few years ago it was less than 5 percent.” According to the NIOSH report, the number of falls overboard decreased on average by 3.9 percent annually during the study’s time frame. Most falls occurred on the east coast (62), followed by the Gulf of Mexico (60). Alaska ranked third with 51 deaths overall. Alaska’s deadliest catch might surprise you: it’s the salmon drift gillnet fishery with 16 fatalities. “When things go south on a small open boat it happens quickly,” Dzugan said. “Swamping, being hit by a wave and not being able to recover. Sometimes they are fishing alone or with just two people, often in open waters. All of those combine to have those being a particularly high risk.” Dzugan believes wearing a PFD on deck is the No. 1 way that fishermen can save themselves from becoming a statistic. Second is doing onboard safety drills. “Everyone needs to know what to do in the case of an emergency. And every crew member needs to be part of the risk assessment on the boat, not just the captain,” he said. “Also, make sure your boat is watertight, keep your survival gear maintained and practice with it, and get enough sleep.” The NIOSH report also recommends reducing fall hazards on deck and using man overboard alarms and recovery devices. “It costs less than $100 to rig up your own floating lines to trap someone inside and tie them off to a cleat on the rail until you can get them back on the boat,” Dzugan said. Although fishermen have been somewhat slow to adopt preventive measures, he said there has been tremendous improvement in Alaska. “It’s been a total cultural change. In the 1970s there was an average of about 38 to 40 fishing deaths a year in Alaska; it’s averaged 3.5 over the past five years,” he said. “The arc of improvement in fishing vessel safety has been a long one, but it’s been steadily upwards. I’m very optimistic.” (The fatality numbers already have skewed upwards since the data in the NIOSH report were compiled through 2016. Total U.S. fishing deaths have risen to 224, according to report author, Samantha Case of NIOSH in Anchorage. In Alaska, there were 10 fishing deaths in 2017; six were from the sinking of the crab boat Destination in the Bering Sea) Salmon starts! Alaska’s salmon season officially kicks off on May 17 with a 12-hour opener for sockeyes and kings at the famous Copper River. In other fishing updates: Southeast fishery managers announced that under provisions of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, the chinook salmon harvest is limited to 130,000 fish for all users, down 80,000 fish from last year. For trollers, the take is 95,700 kings and the May-June season will open only in a few select areas. Fishing for lingcod in the Panhandle opens May 16 with a 310,700-fish limit. A fishery for coonstripe and spot shrimp opened in Southeast on May 1 with a 675,000-pound quota from four districts. Trawling for sidestripe shrimp also is underway at Prince William Sound with a nearly 113,000-pound catch quota. Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery closed on April 30 just shy of the 50,000-pound winter harvest. The shortage will be added to the summer crab fishery for a combined total of about 300,000 pounds. Alaska’s halibut catch was approaching 3 million pounds with Seward and Sitka leading all ports for deliveries. Sablefish catches topped 4 million pounds with Sitka in the lead for landings. Fishing continues for all kinds of whitefish in both the Bering Sea and Gulf of Alaska. Finally, Frankenfish is a step closer to U.S. supermarket sales. AquaBounty, the producer of the genetically engineered salmon won FDA approval last week to grow the fish in an Indiana plant it bought last year for $14 million with a goal to produce 3 million pounds annually. Currently, the salmon are being grown out in Panama. A final hold up is commerce laws that don’t allow the genetically tweaked salmon to be sold in the U.S. until labeling guidelines are in place to inform consumers. Import breaks “Made in America” grants are available to small- and medium-sized companies that have been clobbered by an influx of cheaper imports. “Basically, if it’s a product that competes with imports and the domestic firm is losing ground and the imports are rising, the assistance can be available,” said David Holbert, executive director of the Seattle-based Northwest Trade Adjustment Assistance Center, or NWTAAC. The NWTAAC is one of 11 regional non-profits funded by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and serves companies in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska. The group has been around since the 1970s, but is not very well known, Holbert said. It began as a means to help U.S. manufacturers facing competitive disadvantages often caused by global trade deals. The program now includes businesses in other sectors, such as timber, agriculture and fishing. The program offers matching grants of up to $75,000 to mid-sized companies aimed at helping them hire outside expertise to boost their bottom lines. “So that’s $150,000 for projects such as website building and creating marketing tools like brochures, brands and logos, as well as quality certifications, product design, to name a few. No two are the same,” Holbert explained. Eligible smaller businesses with less than $1 million in sales can receive up to 75 percent in matching funds for up to $30,000, meaning their output would be $7,500. “When a company faces destructive price competition, it’s a situation where they can’t win by trying harder. They have to change. For small to medium sized enterprises, change is often instigated by outside expertise. Generally speaking, the companies have to find their way to a customer base that values quality customization and/or rapid fulfillments,” Holbert said. Eligible companies need to show a drop in employment and in sales or production and other trade criteria. The Center handles all the qualifying paper work and if approved, also helps craft a business plan focusing on what would be required for the company to succeed. A company has five years to use the funds. “The companies select their projects and vendors. We’re not telling anyone what to do or who to hire. We’ll advise and help, but it’s your solution to your situation,” Holbert said. For smaller Alaska fishing companies, more than one can apply under the umbrella of a trade association. Bering Sea crabbers, for example, long hammered by imports of Russian crab, used funds to redesign a website, create marketing materials and design a weekly newsletter. “The support and guidance provided by NWTAAC staff throughout the entire funding process was amazing,” wrote the Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers trade group. Other Alaska fishing beneficiaries include Taku Fisheries in Juneau and Fields Wild Salmon of Kodiak. Holbert said that Alaska halibut fishermen, who are facing stiff import competition from eastern Canada, also may be eligible. “Don’t be shy about calling. You’re not dealing with a big bureaucracy; you’re going to talk to a person who can relate to you and your business,” Holbert stressed. “If you’ve got a decline in business in recent years and you believe it’s due to imports, we can find out fast if you qualify.” The NWTAAC board of directors is meeting in Anchorage in mid-May. Learn more at www.nwtaac.org or email [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ComFish funding adds study on king salmon decline

A shuffle in some funding leaves Alaska’s commercial fisheries division in good shape to manage the resources and target important projects across the state. At first glance, the $69 million operating budget for fiscal year 2019 appears to be down slightly from last year’s $72.3 million, but that’s not the case. “Most of that difference is a sort of ‘cleanup’ in authority we no longer had funding for, such as the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fund, test fishing and some interagency items. The rest is due to $1.1 million shortfall in Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission revenue which was made up from other Department funds,” said Scott Kelley, Commercial Fisheries Division director. Added to the budget was a nearly $1 million unrestricted increment offered by Rep. Dan Ortiz of Ketchikan, which got the nod from Alaska lawmakers. The extra money will be distributed among 11 projects in four regions: Southeast, Central, Westward and the AYK (Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim). The biggest project focuses on research to help determine the causes of declining chinook salmon. “It’s a $300,000 project for a juvenile chinook marine survey in the Bering Sea,” Kelley said. “Almost the first thing I get asked at meetings around the state is what’s going on with king salmon. That project looks at the early marine survival, which is where we think these mortality events are most affecting the species. It’s the only project in the state that really gives us a first look at what’s going on there.” Other projects back on the funding track include Southeast and Togiak herring research, westward salmon weirs, Southeast sablefish research and Prince William Sound Tanner crab. One thing cut from the commercial fisheries budget was nearly $400,000 for unpopular test fishing programs, where portions of fishermen’s catches are used to help cover management costs. “We don’t need to test fish because we got the general funds. I view that as a very positive development,” Kelley said. The entire state budget still awaits final approval but Kelley expressed confidence in a good outcome, thanks in part to Gov. Bill Walker. “I do believe that the governor is strongly supportive, not just of the Commercial Fisheries Division but for the Department of Fish and Game in general,” he said. Kelley also praised United Fishermen of Alaska and other fishing stakeholders for going to bat for their industry during the legislative session. “Their advocating has been extremely beneficial for the division and greatly appreciated,” Kelley said. Crab share shuffle It’s slow going for brokers who deal in quota shares for crab in Bering Sea fisheries. Most holders are taking a wait-and-see approach on the crab stocks, hoping for an uptick before they sell. Few sellers make it tough to place a value on the shares, said Jeff Osborn at Dock Street Brokers in Seattle, the “go-to guy” for crab quotas. “Red crab is down from around $70 to between $60 and $65 per pound,” Osborn said. “For opilio (snow crab) it’s hard to say because there are no sellers to speak of. For vessel shares, I’ll speculate somewhere in the $27 to $28 range. For bairdi Tanners, people see a lot of crab but nobody really knows what to expect for next season so everyone is gun shy on sales.” Crab shares are bought and sold in two categories: vessel shares and skipper shares. “Skipper shares are reserved for people who are actively fishing on crab boats,” he explained. “You have to have participated in the crab fishery in the past 365 days to purchase those shares. Vessel shares are much more lenient and can be held by a qualified entity, corporation or business regardless of recent participation.” On the skipper side, Osborn said crabbers face a looming “use it or lose it” deadline. “Basically, there needs to be participation in the crab fishery or another Alaska fishery within the past three years if you are an initial quota share recipient. Otherwise, effective June 30 for the upcoming season they will not receive any quota to harvest. And then if they still have not satisfied the recency requirement by June 30, 2019, they will lose their quota share, it will just go away,” Osborn said. Why? “It’s to ensure that those who own skipper shares are actually participating and not accumulating it and leasing it out and collecting a check and depriving the market of shares that could be used by guys that are actively participating,” he said. Osborn estimates between 100 to 120 crabbers have transfer eligibility for skipper quota but many could lose it under the new rules. Another right of first offer option, or ROFO, also makes crab shares available to crew to help them become invested in the fishery. “The intention of the ROFO is to set aside 10 percent of any transaction of vessel shares to be sold to qualified individuals,” he said. “They can then purchase some or all at the same price that is sold to whoever is buying the 90 percent of the quota. So it provides an avenue for people to pick up smaller chunks than they might be able to otherwise.” Candidates come to the Bay! Four candidates for Alaska governor will face off in a debate at the 2nd annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo at Naknek in early June. Naknek is the key logistics hub for 10 major seafood processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 at the northeastern end of Bristol Bay. The debate is just one of the events in a lively line up that benefits childcare in the community. “We turned to our natural resource, salmon, to support Little Angels Childcare Academy and it has just been phenomenal,” said Sharon Thompson, Expo co-founder and organizer. “Salmon is supporting their early childhood education.” The first Expo last year raised $17,000, enough to open the doors of the childcare center. This year is likely to see even more donations. “We are getting boat builders and engine manufacturers and others from Texas and Washington and Oregon; it’s caught their eye. It just blows my mind,” said co-organizer Katie Copps-Wilson. The theme of the June 8-9 event is “Celebrating our Past, Sustaining our Future,” and a history of the region’s canneries will be highlighted. Historian Katie Ringsmuth will kick things off on June 8 with highlights of the Diamond NN Cannery History Project which aims to document, preserve and share the unique experiences of cannery life. The Diamond plant was the first industrial processing plant on the Naknek River in 1890. On that theme, Mug Up events will be ongoing during the two-day Expo. “Anyone who has ever worked in a cannery knows that mug up is a colloquial term for coffee break. Coffee and donuts will be available along with storytelling, because we all know that’s where the best stories are told,” Thompson said, adding that archivists from the National Park Service and project curators will be on hand to scan, photograph and identify old photos, labels, maps and other artifacts. The popular “speed hiring” will be back, which connects captains with potential crewmembers. “It’s like speed dating and many happy matches were made last year. That face-to-face contact is so important. We expect it will be bigger than ever,” Thompson said. One of the biggest hits of the Expo, Thompson said, is a fashion show and wearable art auction. “We always joke that Bristol Bay has a style of its own. Grundens has donated lots of gear from their new line for women, so we’re really stepping it up this year,” she said. “We are still accepting donations and it is a great way for businesses to get their names and services out there. All the products and services will be listed in an online catalog that will be on social media everywhere.” The Expo will end with a gubernatorial candidates debate on June 9 from 7-9pm that will include Gov. Walker, Scott Hawkins, Rep. Mike Chenault and Mike Dunleavy. The debate will be broadcast live on KAKN and KDLG. Looking ahead, the organizers plan to include more communities. “From Togiak to Ugashik and everwhere in between and beyond, we would love to expand our Expo to embrace crab, halibut, pollock, herring – all those other wild seafood products from Bristol Bay that are feeding the world,” Thompson said. “The bottom line is everything benefits Little Angels,” echoed Copps-Wilson. “Our mantra is kids, fish, future.” Learn more at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Early Cook Inlet fisheries near; ballot initiative draws big bucks

Two commercial fisheries open each spring at Upper Cook Inlet that attract little notice and few participants, but each pays big bucks to fishermen. The first is a food and bait herring fishery that runs from April 20 through the end of May. The 150-ton catch quota is small compared to most of Alaska’s other herring fisheries, but the payout is far higher than all others. “They get $1.00 to $1.50 a pound, or $2,000 to $3,000 for a short ton, and the herring goes primarily into the halibut commercial bait fishery or the sport bait fishery,” said Pat Shields, regional manager for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Soldotna. In contrast, the statewide average price for roe herring at places like Sitka, Kodiak or Togiak is just 12 cents per pound, and fishermen make between $100 to $350 per ton. The Cook Inlet herring fishery serves a small, local market provided by 10 to 20 fishermen. The fish is captured in gillnets by 10 to 20 salmon setnet fishermen who are trying to get some money to start the season, Shields explained. The herring are frozen and sold throughout the year and the demand far exceeds the supply. Shields speculates the price is so high because there are so few bait herring fisheries in the state: two in Southeast, one at Kodiak and Dutch Harbor. Meanwhile, most Alaska fishermen buy pricy herring for bait from processors who usually purchase it from the east coast or Canada. Traditionally, herring management has been geared to sac roe fisheries, which years ago was in high demand by a single customer: Japan. But tastes there have changed. “Now the sac roe is far less valuable and there is a lot of demand for herring as bait,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the state Commercial Fisheries Division. “Management plans could be restructured so that more herring could be harvested as bait. Someone just needs to propose it to the Board of Fisheries. If there is a harvestable surplus that is not being taken, why not allow it in a different fishery?” The other fishery at Upper Cook Inlet from May 1 through June 30 is for smelt, also called hooligan/eulachon or candlefish. That also attracts up to 20 people who compete for a 200-ton quota using dip nets at the Susitna River. Shields said a 2016 study estimated that 53,000 tons of smelt went up the Susitna that one year. “It’s just a phenomenal biomass,” he said, adding that fishermen have had to make their dip nets smaller to accommodate the catches. “If you have a net that’s a couple feet deep you can’t even lift it out of the water,” Shields said, adding that it’s a tough fishery. “Logistically, it’s kind of a nightmare to get drift boats through the mudflats of the Susitna River,” he said. “They bring them back to the Kenai River where they are frozen, boxed up and shipped to the Lower 48. Most of it goes into one of three markets: the human food, sturgeon bait fishery on the Columbia River or the marine mammal food market.” Smelt fishermen also fetch a nice price, twice: 25 to 75 cents per pound for their harvest, and again after it goes to market. “The market can vary widely,” Shields said. “I’ve heard anywhere from 50 cents a pound to a couple dollars a pound.” Both fisheries are open to all comers who get a miscellaneous finfish permit from the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “While they require a permit, it is not a limited entry permit,” Shields explained. “Anyone can get a permit to participate in the herring or the smelt fishery in Cook Inlet.” Salmon money Resource developers are pulling out all stops to block the push to strengthen Alaska’s salmon habitat protection law for the first time since statehood in 1959. Since early January the group Stand for Alaska has raised more than $2 million to stop a ballot initiative that could go to voters this fall. That is about four times more than the $475,560 the grassroots group Yes for Salmon has raised in support of modernizing permitting and habitat protection measures. Filings with the Alaska Public Offices Commission show that financial backing for both groups comes primarily from outside the state. Mining operations from Canada that put in $200,000 each include Kinross Fort Knox and Pebble Limited Partnership. Japanese-owned Pogo Mine, Illinois-based Coeur Alaska and Hecla Mining of Idaho also contributed $200,000 as well as Donlin Gold and Doyon Ltd. ConocoPhillips has donated $250,000 and BP has contributed $500,000 to Stand for Alaska. Those companies, along with Canada’s Teck Mining and Tower Hill Mines, the Resource Development Council, Alaska Miners Association and the Alaska Oil and Gas Association also have contributed in-kind donations to cover staff time, office expenses, travel, etc. To convince voters that the ballot measure is a bad idea, Stand for Alaska so far has paid $132,000 to Anchorage-based Bright Strategy and Communications; $36,000 to Public Opinion Strategies of Alexandria, Virginia; $20,000 to Blueprint Alaska and $10,000 to Dittman Research, both of Anchorage. Total expenditures by Stand for Alaska also include nearly $612,000, of which more than 40 percent has gone to DCI Group of Washington, D.C., as a subcontractor. DCI Group is widely cited as a “top Republican and lobbying group” that creates campaigns by masking corporate sponsors to make it appear that it is a grassroots effort, a practice known as “astro-turfing.” Most notably, the DCI Group has done campaigns for the tobacco industry and for Exxon’s climate change denial efforts. The APOC filings show that most of the money donated to Yes for Salmon’s campaign also comes from outside Alaska. From Jan. 8 through April 7, the group collected about $205,000 in contributions. Of that, $100,000 comes from John Childs of Florida who also is a board member of the Wild Salmon Center based in Portland, Oregon. The New Venture Fund Salmon State, backed by the Hewlett Foundation of Washington, D.C., has contributed $37,246 of in-kind contributions. The Alaska Center has donated $14,000 for in-kind services, along with Trout Unlimited, the Sitka Conservation Society and Cook Inletkeeper. Other monetary contributions are in the $75 to $250 range by nine individual Alaskans. Total expenditures in the first quarter by Yes for Salmon were reported at $124,388, and overall expenditures total about $317,000, of which $25,000 has gone to the Patinkin Research Group of Portland, Ore., for polling and other work as well as about $16,000 to Element Agency of Anchorage for media support. The salmon protection push must still prove it is constitutional before it goes to the voters. The Alaska Supreme Court will hear arguments on April 26. Fish prices The Alaska Department of Fish and Game provides dock prices for nearly every fish species caught in the state with comparisons going back to 1984. It’s called the Commercial Operator’s Annual Report and is compiled from annual inputs by processors. Here’s a sampler from 2016 (prices for 2017 will be available this summer): The average price for cod was 28 cents per pound; lingcod averaged $1.51. Those billions of pounds of pollock fetched 13 cents per pound for fishermen. Herring averaged 12 cents. Octopus was 46 cents per pound and sea cucumbers were $4.07. Spot shrimp paid out at $8.96 per pound; coon striped shrimp at $5.73 was up more than $2. For 10 types of flounders, pesky arrowtooth was at 7 cents; rex sole was the priciest at 34 cents. For 22 types of rockfish, yellow eye, or red snapper, topped the list at $1.29 per pound; rose thorn rockfish was the lowest at 6 cents per pound. Wolf eels paid out at 84 cents per pound; Geoduck clams were at $6.59. Longnose skates brought fishermen 44 cents per pound. Halibut averaged $6.06 per pound; sablefish, $6.50. The priciest of all was red king crab at $10.18 per pound; the lowest was for sculpin at just 3 cents per pound. Another report shows how much poundage was produced by processors and first wholesale values, meaning how much the fish sold for in initial sales. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permits stagnate on lower forecasts

Spring is usually the busiest time of year for brokers in the buy/sell/trade business for Alaska salmon permits. But that’s not the case this year. Values for several salmon permits had ticked upwards after a blockbuster salmon fishery in 2017, but they have remained stagnant since last fall. “That sort of summarizes the salmon permit market. There is not a lot of excitement about any of them,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. A lackluster catch forecast for the upcoming salmon season — down 34 percent — has helped dampen enthusiasm. Even at the one big bright spot at Bristol Bay, where another big sockeye catch of more than 37 million fish is expected, the value of drift net permits has stalled in the $150,000 range. “Sometimes before the season we see the price go up and up until the fishing begins. This year it just seems like it’s a calmer market and the price actually slipped.” Bowen said. Also at play in the Bay: major buyers will no longer purchase salmon from “dry” boats starting this year. “They put the fleet on notice a few years ago that they will not take any unchilled fish,” Bowen said. “So there has been a scramble for folks to get RSW (refrigerated sea water) systems installed or get a boat with RSW. There’s no doubt people are getting out of the Bay rather than invest another $150,000 to $200,000. I think that issue has calmed the market down for drift permits.” Dock Street Brokers, Permit Master and Bowen’s company all list 10 or more Bay drift permits for sale or lease. There’s not a lot of action for Southeast drift permits, which have slipped to $85,000 to $90,000. Likewise, there is little interest for Cook Inlet drift permits, which after several dreary salmon seasons have stalled at around $45,000 for the past year. A few Prince William Sound seine permits have moved at around $170,000 this year and at Kodiak in the $30,000 range, but there’s been minimal interest in seine cards across the state. “The forecast isn’t great for seine fisheries anywhere this year and you can see that in the permit markets. There’s just not a lot of interest this year,” Bowen said. One permit bucking the trend is salmon at False Pass (Area M) on the Alaska Peninsula. Several good salmon years have piqued interest in that fishery and boosted drift net values to more than $160,000 with listings few and far between. Overall, Bowen said Alaska brokerage and boat sales businesses are chugging along despite the humdrum mood. “Boats are still selling well and permits are selling and quota is selling too. It’s just that there’s definitely some dark clouds out there. I think in general it is going to be a skinnier year for the industry,” he said. Fishing watch April has brought a mixed bag so far for several Alaska fisheries, starting with a huge slump in the herring haul at Sitka Sound. The fishery closed on April 3 after two late March openers when the bulk of the herring size and roe quality was just not up to snuff. The total harvest of 2,800 tons was down by nearly 75 percent from the projected 11,128-ton catch. Meanwhile, 68 herring boats were operating near Craig in a herring roe-on-kelp fishery. Kodiak’s herring fishery opens on April 15 with a harvest set at just under 1,200 tons. Southeast’s May/June Chinook season for a fleet of over 700 trollers will open only in a few select areas and be limited to just 95,000 fish this season. The winter Tanner crab fishery at Southeast produced a catch of 1.2 million pounds, topping the 10-year average. Fishermen got a nice payday at $3.07 per pound, making the fishery worth $3.7 million at the docks. A 70,000-pound golden king crab fishery, which ran concurrently, paid out at $10.10 per pound to fishermen. A quick shrimp fishery opens at Prince William Sound from April to April 30. A fleet of 72 vessels has signed up to compete for the 67,000-pound quota. At Norton Sound, a red king crab harvest is ongoing with a catch of about 15,000 pounds so far out of a 50,000-pound winter catch quota. Halibut catches are still coming in slowly with about 750,000 pounds delivered by 150 landings; for sablefish the catch was at 900,000 pounds by 82 landings. Cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish are still crossing the docks across Alaska and most of those fisheries will continue throughout the year. And before you know it, salmon season will officially be underway with the first returns of sockeyes and kings to Copper River in mid-May. A catch of 1.7 million reds and 19,000 kings is expected at the Copper River this year. Genders differ Feedback on gender equality in the seafood industry yielded insights on how women’s roles are perceived by women and men around the world. More than 700 survey responses were gathered starting last fall by the international non-profit Women in the Seafood Industry, of which 30 percent were from men and over 200 came from North America. “The questions centered around what is the position of women in your company, for example, and what is your opinion of the situation of women in this industry. Are there areas where things could be improved, or where there is no need for improvement,” said Marie Catherine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder based in Paris. The survey results showed differing perceptions depending on gender. “The majority of men didn’t feel that there is gender inequality in this industry, while the majority of women said there is gender inequality,” Montfort said. A main problem expressed by women in most regions was a range of discriminations; but that view also was not shared by men. “A good number of men think the problem is the lack of women in the industry,” Montfort said with a laugh. “Which is good, because we want to promote more women to enter into the industry. We need them on board as well.” The differing perceptions on what women experience, Montfort added, is one of the study’s most important findings. The top industry need expressed by women as well as some men was improving the work/life balance. “We know that in some countries this is better organized than in others, but the work/family balance is a really important point.” Results of the gender survey are being compiled into a report that will be widely distributed. Meanwhile, WSI has launched a worldwide short video contest (open to both genders) to highlight the lives of women in any segment of the seafood industry. “It may be aboard fishing vessels or at aquaculture sites, in offices or teaching or studying at school. This is a way to show that women are major stakeholders in this industry.” Montfort said. Winners will receive cash prizes and their videos will be showcased at industry events around the world. Deadline to enter is Aug. 31. Questions? Contact [email protected] Fish buzz Gov. Bill Walker and candidates Mike Chenault and Mike Dunleavy will participate in a gubernatorial debate on Saturday, June 9 at the Bristol Bay Borough School at Naknek. Other candidates have been invited. The two-hour event, which will be broadcast statewide, is part of the 2nd annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo and has a theme of “Sustainability in Rural Alaska.” All proceeds from the Expo will again benefit the Little Angels Childcare Academy in Naknek. Visit www.bristolbayfishexpo.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Latest fish habitat bill goes too far, or not far enough

A new version of legislation to revamp Alaska’s salmon habitat permitting system is aimed at increasing public involvement and the ability of regulators to impose penalties for noncompliance. The bill’s author, Kodiak Republican Rep. Louise Stutes, said the second iteration of House Bill 199 is the result of months of talks with stakeholders and what she believes to be an effective balance of fish protections while still allowing responsible development projects to go forward. “I believe this draft is more in line with the request by the Board of Fish. It is a much-needed improvement to Title 16 that focuses on public notice, public comment and the ability for the public to affect the process, criteria for the proper protection of fish and providing the Department of Fish and Game with more enforcement tools,” Stutes said during a hearing of the House Fisheries Committee, which she chairs. She added that she’s confident the provisions in the new HB 199 will be workable for development industries and good news for fish advocates. The Alaska Board of Fisheries, which regulates the gamut of fishing activities in the state, wrote a letter to legislative leaders in January 2017 urging them to update the state’s anadromous fish habitat permitting law, known as Title 16, to include more opportunities for public involvement and enforceable standards to the current law that many feel is outdated and too vague. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to issue a development permit as long as a project provides “proper protection of fish and game,” leaving the definition of what is acceptable up to interpretation. The original version of the bill released about a year ago would have set stringent requirements in law on construction in and around salmon habitat. Specifically, it required habitat degradation mitigation measures to be applied to the water impacted, eliminating the possibility of using habitat improvements to nearby waters as a reasonable offset to expected damages. According to Fish and Game Habitat Division officials, such off-site mitigation is one of the last options for a project proponent when damage to habitat cannot be avoided, but it is a fairly common practice for very large projects, such as mines, that cannot be moved or effectively scaled to avoid impacting salmon habitat. The old bill also would have presumed that all waters connected to the ocean are anadromous fish habitat and put the onus to prove otherwise on project proponents. The original HB 199 largely mirrored the Stand for Salmon ballot initiative, which has drawn the opposition of oil and gas, mining, logging and construction trade groups as well as most Alaska Native corporations for being a de-facto prohibition on new development in Alaska, they contend. Gov. Bill Walker also opposes the Stand for Salmon initiative, saying it is too restrictive and major policy changes should be thoroughly vetted through the legislative process rather than being subject to a simple up or down referendum vote with no opportunity for adjustments. The Stand for Salmon initiative was certified with 41,999 supporting signatures by the Division of Elections to appear on the 2018 ballot March 15, but it still faces a Supreme Court decision on its constitutionality. The state Supreme Court will hear the Stand for Salmon case April 26. The state is appealing a Superior Court ruling from last fall that overturned the decision of Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott that the initiative is unconstitutional. The initiative sponsors have said they too would prefer to make changes to Title 16 via the Legislature, but they continue to push the ballot measure to assure action is taken if the Legislature fails to pass the bill. Passing some version of HB 199 would likely render Stand for Salmon moot, as legislative law changes deemed similar to the intent of a voter initiative would preempt the initiative. However, given the late timing of the new bill in a Legislature wholly preoccupied with resolving the state’s ongoing multibillion-dollar budget deficits, it appears HB 199 will be challenged to move through several more House and Senate committees to be passed in the waning days of the current session. House Majority coalition leaders have said they expect the salmon habitat discussion to be a long process. The bill would have to start from scratch in the new Legislature next year, but that would not be a major change from its current status given HB 199 is still in House Fisheries, its first committee of referral. Stutes pulled those major mitigation and anadromous fish habitat presumption policy changes from HB 199, but the bill would still establish minor and major tiers for habitat permits, a primary provision of the first version. The Fish and Game commissioner would have the ability to issue blanket minor permits for common activities such as crossing streams with an ATV. General permits for such activities would be renewed every five years. Major permits would require publication of both a draft and final version of salmon habitat impact assessments. Public notice and comment periods would be required for the issuance of a minor permit and when draft and final assessments are published. There are currently no public notice requirements for anadromous fish habitat permits, which proponents contend is insufficient given salmon are a valuable and public resource. HB 199 would also require project proponents post bonds sufficient to restore habitat if permit conditions are not adhered to. The other major change from current law in HB 199 is a provision giving designated Fish and Game officials authority to issue on-the-spot citations or tickets for disturbing salmon habitat without a permit or not complying with an issued habitat permit. Currently, all salmon habitat violations are Class A misdemeanor offenses that require a court appearance and Alaska State Troopers act as Fish and Game’s enforcement arm. Habitat Division Coordinator and fisheries biologist Ron Benkert, who has testified extensively to House Fisheries on the issue, said in March interview with the Journal that the current enforcement system is good in theory, but it requires substantial time from often overworked prosecutors and busy judges must be willing to hear the cases. The process lends itself to very few salmon habitat violations being prosecuted, according to Benkert. Rep. Mark Neuman, R-Big Lake, suggested giving Department of Natural Resource officials similar enforcement authority for the many land use and resource activity-related permits DNR issues. Rounds of public testimony April 7 and April 9 on HB 199 elicited far more support than opposition, though numerous testifiers’ comments seemed to relate to the original version of the bill. Alaska Support Industry Alliance CEO Rebecca Logan said HB 199 does not achieve the stated goals of protecting salmon habitat while correspondingly allowing for development. “At a time when we have the highest unemployment in the nation and have lost thousands of the best jobs we have in the state — to insert uncertainty into the permitting process leads to delay and delay leads to no jobs and for those reasons and many more the Alliance is opposed to HB 199,” Logan said. Americans for Prosperity Alaska Director Jeremy Price called it “a regulatory nightmare,” in his testimony. “It only adds to the cost of a project.” Stand for Salmon Director Ryan Schryver thanked Stutes for her work on Title 16, but said the new HB 199 doesn’t go far enough to guard anadromous habitat, as did several other testifiers. “While we don’t support the bill in its current version, we will continue to work with legislative leaders to update the law and fix the fundamental problems with salmon habitat protections in our state,” Schryver said in a formal statement April 7. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

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