King crab harvest was fast, but cuts make crabbers furious

It was fast and furious for Alaska’s premier crab fishery with the fleet catching the nearly 8 million-pound red king crab quota at Bristol Bay in less than three weeks. The overall take was down 15 percent from the 2015 fishery and will likely fetch record prices when all sales are made. “The only price we have is an advance price so fishermen can pay fuel, bait and other trip expenses. The final price will be determined from now to January,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents 70 percent of the Bering Sea crab harvesters. Crabbers fetched an average price of $8.18 per pound for their king crab last year and the fishery was valued at over $81 million at the docks. The hauls since the fishery got underway on Oct. 15 averaged 37.4 red kings per pot, compared to 32 crabs last year, Jacobsen said, adding that some boats were catching 60 to 70 crab per pot, even as the fishery was coming to a close. That’s where the furious comes in — the crabbers believe there are lots more crab on the grounds than were revealed in the standardized summer survey upon which the catch quotas are based. “It’s not one of those things where we don’t think the crab is there, it’s a result of the survey not being able to find them,” said Ruth Christiansen, science adviser and policy analyst for the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers. Jacobsen agreed, saying, “Fishermen were very pleased with the good fishing and at the same time furious that the catch could be so low when the resource is more abundant than they’ve seen in many a year.” He added that they also saw high numbers of female and undersized crab, which bodes well for next year. Only legal-sized males are allowed to be retained for sale. The Bering Sea crab fisheries are co-managed by the state and the federal government. Federal biologists conduct the annual summer surveys and calculate the catch quotas; the state Department of Fish and Game manages the crab fisheries in-season.  Trump takedowns What might the election of Donald Trump mean for the seafood industry? Economic reports already are pointing to his platform of opposing trade and pulling out of the North America Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, a stance that goes against more than 30 years of American policy under presidents of both parties. NAFTA connects trade between Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, and Trump has pledged to impose trade barriers that could reduce markets for seafood and other U.S. exports and drive up the cost of imports, causing banks to restrict lending, according to the New York Times. It also is a foregone conclusion that he will tank the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership. If Trump does implement trade protectionist policies, it could tip the economy into a recession, cautioned global economists. Trump also has vowed to place a 45 percent tariff on Chinese imports and declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. How this will affect the millions of pounds of Alaska seafood that are sent to China for reprocessing and then shipped back for sales in the U.S. is anyone’s guess. The Wall Street Journal said Trump’s victory could begin “an era of U.S. combativeness” with two of our biggest trade partners — China and Mexico — and prompt trade wars and stall international growth. Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing and communications Ocean Beauty Seafood agrees. “But it’s far too early to speculate on what any of this might mean. We will just have to wait and see, and deal with any changes as they come, he said.” While Trump’s positions might not pose any direct changes for U.S. fisheries, his vision to “explode fossil fuel development across the nation, including coal” will have a long-term impact on our oceans. Trump has widely claimed that the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. He has called for gutting the Environmental Protection Agency and is likely to name a top climate skeptic, Myron Ebell, to lead the charge. Like Trump, Ebell calls climate change “bullsh*t,” and both have vowed to “cancel” the Paris global warming accord signed by nearly 200 nations that sets targets to reverse the worst effects of global warming. Scientific American reports that Ebell has called President Obama’s Clean Power Plan for greenhouse gasses “illegal” and boasts that he has been dubbed a “climate criminal” by Greenpeace. The topic is likely to dominate discussions during a special Friday afternoon seminar at Fish Expo. Terry Johnson, a Fisheries Professor and Sea Grant Marine Advisor in Anchorage, will present the most current science on a warming world and off kilter ocean chemistry.  A main focus is to hear ideas from fishermen and coastal community reps on how they plan to adapt to the inevitable. Changes could include things like moving towards bigger, multi-fisheries vessels that allow for more flexibility, and modifying regulatory regimes that lift some of the restrictions on moving from one fishing area to another. “We have seen a number of climate related changes but they are more results of temporary climate variations, such as El Niño’s and regime shifts on the order of a year or a decade or more. But in the long term, things have not yet been sufficiently dramatic so industry has had to make big changes yet,” he said.  Meanwhile, Johnson said he is very concerned that a Trump administration will slash climate change science. “Federal scientists and others are doing very important work that will eventually help inform us about how to adapt to climate changes — if that funding is cut off, we’re going to be working in the dark,” he said. The Expo runs from Nov. 17-19 in Seattle.  Sea a Cure A campaign to raise money for cancer research has been relaunched by Orca Bay Seafoods and members of the fishing industry. The effort began in 2006 when Orca Bay vice president Trish Haaker was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since then more than $40,000 has been raised for research. The company now has enlarged its mission. “We are adding the nutrition messages of seafood and its health benefits, and how it can help during cancer treatments and lead to an overall healthier lifestyle,” said Lilani Estacio, Orca Bay’s Marketing and Communications Manager. All proceeds go to City of Hope, a global leader in cancer research, along with diabetes, heart disease and HIV. “We are a united industry, and we have a product that benefits not just the livelihood of many, but everyone,” Estacio said. “If we could all gather around and help educate Americans about the benefits of eating seafood — that is our ultimate goal.” Learn how you can donate at Sea a Cure on Facebook.  Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

ADFG predicts lowest sockeye salmon harvest in 15 years

Forecasts for Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon have dropped precipitously, just in time for the state’s fishermen to have another beef with Alaska’s fisheries managers in a few months. “In 2017, a run of approximately 4.0 million sockeye salmon is forecasted to return to UCI with a commercial harvest of 1.7 million,” reads an Alaska Department of Fish and Game release. “The forecasted commercial harvest in 2017 is 1.2 million less than the 20-year average harvest.” The Upper Cook Inlet sockeye salmon harvest of 2.4 million, which was 17 percent less than the recent 10-year average, fetched an ex-vessel price of $1.50 per pound for a total value of $21 million. With an average weight of 5.8 pounds per fish, 1.2 million sockeye are worth $10.4 million in 2016 prices. For commercial Upper Cook Inlet sockeye fishermen, the forecast plays into a long-standing management feud the Alaska Board of Fisheries will have to pick up at the beginning of 2017, largely concerning whether or not management policies have been harming the sockeye stocks — and fishermen — by allowing too many to escape to their spawning grounds. Managers predict the overall size of the expected run, then chip away how many spawning fish they need to send back up the river, then divide the rest between commercial, sport fishing, subsistence and personal use fisheries. For all users, the forecast is 2.6 million fish, about 21 percent below average and among the lower third of harvest forecasts going back to 1985. Eight of the last 27 years have had forecasts as low or lower. The commercial harvest expectation is 1.7 million. If the fleet harvests that much, it will be the lowest harvest since 2000 and 1998, when Cook Inlet fishermen harvested 1.3 million and 1.2 million sockeye, respectively. Prior to that, the harvest hadn’t dipped below 1.7 million fish since 1981. “It’s gonna be pretty tricky,” said Aaron Dupuis, the assistant area management biologist for the commercial section of the Upper Cook Inlet ADFG office. “Things will be much more restrictive.” This small of a forecast triggers the most tightly controlled management tiers. Sockeye setnetters will only have 24 hours to fish in addition to their normal Monday and Thursday 12-hour openings. Drift netters will have to stay within certain sections, instead of fishing in the middle of Cook Inlet. Commercial fishermen aren’t happy with the forecast. “It’s pretty alarming,” said Andy Hall, a sockeye setnetter and president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Coalition. Hall said he can’t remember off the top of his head the last time a season forecast gave his fleet so little. “I had a couple fishermen write to me and say they’re alarmed. It’s going to color how we respond to some of the proposals that go to the Board of Fisheries this year.” ADFG biologists acknowledge that high escapements might be a part of the low forecast, but say the situation is still too complex and murky to know for certain. “Yeah, it’s possible (that overescapement led to a small forecast),” said Dupois. “We won’t really know until we have complete brood information for the most recent escapements. It’s definitely a possibility.” Pat Shields, the commercial fishing management biologist for the Kenai area ADFG office, went into more detail about the causes of next year’s small forecast. Large escapements, he said, tend to produce smaller fry — the baby salmon waiting in river systems to swim out into the ocean to grow up. If fry survival drops, it could intensify low returns. “There can be multiple reasons,” he said. “It appears ocean conditions have not been as favorable in the last couple years. I know it’s not satisfying for even me to say that…but there are different things that affect that.” Water temperatures for the Gulf of Alaska and its river systems have been rising in certain areas, leading in 2015 and 2016 to a patch of water 2 degrees Celsius over the average, called “the Blob” by scientists. This warmer water, said Shields, looks to be a contributing factor to salmon marine survival. Rising temperatures only mask the problem of overescapement, according to Dave Martin, president of the industry group Upper Cook Inlet Drift Association. Martin said the forecast validates the group’s long held claim that ADFG and the Board of Fisheries have let too many sockeye salmon escape over the years, which both hurts the fleet’s bottom line and future salmon returns. “It kind of goes along with what we’ve been saying all along,” he said. “You keep grossly overescaping the systems then it’ll produce smaller returns. If we managed the fishery scientifically, we wouldn’t have these ups and downs.” By “scientifically,” Martin means managing to the federal fisheries standard of maximum sustainable yield, a different metric with more economic considerations than in state management. Hall agreed. “We’ve been overescaping these rivers year after year, and you have to wonder,” he said. “I’m not a scientist, but I’ve spoken with former and retired ADFG biologists who say, ‘we can’t keep doing this, this is going to come back on us one of these days.’” Both Martin and Hall want the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which sets management playbooks for Alaska’s in-state fisheries within three miles of the shore, to use this forecast as an example of failed, allocation-driven policy making. “It’s frustrating to see this happening,” said Hall. “I just wish all these political proposals weren’t there and the biologists could just manage. But a lot of what’s happening isn’t driven by science. It’s driven by politics.” The Board of Fisheries will hold a meeting in February for Upper Cook Inlet finfish, which includes salmon. These meetings, held once every three years, are typically among the most combative and political in the state’s fisheries, and have already been the subject of heated discussions in 2016 simply around where the meeting will be held. In 2017, the Board of Fisheries will also have to deal with a recent federal court decision that will require state managers to have a federal fishery management plan and stick to the standards required by federal law. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Obama to appoint Behnken to International Pacific Halibut Commission

In a final round of appointments before his second and final term comes to a close, President Barack Obama announced on Nov. 3 his intent to appoint Linda Behnken to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Behnken is an Alaska fishing fixture and has served as an interim commissioner since July. The commission’s upcoming Nov. 29-30 meeting will be her first. She currently serves as executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, an industry group that promotes the interests of Alaska’s small boat fishermen, and formerly served three terms on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that handles all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles off the Alaska coast.  Behnken has a full schedule ahead of her, as halibut management is complex and has several issues needing fixes. “My goal there is to work with other commissioners and stakeholders to update the harvest policy for the directed fishery, rebuild stocks, and reduce bycatch,” she said in an interview with the Journal. Among other priorities, Behnken said she wants to revisit the harvest policy for halibut fishermen by expanding the range of information factored into harvest guidelines. She would prefer a harvest policy that accounts for fish of all sizes and ages instead of the current focus on fish over 32 inches, and accounts for mortality of all sizes and ages of fish. Alaska halibut stakeholders say they have high hopes for Behnken’s commissionership. “I think the industry is pretty pleased,” said Tom Gemmell, executive director of the Halibut Coalition. “She’s been a long time advocate for the industry.” Gemmell praised Behnken’s grasp of management science, and in particular her involvement with an ongoing policy overhaul involving abundance-based halibut bycatch management. “She’s always had a good grasp of the numbers,” said Gemmell. “I know she’s pretty engaged with the council process in this idea for abundance-based management and fixing this whole problem in the Bering Sea. It’s going to be a long-term process. But I think she’s got a good handle on that.” The commission, or IPHC, is a joint Canadian-U.S. body that governs halibut management in the Pacific. Three commissioners from each country sit on the commission to set quota levels for halibut fishermen and perform the science necessary to run the fishery. Obama announced Behnken’s appointment along with that of Charlie Swanton as a commissioner of the U.S. Pacific Salmon Commission, which jointly manages Canadian and U.S. salmon in Southeast and the Yukon River. “The talent and expertise these individuals bring to their roles will serve our nation well,” wrote Obama of the appointments. “I am grateful for their service, and look forward to working with them.” Behnken was already serving as interim commissioner after another halibut fisherman left the post. She took the job after commissioner Jeff Kauffman resigned. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration law enforcement had charged him with a halibut fishing violation, settled out of courts for $49,000. This is Obama’s second honor for Behnken in 2016. In October, Behnken was named a “Champion of Change” for her work “promoting sustainable fishing and improving the lives of fishermen in Alaska and around the nation.” Behnken’s appointment comes at a time when halibut managers are looking for solutions. The North Pacific fishing world has focused heavily on halibut the last several years. Stakeholders have scrutinized the dual management of halibut between the IPHC and the U.S. North Pacific Fishery Management Council as clumsy and problematic. Groundfish trawlers take halibut as incidental catch, or bycatch. Groundfish includes pollock and non-pelagic species such as Pacific cod, Arrowtooth flounder and rockfish. The North Pacific council sets the caps for how much halibut the groundfish trawlers can take, while the IPHC sets the caps for how much the directed halibut fishermen can take. The IPHC’s caps shift according to how many halibut they predict are in the sea, but the North Pacific council’s caps stay largely the same from season to season. This led to a situation in 2015 in which halibut fishermen ended up taking less halibut than the groundfish trawlers, who aren’t allowed to sell the incidentally caught fish. Behnken was one of the most vocal proponents of slashing the groundfish bycatch caps so the directed halibut fishermen could get more harvest.  The IPHC and the North Pacific council are currently working towards a solution where their management methods are more in sync and the bycatch limits will be set according to halibut abundance as the directed harvest caps are. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Halibut share prices soar

As Alaska’s iconic halibut fishery wraps up this week, stakeholders are holding their breath to learn if catches might ratchet up slightly again in 2017. Meanwhile, prices for hard to get shares of the halibut catch are jaw-dropping. The halibut fishery ended on Nov. 7 for nearly 2,000 longliners who hold IFQs, or Individual Fishing Quota, of halibut. The Alaska fishery will produce a catch of more than 20 million pounds if the limit is reached by the fleet. Last year, the halibut haul was worth nearly $110 million at the Alaska docks. For the first time in several decades the coastwide Pacific halibut harvest numbers increased this year by 2.3 percent to nearly 30 million pounds. Along with Alaska, the eight-month fishery includes the Pacific coast states and British Columbia. The feeling that the halibut resource is stabilizing and recovering after a long decline has upped the ante for shares of the catch. The fact that the dock price again hovered in the $6 to $7 a pound range all season at major ports also has fanned interest. It holds especially true for shares of Southeast Alaska fish. “Fishermen say they’re seeing some of the best fishing they’ve ever seen in their lives there, bigger fish, better production and you see that reflected in IFQ prices,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. The quota shares are sold in various categories, and the asking price for prime shares in Southeast waters has reached $70 per pound! IFQ asking prices for shares in the Central Gulf, the largest halibut fishing hole, also have increased to $60 per pound, according to several broker listings. But the buying there is not as aggressive as in the Panhandle. “They took a 5 percent cut; it’s the only area in the entire coast that didn’t stay the same or have an increase. There is still quite a bit of concern about the resource there,” he said. “And there’s still a lot of concern about other removals and possibly inaccurate accounting of bycatch.” Halibut shares in the Western Gulf sold for a record $48, Bowen said. Shares in regions of the Bering Sea were listed mostly in the mid-$20 range. The halibut fishery falls under the stewardship of the International Pacific Halibut Commission, which has set the annual coastwide catch limits based on surveys since 1923. Stakeholders will get a first glimpse of recommended catches at an upcoming IPHC meeting Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. Mum’s the word so far on any numbers for 2017. “They won’t reveal any information about how their surveys went, for better or worse, and I give them a lot of credit for that,” Bowen said, “because it would only fan the flames of speculation in the IFQ market.” On a related note: Linda Behnken of Sitka has received a presidential appointment as a Commissioner to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Behnken has been a commercial fisherman for over 30 years, and since 1991 has been Executive Director of the Alaska Longline Fisherman’s Association.  Expo time!  For 50 years, it’s been the most popular West Coast trade show for anyone who makes their living on the water. Pacific Marine Expo, dubbed Fish Expo, has bragging rights as one of the nation’s top trade shows, and it’s even bigger this year. “We are going to be 522 companies strong and 90 of them are brand new to the show. It just continues to grow,” said Denielle Christensen, Expo Director, adding that in this day of internet shopping, nothing replaces the “hands on” and networking of a real event. New to the show floor are 11 safety workshops, a Job Fair and a fishermen’s lounge. “It’s an amazing space where people can come in and see art and history and take a break from the floor,” Christensen said. Seminars include selling your own catch, emergency crew duties, marine connectivity, salmon habitat and the importance of bait. The event also feature’s National Fisherman’s popular Fishermen of the Year competition and Highliner awards Pacific Marine Expo takes place Nov. 17-19 at the Century Link Field in Seattle. Pot cod goes EM  Boats that catch cod with big pots are in the pre-implementation stage of making electronic monitoring a reality. That’s due to a steadfast push for three years by the Homer-based North Pacific Fisheries Association, or NPFA, and Saltwater Inc. of Anchorage, a leader in data collection since 1988. The EM systems can replace or augment onboard observer coverage which can cost boat owners $400 per day or more. Armed with funding by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, the partnership proved that pot cod is a fishery that fits the bill because of the way the fish is brought on board. Starting in 2013, the pot codders set out to prove that using video cameras aimed at the catch could be cost effective and clearly show what’s coming aboard. “From 2013-2015 we had up to five boats and 13,000 pot hauls. Saltwater data reviewers were able to identify 99.6 percent of the more than 55,000 catch items to a species or a species group level. It was like, wow, this works. That really caught the managers’ attention,” said Nancy Munro, Saltwater founder and president. To get required weights of both catch and discards, the fishermen devised measuring grids on their sorting tables and Saltwater created a digital ruler that snaps nose to tail images of the fish, along with software that calibrates each to length and weight. On the basis of that work, federal managers gave the go-ahead for the pot cod fleet to begin EM pre-implementation starting Jan. 1. Boats are needed to test out EM systems; all costs will be covered by the grant money. Questions? Contact Saltwater Inc. or the NPFA. Giving back  American Seafoods Company is again offering grants totaling $38,000 for community projects that address hunger relief, safety, housing, research, natural resources and cultural activities. The majority of awards range from $500 to $3,000 per organization. The deadline to submit applications is Nov. 16. The awards will be announced by a community advisory board on Dec. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Salmon permit values take a nosedive after poor year in ‘16

Values of Alaska salmon permits have taken a nosedive after a dismal fishing season for all but a few regions. “No activity for drift gillnet or seine permits in Prince William Sound…No interest in Southeast seine or troll permits…Nothing new in Area M (the Alaska Peninsula),” wrote Mike Painter of The Permit Master. And so it goes. “With the lone exception of Bristol Bay and Area M it was a pretty grim season for salmon fishermen all over the state, and we are seeing that reflected in the declining prices for salmon permits and very low demand,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. On the upside, Bristol Bay drift permits have rebounded to the $135,000 range after reaching a low of around $90,000 last fall and spring. But at this point, there’s not much interest. “I believe there are fishermen who would like to switch out, say from Cook Inlet and go to the Bay, but it’s tough to make that move,” he said, adding that “Cook Inlet drift permits aren’t selling; there are lots of them on the market for around $50,000 and no action there.” A few years ago, Prince William Sound drift gillnet permits were fetching up to around $240,000, but recent sales were in the $130,000 range or lower. “Those permits have dropped about $100,000 in a year because they’ve had a couple of bad years in a row,” Bowen said. The story is similar for seine permits in the Sound, following a disastrous pink salmon year that came in less than 25 percent of the forecast. “The market there is around $150,000 and they were up over $200,000 last year,” he added. “We don’t see much action on those, and there is no interest for Kodiak seine cards. You can see them listed in the low $30,000 range but what it would take to actually sell one – my guess is it’s something under $30,000.” In Southeast, some permit values are not down quite as much as in other areas. Drift gillnets were priced at $95,000 to $100,000 last year, with recent sales at around $80,000. Southeast seine permits, which a couple of years ago approached $325,000, recently sold at $160,000.  Bowen says it all adds up to very little optimism. “Several of these areas have had bad years back to back,” he said. “If you add it all up, there’s likely a couple hundred million dollars that did not show up in salmon this year. There’s not money floating around in the industry to buy permits, so we’re seeing a depressed market in general.” He added that many stakeholders are worried about the future of Alaska salmon fishing. “You hear people talking about the water temperature is too warm and the fish are swimming deep and going under the nets and around them, and there seems to be a lot of concern about the future, even in the near term,” Bowen said. One bright note: salmon markets are going strong so far and that could help to turn the tide. “Sales have been brisk this fall,” said Tom Sunderland, Vice President of Marketing and Communications for Ocean Beauty Seafoods. “We expect inventories to be low as we head into next season, and that should create some good market opportunities.” Bowen added that with low prices now for permits nearly across the board, it’s a good time to buy. Farmed salmon flop  Wild salmon is less nutritious because it burns up all its good fats and oils on its long journey to spawn. That’s the startling claim by professors at Stirling University in Scotland in a study showing declines in omega-3 levels in farmed salmon due to increased use of plant-based feeds. The statement brought a quick reaction from one Alaska expert. “I laughed. It’s a silly remark,” said Scott Smiley of Kodiak, a retired professor and noted zoological expert in cell and developmental biology. “A friend who is a fish nutritionist asked if the Scottish researcher was a professor of medieval literature,” he added with a laugh. Smiley added that farmed salmon, like other living creatures, are what they eat. “You can adjust the diets of farmed fish so that they have much more omega-3s. It’s just a question of cost and it is relatively expensive to do,” he explained, adding that most fish farmers now balance plant-based feeds with fish meal at critical times in the salmon’s development. Catching wild fish to feed farmed fish has fallen out of favor over the past decade, and that’s forced fish farmers to find feeds sourced from plants or synthetics. The Scottish report said that in 2006, 80 percent of the average farmed salmon’s diet in the U.K. was made up of oily fish; now it is just 20 percent. But even with the lower omega levels, farmed salmon is still better for you than wild, the Scottish researchers concluded. One million smoked salmon meals are eaten in the U.K. every week, and salmon purchases there have increased 550 percent, according to the report that is in the journal Scientific Reports. It’s hard to tell which fish overall has the highest amount of omega-3 oils because levels vary by local populations, Smiley said. “Herring off of Kodiak may have very high levels of omega-3s, but herring from some other place may have half of that. There is variation in natural populations that is really intense. And it totally depends on what they eat,” he explained. Farmed seafood is slowly gaining dominance over wild in Japan’s retail stores and are now the centerpieces of the seafood section, according to Seafood Source. The shift is driven by national supermarket chains that want to plan large-scale promotions in advance. The food service industry has long preferred farmed seafood because costs and supply are more stable, allowing for more consistent menuing and prices. Now, Japanese retailers also want that stability. Top fishing ports and fish favorites Alaska claimed the top three fishing ports for landings again last year, and in fact, led all US states in terms of seafood landings and value at six billion pounds and $1.8 billion, respectively. That’s according to the annual Fisheries of the US report for 2015 released yesterday by NOAA Fisheries. For the 19th consecutive year, Dutch Harbor led the nation in the highest amount of seafood landed at 787 million pounds valued at $218 million. And New Bedford, Mass., again had the highest valued catch — $322 million for 124 million pounds. Most of that was due to the high price of sea scallops, which accounted for 76 percent of the value of the landings in New Bedford. Kodiak ranked second for landings and the Aleutian Islands was number three, thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. In all, 13 Alaska ports made the nation’s top 50 list for landings and six were in the top ten, including the Alaska Peninsula, Naknek and Cordova. In other highlights: Alaska accounted for nearly 98 percent of all wild salmon landings, with West Coast states making up the rest. The average dock price per pound for all salmon species in Alaska was 40 cents last year, down by half from 2014. For halibut, the Pacific fishery accounted for all but 216,000 pounds of the total halibut catch. Average price to fishermen was $4.86 a pound, compared to $4.94 the previous year. U.S. landings of king crab were 17.5 million pounds, valued at nearly $99 million, increases of 5 percent and more than 15 percent, respectively. Alaska is home to the most seafood processing plants at 151, which employed more than 10,000 people. And for the third year in a row, Americans ate slightly more seafood at 15.5 pounds per person, adding nearly one pound to their diets. That’s according to the National Fisheries Institute, which each year compiles the Top 10 list of favorites based on the NOAA report that was released this week. The favorites remain pretty much the same, with shrimp topping the list — but consumption of that item has remained static at four pounds per capita. Salmon again ranked second and Americans increased their intake by more than three percent to just less than three pounds per person. That’s due in large part to more availability and lower prices at retail. Canned tuna held onto the third spot at 2.2 pounds, followed by farmed tilapia at nearly 1.4 pounds per person. Alaska pollock ranked at number five at just under one pound per capita, slightly less than in 2014. Rounding out the top ten were Pangasius, cod, crab, catfish and clams. The upward eating tick in the U.S. is good news from a public health perspective. Only one in 10 Americans follows the federal dietary guidelines to eat seafood twice a week. The global annual seafood consumption average is 44 pounds per person. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Processors working with harvesters on budget plan

Fish harvesters and processors might not agree on much, but everyone hates taxes. Commercial fishing stakeholders took turns in 2016 tearing apart a commercial fisheries tax plan from Gov. Bill Walker that the Legislature batted around during the marathon session but eventually dropped. The industry has such diverse needs and complex features that the bill couldn’t hit the revenue target without hurting one industry segment more than another. Stakeholders also objected to a holdup with a range of other industry taxes introduced by Walker. As none of the other taxes moved out of committee, House Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, tabled the fishing taxes until she could be sure the industry wouldn’t take a hit none of the other industry’s would face. Months later, Walker bundled the fisheries tax into a bill with mining and fuel taxes. The bill stalled. Fisheries stakeholders might have a fix. At an October meeting of the United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest harvester group, fishermen decided to knock heads together instead of against the legislative wall. “(Pacific Seafood Processors Association) and UFA have agreed to sit down and work together to address the tax issue that’s being put before the Legislature,” said Glenn Reed, president of the Pacific Seafood Processors Association, or PSPA. PSPA is an industry group that represents companies which control a sizable chunk of the processing facilities that ring Alaska’s coastline and serve as the harvest’s first point of market entry. PSPA was one of the more vocal critics of a commercial fisheries tax plan. Major sticking points for PSPA included a canned salmon tax that would put a dent in export business. Reed said the meeting hasn’t taken place yet pending PSPA’s own schedule needs. “I was invited to UFA’s annual meeting to talk about the tax plan we had last year and a response to the governor’s proposals,” Reed said. “In the context of that response, we and UFA committed to working together on a tax program this coming session. “The steps that need to be taken as I understand them, UFA board is going to appoint a committee, four to seven people, a handful of people, and let me know when they get that done and we’re going to start sitting down and having some discussion.” Reed clarifies that neither group is looking for increased taxes, per se. “We sat down and said, ‘What we’d really like is a world without taxes,’” he said. “But that’s not a possibility.” UFA representatives confirmed the plan and place the meeting tentatively in the first weeks of November. New fisheries taxes aim to grow roughly $15 million in new revenue. For the fishing industry, funds are a matter of survival for both ADFG, which manages fisheries, and the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which promotes Alaska’s seafood. Walker will submit his fiscal year 2018 budget in December. That budget will include another round of cuts for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Walker hinted during bill signing in Kodiak that he was looking at corporate income tax in addition to the industry taxes. So far legislators haven’t hinted at what taxes might make their way onto the floor. In the last few years, ADFG’s budget has plummeted $15 million dollars — a 30 percent decline from $50 million in fiscal year 2015 to $35 million in fiscal year 2017. Forrest Bowers, the deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division of ADFG, said the department has been told to brace for another 10 percent to 14 percent cut in Walker’s upcoming budget proposal, bringing the total unrestricted general fund allotment for ADFG to less than $30 million, nearly 40 percent less than just three years ago. ASMI cobbles together revenue from a mixture of matching state general funds and private industry payments and federal receipts. In the same timeframe, ASMI’s state funding has dropped along with ADFG’s. In fiscal year 2013, the legislature appropriated $7.8 million. In fiscal year 2017, the Legislature appropriated $2 million — slashed down from $3.8 million proposed by Walker — along with a note asking the institute to wean itself off state funds. “It is the intent of the Legislature that the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute develop a plan to phase out reliance on unrestricted general funds for seafood marketing by fiscal year 2019 and continue marketing on industry contributions,” the note reads. “Further, it is the intent of the Legislature the plan includes consideration of increasing revenue from industry contributions to maximum allowed by law and deliver a report to the Legislature not later than Jan. 1, 2017.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

What's killing Susitna sockeye salmon?

If any fish population in Upper Cook Inlet could be considered in trouble, Shell Lake’s sockeye could. The lake in the Matanuska-Susitna region, located northwest of the village of Skwentna between the Skwentna and Yentna rivers, has long supported a population of sockeye salmon. When the Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association first studied the sockeye returns there in the 1980s, the lake seemed to sustain a reasonable smolt outmigration and adult return each year. A 1989 Alaska Department of Fish and Game study indicated that the Shell Lake produced about 10 percent of the total sockeye population returning to the Susitna River. That’s not the case any more. In 2015, only three sockeye returned to the lake, according to CIAA’s counts. The total is an estimate, though, because of partial video loss from the video weir the association uses, according to its 2015 report on Shell Lake. A total of 59 smolts left the lake the same year. Compared to the lake’s historical data, the decrease is drastic. In 2006, approximately 69,800 adults returned to the lake and about 80,600 smolts outmigrated in 2007. CIAA studied the lake again around 2006 and has watched the population decline since, said Gary Fandrei, the organization’s executive director. “After a few years (of declining returns), we said if this goes on one more year, it would be doomsday for the fish population,” he said. The dwindling population has the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission alarmed enough to ask the state to step in. The commission, which represents the Mat-Su Borough on fish and wildlife issues, submitted a non-regulatory proposal to the Board of Fisheries to designate Shell Lake sockeye a stock of conservation concern, the most severe designation in the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy. The concern is that without intervention, Shell Lake’s sockeye will die out completely, said Terry Nininger, a member of the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission who also testified at the Board of Fisheries’ work session in Soldotna Oct. 18. “There’s not a lot of local angler effort except for the locals that live around the lake,” he said. “… It’s more of a concern about the fish, not about the angler effort.” There are likely a number of factors in the decline, chief of which is invasive northern pike predation. The infestation of pike in the northern Cook Inlet area is fairly well documented and pike populations have been identified in more than 100 lakes in the broader Susitna and Matanuska drainages. Though the freshwater fish are native to Alaska north and west of the Alaska Range, they are invasive in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska and can devastate salmon populations because they are voracious predators on juvenile salmonids. Individual pike have been discovered with dozens of juvenile salmon in their stomachs. CIAA, which collects eggs from returning Shell Lake sockeye, rears them to smolt in its Moose Pass-based Trail Lakes Hatchery and returns them to be released in the lake, also nets the pike for population control. However, because of the nature of netting, they catch mostly the larger pike while the younger, smaller pike are still a problem, Fandrei said. There have also been problems with two diseases that affect salmon and beaver dams blocking passage. Though the diseases, both caused by parasites, seemed to have abated for a little while, they were detected again this summer, he said. CIAA regularly surveys the area and creates notches in beaver dams that could be blocking fish passage, he said. More fish returned this summer — approximately 215 according to a record copy Nininger submitted to the Board of Fisheries — and CIAA was able to collect eggs again, Fandrei said. However, when fish populations dwindle down to a certain point, they can’t sustain themselves, he said. “(The egg-take and stocking effort was) an effort to save the gene pool, to keep the gene pool alive in that stock of fish,” Fandrei said. “We had seen a very small number of fish coming back. Less than 10 fish might just be strays that wander up there from somewhere.” The Mat-Su Fish and Wildlife Commission wants to see the state switch the designation to a stock of conservation concern and restrict harvest on the sockeye stock across the board for all user groups: commercial, sportfishing and personal-use, as well as a more aggressive program to deal with the pike infestation, Nininger said. “If the department decided to take a step of making it a conservation concern, they could restrict the fish harvest both commercially and the fish going up that stream both for sport fishing and personal use,” he said. “They could restrict the catch … and that would certainly help.” Through the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy, Fish and Game designates stocks of concern if a particular fish population fails to meet its management goals. There are three categories: yield concern, management concern and conservation concern. There are currently 13 stocks of concern statewide, according to Fish and Game’s website, and eight are in Cook Inlet. The Shell Lake stock would be the only one of conservation concern in the state. The challenge would be for Fish and Game to determine how to reduce harvest on those sockeye specifically, especially in the marine fishery, where set gillnet and drift gillnet fishermen can harvest sockeye of mixed stocks. Fish and Game has conducted genetic studies on the mixed stocks of sockeye salmon in Cook Inlet, but a conservation concern designation would come with additional restrictions. The Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission also asked the Board of Fisheries to consider upping the stock of concern designations on the Susitna River sockeye salmon stock from yield concern to management concern, though the Central Peninsula Fish and Game Advisory Committee asked for the Board of Fisheries to repeal the stock of yield concern designation on the Susitna River sockeye stock, saying the designation was based on a faulty sonar estimate and repealing the designation would open up more commercial fishing. The Matanuska Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee also asked for upgrades on multiple king salmon stocks of concern. A recent court ruling has thrown a wrench into state management of Cook Inlet’s marine fisheries as well. A three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the United Cook Inlet Drift Association in a lawsuit over the 2011 removal of several Alaska salmon fisheries from the federal fishery management plan. No decision has yet been made on how the fishery will proceed next season. Both Nininger and Fandrei said the stock of conservation concern on Shell Lake’s sockeye salmon could help bring needed attention to the issue, and both said the conditions should be better studied. “We feel the state needs to raise awareness across the board,” Nininger said. “There’s a variety of different ways that could be approached. We are concerned that the management concern level isn’t getting the attention it needs.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Changing climate could help or harm salmon

A changing climate is altering rain and snowfall patterns that affect the waters Alaska salmon call home, for better or worse. A first of its kind study now details the potential changes for Southeast Alaska, and how people can plan ahead to protect the fish. One-third of Alaska’s salmon harvest each year comes from fish produced in the 17,000 miles of streams in the Tongass rainforest. More than 50 species of animals feed on spawning salmon there, and one in 10 jobs is supported by salmon throughout the region. “Global climate change may become one of the most pressing challenges to Pacific Salmon conservation and management for Southeast Alaska in the 21st Century,” begins a report called “Climate Change Sensitivity Index for Pacific Salmon Habitat in Southeast Alaska” by Colin Shanley and David Albert of The Nature Conservancy. “In general, the global climate models are saying the wetter places in the world are likely to get wetter and the dryer places are going to get dryer,” said Shanley, who works as a conservation planner and GIS analyst in Juneau. “This is not a doom-and-gloom outlook,” Shanley stressed. “This is really just getting smarter about how climate change may play out and how it might affect resources that are valuable to us.” Shanley studied nearly a half-century’s records of 41 water gauge stations at Southeast watersheds to model future projections on how flow patterns might change. He said watersheds fed by snow packs will likely experience the biggest impacts. “Some of the watersheds that are super steep and fed by snow driven catchments are going to see some of the biggest changes. They might not all be bad, but those are the ones that showed some of the largest changes in flow,” he said. On the other hand, glacial fed waters could provide new and better salmon systems. “In Southeast, Southcentral and Prince William Sound there are a lot of glacial fed systems that salmon use and some that salmon haven’t colonized yet. As glaciers shrink and melt, there is some opportunity to create new, and in some cases, better habitat,” he explained. “Some of those glacial systems are really big rivers, so there are definitely opportunities for some shifts in productivity.” Watersheds that are in good shape should be fairly resilient, Shanley said. For waters adjacent to roads and culverts that have changed historically, the conservancy plans to do restoration projects, such as making sure there is adequate drainages and adding trees and stumps. “The wood slows down the water so that can help with higher water levels, and it also provides pools and shade and protection from predators,” Shanley said. More new research by the Oregon-based Wild Salmon Center, or WSC, also provides a glimpse of how a flooded future could hurt salmon in Southeast and other Alaska regions. Salmon spawn in streams in the fall and eggs develop through the winter, so increased winter flooding could potentially scour their eggs from streambeds and harm the next generations of fish, said WSC science director Matthew Sloat. In collaboration with the U.S. Forest Service, Sloat modeled the possible flood disturbances on coho, chum and pink salmon spawning habitats in over 800 Southeast watersheds. They found that as much as 16 percent of the spawning habitat for coho salmon could be lost by the 2080s primarily in narrower, steeper streams. The effects were lower for pink and chum salmon, which spawn almost exclusively in low sloping floodplain streams. Somewhat surprisingly, the study shows that the overall risk of flood impacts to salmon reproduction in Southeast Alaska appears much lower than previously thought. That’s due to the relatively pristine condition of the area's rivers and floodplains, according to Sloat. "Flood plains act as pressure release valves that can dissipate the energy of large floods," he said. "Our results identify key parts of watersheds that, if protected, will continue to buffer salmon populations from flood disturbance in the future.” Find the WSC report online at GlobalChange Biology Tanner tanks The popular January Tanner crab fishery has been cancelled for the fourth year in a row at the Westward Region, meaning Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula. During the last fishery, a fleet of 80 or more small boats took a combined catch of about three million pounds of crab worth several million dollars to the region. But annual surveys showed the numbers of both legal sized males and females don’t meet the minimums to allow for a fishery. “We don’t seem to be having a problem making small crab. The problem seems to be getting enough of them to a legal size where we can have a fishery,” said Nat Nichols, shellfish manager at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Kodiak. It takes six to seven years for Tanner crab to reach their mature, two-pound size. Kodiak is seeing slight crab increases, especially at the east and southeast districts, Nichols said, but it’s slow going. At Chignik, Tanner crab abundance estimates were the lowest in the survey time series that dates back to 1988. At the Western Peninsula, the stock remains in decline and the bulk of the crab were heavily localized in just two areas of one bay. Biologists point to a warming ocean and predation as the likely causes of the crab declines. “We are seeing increases in skates, small halibut, cod and pollock in near shore, so I think it’s fair to look at increased predation as a reason why we don’t have these small crabs making it to legal size,” Nichols said. Nichols added that he has confidence in the annual surveys, and for several years biologists have gone beyond the standard survey grid, thanks to funding from the Aleutians East Borough. “The results of those additional tows indicate that there are small bits of crab everywhere you look,” Nichols said, “but we haven’t found a large portion that indicates we’re missing them wholesale.” By the way — Tanner crab is spelled with a capitol T because it is named after discoverer Zera Luther Tanner, commander of the research vessel Albatross which explored Alaska waters in the late 1800s. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit for information

Board of Fisheries addresses Agenda Change Requests

SOLDOTNA — On the second day of its worksession in Soldotna on Wednesday, the Board of Fisheries discussed a number of agenda change requests, or ACRs — requests for fisheries regulations submitted outside the regular cycles — to take up at its upcoming meetings this winter. The ACRs addressed issues around the state, not just the fisheries that have their regular cycles this winter. The Board of Fisheries chose not to take up an agenda change request related to limiting the size of boats in the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery in this cycle. Three of the 12 ACRs submitted would affect Cook Inlet fisheries, and only one was accepted. ACR 1, which would align regulations for sportfishing services and sportfishing guide services in saltwater with those in statute and update freshwater guide registration and reporting regulations, was accepted and applies statewide. The proposal came up because of a bill passed by the Legislature in 2015, HB 41, which re-establishes the licensing and logbook program for guides around the state and updates the logbook reporting requirements and fees. For the 2017 season, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s registration requirements are out of alignment with the law. “Current regulations require sport fishing businesses and guides operating in fresh and salt water to registered with the department but do not include provisions to implement licensing as required in HB41,” the proposal states. “As a result, current sport fishing business and guide regulations are in conflict with statute.” The Board of Fisheries moved to accept the request because it meets the criteria for an unforeseen consequence of regulation, in this case, from the state. The Legislature has made efforts to update these laws over the years, and this law is a first step, said Reed Morisky, a member of the Board of Fisheries. “It’s got a long, long history, and the Legislature has done various fixes over the years, but there’s still effort in the Legislature to have a longer term solution with this, and I believe that by passing this ACR, we will be headed in that direction,” Morisky said. Accepting the ACR doesn’t mean the regulations will change — it only means the board will discuss it as a formal proposal at a meeting. Newly elected board chairman John Jensen suggested taking it up at the Lower Cook Inlet meeting in Homer, scheduled for the end of November, in order to get the regulations in place by January. Since HB 41 has a sunset date built into it, anything the board passes should also have a sunset date built in, Morisky said. The board declined to take up two Cook Inlet-specific ACRs, one that would have limited the types of boats to be used in the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery and the other to remove the net depth restriction for drift gillnet commercial fishing vessels in the Central District of Cook Inlet. The first was proposed because of the number of boats that get swamped near the Kenai City Dock, where many boats of different sizes interact. At least five private boats were swamped this summer, with some needing assistance from the Kenai Fire Department boat that patrols those waters. Several board members said the public safety concerns about the personal-use fishery were legitimate, but the ACR did not meet the criteria to be accepted past the deadline for regular proposals. Board member Sue Jeffrey said she would like to see it discussed and said she might consider a board-generated proposal to address the public safety concerns arising in that fishery. “I think the issue brought up here is important enough,” she said. “It sounds like the (Kenai River dipnet fishery) ... has increased in disorderliness. I’m saying disorderly because it sounds like a mess of a lot of boats going in and out and I think that this is worth discussing more.” Morisky said he understood the public safety risk in the fishery but that a board-generated proposal would likely generate controversy. Board-generated proposals can come up during the regular Upper Cook Inlet meeting, which will be held in Anchorage at the end of February 2017, and do not require public comment before passing. Jeffrey said if the board does come up with its own proposal, the public will have a chance to weigh in on it. The board also denied the agenda change request to lengthen commercial fishing driftnets beyond 45 meshes. The board denied it unanimously, with several members saying it was essentially a late proposal and that the net-depth issue would come up in the regular meeting in February. Board member Orville Huntington said he was also concerned that lengthening nets could interfere with the migration of king salmon, which have been shown to swim deeper than other salmon species. The board did choose to take up one other ACR related to a subsistence harvest limit for sockeye salmon near Unalaska. The Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Fish and Game Advisory Committee asked the board to reduce the limit because of concerns for the fish stocks in a portion of the beach known as Front Beach. Fish and Game does not monitor the sockeye salmon escapement in that system, but the fact that the proposal came from the local advisory committee carried weight, several board members said. Board member Israel Payton said he would give it more credence because the local advisory committee was petitioning to reduce their own limits. “For a community to ask for a reduction of their own subsistence harvest is pretty substantial,” he said. “I take that seriously.” The board recessed for the evening with two ACRs left to consider and will continue its work in Soldotna Thursday, discussing miscellaneous business and non-regulatory proposals. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Budget cuts take big bite out of herring harvest

The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is buckling under deep budget cuts, and now the state’s largest herring fishery is feeling the squeeze. ADFG has canceled vital abundance studies and surveys for several fisheries, meaning fishermen won’t get to prosecute the full amount of otherwise healthy stocks. Last year, based on 17,337 tons harvested in all Togiak herring fisheries and an average price of $100 per ton, the total ex-vessel value for the Togiak herring fishery was $1.52 million. The season allowed for a harvest of over 32,000 tons. This year’s harvest will be less. ADFG will allow for a harvest of 26,170 tons, or 57.6 million pounds, of a forecasted biomass of 287.9 million pounds. Al Chaffe, a processor working herring in the region since 1985, laments that what looked like healthy season was curtailed. “Things look fine,” he said. “It probably should be 15, 20, 25 percent higher. It’s cyclical, but it seems that survival in the Bering Sea is just strong.” The harvest would have likely been larger, but budget cuts forced ADFG to trim it. Typically, ADFG uses an age structure assessment model to estimate herring biomass. “Because that data is no longer available to us, we forecast the 2017 biomass as the average spawning biomass for all years for which we have data (1978-2015) less 10 percent in order to be conservative,” according to an Oct. 10 ADFG release. Across the state, herring fishermen should get used to the adjustment. “Statewide, except for Sitka, all herring monitoring funds have been cut,” said Bert Lewis, ADFG’s Bristol Bay and Prince William Sound salmon/herring fisheries management coordinator. “For Togiak, that means out aerial survey budget was cut. “That was used to document the aerial biomass, that determines whether we have the fishery, and it also cut our age and size data collection, which is what goes into the model that tells us the forecast. So we don’t have the age composition and the size at age data anymore.” By regulation, herring fishermen are allowed 20 percent of the biomass as estimated by the age composition studies. This year’s measurement of the long-term biomass average — minus 10 percent as a conservation buffer — will be less than normal. “Ultimately, this will mean over the long term that less fish will be harvested, I think it’s safe to say,” said Lewis. “And next year we will be coming up with some kind of recommendation on how to prosecute this fishery at some lower level we’ll feel comfortable with but there will probably have to be some regulatory change.” Budget cuts The Alaska state budget deficit of more than $3 billion is hitting Alaska’s fisheries where it hurts most: surveys and abundance estimates. More, and more valuable, fisheries than herring will feel the sting. ADFG operates mostly on unrestricted general funds from the state coffers, explained Department of Revenue Tax Division Director Ken Alper. In the last few years, ADFG’s budget has plummeted $15 million dollars — a 30 percent decline. In fiscal year 2015, ADFG’s general fund allocation was $50 million. In fiscal year 2016 that number dropped to $40 million, then to $35 million in fiscal year 2017. The number will likely fall again next year. Forrest Bowers, the deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division of ADFG, said the department has been told to brace for another 10 percent to 14 percent cut in Gov. Bill Walker’s upcoming budget proposal, scheduled for release in December, bringing the total unrestricted general fund allotment for ADFG to less than $30 million, nearly 40 percent less than just three years ago. Along with herring abundance estimates, 75 different ADFG projects took cuts totaling $3.5 million in fiscal year 2017, including several salmon related projects These cuts include: Susitna River weirs, $52,500; Upper Cook Inlet offshore test fishery, $71,300; Salmon River weir in Aniak, $129,000; regional sonar support for Central region, $74,000. For salmon fisheries, the Igushik and Togiak weirs in Bristol Bay and the Coghill weir in Prince William Sound have been cut. Partial salmon aerial surveys in Southeast Alaska — a $119,000 cut — were offset with transfer funds. Some of the slashed projects have supplements attached to them. Bristol Bay catch sampling moved to a cost recovery model. Budget Band-Aids Without an increase in legislative appropriations for ADFG, stakeholders like Chaffe fear a slippery slope in which direct industry funding misleads legislators into further and further cuts. Still, he can’t see another way. “ADFG has to be funded, be it by the stakeholders or the government, one or the other,” said Chaffe. There are no funds that go directly to the broad purpose of fisheries management for the Commercial Fisheries Division. “The majority of our cuts are from the general fund,” said Lewis. “There’s very little tax on fisheries. If it goes into the general fund, it doesn’t mean it’s going back to ADFG. There may be taxes on fish, but it does not mean the department is gaining or losing. There’s no guarantee the (Legislature) is going to allocate back to the department.” This is unlike other divisions in ADFG, which have direct funding sources. “Sportfish and wildlife both get these designated funds from license fees. The commercial fisheries doesn’t have any comparable linkage to the state’s commercial fish taxes,” said Alper. “The other fish- and game-related taxes are all designated — the enhancement tax, the marksman tax, the fisheries assessment tax — these are taxes that for the most part users have accepted voluntarily and goes towards some specific function.” Even without a guarantee of return, new taxes on the fishing industry are uncertain. Alper said Walker hasn’t yet proposed a new commercial fisheries tax increase bill as he did in the 2016 Legislative session, though he did mention the administration expects such bills from individual legislators.   Lewis acknowledges that ADFG managers have no real options except cost recovery fisheries, in which processors catch fish and funnel the money directly back to ADFG, or direct support from the industry. The former is not popular. “We’re basically harvesting fish that otherwise would be available to the common property fishery,” said Lewis. “We do not relish doing it.” In addition to being an unpopular option, herring isn’t the most lucrative of catches and may not even help the budget situation. “It really doesn’t work out in the herring fishery because of the economics,” said Chaffe. “You can’t afford to pay the state and the fishermen both.” Direct industry support, however, has provided some relief in certain fisheries. Processors banded together in 2016 to pay for ADFG’s slashed aerial herring survey so managers could prove there were enough fish to open the season at all. In Prince William Sound, the Coghill weir was funded by private parties. “We put out a ($250,000) bid to processors, and last year we did not have to fill that bid because (the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association) stepped up and paid that. They determined that those fish were better left harvested by the fleet and just paid it rather than have the process pay for harvesting projects through a bid process,” Lewis said. If the money keeps bleeding out of ADFG’s budget, though, industry isn’t happy about being stuck with the bill. “It just goes back to the slippery slope,” Chaffe said. “User fees, I guess. As we all know, the real problem is in the Legislature. Or we’ll have more situations like this.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Public gets open mic at first day of fish board meeting

SOLDOTNA — Fishermen and the fisheries-inclined turned out by the dozens Tuesday for an open hearing before the Board of Fisheries to air their concerns on a host of issues. The Board of Fisheries, preparing to enter its 2016-2017 cycle, is holding a work session in Soldotna this week to discuss Agenda Change Requests and non-regulatory proposals and to take public comments. When the session was scheduled in October 2014, the board set aside an entire day for fishermen to make public comments on any issue they wanted to address. Title 16 Commenters spoke on a variety of issues, but several recurred throughout the day. The issue that received the most comments, both for and against, was a non-regulatory proposal requesting the Board of Fisheries to lobby the Legislature to update the state fish habitat permitting process to include specific criteria from the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy. The proposal, authored by a collection of commercial, subsistence and sport fishermen from all around the Cook Inlet region, asks that the Legislature update Title 16 — the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s fish habitat permit regulations — to more specifically define what constitutes the protection of fish and game. Currently, the law states that the ADFG commissioner should issue permits unless the activity is deemed insufficient for the protection of fish, but the law doesn’t clearly define what sufficient protection is. Willow King, one of the proposal’s 12 authors and a setnetter from Kasilof, urged the board to send the Legislature a letter supporting the proposal. “I find that the references to protecting fish and game in water are vague,” King said. “... What is beneficial to finances isn’t always beneficial to fish. And salmon have enough trials to go through.” The parameters for Title 16 do not require a public notice and comment period for fish habitat permits. Several people testified Tuesday that they want the public to have a chance to weigh in on fish habitat permits as well, like Mike Wood, another of the proposal authors and a setnetter near the mouth of the Susitna River. He said one of the reasons he supports the proposal is the proposed Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, which would have dammed the Susitna River above Devil’s Canyon to produce hydroelectricity. The project received wide criticism from residents and fishing advocates, and Gov. Bill Walker announced in June that the project would go on hiatus. “I think that a closer look at our state’s sustainable salmon proposal could help provide better guidelines to keep large projects such as Susitna Hydro from even going to the point that they did,” Wood said. Other supporters wanted the state to take an “anadromous until proven otherwise” attitude toward the state waters. Sam Snyder, engagement director for the Alaska chapter of Trout Unlimited, testified to the board that because only a portion of the state’s waters are catalogued, ADFG should assume that streams are anadromous when issuing fish habitat permits if not catalogued. The law also has too much ambiguity for how the commissioner could define the proper protection of fish and game, he said. “Luckily, so far, we’re not a part of the story that faces the Lower 48, where they’re spending billions of dollars to restore trout and salmon habitat degraded by bad habitat management, overpopulation, large disruptive dams and other impactful projects,” Snyder said. “In Alaska, while there are habitat issues in the more populated areas of the state, we again largely avoided those issues. If we can keep habitat intact, we can really work to maintain healthy fisheries.” A few testified in opposition to the proposal as well. Andrew Couch represented the Mat-Su Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee, a citizen group that provides feedback on fish and game issues to the state, and said the group opposes the proposal because members feel they do not have enough information on it and it could potentially make some activities, like gold mining, more arduous. “Several members expressed they had inadequate time to review this proposal — it was not included in the public proposal book,” Couch said. Mat-Su stocks Several people also brought up the issue of declining sockeye stocks in the Susitna River drainage. The Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission submitted three proposals asking for the stock of concern levels for certain stocks of sockeye salmon to be elevated, and for six stocks of king salmon to be designated as stocks of yield concern. Within the Alaska Sustainable Salmon Fisheries Policy, ADFG has several levels of stock concern for declining salmon populations — stocks of yield concern, stocks of management concern and stocks of conservation concern, with conservation concern being the most restrictive on harvest. One of the stocks the Mat-Su Borough Fish and Wildlife Commission is most concerned about is the Shell Lake sockeye salmon stock. Terry Nininger of Wasilla, a member of the commission, urged the board to support the stock designation. Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association, which monitors escapement in the lake, reported that only three adult salmon passed the weir at Shell Lake in 2015, as compared to 69,800 in 2006, according to a March 2016 report. ADFG has rarely used the stock of conservation concern designation, but “the Shell Lake issue is unique,” Nininger wrote in his public comments to the board. Pike predation, disease and beaver dams are primary reasons for the decline, but harvest should still be reduced to help aid the stock’s recovery, he said. “In the short term, this may compromise the interest of sport and personal use fishermen and commercial fishermen, but in the long run, it’s the only action that will return this fishery to its original, natural state,” Nininger said in his testimony to the board Tuesday. Couch, testifying on behalf of the Mat-Su Valley Fish and Game Advisory Committee, said the members also support the stock of concern designations. Bairdi crabs Another issue that several participants commented on was the closure of the bairdi Tanner crab fishery for the 2016–2017 season, which ADFG announced Oct. 5 because of concerns about the biomass of female crabs. A 2016 survey showed that mature female biomass fell below the acceptable threshold, closing the fisheries both east and west of the designated middle line, denoted at the 166 degree longitude line. The board can decide to take up the issue at this work session. The Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Fish and Game Advisory Committee submitted a record copy to the Board of Fisheries asking it to reconsider the harvest policy so the fishery can remain open, criticizing ADFG’s harvest strategy methods and saying the method should be re-evaluated before closing the fishery. Leonard Herzog of Homer asked for the board to generate a proposal to reopen the Tanner fishery. Though the fishery on the eastern side of the line has declined “precipitously,” the stock on the west side is still relatively abundant, he said. The fishery targets mostly old-shell males, he said. “It’s really unclear whether or not they’re a help to the future of the resource or not because the females are all clutched and they’re not affecting the female population,” Herzog said. Josiah Johnson, a commercial fisherman, also urged the board to reopen the crab fishery this year and to re-evaluate the abundance in the fishery. “There was a lot of crab last year, and I was really surprised to see that all of a sudden there was going to be no fishery this year,” Johnson said. “... I just know that when we fished the western Pribilof section last year, they looked really good. There was a lot of crab out there.” The board will discuss the non-regulatory proposals and agenda change requests during its Wednesday and Thursday sessions. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Crabbers holding out hope for high prices after cuts

Despite a grim beginning to the season, members of the crab industry are holding out hope for high prices and a late fishery. The Alaska Board of Fisheries hasn’t yet decided whether to review harvest guidelines for Eastern Bering Sea Tanner crab and potentially open the season in January or earlier, or leave the fishery closed entirely for the next two years. Meanwhile, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cut the quota for snow crab by 50 percent and for Bristol Bay red king crab by15 percent. Despite the cuts, crab industry stakeholders say the season for Bristol Bay red king crab is moving along at more than a healthy clip. “Some good news from the grounds, the crab look good. They’re heavy. There’s a lot of small crab, females. Folks are seeing pots just plugged with crab — so full they can’t get another one in,” said Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, a crab harvesting cooperative with 188 members that together harvest 70 percent of Alaska’s crab. Jacobsen said that given the density of the fishing, he wonders why the surveys that measure abundance didn’t pick anything up.“The reports I’ve got, maybe the people who aren’t doing so well don’t say anything,” he said. “There’s a lot of very optimistic reports from the grounds. I’m not sure what happened with the survey last summer.” Prices Always a costly product, the sharply reduced Alaska crab quota will surely raise prices, though nobody will know by how much until the season wraps up and processors set prices. The average dockside price paid to fishermen for bairdi Tanner, snow crab, and Bristol Bay red king crab from 1985 to 2015 is $2.17, $1.37 and $5.08 per pound, respectively, and have been rising for snow and red king crab over the same timeline. Wholesale and retail rates climb higher.  Jacobsen said, “we are looking forward to what will be record prices for king crab,” which would be more than the $10 per pound received in 2011. Tyson Fick, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, said he expects prices to rise due to such a supply cut, but that he isn’t sure to what extent. Due to the lower quota, crabbers will have trouble making the fishery fiscally solvent. Even with a big spike in prices, the ex-vessel prices paid to crabbers won’t likely make up for the quota declines. “People are certainly expecting strong pricing,” Fick said. “It’s a substantial hit…but it would take a pretty amazingly strong price to make up for that.” However, Fick said the Alaska brand won’t suffer under the high prices justified by premium quality. “I will say this about high prices, and we’ve seen this with other species,” said Fick, “when the fish goes in to the market at higher prices, all our consumer polling shows that people don’t really remember paying a high price, they remember the quality experience.” Prices could fluctuate in response to foreign crab as well. Unlike the U.S., Russia increased its crab quota 20 percent to 30 percent for the 2017 season. The U.S. market not only still imports Russian crab, but much of the domestic product marketed in the U.S. as Alaska crab is in fact repackaged illegal, unreported or unregulated crab from Russian waters. Survey questions Bristol Bay red king crab are one of a trio of main North Pacific crab stocks, and by far the most valuable on a per pound basis at the dock. Jacobsen’s puzzlement regarding the red king crab survey is a toned-down version of an ongoing dialogue about survey methods for opilio, or snow crab, and bairdi Tanner crab, the other two large crab stocks. “The models need to be scrutinized pretty closely,” Jacobsen said. “I’m not sure how valid they are. We’d like somebody to take a good hard look at the models and make sure they’re appropriate for what we’re doing.” Unlike red king crab, which has stayed at a fairly steady harvest level over the past half decade, snow crab harvests have varied wildly from year to year, from a height of 89 million pounds in the 2012 season to 40.6 million pounds last year and 20 million this year. Crab is jointly managed between the federal and Alaska governments. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, performs abundance surveys each summer before the winter crab fishery begins. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore, approves the over fishing limits and acceptable biological catches for each of six crab stocks based on the conclusions of the council’s Scientific and Statistical Committee, or SSC. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game then sets the total allowable catch, or TAC, and manages the fishery directly. It cannot set harvests above the limits established by the North Pacific council, but can and has set them lower than what has been approved by the SSC. This year, the federal survey looks screwy to the crabbers, particularly with the more geographically and biologically complex snow crab. Warming ocean temperatures and other factors could be creating a situation in which there could potentially be more crab to fish than allowed for by federal and state managers. “The question is, and the question we had across all of our stocks, was whether or not these extremely warm temps are affecting our abundance estimates,” explained Bob Foy, the laboratory director for the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Kodiak, a research arm of NOAA. Temperature trends have gone up and down in the North Pacific. The fluctuation matches patterns in snow crab abundance. “We had the coldest year on record in 2012,” said Foy. “We had one of the warmest years on record in 2016. We’ve had steady warming between then, so the question is there any trend in all of our stocks? “With snow crab, in particular, we saw an increase in stock biomass just after the cooling years and a steady decrease in the last few years.” Snow crab survey sites straddle a border in the central Bering Sea near St. Matthew Island. The warmer water could be pushing the cold-loving crab north of the survey sites, leading to something like a false positive for declining abundance. Foy said he understands crabbers concerns about cuts in the face of what could be healthy abundance, but also said they probably aren’t missing much. Colder waters often produce crab smaller than the legal harvestable size anyway, and much of them are buried beneath ice sheets crabbers can’t get through. “I don’t think that when it comes to setting our quotas that we’re missing a bunch of crab,” Foy said. “We know that they’re not in deeper waters because we did a survey this year on the slope and we did not see a bunch of missing snow crab.” In the coming year, Foy said NOAA plans to study the issue more closely. “Next year we’re starting a new survey that will extend our existing survey all the way through the Bering Sea to St. Lawrence Island,” he said. “That will occur every other year for awhile. That will ultimately let us know who’s on that border, who’s over the border, and whether or not it affects our mature biomass.” Harvest guidelines Crabbers place some of the snow crab quota cuts at the feet of the federally-managed abundance estimates, but with Tanner crab they take issue with the state. Tanner crab was one of two stocks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted as having a decline in biomass. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds. This year, surveys charted a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. It is the female crab abundance that cancelled the fishery, rather than the overall biomass directly. According to the survey, there isn’t enough female crab in the sea for the Tanner crab fishery to open, despite the fact that the overall Bairdi stock itself is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, according to federal definitions. This is a marked departure form last year’s increased quota. In 2015, a total of 19.67 million pounds of Tanner crab was harvested, compared to 15.1 million pounds in 2014. However, the crab industry thinks ADFG’s harvest policy is an outdated holdover from a stock rebuilding program that is no longer relevant. In a Sept. 8 emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, industry stakeholders requested that the board revisit the harvest policy so the Tanner crab fishery can open. Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt, St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers science advisor Ruth Christiansen signed the petition. Among other proposed changes to the harvest policy, stakeholders argue that the Tanner crab fishery is the only crab stock tied to the biomass of mature females, while the other stocks chart a combination of male and female. “A female-only threshold makes little sense for commercial fisheries specifically designed and executed to harvest only mature male crab,” the petition states. Further, stakeholders think the survey results themselves do not accurately reflect biomass, as static survey results taken during the warm summer months do not match the winter-driven catches of the mobile crab fleet, which has seen a rising amount of Tanner crab per pot in recent years. Managers also divide the Bering Sea Tanner crab fishery into eastern and western sections, which crabbers say is inconsistent ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten denied the petition, saying the situation does not meet the criteria for an emergency, which requires a conservation concern. An emergency criteria can also be met if a harvestable surplus will go uncaught because of a regulation, such as the state strategy for Tanner crab. Christiansen sent a second letter directly to Alaska Board of Fisheries Executive Director Glenn Haight with another emergency request, appealing Cotten’s decision. Late Tanner fishery? If two board members agree to take up the matter at the next board meeting in October, and if it decides to grant the petition, the Tanner crab fishery could potentially open late. If not, the fishery will stay closed for the next two years. Crab stock has to meet the minimum threshold for two consecutive years before managers can open the fishery again. Crab industry stakeholders requested ADFG rewrite the harvest plan, but without a conservation concern ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten denied the request. In an appeal, the crabbers wrote a second emergency request directly to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, asking the board revamp the plan. “There is some hope still that there could be a fishery, a curtailed fishery, for bairdi (Tanner) crab,” Fick said. That hope, however, hasn’t come to life just yet. Haight, the executive director of the Board of Fisheries, said board members haven’t moved on the issue. “None have asked me to call a meeting yet,” he said. “I haven’t heard from anything on it.” Depending on the board’s will, it could call an emergency meeting or potentially take up the issue at a regular board meeting. Aside from an Oct. 18-20 work session in Soldotna, the board will hold its next meetings Nov. 30-Dec. 3 and again Jan. 10-13 to discuss Lower Cook Inlet and Kodiak finfish, respectively. Jacobsen still has faith in a late season opener, though he hasn’t heard anything definite yet. Swings are the norm in Alaska crab fisheries, and he’s learned to roll with the waves. “I’ve heard different things from industry,” he said. “There’s some optimism there, and hopefully it’s well founded optimism. There’s still hope. We always have hope. We’ve certainly experiences setbacks before. It’s nothing new. We’ve had closures of seasons before. In the long term we’re pretty optimistic. That’s why we keep doing it, I guess.” DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet fishermen wait for direction

Concerned fishermen gathered at the North Pacific Fishery Management Council’s October meeting in Anchorage to discuss a recent federal court decision that turns control of salmon fisheries in Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and the Alaska Peninsula over to state management. Though stakeholders brought their suggestions, the council did not direct its staff to any action related to the subject of a salmon FMP. Instead, the council reiterated that the decision will be remanded back to the lower court where it could either be appealed or produce a directive for the council to write a salmon FMP.  The North Pacific Fishery Management Council governs federal fisheries, which take place from three to 200 miles offshore. In 2013, industry group United Cook Inlet Drift Association, or UCIDA, filed a lawsuit  to repeal a 2011 council decision, which became Amendment 12 to the Alaska salmon fishery management plan, or FMP. The initial suit was rejected by U.S. Alaska District Court Judge Timothy Burgess in September 2014. A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit unanimously remanded the case back to Burgess with instructions to find in favor the plaintiffs. Dave Martin, president of UCIDA, pressed for a committee of salmon stakeholders to help draft a salmon FMP. “I think it’ll work here as far as getting the plan developed, and the parties involved, we’d gladly be involved in this process. We need to have people on there that are sincere about the management plans,” said Martin.“In the interim, we’ll probably have to come up with something between now and next season.” “We’d like to work with you to make sure there are no negative, unintended consequences of this decision,” said ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten in response. Cotten insists the state doesn’t need federal guidelines for what is a fishery prosecuted mainly by Alaska fishermen. The state’s drift fishermen show little faith in the state’s ability to run the fishery. “Over the past four years, there have been major fishery disasters declared in Alaska: Yukon & Kuskokwim Chinook, Cook Inlet Chinook as well as Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet, Chignik and Kodiak Pinks,” wrote John McCombs, president of Cook Inlet Fisherman’s Fund, which co-filed the lawsuit with UCIDA.  “Collectively, the chinook and pink salmon disasters cover the majority of the state-managed fisheries. There is simply no justification for these systemic, state-wide salmon fishery disasters. The notion that the State of Alaska is doing a great job of managing salmon is hollow and is not supported by these reoccurring salmon run disasters.” Cook Inlet fishermen unconnected to the lawsuit offered similar testimony. Arni Thompson, executive director of the Alaska Salmon Alliance, agreed, and said the state needs federal guidelines to revive fisheries. “State management plans in Cook Inlet now result in only about two percent of pink salmon stocks being harvested, about six percent of chum salmon stocks being harvested and about 10 percent of coho stocks being harvested,” wrote Thompson in a letter of public comment. “Surplus Chinook and sockeye are harvested at a higher rate but there is an unharvested surplus of all stocks that could generate additional tens of millions of dollars annually to the regional and state economies.” Others came before the council not for commercial fisheries purposes but for ecological concerns. Bob Shavelson, executive director of habitat conservation non profit Cook Inlet Keeper, used the opportunity to tell the council it could use a salmon FMP to protect the Cook Inlet watershed from the “death by a thousand cuts that’s resulted in the demise of fisheries in other places.” “I think there’s wonderful opportunity for public engagement,” Shavelson said. “Where I see people coming together is around the issue of habitat. Without habitat you don’t have an allocation.” The Magnuson-Stevens Act, or MSA, requires all federal fisheries to follow a series of guidelines, called the National Standards. The council has to consider factors like best available science, the economic health of coastal communities, and a principle called maximum sustainable yield. Several fisheries meetings at the state and federal level will take place between now and the beginning of the 2017 salmon season. If the North Pacific council decides not to appeal, it will need an operational FMP by the beginning of the 2017 salmon season and will likely need to collaborate with the Alaska Board of Fisheries, which manages fisheries within three miles off the Alaska shore. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Candidates talk fish in Kodiak

At a forum sponsored by some of the North Pacific’s most powerful fishing trade organizations, four congressional hopefuls lined up in Kodiak on Oct. 12 to field questions on the commercial fishing industry. For incumbent Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, it served as an opportunity to remind fishermen that she knows their complex and often fractured industry, and reiterate that the United Fishermen of Alaska, the state’s largest industry group, has long backed her campaign. The UFA continues to endorse her in the current cycle, though the organization itself made no donation to her campaign fund. Her opponents, Independent senate candidates Breck Craig and Margaret Stock, along with Democratic challenger Ray Metcalfe, admitted they were less familiar with the topics and instead spoke about issues on a general level, without specifics. Kodiak Republican Sen. Gary Stevens moderated the event and fielded question from three fishing industry representatives: Julie Matweyou of Alaska Sea Grant; Julie Bonney, executive director of the Alaska Groundfish Data Bank; and Jeff Stephen, director of the United Fishermen's Marketing Association. Alaskan Leader Fisheries, Pacific Seafood Processors Association, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, At-Sea Processors Association, Groundfish Forum, UFA, City of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough sponsored the event. Catch shares and the graying of the fleet Fisheries are expensive to enter, and fishermen wanted to know how to bring more young fishermen onto the deck. Candidates were asked how they would encourage more involvement from young fishermen, an issue that looms large in the minds of Alaska fishermen who fear more and more the so-called “graying of the fleet” — a phenomenon in which the average Alaska commercial fisherman is getting older and older. Craig, Stock and Metcalfe all seemed to place much of the blame on catch shares, a hot topic in the Gulf of Alaska. Federal fisheries managers there are currently arguing over whether or not to apply a catch share system for Gulf of Alaska groundfish — an idea the city and borough of Kodiak have supported alongside several of the event’s sponsors. Most federal fisheries operate under a quota program of some kind, but not without backlash. Some coastal communities and lower-level fishermen have a strained relationship with catch shares. Many believe quota systems create sharecroppers, concentrating the resource into the hands of the deep-pocketed and preventing young fishermen from entering the industry as owners and operators of their own boats. Except Murkowski, the candidates each expressed some desire to give quota systems a face-lift or at least soften their perceived effects. “There are things we could together do to prevent our fisheries from turning into a giant, multinational corporate conglomerate and wiping out our local fisheries communities,” said Stock. Metcalfe and Craig both favored taking a hard look at catch shares or eliminating them entirely. “I think we need to rethink the whole quota system,” said Craig. “This is not conducive to young people getting into the business.” Metcalfe showed a deep anti-corporate streak, arguing that Alaska’s resources “are not being properly shared,” and that “there’s something wrong with putting corporations in front of people.” He later implied that he thinks the Magnuson-Stevens Act - the central federal fisheries law - should be amended to overhaul catch shares. “When you privatize and enable catch shares, there will come a day when people who live here in Kodiak who don’t own any of the fish they’re fishing,” Metcalfe said. “I think we need to get back to the common ownership of the commonly held resource.” Murkowski had a more nuanced answer on how to stop the graying of the fleet. She said young fishermen need whatever boost they can get from the federal government, in particular that young fishermen should “have access to the same loans a farmer would.” The questioners also wanted to know what kind of faith each candidate placed in the North Pacific Fishery Management Council that governs all federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore, asking whether they favor letting the council do its job or having more congressional involvement ion federal fisheries. Candidates each spoke on their support of the North Pacific council operate largely without congressional impediments except Metcalfe, who said the council needs a “legislative referee” from time to time to force actions they otherwise wouldn’t take. The Magnuson-Stevens Act, which established U.S. fisheries in an Exclusive Economic Zone in 1976, is up for reauthorization this year, and fishermen wanted to know what, if anything, each candidate would change in the new draft. “Frankenfish is bad. We hate it.” Murkowski touted a long list of Congressional actions, including her withholding approval of a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief until the FDA required labeling for all genetically engineered fish. Murkowski was blunt about the new fish, which grows twice as fast as wild salmon — a multimillion-dollar Alaska-based fishery at the core of the state’s marketing arm, the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, which is designed to pump up the Alaska wild seafood brand in the U.S. and abroad. “Frankenfish is bad. We hate it,” she said. The other candidates want labeling requirements as well. Metcalfe said “the people who regulate labeling should be given absolute authority,” while Stock gave a less intense answer about Alaska having “better fish” and wanting to see labeling. International markets Candidates didn’t have substantial answers to questions about two key Alaska seafood export markets in politically knotty places: Russia and the United Kingdom. In response to economic sanctions, Russia banned U.S. seafood imports in 2014. Meanwhile, U.S. markets still import Russian products including pollock and crab. Both are often mislabeled as Alaska products, while Russian crab is often illegal, unreported or unregulated. Candidates were asked whether the U.S. should ban Russian seafood imports in return. Murkowski evaded the question and instead pointed to her success in passing a mandate that forbids the use of the “Alaska pollock” label for anything outside Alaska waters and said she has a similar provision in the works for golden king crab. Stock attacked Murkowski’s real effectiveness on the Russian issue, saying “the current Alaska Congressional delegation has not made any progress on it,” but also not directly answering the question. Candidates were also asked about the United Kingdom, which recently left the Europeans Union by a ballot vote most commonly called “Brexit.” The UK is a key export market for canned Alaska salmon, and questioners wanted to know how each candidate would prioritize trade agreements industry had with the EU, in danger of dissolving after the Brexit vote. Murkowski acknowledged the problem, said that the Alaska Congressional delegation and the U.S. needs to “make (trade agreements) a priority,” but had no answer for how. Stock said the fallout from Brexit supporters, who she characterized as uninformed, would give the U.S. time to figure out the issue, but like Murkowski had no specifics. Metcalfe called Brexit a “big mistake” and a move “backwards in terms of the evolution of society,” but had nothing to say about the specific trade agreements. Craig acknowledged he was “not intimately familiar with the subject.” Murkowski and fish politics This marked her second fish-centric appearance in the state in as many weeks. During an Oct. 6 speech to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, Murkowski said “nothing is more political than fish,” a truism downplayed by candidate Craig when he commended the North Pacific council process for “taking(ing) the political out of the process.” Murkowski has the background, connections and donations to prove it. Murkowski does see funds from other groups, though, having received in the neighborhood of $125,000 in donations from seafood companies, industry groups, lobbyists and individual fishermen in 2015 and 2016, according to contribution reports. The same groups that sponsored the Kodiak debates are also Murkowski’s most generous fish-related campaign donors. Pacific Seafood Processors Association dumped $23,500 into Murkowski’s campaign, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers $9,000, Trident Seafoods $20,100 and At-Sea Processors Association $5,000. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Yukon kings are on the rebound

Yukon River chinook stocks are on the upswing, according to a season summary, though not everybody is fishing for the surplus. Holly Carroll, the area management biologist for the Yukon River section of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, said the painful restrictions on subsistence harvests have paid off. “We wouldn’t have made escapement goals at all if we hadn’t restricted harvest,” Carroll said. “We have to restrict the harvest just to meet the bare minimum for sustaining the run. The restrictions in the subsistence fishery have helped to build the numbers back up.” With 176,895 fish past the sonar counter at Pilot Station, the 2016 chinook run has nosed back up to the most recent 20-year average of 178,000. Along with total run numbers, the amount of chinook into Canada is improving. However, First Nations communities and Canada fisheries managers have different ideas than Alaska, and much of the run sent over the border went unharvested. A major goal of ADFG Yukon River management aims to send between 42,500 and 55,000 chinook salmon over the Canadian border at Eagle as per the Pacific Salmon Treaty. The Eagle passage numbers are not yet final, but preliminary counts say at least 72,300 salmon have crossed the border, which meets the additional 20 percent to 26 percent of the total allowable Yukon catch the treaty requires for the Canadian harvest. Canadian fish comprised greater than average percentage of the overall run than ADFG normally sees in even years. For the latest-returning salmon, measured June 26 to July 6, the percentage of Canadian fish was the highest since ADFG began measuring in 2005. Canadians fish less There is a tension between Canadian management and Alaska management that plays into the restrictions for subsistence users on the Yukon River. “There’s a little bit of a different take between the two different managements and what that looks like,” said Carroll. The Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans, or DFO, has extra steps in chinook management that include First Nations communities on the Yukon River. Like Alaska, Canada’s Natives live under a lands claim agreement similar to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. The Canadian land act established the Yukon Salmon subcommittee which takes input from First Nations communities and the public at large and makes a recommendation to the Minister of Fisheries and Oceans. According to Mary Ellen Jarvis, Resource Manager of Treaties and Fisheries for DFO, the minister typically follows the salmon subcommittee’s recommendation. Individual First Nations governments may formulate and implement and monitor individual harvest plans in their own communities as long as they’re meeting the conservation objectives outlined in the plan. In recent years and in 2016, the Canadian subcommittee has wanted to keep sex ratio into consideration, a factor ADFG notes in its studies but doesn’t use in management. “This year, we did see a lower than normal sex ratio coming across the border at Eagle, hence we maintained a precautionary approach despite having what was considered a better than expected border escapement,” said Jarvis. “Not only the salmon subcommittee but the communities themselves are quite aware of and quite concerned about it. “If we have a weaker than expected return of females or a really skewed age structure in the run, that is always a bit of flag for us to say perhaps we should not get too excited just about the numbers.” So although the border passage numbers were better than recent years, DFO cancelled all commercial, recreational and domestic chinook fisheries due to the lower female abundance. The fishing communities themselves acted similarly. Though they had the option to harvest their full subsistence amount, Yukon River First Nations opted to keep a heavily restricted subsistence fishery in 2016. Jarvis said only 2,200 salmon were caught throughout the season. Alaska’s subsistence communities have been hurting for the last decade, but things appear to be improving for the Yukon chinook run. Between 2004 and 2008, the Yukon River had plenty of kings and little to no subsistence restrictions. During those years, the average river-wide subsistence harvest was 51,600 fish. When chinook stocks started crashing, management tightened. In 2015, Yukon villagers harvest 7,600 Chinook salmon, 85 percent less than the average during unrestricted years. Because there were more salmon than expected this year, Carroll said she hopes to see at least double the harvest in 2016, when the final numbers are available in December. Looking up Chinook on the river have rebounded somewhat relative to the lowest return years in 2012 and 2013. In 2016, the chinook salmon escapement counts at the Pilot Station sonar counter surpassed the preseason outlook and the returns from the previous half decade. By Aug. 31, the sonar counted 176,895 fish, which is 30,000 more than last year and more than the preseason forecast of 130,000 to 175,000 fish. This number matches the most recent historical average of 178,300, which accounts for the years between 1995 and 2014. The river came to life early in 2016, matching observations around the state of off-timing for salmon of several species. The first chum salmon arrived two weeks earlier than average, the first subsistence chinook was caught two weeks earlier than average, and the chinook run itself peaked two days later than average. The timing coincides with changing environmental conditions. “Ice break-up at the mouth of the Yukon River (near Alakanuk) occurred on May 3, which was more than two weeks earlier than the average break up date of May 22 (based on the years 1995–2015).” The summer chum salmon run — the river’s commercial crop — came in above average and early. An estimated 1.9 million summer chum salmon passed the Pilot Station by the season’s end, more than the historical median of 1.7 million fish. ADFG said each pulse of the chum run matched the normal pattern for an early run timing. Forecasts for pink salmon were off, but ADFG’s Yukon River chinook forecast predicted accurately for the year. For commercial fisheries on the Yukon River, the season was a success. The Lower Yukon River, which is has the largest commercial fishery, netted $1.9 million in dockside pay for chum salmon and $54,800 from a new pink salmon fishery. Per person, fishermen made $4,502 apiece, nearly twice last year. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Coming season is going for hurt for Alaska crabbers

Cuts and cancellations are causing anxiety for crab fisheries. “I’m scared,” said Simeon Swetzof, mayor of St. Paul, a central Bering Sea island with considerable crab dependence. “I don’t know what’s going to happen.” The Alaska Department of Fish and Game closed the 2016-17 Bairdi or tanner crab season on Oct. 5, following a 15 percent cut in the harvest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab and a 50 percent cut in the snow crab fishery. Without intervention from the Alaska Board of Fisheries, requested by tanner crab stakeholders, the millions of pounds and millions of dollars of Bairdi will remain in the sea. Last year, the fishery’s total ex-vessel value was $45.3 million. Crab stocks are managed jointly between the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The North Pacific council, one of eight councils that manage fisheries from three to 200 miles off the coast, sets the overfishing limits and annual catch limit for crab. ADFG then sets the total allowable catch, or TAC. Tanner crab was one of two stocks the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration charted as having a declined biomass. In 2015, the biomass prediction for tanner crab was 163 million pounds. This year, surveys chart a drop down to a biomass of 100 million pounds. It is the female crab that cancelled the fishery, rather than the overall biomass directly. According to the survey, there isn’t enough female crab in the sea for the tanner crab fishery to open, despite the fact that the overall Bairdi stock itself is not overfished or experiencing overfishing, according to federal definitions. “The 2016 area-swept survey estimate of mature female biomass (8.067 million pounds)is below the minimum regulatory threshold of 9.832 million pounds necessary for a fishery opening,” reads the announcement. “Therefore, the Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries east and west of 166° W long will be closed for the 2016/17 season.” This is a marked departure form last year’s increased quota. In 2015, a total of 19.67 million pounds of tanner crab was set, compared to 15.1 million pounds in 2014. However, the crab industry thinks ADFG’s harvest policy is an outdated holdover from a stock rebuilding program that is no longer relevant. In a Sept. 8 emergency petition to the Alaska Board of Fisheries, industry stakeholders requested that the board revisit the harvest policy so the tanner crab fishery can remain open. Unalaska Mayor Shirley Marquardt, St. Paul Mayor Simeon Swetzof, and Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers science advisor Ruth Christiansen signed the petition. Among other proposed changes to the harvest policy, stakeholders argue that the Bairdi crab fishery is the only crab stock tied to the biomass of mature females, while the other stocks chart a combination of male and female. “A female only threshold makes little sense for commercial fisheries specifically designed and executed to harvest only mature male crab,” the petition reads. Further, stakeholders think the survey results themselves do not accurately reflect biomass, as static survey results taken during the warm summer months do not match the winter-driven catches of the mobile crab fleet, which has seen a rising amount of Bairdi crab per pot in recent years. Managers also divide the Bering Sea tanner crab fishery into eastern and western sections, which crabbers say is inconsistent ADFG commissioner Sam Cotten denied the petition saying the situation does not meet the criteria for an emergency, which requires a conservation concern. Christiansen sent a second letter directly to Alaska Board of Fisheries director Glenn Haight with another emergency request, appealing Cotten’s decision. “We have yet to hear from two board members,” Haight said. If two board members agree to take up the matter at the next board meeting in October, and if it decides to grant the petition, the tanner crab fishery could potentially open late. If not, the fishery will stay closed for the next two years. Crab stock has to meet the minimum threshold for two consecutive years before managers can open the fishery again. The closure comes at a time when the other main crab stocks are dropping in biomass and harvest quotas are declining. Cuts and Quotas Apart from an entirely canceled fishery, the other two main crab stocks have declining catch quotas. Bristol Bay red king crab is taking a 15 percent cut. The 2016-17 crab season, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 15, will allow a total allowable catch of 8.5 million pounds, which matches the quota from 2014. The downturn in quota ends a two-year streak of nearly 10 million pound catches. Last year, crabbers were allowed to take 9.97 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab. In 2014, the Bristol Bay red king crab total allowable catch, or TAC, is 9.98 million pounds. That’s up from the 2013 limit of 8.6 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has declined. Legal size males dropped from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. For snow crab, ADFG set the total allowable catch to 21.57 million pounds, nearly half the 40.6 million pounds allocated last season. For snow crab, an allowable biological catch of 137.4 million pounds in 2015 dropped to 47 million pounds this year. “The lower 2016/17 TAC reflects continuing declines in survey biomass for both mature male and female snow crab and the high proportion of old shell crab in the exploitable population,” reads an ADFG announcement. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Disastrous harvest for pink salmon

Around the state, biologists are unsure of what led to the lowest pink salmon harvest since the 1970s in a season that led Gov. Bill Walker to seek a disaster declaration from the federal government to bail out beleaguered pink fishermen. “We caught 39 million pinks this year,” said Forrest Bowers, the Commercial Fisheries Division director for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The department forecasted a harvest of 90 million fish between. Bowers said he had to comb records back to 1977 to find a year that bad. “Certainly one of the worst harvests we’ve had in the last 35 years,” he said. In terms of overall value, pinks salmon pale beside sockeye, Alaska’s most valuable salmon species. In Bristol Bay, the world’s largest natural sockeye run, fishermen in 2016 harvested an estimated ex-vessel value of $156.2 million, which is 40 percent above the 20-year average of $111 million. Walker, urged on by Kodiak Rep. Louise Stutes, requested that U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker declare the season a disaster. This would pour millions in disaster relief funding for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Lower Cook Inlet and Chignik, all areas with high dependence on pink salmon. Prince William Sound is almost entirely hatchery-produced pink salmon while the other fisheries saw their wild pink salmon runs decline. ADFG biologists note that inaccurate pink salmon forecasts are common. “If you look back historically, ADFG has a really poor track record forecasting pink salmon,” said Andy Piston, a biologist at the ADFG Ketchikan office. “The bottom line is they never worked well.” Unlike sockeye salmon, pink salmon have less predictable migration patterns and life cycles. “One of the big problems with pink salmon is they’re all the same age. They all go out to sea at the same time and come back at the same time,” said Piston. This makes estimating returns difficult. Biologists can determine age and sibling relationships between which sockeye salmon return to spawn in a given year and how many will come back in a following year. “For pink salmon, I think that’s why there’s a very long track record of very poor forecast,” said Piston. The life cycle and age composition of pink salmon create the even/odd year split pinks are known for. In North America, pink salmon return in force every odd year — both 2013 and 2015 set records for pink salmon returns of both hatchery and wild stocks. This pattern could be at the root of 2016’s abysmal return, according to ADFG biologist Leon Schaul. Available literature points to variations in the intensity in these cycles. “In Puget Sound, there are hardly any pink salmon in even years,” said Schaul. “In the Kamchatka Peninsula, the east side is extremely odd year dominant. On the west side, it used to also be odd year and it switched in the early 80s. Those are huge producing areas. “The east side had a larger pink catch than all North America. Pink salmon generally in the (Gulf of Alaska), used to be even year dominant in the 1960 and ‘70s. They switched in the late ‘70s. Both cycles were strong in the ‘90s. In the last few years the odd year dominance has intensified. So that’s kind of a background factor, it being an even year now.” Most agreed that some kind of marine condition is the likely culprit for the miserable pink salmon return in 2016. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration performs studies on pink salmon that show a steady correlation between how many fry swim out to ocean and how many return two years later. “It kind of points to something a little more off shore,” said Schaul. “The NOAA surveys have been amazingly accurate as far as surveys go.” Schaul does consider that warmer ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Alaska have something to do with poor returns, but pinks have been performing better in warmer water since the turn of the millennium. “Pink salmon have been generally thriving under warmer conditions,” Schaul said. “Pink salmon, across the Pacific, have been getting more abundant. Even as the general climate pattern changed…they’ve been doing quite well, with two of the biggest returns in history in 2013 and 2015.” Warmer waters could mean changes in food chain or any one of a thousand different variables. There are simply too many to consider, and the kind of work NOAA performs may not be an option for ADFG. Offshore work is expensive. In desperate budgetary times, the comparatively meager commercial value of pink salmon simply doesn’t warrant the kind of money it would take to learn more about marine conditions. “Trying to pinpoint what exactly the factor is probably impossible without spending more money than all the governments of the world have combined,” Piston laughed. “The NOOA program…It is expensive. But that’s the kind of thing you have to do. In this budget situation, the idea that we’re going to start some millions of dollar ocean research program is fairly unlikely.” Piston cautioned that although the harvest numbers are terrible for the last few decades, if you stretch them over time they bend closer to normal. “The overall harvest for Southeast is 18 million,” said Piston. “It seems pretty terrible, but the average harvest in the 1960s was 13.5 million. In the 1970s was 10.3 million. Then it goes to 30 million in ‘80s, 50 million in the ‘90s. Since statehood, it’s about 22 million. So this year, it’s terrible for the last few decades, but if you look at the entire time series since statehood, it’s average to poor.”

Cod Crunchies come to Costco

Alaskan Cod Crunchies begin a national roll out this week with a debut at Costco’s two stores in Anchorage. The dog treats are one of the newest products stemming from Alaskan Leader Seafood’s commitment to complete “head to tail” usage of their catches. “It’s pure, 100 percent human grade trimmings coming right off the cod fillets,” said Keith Singleton, president of the company’s value added division. Alaskan Leader’s four freezer/longline vessels are owned in partnership with the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp. and fish primarily for cod in the Bering Sea. Besides the frozen at sea fillets, Alaskan Leader also has developed markets for (and thereby monetized) all of the cod heads, livers and skins. The Crunchies, which have been under development for about a year, are dried and shaped into crispy, domino-sized wafers. Taste tests with numerous dogs proved the product was a winner. “Boy, they get going on that crunch and it’s like that potato chip commercial that says ‘you can’t just eat one.’ They keep coming back for more,” Singleton said. Dillingham dogs agreed, according to Robin Samuelson, president of Ocean Beauty Seafoods and chairman of BBEDC. “When I came home to Dillingham I had two sacks with me and there was a 12-week old black lab. I opened them up and said ‘let’s put it to the test,’ and that little dog loved the cod treats,” Samuelson said with a laugh. “What’s most exciting is Costco chose Alaska to debut the product. We feel really blessed about that,” Singleton added. The buzz surrounding the new Cod Crunchies is exciting, echoed Samuelson, but to him, the bigger story is the full use of the fish that comes over the rails. “It’s a new product that we think will do good throughout the U.S.,” he said. “And it’s the full utilization of the species and we’re just tickled pink.” Celebrate seafood! October is National Seafood Month — a distinction proclaimed by Congress more than 30 years ago to recognize one of our nation’s oldest industries. Government figures show that nationwide, the seafood industry contributes $60 billion to the U.S. economy each year. Alaska deserves special merit during Seafood Month, as it produces about 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood, more than all the other states combined. The seafood industry also is Alaska’s number one private employer; it puts more people to work than oil and gas, mining, timber and tourism industries combined. Americans eat about 16 pounds of seafood per person each year, which pales in comparison to other parts of the world.  The Japanese, for example, eat 146 pounds of seafood per person annually. Figures from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization show that people in Greenland eat 186 pounds per capita, and in Iceland more than 200 pounds of seafood are eaten annually. The country with the lowest seafood consumption is Afghanistan at zero. And where in the world is the most seafood eaten? The South Pacific island of Tokelau where each person eats more than 440 pounds of seafood every year. Think pink! To whet more American appetites for seafood, Chicken of the Sea has claimed Oct. 8 as National Salmon Day. The company uses Alaska pink salmon in its pouched and canned products and the promotion is a way to highlight the iconic fish. “We wanted to get behind an effort to create a Salmon Day for anyone and everyone who provides salmon, and/or serves salmon. Wild or packaged, anyway that we can get people to eat more salmon, that is our goal,” said company spokesman Bob Ochsner. “Tuna has a day, lobster, crab, even clams have a day,” he continued. “We believed strongly that it was appropriate for the second most popular seafood in the United States to have its own day.”
 To coincide with the second annual event, Chicken of the Sea has rolled out its list of the Top 10 U.S. Salmon Cities, where residents eat more fresh and shelf-stable salmon per person than counterparts in other cities.
 The top 10, in no particular order, are Anchorage, Seattle Chicago, Cincinnati and Columbus, Ohio; Baltimore, Nashville, New York City, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Salmon lovers can use the hashtag #NationalSalmonDay on their social media platforms on Oct. 8 to be entered for a week-long Alaska cruise and other prizes.

 Fall fish meetings Fish meetings over the next few months give industry stakeholders a chance to participate in policy-making that directly affects their livelihoods.
 The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets October 5-11 at the Anchorage Hilton. The agenda includes a first look at next year’s catch quotas for pollock, cod, flounders and other groundfish in federally managed waters (three to 200 miles out), which account for over 80 percent of Alaska’s harvest poundage. The public has until Oct. 4 to comment to the state Board of Fisheries on agenda change requests and stocks of concern for its meeting cycle that begins with a work session Oct. 18-20 in Soldotna. Through March the Fish Board will take up 276 commercial, sport, subsistence and personal use fishery proposals focused primarily on Kodiak and Cook Inlet. The International Pacific Halibut Commission is calling for 2017 regulatory and catch limit proposals, due by Oct. 31. The industry will get a first glimpse at next year’s halibut catch recommendations at the IPHC interim meeting set for Nov. 29-30 in Seattle. The halibut commission’s annual meeting will take place Jan.23-27 in Victoria, British Columbia. The eight-month halibut fishery opens in March. All of the fish meetings are available online as they happen. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit or contact [email protected] for information.

Fish and Game cuts Bering Sea crab quota

The day before the North Pacific Fishery Management Council will review drastically declining snow and tanner crab stocks, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game cut Bering Sea red king crab stocks by 15 percent. The 2016-17 crab season, which runs from Oct. 15 through Jan. 15, will allow a total allowable catch of 8.5 million pounds, which matches the quota from 2014. The downturn in quota ends a two-year streak of nearly 10 million pound catches. Last year, crabbers were allowed to take 9.97 million pounds of Bristol Bay red king crab. In 2014, the Bristol Bay red king crab total allowable catch, or TAC, is 9.98 million pounds. That’s up from the 2013 limit of 8.6 million pounds. Biomass for Bristol Bay red king crab has declined. Legal size males dropped from 61 million pounds in 2015 to 53 million pounds for the 2016 season. While king crab remains on the long-term level, the other two main crab fisheries are on a downswing. Stocks for both snow crab and Bairdi Tanner crab were down according to surveys in 2016, and stakeholders are holding their breath to see if the Alaska Department of Fish and Game will need to close fisheries if abundance doesn’t meet the department thresholds. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet salmon falls short of forecast

The Upper Cook Inlet’s 2016 harvest came in beneath expectations. According to season summary released by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game on Thursday, the season brought in fewer fish than average and carried a value less than average. “The 2016 Upper Cook Inlet commercial harvest of approximately 3.0 million salmon was 12 percent less than the recent 10-year average annual harvest of 3.5 million fish,” the summary reads. “The estimated exvessel value of the 2016 harvest of approximately $22.3 million was 23 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual exvessel value of $28.9 million.” Sockeye salmon, which make up 93 percent of the overall Upper Cook Inlet harvest value, contributed the most to the drop in value from the average, though all Upper Cook Inlet salmon runs returned in numbers less than average. ADFG forecasted 7.1 million fish for the total UCI sockeye run, but 5.2 million fish returned, or 27 percent less than forecast. At an average $1.50 per pound, Upper Cook Inlet fishermen earned a total ex-vessel value of $21 million for the season. Despite sub-average numbers, gear groups kept roughly the same catch percentage relative to the overall harvest. “The 2016 total sockeye salmon harvest breakdown between set and drift gillnet gear was very close to the previous 10-year average,” the report reads. “Drifters harvested 1.3 million sockeye salmon or 53 percent of the total harvest, compared to the previous 10-year average of 51 percent…while setnetters harvested 1.15 million or 47 percent of the total sockeye salmon harvest compared to their previous 10-year average of 49 percent.” King salmon comprised only 2 percent of the total value, less than average. “In all of UCI, approximately 9,613 king salmon were harvested in 2016, which was 6 percent less than the previous 10-year average annual harvest of 10,227 fish. Using a price of $2.50 per pound for king salmon, the estimated exvessel value of the 2016 harvest was $447,000. This value was approximately 2 percent of the total UCI commercial fishery.” Pink salmon made a negligible 1.4 percent of the area’s total harvest value and small numbers at 379,000, which was slightly more than the 10-year average of 373,000 fish. However small a portion of the commercial harvest, the pinks reveal an interesting trend. The most recent 10-year average pink salmon weight for Upper Cook Inlet is 3.6 pounds. This year, the average was 5 pounds, the largest average weight for pink salmon on record. DJ Summers can be reached at [email protected]  


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