Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Whitefish quotas revealed; cod seeking colder water

Catches for next year’s groundfish fisheries reflect ups and downs for Alaska’s key species — pollock and Pacific cod — and the stocks appear to be heading north to colder waters. The bulk of Alaska’s fish catches come from waters from three to 200 miles offshore with oversight by federal fishery managers. Their advisory arm, the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, reviews stock assessments for groundfish each October and sets preliminary catches for the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea and updates them as new data become available. If the proposed catches get the go-ahead in December, the Bering Sea pollock harvest will increase slightly to nearly 1.4 million metric tons, or more than 3 billion pounds. For Pacific cod, Bering Sea the catch could be reduced to 350 million pounds, a drop of 64 million pounds from this year. The cod numbers might change due to big differences between the 2017 and 2018 survey results in southeastern and northern waters, where large numbers of fish appear to be migrating. Over the year, the cod biomass dropped 21 percent in the southern region but increased 95 percent in the northern area. The northern cod are genetically similar to the southern cod, making it unlikely that the fish hail from Russia or the Gulf of Alaska, said National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration research biologist Ingrid Spies in a presentation to the council last week. “What happens to those fish in the north is still an open question,” NOAA scientist Grant Thompson told Undercurrent News. “Are they spawning up there? Are they maturing and dying? It’s kind of uncharted territory.” The numbers are more straightforward for pollock and cod catches in the Gulf of Alaska and reflect declines for both species. Proposed pollock catches show a 34 percent drop to 228 million pounds, a drop of 118 million pounds from this year. For Gulf cod, next year’s catch is likely to be down 5.5 percent to 27.2 million pounds, a decline of 1.6 million pounds. One of the brightest Gulf of Alaska findings is the continuing upward trend of sablefish (black cod) seen over several years. The preliminary sablefish catch for 2019 was boosted by 40 percent to nearly 36 million pounds. OTIS redux Alaska lays claim to over half the nation’s coastline and a third of the U.S. exclusive economic zone, making it prime real estate for those wanting to get in on the push to develop our oceans. That’s requiring new ways of thinking about traditional sectors such as fisheries, tourism, marine trades and oil/gas, as well as providing opportunities for new “blue economy” business ventures. To hone a wave of entrepreneurs, a second Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint will task 30 Alaskans this month with finding a problem and creating a prototype solution for a venture of their choice. They will be assigned to five teams and meet one day a week for five weeks before revealing their ideas to the public. While the meet-ups are mostly in Anchorage, teams also can connect virtually from anywhere in the state. “The remote teams are live streamed to every event and they can work together on a digital whiteboard as if they were in person,” said Meg Pritchard, marketing and communications manager for the Alaska Ocean Cluster and OTIS co-organizer. “There was so much interest last year it has become a huge part of OTIS, because it’s meant to bring together people from diverse locations.” The goal of OTIS, which is modeled after a Google Ventures program, is to create an “economic ecosystem” of innovators, educators, mentors and businesses to help grow new products from the bottom up. Last year’s OTIS winner was a Sea Green energy bar made from 20 percent seaweed. Other teams created a bycatch reduction system using net cameras, a tidal generator and one group investigated using machine learning to count salmon. Pritchard said connections are increasing across the state. “There is a steadily growing network of people who believe that ocean technology and developing a blue economy is the way to move forward for Alaska’s economy,” she said. OTIS is a partnership of the Alaska Ocean Cluster and the University of Alaska Anchorage Economic Development and Business Enterprise Institute. The Sprint runs from Oct. 20 through Demo Night on Nov. 20. Winning women videos Women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain took home the top prize in the International Association for Women in the Seafood Industry video competition. The contest was launched last year as a way to increase awareness about women’s roles in the industry and to recognize their value. This year’s contest attracted 15 videos (limited to four minutes) from around the world. The winner, Puntada Invisible, highlights a woman named Beatriz who has been mending nets for 33 years, often outside in all weather. “I think nobody is aware of how important our work is for the fishing sector, because everyone here looks at the fishing, the skipper, the boat, a good engine, a good engineer. Nobody looks at us here. We are totally invisible,” Beatriz said. The second-prize winner was Mujeres del Mar del Cortés, a film about women in Santa Cruz, California, who formed a sustainable clam farming cooperative. Two films tied for third place. Girls who fish in Petty Harbour is about women in Newfoundland who are mentoring others to run their own fishing operations and gain the experience and knowledge that has traditionally been dominated by men. The Invisible Hands tells the story of Ratna, the wife of a fisherman from the Bay of Bengal in India. Tired of struggling to make ends meet, Ratna partnered with five local women and got a government grant to start a food truck called a “fish nutri cart.” The women cook and sell their husband’s catches and are so successful they are applying for a second cart. The women said “their families now have enough to eat and their children are able to go to school.” There was one video entry from Alaska called Copper River that showcased the life of veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. The judges were delighted with the breadth of the entries, said WSI president and founder, Marie Christine Monfort. “A lot of effort is being put into tackling illegal, unregulated, and unreported (IUU) fishing around the world,” she told SeafoodSource. “We see WSI’s mission as tackling IIU – invisible, ignored, and unrepresented women.” The top video took home 1,000 euros ($1,162) and 500 euros ($581) for second and third places and will be featured this month at the Gender in Aquaculture and Fisheries conference in Thailand, at the first women in fisheries international symposium in Spain in November, and at the international film festival of world fisherfolks in France in March 2019. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Snow crab up, king crab quota down in Bering Sea

UNALASKA — It’s not much, but there is a red king crab season. And snow crab is up 45 percent, and Tanners are down slightly, but at least that one will go forward due to a revised harvest strategy. Bering Sea commercial crabbing started Oct. 15, with the smallest quota for Bristol Bay red king crab in more than 30 years of 4.3 million pounds, a 35 percent decrease from last year’s 6.6 million pounds. The last time there was such a low number when a fishery was held was in 1985, at 4.1 million pounds, according to Alaska Department of Fish and Game Assistant Area Management Biologist Ethan Nichols in Unalaska. Nichols expects fewer boats fishing this year, with fishermen combining quotas onto one boat that otherwise would have been fished by two vessels, because of the harvest reduction leading to the efficiency move. At least there is a red king crab season, despite earlier fears of a complete cancelation, according to Unalaska Mayor Frank Kelty. “We wish it was more, but we’re happy there’s a king crab season,” said Jake Jacobsen, executive director of the Seattle-based Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which negotiates prices for the crab fishing fleet. The season began Oct. 15 with red king crab, with snow and Tanner crab typically fished in the winter. On a brighter note, the snow crab quota of 27.6 million pounds is up 45 percent from last year’s 19 million pounds. And there will be a Tanner crab fishery in the western district, which wouldn’t have happened two years ago. That’s because of a major lobbying effort led by Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, the political arm of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, with the support of Fish and Game, adopted in May 2017 by the Alaska Board of Fisheries, following the closure of both districts the prior year. “Both the eastern and western Bering Sea Tanner crab fisheries would have been closed for 2018-19 using the old harvest strategy due to being below the female threshold,” according to Nichols. The Tanner quota is 2.4 million pounds, a 2 percent decrease from last year’s 2.5 million pounds in the western district, west of 166 degrees west longitude between Unalaska and Akutan islands. The eastern district remains closed. Jacobsen said the trade war between the U.S. and China will have little effect on the crab fishery, since most of the product goes to domestic markets and Japan, although Chinese consumers will pay more because of the tariffs imposed by China in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s new taxes imposed on imports from China. The U.S. import taxes don’t matter, because Alaskan crab is not re-exported back to the United States from China, he said. Various groundfish and salmon from Alaska are re-exported back to the U.S. following processing by low-wage Chinese labor. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Crabbers thankful to have a season for Bristol Bay red king crab

Crab catches dominate Alaska’s fish news in early October as boats gear up for mid-month openers in the Bering Sea. As expected, crabbers will see increased catches for snow crab after the annual survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females (only male crabs can be retained for sale). Managers announced last week a catch of 27.5 million pounds of snow crab, up 47 percent from last season. Even better, biologists documented one of the largest numbers of small snow crab poised to enter the fishery they’ve ever seen. Also as expected, the news is bad for bairdi Tanners, the larger cousins of snow crab. A take of just 2.4 million pounds, down 2 percent, will be allowed from the western fishing district of the Bering Sea, with the eastern district closed for the season. Crabbers breathed a sigh of relief to learn there will be a red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay with a catch of 4.3 million pounds, a 36 percent drop. Those stocks have been on a downward spiral for several years and talk on the docks was that there would likely not be a fishery this year. “It helps sustain king crab markets that might be lost if the season were closed,” reacted Jake Jacobsen, director of the Inter-Cooperative Exchange, which represents the majority of Bering Sea crabbers. There again will be no king crab openers at the Pribilofs and St. Matthew Island due to low stock numbers. Similarly, a king crab fishery was canceled at Southeast Alaska where a small 120,000-pound red king crab fishery occurred last fall for the first time in six years. Looking good for Gulf crab The official word won’t be out until November, but signs are pointing to another Kodiak Tanner crab opener in January 2019. Last winter saw the first season after a four-year closure, with a 400,000-pound harvest. “It looks positive because we had a big group of crab last year that were just sub-legal, and we thought we might get two years of fishing on that group, said Nat Nichols, area shellfish manager at Alaska Department of Fish and Game in Kodiak. A big pulse of crab in 2013 was the largest biologists had ever seen since trawl surveys began, Nichols said. “At that time, we estimated 200 million crab in the water. They were one- to two-year-olds, the size of a nickel,” he said. “They don’t survive well because everything likes to eat a small Tanner crab, and about 90 percent drop out of the population before they reach legal size. But even 10 percent still turns into a lot of crab.” Nichols said Tanner numbers also are looking up at Chignik and the South Peninsula, but those regions are likely to remain closed. Biologists talk about “episodic recruitment” of Tanner crab, Nichols said, when massive spikes arrive all at once, roughly on a five- to seven-year time line. The largest one ever may be in the lineup. “This year we saw the next recruitment pulse and it’s possibly 50 percent bigger than 2013,” he said. “But we’re looking way down the road to 2023.” “We try not to get too excited because we’ve seen these drop off between the first year we see them and five years later when they become legal. But it’s good to see we’re still producing big cohorts of crab,” Nichols added. We’re sort of along for the ride, is how we put it.” The abundance of tiny Tanners could be a benefiting from the crash of the cod stocks in the Gulf of Alaska, he said. “If you’ve got 80 percent fewer mouths to feed, I don’t think it can hurt.” Tanners, too, at PWS Crabbers at Prince William Sound could also get to drop pots for Tanners again in March. “We’re getting all our information together so we can see where we’re at,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at ADFG in Homer. A one-month fishery in March 2018 was the first Tanner crab opener in PWS since 1988. It was allowed under a Commissioner’s Permit that is issued in special circumstances and was limited to two regions. It was a sort of fact finding mission, Rumble said, that was prompted by increasing numbers of crab coming up in subsistence pots and a lack of survey data. Fifteen permit holders participated in the fishery and pulled up 82,000 pounds of crab. Rumble said based on last year’s harvest, managers are “pretty confident” there will be another special permit fishery next March. “Hopefully, processors will come into Cordova and set up for that fishery again. We also had buyers in Whittier and Seward and they will appreciate the opportunity to buy Tanner crab again,” Rumble said. Expo Updates Pacific Marine Expo is one of the industry’s oldest (52 years) and most popular trade shows and organizers were scrambling a few months ago when its traditional November dates were spiked by a football game at Seattle’s CenturyLink Field where the event is held. That pushed Expo into Thanksgiving week amid worries that it would cut into the show’s draw. The Nov. 18-20 date change hasn’t worked for some exhibitors, said Expo director Denielle Christensen, but for others, it’s provided more motivation to come to the show. “Some folks are already traveling at Thanksgiving time, so this is actually a good schedule for them. No down time — you can go right from Expo to family and your turkey dinner,” Christensen said, adding that early registrations are ahead of last year. Dominating the Expo floor again is an even bigger Alaska Hall, which will house 52 Alaska companies and the show’s main stage. Christensen said over one-third of the visitors at Expo in 2018 said they were “specifically looking for products from Alaska.” A new focus this year is a Young Fishermen’s Track for those just starting out. “We realized that was a group that was being overlooked. We know they need help and we hope we can be a bigger part of that for them,” Christensen said. Also in the Expo line up: a public hearing on the Pebble Mine. “Pebble Mine comes up every year and it is such an important topic to have in our educational program,” she said. Visit www.pacificmarineexpo.com for more information. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Hatchery production back on Board of Fisheries agenda

KENAI — The Board of Fisheries will once again have to tangle with the issue of hatchery pink salmon production at its upcoming work session Oct. 15-19 in Anchorage. Two of the agenda change requests, or ACRs, filed for the work session address concerns about hatchery production. One references an issue from the early 2000s, with concerns about the impact of salmon releases in Southeast Alaska, while the other is a revival of an emergency petition about a Valdez-area hatchery the board considered and voted down in July. Both are linked to overall concerns about the number of hatchery pink salmon being released into the Gulf of Alaska each year. The first, from Fairbanks Advisory Committee chair Virgil Umphenour of North Pole, asks the board to reduce overall hatchery production to 75 percent of what it was in 2000. He states in the proposal that the state and hatcheries agreed to cap production in 2000. He referenced the second request, filed by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association. KRSA’s ACR asks the board to block the release of salmon resulting from an egg take increase at Valdez Fishery Development Association’s Solomon Gulch Hatchery this summer and permanently cap the hatchery’s egg take capacity. It’s virtually identical to an emergency petition the board previously turned down, saying it didn’t meet the criteria for an emergency. At the time, the emergency petition was backed by a broad coalition of sportfishing groups from around Southcentral Alaska, objecting to the increase because of the risk of Prince William Sound hatchery pink salmon straying into other streams. They cited data from a Lower Cook Inlet salmon otolith analysis in 2016 and 2017, showing that Prince William Sound hatcher-origin pinks outnumbered local stocks in a number of streams. Ricky Gease, the executive director of the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, said the organization chose to refile the request as an ACR because the board said they would take it up later, just not as an emergency petition. “They said we’d discuss it in a meeting in October,” he said. “Well, this is October, and there wasn’t a place for it on the agenda.” The board has a similarly stringent set of criteria for accepting ACRs, one of which is a requirement that an effect of a regulation threatens the conservation of a fishery. In its request, KRSA noted that a number of scientific papers have connected increased pink salmon numbers in the Gulf of Alaska is decreased king and sockeye salmon survival. Increased returns and the risk of straying create a conservation risk, the request notes. Gease noted the concern for impacts to sockeye and king salmon stocks, which are important to commercial, recreational and subsistence fisheries around the state, particularly king salmon on rivers like the Kuskokwim and the Yukon, where the Alaska Native people have long depended on them for winter stores. The board turned down the petition in July in part because there had been a public process for the egg take increase, through the Regional Planning Teams and the Alaska Department of Fish Game, over several years. Scientists from the state’s various hatcheries presented a packet of information to the board at the time reviewing a number of the studies connecting pink salmon to decreased survival of sockeye and kings, stating that several of the studies cited have flaws. The hatchery managers say they are interested in research about the impact of pink salmon releases into the North Pacific — that’s why they’re paying into the 11-year study coordinated by Fish and Game and the Prince William Sound Science Center to examine hatchery-wild salmon interaction. The question of the impact of pink salmon on the entire North Pacific ecosystem is a complicated one, said Mike Wells, the executive director of the Valdez Fisheries Development Association. He noted ongoing research work through the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission on the same subject. “The carrying capacity question is a big, big question,” he said. “I think what’s important to recognize is it’s an international question.” Casey Campbell, the executive director of the Prince William Sound Aquaculture Corporation, cited data that only about 15 percent of the pink salmon in the North Pacific Ocean are hatchery-origin. He also pointed to the hatchery-wild study as a major piece of the puzzle to understand the dynamics of pink salmon in the Gulf of Alaska, with some preliminary data expected in December. Wells said the hatchery managers are watching the board’s decision at the upcoming meeting to determine a future direction for its involvement hatchery management. Until now, the board’s function has been primarily allocative, leaving hatchery management decisions primarily to ADFG. “I think what’s important with this upcoming meeting in October is that there will be a forum and a discussion,” Wells said. “The public will have an opportunity to come and discuss their concerns with the board. That’s a good venue to come and get concerns out but at the end of the day what has been practiced for 40 years in hatchery production is that it has been centered around science.” Wells, Campbell and Cordova Mayor Clay Koplin all wrote op-eds for newspapers in various regions of the state in recent months, presenting an argument for hatcheries as supporting local communities and jobs in the seafood industry. Wells said that connects with the research about the effects of hatcheries on wild stocks. “The hatchery operators around the state recognize that there is a need to educate the public about what we do,” he said. “That would include the types of salmon species that we raise, for the user groups that we benefit, and about the science work that’s being done.” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Guides honored for catch-and-release program

SOLDOTNA — Like many efforts involving Cook Inlet salmon, Fish for the Future started with frustration. Unlike many of those, it didn’t end there. The brainchild of two Soldotna-area residents, Fish for the Future is both amorphous and very clear. The goal hasn’t changed in its three years of operation: make sure more Kenai River king salmon make it onto the spawning beds, primarily through encouraging sport fishermen to release the king salmon they catch. What it exactly is isn’t as defined. Co-founders Greg Brush and Mark Wackler essentially run a contest that awards prizes for the best photos and videos of people releasing the Kenai and Kasilof river king salmon they caught. Virtually everything happens on Facebook, and both carefully keep their names off the page. Brush said that was a conscious choice because of the negativity long associated with the salmon fisheries on the Kenai River. He and Wackler both work as guides, but they wanted Fish for the Future to stand on its own and not carry the connotation of being a “guide” project. “We’re just two concerned residents,” he said. After three seasons of increasing growth, though, with photos submitted almost every day during the three-month fishery, their work is getting some attention. The Kachemak Heritage Land Trust, a regional land conservation trust based in Homer, awarded Fish for the Future its annual “Kingmaker” award, intended to recognize individual or group contributions to conserving salmon, Executive Director Marie McCarty and Communications and Development Director Denise Jantz noted in a letter accompanying the award. “By creating the simple, non-allocative, education-based Fish for the Future program, you have ensured that more king salmon will make it to their spawning grounds upstream and will be in our rivers far into the future,” the letter states. “As the Fish for the Future website states, this important catch and release program allows anglers opportunity while minimizing impact.” When Brush and Wackler conceived the idea three years ago, it was based on frustration that while Kenai king runs kept coming back weaker, smaller and later, people continued to proudly post pictures of huge fish they caught. Both had converted their guide businesses to catch-and-release only for kings years before, explaining to each prospective client that Kenai kings are special but in trouble and they’d release each one. Both expected that the conversion would cost them business, but they say it hasn’t set them back; some clients would choose not to come if they couldn’t keep fish, while others understand. They modeled Fish for the Future after other catch-and-release programs, offering prizes for photographs of released fish — not necessarily the biggest fish, just the best photo. The first year, they got a few donated prizes from various companies, including plane tickets and fishing gear. By the second year, they had people coming to them, including fishing gear giant Rappala, to donate giveaway items. “We had thousands of dollars worth of donations, and we were like, ‘How do we get these in the hands of people?’” he said. Kenai king salmon runs have been declining in recent years, most markedly beginning in 2008. The shortages, reaching a trough in 2012 when an extremely weak run forced commercial and sport fishing closures, have intensified longstanding tensions between user groups in the region. There are two words Brush says no one will find in any of the Fish for the Future posts: “commercial” and “allocation.” They make a point to stay positive and encouraging of catch-and-release rather than combative about those who don’t release their fish. Catch-and-release has helped other sport fisheries around the world come back from population declines. Michigan fisheries managers began using catch-and-release as a conservation mechanism for rainbow trout in the 1950s, and the United Kingdom has required catch-and-release for threatened Atlantic salmon stocks for years. In the Bristol Bay area, anglers are required to release all the rainbow trout they catch. Brush cited the example of the increasing use of catch-and-release in marlin sportfishing — with millions of dollars hinged upon catching the specific fish, catch-and-release has helped preserve the populations and thus the economies that depend on them. “It takes a culture change to go from (holding up a fish) as your advertisement to where you’re down in the water, release is your advertisement,” Wackler said. “It might be a different group of clientele or whatever, but it works. I think it’s been proven that works all over the world.” Catch-and-release remains controversial among some fishermen because of the potential mortality to the fish, but Brush said the way he sees it, there’s a better chance of survival for a released fish than a retained one. The evidence they’ve seen, both in data and anecdotally, indicates that a major percentage of the released fish survive, he said. “Part of Fish for the Future is educational in nature — if you’re worried about seven out of a hundred dying, I understand that,” he said. “It’s not perfect. Seven out of a hundred is a shame. But it’s seven out of a hundred. It’s not fifty out of a hundred or a hundred out of a hundred.” Right now, Fish for the Future exists as a Facebook page and nothing more — Wackler and Brush don’t even accept the donated prizes, they just connect the prizewinner with the donor. In the future, they’re considering new avenues to keep it going, they said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Cook Inlet fishermen blame rigid management for season losses

KENAI — Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen feel that mandated closures played a part in them missing the boat on many of the salmon they could have harvested this season. At a meeting in Kenai on Sept. 28, Upper Cook Inlet commercial fishermen grilled Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten and Gov. Bill Walker with questions about regulation of the fishery and policy changes to support it in the future. Some of the concern is about inflexible management. A number of the questions Cotten fielded were about why Kasilof area setnetters were closed, allowing sockeye to go past for the sake of the Kenai River escapement, while the Kenai River personal-use dipnet fishery remained open. By the end of the season, the Kasilof River sockeye escapement goal had been exceeded, with the Kenai in the middle of its goal range. Toward the end of the season, drift gillnet fishermen also target the silver and chum salmon on the west side of the Inlet. Georgie Heverly, who moderated the discussion, asked about the delay in openings on the west side of Cook Inlet in August, when chum and silver salmon were returning. “Specifically for the drift fleet, we sat around for weeks waiting for Chinitna to open, waiting for an aerial survey,” she said. “It was really unfortunate — a lot of us, the younger generation who don’t own a boat, we have boat payments. We hang on to scrape up what we can from that silver run in August, and that was a huge financial burden for us, to sit around for three weeks, waiting for (ADFG) to get data on Chinitna.” Cotten said he hadn’t heard of that issue particularly, but said weather and flight scheduling can delay aerial surveys. The department relies on aerial surveys when there are no weirs or sonars on stream systems but they need to estimate run sizes for a fishery. In this case, the fishermen said that had the fishery opened earlier, they could have salvaged their season on the silvers and chums after a dismal sockeye run, but they missed them as they passed up the Inlet. That resulted in a great catch for the setnetters in the northern district, said Dave Martin, a longtime drift fisherman in Upper Cook Inlet. The indices at the test fishery in Anchor Point showed high numbers of silver salmon, which are not enumerated by sonar or weir in any Kenai Peninsula stream system, were high this year, but the drift fishermen were closed and missed them, he said. “We could’ve salvaged a halfway decent season on the other species, the chums, the pinks and the silvers, and then it came out in the middle of August that the silvers in the test fishery were the largest we’ve ever had,” he said. “That’s the first we heard about it.” Those closures required under the management plan have long been a sticking point for Upper Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen, who say the lack of flexibility makes the fishery ineffective and allows too many fish to escape into the stream systems. Martin said the fishery managers need to have the flexibility to go outside the management plans to prosecute an effective fishery. Dates play a major role in the management, and this year, when more than half the Kenai River sockeye run arrived in August — the first time in Fish and Game’s records — much of the fleet was shifted away from the Kenai or out of the water by Aug. 15 by regulation, with more sockeye still coming in. Cotten said the department has some flexibility to go outside the plans but cannot completely bypass them. He said in answer to concerns about the scientific accuracy of established escapement goals, the department would make a “very, very” serious effort to have public meetings on escapement goals in the Cook Inlet. “The problem is it’s very difficult to just completely ignore the Board of Fisheries,” he said. “I find it very, very difficult to ignore the management plans they’ve laid out.” Walker said he’s made a point not to be involved in fisheries management decisions during his administration, deferring to Cotten and ADFG. “I have absolutely stayed to my word, I don’t tell them how to run the department,” he said. “I just don’t have those credentials.” Walker, who is up for reelection in November, recently hired Ephraim Frohlich as a fisheries advisor in his office. He added that he hopes the Cook Inlet Salmon Task Force he appointed, intended to bring together user groups from around Cook Inlet to discuss the allocation and issues facing Cook Inlet fisheries. Early in the process, saying the task force was aimless, the Kenai River Sportfishing Association withdrew from the process, though other stakeholder groups have stayed involved. The task force’s first meeting, pending appointment of members, is scheduled for Oct. 12 in Anchorage. “We have been meeting about this a lot, and we have been talking about it a lot,” he said. “I’m really hopeful that what we’re trying to do on this task force, something is going to come of that.” Walker has found controversy in his board nominations as well. In 2015 he told former chair Karl Johnstone, who represented recreational fishermen on the board, that he would not be replaced and when Johnstone resigned in response Walker named UCIDA Executive Director Roland Maw to replace him. That nomination was scuttled when Maw faced charges for applying for resident hunting and fishing privileges in both Montana and Alaska as well as illegally receiving Permanent Fund dividends. KRSA opposed Kenai area biologist Robert Ruffner, Walker’s next choice, and he was narrowly defeated in the Legislature before Walker nominated him again the following year and he was approved. Encouraging young fishermen Part of the meeting’s tone was also about how to encourage young fishermen to enter and stay in the Cook Inlet fishery. But with increasing cost, relatively low earnings and unpredictable openings, Cook Inlet’s commercial fishermen are concerned about the future of the fishery with fewer young people attracted to making a career of it. In 2017, the average Cook Inlet drift gillnet permit holder brought home just about $28,000, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. That’s about two-thirds of the average permit price that year of $42,400. Over the past three decades, average gross earnings for the drift fleet have fluctuated wildly from year to year — from a high of more than $133,000 in 1988 to a low of $7,947 in 2001 — and 2017 is far from the lowest amount they’ve earned in a season. The east side set gillnet fishery is a little better off, where the average permit holder earned $23,991 in 2017, about $8,000 more than the 2017 permit value of $15,600. Like the drifters, their average earnings per season fluctuate, varying from a high of $91,099 in 1989 to a low of $5,551 in 2012, according to the CFEC. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Heavy nets, and wallets, for Bristol Bay and Norton Sound fishermen

Despite poor salmon runs dominating the news across the Gulf of Alaska, fishermen in Bristol Bay and western Alaska brought home heavy nets and wallets this year. Salmon runs in Bristol Bay and Norton Sound arrived in force and smashed records — again. It’s the second year in a row that runs have come in exceptionally large in the two areas. Bristol Bay measured an inshore run of 62.3 million sockeye, the largest run since 1893 and more than 69 percent greater than the 20-year average run of 36.9 million. It’s the fourth year in a row that Bristol Bay inshore runs have topped 50 million, and this year came in far above the preseason forecast of 51.3 million fish. Set and drift gillnet fishermen brought in a total harvest of 41.3 million, the second-highest harvest on record, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s year-end season summary for the area. On top of that, prices stayed significantly higher than usual as the supply flooded the market, bringing in a record ex-vessel value for the area as well— more than double what fishermen have made in the history of the fishery. The preliminary ex-vessel value of $281 million is more than 242 percent above the 20-year average of $116 million, and 39 percent above the previous record of $202 million, set in 1990. Though the run was much larger than usual, the processors were able to keep up, in part because the sockeye didn’t all arrive at the same time. The east side runs to Egegik and Ugashik were about 10 days later than the average, while the run to the Nushagak and Togiak areas were only two or three days late, said Nushagak/Togiak area management biologist Tim Sands. “It really worked out well for the processors here because there was such disparity in the run timing in Nushagak and the east side that there was never any limits or suspensions because of capacity issues,” he said. “The east side didn’t really hit until after it was starting to slow down on the west side, and that made it so they were never plugged. We had at least one processor buying in the Nushagak district that wasn’t traditionally in the Nushagak district. I think many of the processors would have liked to have more fish.” Usually, as more fish flood the market throughout the summer, sockeye salmon prices begin to drop. However, this year they didn’t. That may be in part due to poor harvests across the Gulf of Alaska from Kodiak to Southeast, though fishermen in Bristol Bay are also taking steps to improve the quality of their product on their own, said Division of Commercial Fisheries Deputy Director Forrest Bowers. “Their ex-vessel price has been ticking up the past few years anyway,” he said. “They’ve been doing a good job on their own, but they definitely got a little help this year.” Up north, it was less sockeye salmon and more chums, silvers and pinks flooding the rivers. Norton Sound’s commercial fishermen smashed their 1978 all-time harvest record of $3.5 million in ex-vessel value with a $4 million season, mixed between chum and silver salmon. It was a peak season in many ways. In addition to a new record of 260,000 silver salmon harvested and the second-highest chum harvest in the area’s history, the number of licenses fished reached a high of 155, the highest since 1987, said area management biologist Jim Menard. “This is the all-time greatest year we’ve had,” he said. “We went from a low of 12 (permits fished) in 2002, and now we’re up to 155.” Norton Sound has struggled with keeping processors in the area to buy fish. Several years passed in the mid-2000s with no processor available at all, so no fishing was available. However, Norton Sound Economic Development Corp. stepped in with a fish processing plant in Unalakleet and fishing has opened up again. This year presented a challenge because of the sheer number of fish being harvested but the plant was able to handle it, Menard said. One species that smashed a record but didn’t contribute much to the harvest was pink salmon, though. In the Nome River, ADFG counted 3.2 million of them, obliterating the previous record of 1.6 million, he said. “Luckily for us, this year, the water was higher,” Menard said. “I remember actually (pink salmon) were both about 1.2 million in 2008 and 2016 both, but in 2008 had just a touch lower water and those rivers just reeked.” However, there isn’t much of a market for pink salmon in the area, so there hasn’t been much interest in harvesting them, he said. The same is true for the herring in Norton Sound, which NSEDC is studying as a potential market expansion. The pink salmon burst in Norton Sound is fairly unique among salmon fisheries in Alaska this year. In addition to underwhelming king and sockeye runs across the Gulf of Alaska, pink salmon harvest fell behind expectations, with the total coming in about half of what the department had projected. That includes Bristol Bay, where the pink salmon harvest came in about 55 percent the 20-year average, according to the year-end summary. That isn’t a huge deal for the fishermen, though, as pink salmon don’t typically constitute a huge percentage of the annual harvest, Sands said. “We don’t have a very big pink run compared to Cook Inlet or Prince William Sound,” he said. “It has been better in the past, and it was lower than we would expect in an even year.” Bristol Bay, like other areas, has been experiencing later runs than historical trends in recent years, Sands said. This year followed that trend. The large run led to some rivers overescaping ADFG management goals, and the department will watch what happens about four or five years from now when this year’s offspring will return as adults to see how the large escapements affect production, he said. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Battle breaks out over growth of ‘Super 8s’ in state cod fishery

UNALASKA — The success of the state waters Dutch Harbor Pacific cod fishery in the Bering Sea is scaring both the industrial trawl and longline fleets, and even a local Unalaska fisherman who says a new breed of small boats known as Super 8s are catching way too many fish. In 2014, the new fishery opened with 3 percent of the total Bering Sea cod quota, and two years later it more than doubled to 6.4 percent, by votes of the Alaska Board of Fisheries to promote small boat fisheries. And it may get a lot bigger, as the board will soon hear proposals for growing the fishery to 8, 10 or as much as 20 percent of all the cod available to fishermen in the Bering Sea. Already, the boats less than 60 feet long have caught 10 times the average catch before the new rules took effect in 2014, according to opponent Chad See, executive director of the Freezer Longliner Coalition, representing factory boats that harvest cod with baited hooks anchored to the ocean floor. See called for observers monitoring the catch on the vessels, saying “there is no observer requirement in the state waters fishery.” He also cited conservation concerns, noting that while the Pacific cod decline in the Bering Sea is not as bad as in the Gulf of Alaska at 79 percent, it’s still significant, dropping 45 percent since 2014, according to the federal trawl survey. “Any increase to the state water fishery increases the amount of cod that is unobserved,” See said, adding that while most of the Area O cod are Bering Sea fish, there is some overlap with Gulf fish, especially around Unimak Pass in the Aleutian Islands. As ocean waters heat up, so do the politics of Pacific cod. Complaining that wide-body “Super 8” 58-foot fishing boats aren’t really small boats, the Unalaska/Dutch Harbor Fish and Game Advisory Committee wants them to carry less than capacity, with limits of 150,000 pounds of Pacific cod in the Dutch Harbor state waters fishery, supporting a proposal before the Alaska Board of Fisheries when it meets in downtown Anchorage Oct. 18 and 19 at the Egan Convention Center. “It does not resemble a small boat fishery, and is completely out of control,” said Dustan Dickerson, owner of the F/V Raven Bay, which he said can only pack 50,000 pounds, compared to a quarter-million pounds for a Super 8, at the Sept. 12 committee meeting at the Unalaska Public Library. Dickerson described the Super 8s as “a 120-foot boat cut in half,” and Don Goodfellow, the plant manager of Alyeska Seafoods, said the vessels are 22-feet wide, resembling “a barge with a wheelhouse.” Dickerson proposed limiting the amount of cod allowed on board to either 50,000, or 100,000 pounds of cod, but ultimately joined in the 7-0 vote to support Proposal 15 on the fish board agenda, submitted by Andrew Wilder. Wilder called for the onboard limit in the growing Dutch Harbor subdistrict Pacific cod fishery, now in its fourth year, with 6.4 percent of the federal cod quota in the Bering Sea. With quotas slashed in the neighboring Gulf of Alaska, the Dutch Harbor cod fishery saw an influx of boats from the Gulf. Goodfellow said the big winner is boatbuilder Fred Wahl Marine Constructioon, of Reedsport, Ore., and fishing crews from Oregon. But he predicted that even if onboard capacity is limited, the fishing industry will always look for an angle and loophole, like maybe hiring tenders to shuttle fish to the plants from the fishing grounds. He compared the “arms race” shaping up in the cod fishery to the longtime tendency to build wider and deeper boats in Bristol Bay where salmon gillnetters are limited to 32 feet in length. The fish board regulates fishing in state waters up to three miles from shore, and the new Dutch Harbor small boat fishery is increasingly attracting boats from the Gulf of Alaska, were the cod quota was down 80 percent in the past year. The decline of cod in the Gulf is blamed on the warm water “blob.” The committee also rejected proposals to increase the state waters cod fishery to 10 and 20 percent, to protect the trawl fleet that delivers larger quantities of cod to local plants. “This is way too big of a bite at one time,” said committee chair Frank Kelty. “This is a big hit,” said Brent Paine, executive director of United Catcher Boats, via teleconference. The committee also opposed a smaller request, for 8 percent, from Ernie Weiss of the Aleutians East Borough. The committee also rejected a proposal, by a 6 to 1 vote, to close trawling in state waters during the pot cod fishery in Dutch Harbor, proposed by Robert Magnus Thorstenson Jr. “Our boats continually lose pots to draggers in the Bering Sea pot cod fisheries,” he said in the written proposal, adding “there should be no trawling in state waters while our fishery is being prosecuted.” “We do not want to catch pots,” said trawler advocate Paine, saying that the trawl and pot fleets coordinate by sharing information to avoid such entanglements, although he admitted it still occasionally happens. The lone dissenter was Steven Gregory, who repeatedly complained the committee prioritizes economics over conservation. Thorstenson wrote that pot cod fishing is a cleaner fishery that “negates the bycatch impact” of cod caught with other gear types. Dickerson said the Super 8s are a conservation menace when they rapidly harvest large quantities of fish, and said the fishing effort should be spread out in space and time. In an effort to gain a local voice amongst the Super 8s, the Unalaska Native Fisherman’s Association decided to join a new small boat advocacy group, the Under Sixty Cod Harvesters, by buying a membership for Dickerson’s boat. The Under 60 group, in its proposal for 10 percent of the state waters cod quota, said their fleet is “largely comprised of vessels that are owned, crewed and maintained by Alaskans.” The portrayal of trawlers as non-local was challenged as a “myth” by At-Sea Processors Association Executive Director Stephanie Madsen, via teleconference, citing the ownership of factory trawlers by Alaska Community Development Quota groups. Kelty said cod landings in 2017 in Unalaska totaled 70 million pounds, worth $22 million at 30 cents per pound, in combined pot cod and trawl-caught fish, with the highest percentage from the trawl sector, paying $1.1 million in state and local taxes. Jim Paulin can be reached a [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: NOAA ramps up aquaculture effort; crab surveys disappoint

Offshore fish farms could soon dot the seascape along with those oil and gas platforms being proposed for U.S. waters by the Trump Administration. The fish farms, which would be installed from three to 200 miles out, are being touted as a way to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the nation’s $16 billion trade deficit due to America’s importing nearly 90 percent of its seafood favorites. The U.S. Commerce Department is holding meetings around the country through November to talk about its strategic plan for getting aquaculture off the ground. At a recent session in Juneau, National Marine Fisheries Service Administrator Chris Oliver said that wild harvests simply can’t keep up with global demand. “Aquaculture is going to be where the major increases in seafood production occur whether it happens in foreign countries or in U.S. waters,” Oliver said. “Aquaculture would seem like an ideal industry for the country, since it has the second-largest exclusive enterprise zone in the world — meaning it has proprietary marine resource rights over an area totaling roughly 4.4 million square miles in three oceans, the Caribbean Sea, and the Gulf of Mexico,” wrote Seafood Source. However, the U.S. is a bit player in the burgeoning global industry. In 2015, the U.S. produced just 0.4 percent, or 426,000 metric tons, of global aquaculture harvests, putting it in 18th place and trailing such countries as Ecuador, Malaysia, and North Korea. In contrast, the U.S. ranks No. 1 in the world in poultry and beef production. The potential is not lost on America’s big food producers. A new trade group called Stronger America Through Seafood has emerged to promote the push to farm the seas. Its backers include Cargill, Pacific Seafood, Red Lobster, High Liner Foods, Sysco and Seattle Fish Company. “There is no clear framework for allowing offshore aquaculture development, so while the rest of the world is growing and evolving and exploring the open ocean as an opportunity to farm our own fish, the U.S. continues with business as usual,” said spokesperson Margaret Henderson. “And as our population and our appetites increase, we become increasingly dependent on foreign production.” The group has come out in support of a bill pending in the U.S. Senate called Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture, or AQUAA, Act that would streamline the permitting process for offshore aquaculture projects. The act would create an Office of Marine Aquaculture within NOAA and provide a “one-stop shop” for federal approval of fish farm permits and “to the extent practicable,” avoid, minimize, or mitigate adverse impacts to the marine environment and wild fisheries. During the Juneau session, Under Secretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet cited climate change in his pitch for the fish farms. “Some of the changes in the environment are affecting fish stocks,” he said, “They are either moving or they’re not thriving and so aquaculture, done the right way and scientifically based, provides a means for employment of fishermen who are losing some of their gain through these changing conditions.” Sam Rabung, director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s aquaculture division, respectfully disagreed. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to fight pretty hard to maintain the state’s opt-out option,” Rabung said, “and maintain the ability to prohibit finfish farming off of Alaska.” Crab news It’s a mix of good but mostly bad news for Bering Sea crabbers. The results from the summer trawl surveys showed “substantial” drops in numbers of king crab and bairdi Tanners. Conversely, the snow crab stock appears to be on a big rebound. The news was presented last week in the annual Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation Report for the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. For red king crab, at the eastern portion of the Bering Sea more commonly called Bristol Bay, numbers of mature males dropped more than 40 percent from last year; mature females were down 54 percent. Even worse, the survey continued to show no sign of younger red king crab coming into the fishery. “We haven’t seen recruitment in years,” said Bob Foy, director of the NOAA Fisheries lab at Kodiak and leader of the Council’s crab plan team. In the report the team noted “it feels that the rather unusual environmental conditions in the eastern Bering Sea this year (e.g., elevated bottom temperatures, lack of a cold pool) and the model’s poor fit to the 2018 survey data increase the uncertainty associated with this stock and warrant additional precaution.” The red king crab catch last year at Bristol Bay was 6.6 million pounds, a 20 percent drop from 2017. For Tanner crab, the number of mature females dictates the fate of a fishery and those numbers declined 70 percent in the eastern fishing district, continuing a trend over several years. The news was better for the west, where male Tanners held steady while females declined 14 percent. Foy also said there was a “substantial amount” of young crab poised to enter that region’s Tanner fishery. “Substantial” also sums up the good news for Bering Sea snow crab. The summer survey showed a 60 percent boost in market-sized males and nearly the same for females. The SAFE report said the 2018 survey showed the largest mature male biomass since 1998. Foy added that the survey “documented one of the largest snow crab recruitment events biologists have ever seen.” The snow crab fishery last season produced a 19 million-pound catch, the lowest since 2005. The reaction from fishermen was mostly over “disbelief” in the king crab data, said a veteran Bering Sea crabber and industry advocate who asked not to be named. “The survey results seem contradictory to what many saw while fishing last year,” he added. “Many believe a pre-season pot survey would yield a more accurate assessment of biomass. We respect the process and understand the reasons, but the dynamics of the Bering Sea are changing, and stock assessment methods may be less relevant than they once were.” Bristol Bay booms It’s a record-breaking payday for Bristol Bay salmon fishermen. The preliminary value of the sockeyes and other salmon they hauled in this summer topped $280 million, a first in the history of the fishery, and 242 percent above the 20-year average. The 2018 Bristol Bay sockeye salmon run of 62.3 million fish was the biggest since 1893 and nearly 70 percent above the 20-year average, according to a summary by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. It also was the fourth consecutive year that sockeye runs topped 50 million fish. In terms of catch, a harvest of 41.3 million red salmon was the second largest on record, after the 45.4 million fish taken in 1995. Symphony seafood surprises The call is out for new Alaska products to compete at the 26th annual Symphony of Seafood in Seattle and Juneau. “Looking back over the years it is striking how new product development techniques and possibilities have increased seafood investments. It’s really heartening because that drives value and prices and continues to keep Alaska seafood relevant to consumers,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the event. The Symphony provides a level playing field where new products from small “mom and pops” can compete on a level playing field with majors like Trident and Ocean Beauty. Products are judged by an expert panel in four categories: Retail, Food Service, Beyond the Egg (roe products) and Beyond the Plate. “There are so many things being produced around the state, from kelp beer to pet treats, to things that are not edible …cosmetics, fish skins, things from crab shells — if it has Alaska seafood in it, it’s eligible for Beyond the Plate,” Decker said. Symphony goers can see and taste the new products and vote for their favorites during Pacific Marine Expo (Nov.18-20), where the top winners will be announced. All others will be kept under wraps until the Symphony again moves to Juneau in February for another bash. That’s where second and third place and the grand prize winner will be revealed. The winning products get more exposure with a free trip and booth space at the big Seafood Expo North America event in Boston in March. “It’s a fun side of the industry where we all come together and celebrate the work that goes into developing these products, and the entire supply chain from when the fish is caught to selling it to customers at grocery stores,” Decker said. Last year’s top winner was Alaskan Leader Seafoods for its Wild Caught Cod with Lemon Herb Butter and its Cod Crunchies Pet Treats. Product entries and sponsors can sign up through October 19 at the Alaska Symphony of Seafood website. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Council to review state of rules for unguided halibut anglers

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council may consider more registration requirements for motorized rental boats for halibut fishing, though a staff report concluded it will put more burden on either the federal or state government to do so. At its upcoming meeting from Oct. 1-9 in Anchorage, the council is set to review a discussion paper on further registration requirements for boats available for rental to unguided halibut anglers in Southcentral and Southeast Alaska, known by the International Pacific Halibut Commission as regulation areas 3A and 2C, respectively. In recent years, some have raised concerns that as guided fishermen are restricted to one halibut per day, some turn to self-guided rentals for fishing, where fishermen are allowed to keep two halibut of any size per day. In December 2017, the council members requested further analysis of possible registration for motorized rental halibut fishing boats. That paper, scheduled for the upcoming meeting, notes that there are already multiple registration programs in place for vessels. “The Council’s request included a purpose and need statement that proposed that differences in harvest regulations between guided and unguided anglers, and the presumed growth of the rental boat segment of the unguided sector, may negatively impact other halibut fishing sectors,” the paper states. The state requires vessel registration through the Division of Motor Vehicles for all motorized boats used in state waters, and the U.S. Coast Guard requires it for vessels greater than five net tons. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game has an additional registration requirement for sportfish guiding vessels, denoted by an oval sticker on the vessels each year. Specifically for halibut, the National Marine Fisheries Service requires all halibut charter vessels fishing in areas 3A and 2C to have a valid Charter Halibut Permit, or CHP, the paper states. Despite the concerns from the charter sector about unguided harvest increasing, records show that sport halibut harvest has remained flat or declined in both areas in the past decade. Harvest in all sectors began falling in 2006 until about 2014, when it began to rise slightly, according to the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Total harvest in 2017 was slightly up from 2016, with about 42.8 million pounds total landed, 7.9 million of which were harvested by recreational fishermen. However, the portion of those fish being harvested by guided anglers dropped, with more of the harvest going to unguided anglers, according to the discussion paper. “In area 2C, the guided harvest declined while the unguided harvest, although variable, remained near 1 million pounds from 2003-2016,” the paper states. “In 2011, the proportion of halibut caught by unguided anglers in area 2C exceeded the proportion caught by guided anglers for the first time. This may explain the perception that unguided catch is increasing despite the overall stability shown in catch data.” Catches by both guided and unguided anglers fell in area 3A from 2003-2016, with the majority of the fish — about 60 percent — still going to guided anglers, according to the paper. The state DMV has 249 rental vessels registered by 47 businesses in Southcentral and Southeast, which council staff feels is fairly accurate, according to the paper. Any further registration requirement would likely create more work for the state and National Marine Fisheries Service as well as require state cooperation, the paper states. The recent decline in halibut stocks has led to additional restrictions on both the commercial and charter fleets, with charter fishermen losing additional fishing days and experiencing more size restrictions over the years. The looser limits on unguided fishermen have led to strain among user groups. In a comment submitted to the council, Kent Huff —a member of the council’s Halibut Management Committee and owner of Gustavus-based Glacier Bay Eagle’s Nest Lodge — noted that a single limit for unguided and guided halibut fishermen would equalize harvest pressure. “The future of halibut fishing in Alaska is moving to the self-guided sector as more and more fishermen choose the option to catch two fish of any size verses one fish in a reverse slot limit,” he noted in his comment. “This will only continue to increase the number of self-guided operations and the overall number of halibut harvested each year. I believe that the only way to reduce the increasing pressure on the resource is to have the same limit for all halibut fishermen (charter and boat rental) in Alaska.” The council will meet at the Hilton Hotel in Anchorage from Oct. 1-9. Comments are open until Sept. 28 at noon. ^ Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Salmon winds down, fall fisheries ramp up; cukes against cancer

As Alaska’s salmon season draws to a close, lots of fall fisheries are just getting underway from Ketchikan to the Bering Sea. Southeast is one of Alaska’s busiest regions for fall fishing, especially for various kinds of shellfish. Nearly 400,000 pounds of sidestripe and pink shrimp are being hauled in by a few beam trawlers, and the season for spot shrimp opens Oct. 1. Usually about a half-million pounds of the popular big spots are hauled up in local pots over several months. Dungeness crab fishing also will reopen in Southeast in October, and up to 200 Southeast divers will head down for more than 1.7 million pounds of sea cucumbers starting Oct. 1. A 140,000-pound sea cucumber fishery at Kodiak attracts around 20 divers, and smaller cuke catches in the 5,000- to 20,000-pound range also occur along the Alaska Peninsula, the Aleutians and Bering Sea. Divers, who received about $4 per pound for their sea cucumber catches last year, are likely to get even higher prices. The cukes are considered a delicacy in Asian countries where they are served in many fresh, frozen and powered forms. (See more about the amazing health properties of sea cucumbers below.) A decrease in supply due to a heat wave this summer in China killed most of that country’s production and market reports show that dried sea cucumbers from Japan were recently selling for $126.50 per pound. Alaska longliners have taken 78 percent of the nearly 20 million-pound halibut catch limit since the fishery began in mid-March, with less than 4 million pounds remaining. Seward, Homer and Kodiak were the top ports for halibut landings. For sablefish, fishermen have taken 61 percent of the nearly 26 million pound quota with Seward, Sitka and Kodiak receiving the most deliveries. Both fisheries end on Nov. 7. Fishing for cod, rockfish, flounders, pollock and other whitefish continues in the Bering Sea. Pollock reopens in the Gulf of Alaska Oct. 1. Bering Sea crabbers will find out any day the fate of a red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay as well as the catches for snow crab and Tanners. Those fisheries open Oct. 15. Fall also marks the time for some of Alaska’s most important fish meetings. The industry will get a first peek at possible fish catches for next year when the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Oct. 1- 9 in Anchorage. Comments on all agenda items are open through Sept. 28. Finally, the state Board of Fisheries will meet Oct. 15-19 at the Egan Center with an unusual lineup that includes a work session, Pacific cod issues and an open town hall meeting on Alaska hatcheries. In its regular meeting cycle that begins in November, the board will address regulatory issues focused on state managed fisheries at Bristol Bay, the Alaska Peninsula, Chignik, the Aleutians and Bering Sea. Sea cukes and cancer Sea cucumbers have been considered a delicacy in Asian cuisine for centuries and also have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to help aid in many different health problems. In his book “Cancer: Step Outside the Box,” author Ty M. Bollinger calls the spiky, slug-like creates a miracle cure for cancer. “You can cook them for various dishes, but the way it’s found in local health food stores is dried and powdered and in capsule form,” he said, adding that dried sea cucumber extract is anti-viral, anti-bacterial and also has anti-inflammatory properties. “Another of the fascinating things about sea cucumbers is that they are very high in chondroitin sulfate, which is commonly used to treat joint pain and arthritis. To my knowledge, they have the highest concentration of chondroitin of any animal,” Bollinger said in an interview. While customers likely won’t see it on the labels, he added that powdered sea cucumbers also have many cancer curing abilities based on studies over the past 15 years. “Number one, it’s cytotoxic, which means it kills cancer cells, and it also is immunomodulatory. So it has both sides of what I call the cancer killing coin,” he explained. “If you are going to defeat cancer, you need something that regulates your immune system to where it works properly but you also must have something that is going to kill those cancer cells. The sea cucumber does both.” Sea cucumber extract also is used as an adjunct treatment for those undergoing chemotherapy, Bollinger said, because it’s very effective at mitigating the side effects of that cancer treatment. Bigger home for baby oysters Alaska oyster growers at Kachemak Bay near Homer could more than triple their production if they had a new FLUPSY. That’s a “floating upweller system” used to grow millions of tiny oysters after they leave their nursery tanks. It takes up to five years for oysters to grow from microscopic to slurpable size, and the outdated system is taking a big bite out of the potential. Unlike other shellfish growing regions in Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound where farms are widely scattered, a dozen Kachemak Bay farmers used their closer proximity and formed a cooperative in 1988 to pool their resources and products. Since then the Kachemak Shellfish Growers Cooperative and its non-profit mariculture arm have grown to share a facility on the Homer Spit for processing, marketing, slurping, shipping and most recently, culturing local oyster seed. “We should be independent from seed to plate. We are doing that now,” said cooperative president Marie Bader. Roughly 3 million microscopic seed oysters are held in five 500-gallon nursery tanks where they feed constantly on algae for three months before transferring to the waters of Kachemak Bay. That’s where the FLUPSY comes in. The floating raft is run by a paddle wheel pump that provides a steady flow of water and algae to porous bins that hold the baby bivalves for a year. “We no longer feed them when they go into the ocean. They depend on the water for their nutrients,” Bader explained. The baby oysters are cleaned and graded throughout their year in the FLUPSY; when they reach fingernail size, they are sold to the farmers who grow them in floating lantern nets for at least two more years before they are marketable. The Kachemak growers sold 150,000 dozen oysters last year. Orders online are advertised at $21 per dozen but sell locally for $14 to $16 at retail and “a bit less for restaurants,” Bader said. “At Pike’s Place Market in Seattle oysters are selling for $19 to $20 a dozen, so it’s a pretty darn good value.” The group also sells oyster seed at $40 to $45 per thousand to oyster growers in Alaska and elsewhere, where demand exceeds supply. As the Pacific Ocean acidifies, oyster growers in Washington, California and British Columbia have struggled to get larvae to grow into seed, the stage when shells form, and are turning to Alaska. Upgrading their nearly 20 year old FLUPSY would help fill that need. “Instead of 3 million, we might up it to 10 million, and we could space out the baby oysters more so they weren’t so congested in the few bins we have,” Bader said, adding that the FLUPSY is “on its last legs.” “It’s been in salt water, it’s open to the elements, our workers have to boat over to Halibut Cove and are outside in rain and snow keeping that paddlewheel going in the middle of winter. We need a new facility that is enclosed so that our workers are out of the elements and our seed is protected,” she added. A new FLUPSY is on Homer’s 2019 capital improvement list for a total cost of $175,000. City Manager Katie Koester called the co-op’s oyster businesses a “sparkling year-round addition” to Homer and said that “every cooler of oysters delivered to the dock represents $150 to the grower.” Koester added that the local hatchery and new FLUPSY also can provide a great educational lab for high school and university students, who currently must travel to Seward for mariculture studies. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Kelp-based beer latest entry to Alaska’s ‘Blue Economy’

Gov. Bill Walker christened Alaska’s first kelp-based beer during a recent swing through Kodiak. The beer was created at the Kodiak Island Brewery using local kelp from Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed grown by Stephanie and Nick Mangini. “Steph mentioned seeing a kelp craft beer on the internet and I told her to bring me 100 pounds,” said brewery “flow master” Chrissy Johnsrud, who created the new blend. The beer, called Kelp Sea Level Gosé, is a sour, German wheat beer made with coriander and salt. Brewery owner Ben Millstein said the seaweed was an easy fit. “We used the amount of kelp that we thought would replace the amount of salt. It’s working really good,” he said. The new beer was nearing its final stage as Millstein filled glasses with a small amount for tasting. He explained that there are over 150 different styles of beer and it is important to “calibrate one’s palate” before forming an opinion. “Shift your mind into neutral and take a couple sips,” he instructed. “Then sit with it for 30 seconds or a minute and try not to judge. Let it in and let it go. Try to disengage and give it a calibration rest and then see what you think after that.” The kelp beer had a pleasing briny taste and it won the governor’s approval. “I like it. It’s very good,” Walker said, adding that he plans to add it to his kelp repertoire. “I’ve got a kelp salsa story about how I helped get that Juneau product into Safeway, and now we have kelp beer to go with the salsa,” Walker said. “We are making it happen in Alaska as far as the blue economy. It’s right here in front of us.” The Kelp Sea Level beer was set to be added to Kodiak Island Brewery’s 13-tap lineup any day. “I think it’s going to be a huge hit,” said Johnsrud. “You can just smell the salt air and the seagulls. It’s similar to holding your ear up to a shell.” More gov goings-on While he was in Kodiak, Walker also signed House Bill 56 sponsored by Ketchikan Rep. Dan Ortiz that expands the state Revolving Loan Fund to create new financing options for fishing and mariculture businesses. He also re-established the Alaska Mariculture Task Force as an advisory body with a goal of growing a $100-million mariculture industry in 20 years. “The fiscal crisis is on the wane. It should never have happened in the first place and we should never be in that position again. Now we can get back to building Alaska,” Walker said in an interview. In terms of Alaska’s seafood industry, he said the biggest challenges stem from “unpredictability.” “We have seasonal highs and lows, problems with returns. It is very difficult for businesses to plan. One of our jobs is to make sure we provide the best data going forward as quickly as possible, so people and communities whose livelihoods depend on fishing have the assurance of a more stable future,” Walker said. The governor said our seas are “under assault” from a warming climate and off kilter ocean chemistry. That was the impetus, he said, for forming a climate change action committee that is scheduled to introduce recommendations next month that will build upon past policy initiatives and encourage new ideas. During a town meeting, several Kodiakans commented that Alaska lawmakers by and large “skim over” the economic, social and cultural importance of the seafood industry. “It’s all about attitude,” Walker said. “Commercial fishing was Alaska’s first industry and it drove the push to statehood. We will make sure our fish benefit Alaska and coastal communities. We will show up and be engaged.” Halibut shifts Some big shifts were quietly made last week to the panel that oversees the Pacific halibut stocks, including the addition of a first-ever sportfish seat. Both the U.S. and Canada named “relative newcomers” as commissioners to seats on the International Pacific Halibut Commission “during extremely sensitive negotiations on policy issues,” said Peggy Parker, director of the Halibut Association of North America and editor at Seafoodnews.com. The changes to the panel of three Canadian and three U.S. seats came after a rare impasse in determining halibut catch limits for the 2018 season. In the end, all six agreed to lower limits for both countries, but not as a commission. It was the second time in the IPHC’s 94-year history that an impasse could not be overcome, Parker said. The commissioners also agreed to negotiate a resolution to their disagreements, which center on halibut distribution and bycatch accountability, before the annual meeting in January. For the U.S. seats, NOAA Fisheries announced the reappointment of Bob Alverson, director of the Fishing Vessel Owners Association. Also, sport charter operator Richard Yamada, president of the Alaska Charter Association, replaced Linda Behnken, director of Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and a halibut commissioner for two years. Yamada is owner of Shelter Lodge near Juneau and has been involved in the charter fishing industry for nearly 40 years. He currently serves on state and federal fisheries advisory committees. Both men were appointed for five months, from Sept. 1 to Jan. 31, 2019. Jim Balsiger, NOAA Fisheries Alaska manager who has represented the U.S. for nearly two decades, was reappointed through September, “but may be replaced after that, according to several people familiar with the process,” Parker said. Both Chris Oliver, current head of NOAA Fisheries, and Doug Mecum, deputy regional manager at the fisheries service Juneau office, have been mentioned as possible replacements. Eat more fish leaves babies behind Seafood nutrition experts are gathering in the nation’s capital next week for a State of the Science Symposium. The non-profit Seafood Nutrition Partnership hosts the annual event as part of a public health campaign begun in 2015 aimed at getting Americans to eat more seafood. The connection of omega rich seafood to brain health is a trending topic, according to the agenda . “The brain and the retina in the eye are omega-3 organs. As calcium is to the bones, omega 3 is to the brain,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, professor of pediatrics and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas/Austin and chair of the SNP advisory council. Added to the symposium mix this year, Brenna said, are fisheries managers, aquaculture experts and environmental groups. “And we guys on the medical nutrition side are thrilled,” Brenna said in a phone interview. “There is so much misinformation out there about the state of fisheries and management. Having folks who can speak authoritatively about what folks are doing in U.S. fisheries and around the world is extraordinarily valuable and something we don’t get in any other forums.” The partnership works with local dieticians and uses educational programs and social media to get its health messages across. Brenna said it has yet to come up with a catchy national brand. “We don’t have a good a way of getting across the notion that seafood is such a delicious part of meals. Maybe we should have a contest to find a nice tag line that would identify seafood in the same way as ‘Got Milk?’ or ‘Beef, it’s what’s for dinner,’” he said. A focus of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership is moms, but Brenna admitted that fish is missing from America’s baby food offerings. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t know what the problem is,” he said. “It seems like it’s a consumer demand question; companies sell what the consumers demand and apparently, we have not done a good job in educating consumers about what they ought to be demanding for their kids. “In nutrition circles, for 30 years we have been discussing that when we transition a baby or toddler from breast milk or formula that contains omega-3s, they are transitioning to foods that have hardly any omega-3s at all. And no fish,” Brenna added. “We should be weaning kids to the foods that are going to be important throughout their lives. And this may be a reason why they are not consuming seafood when they get older. Maybe this is something that we can work on with baby food manufacturers.” The seafood nutrition science symposium is set for Sept. 14 in Washington, DC. Audio and video will be available after the event. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

As costs rise, Walker signs bill to increase fishing loan limits

Alaska fishermen now have a little more leeway to borrow money from the state to pay for new permits, boats, licenses and other equipment. House Bill 56, primarily sponsored by Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan, rewrites sections of the state’s Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Program to change the cap on allowable amounts of certain types of loans. Fishermen who want to buy individual fishing quotas, or IFQ, limited entry permits or gear can now borrow up to $400,000, an increase from $300,000. Gov. Bill Walker signed the bill into law Aug. 31. Ortiz — who represents a district with a high proportion of commercial fishing and seafood processing jobs — said in a release from the Alaska House Majority Coalition that the bill helps resident fishermen get over the cost hurdle to enter commercial fisheries. “By clearing away bureaucratic and economic hurdles, this bill moves us one step closer towards the goal of helping Alaskans reap the benefits of our sustainable commercial fisheries,” Ortiz said. The House passed the bill in 2017, but it sat in the Senate Finance Committee for the remainder of the contentious and lengthy session before the Senate passed it in May 2018. Ortiz credited Sen. Gary Stevens, R-Kodiak, with pushing the bill through the Senate this year, despite most of the Legislature’s attention being focused on fiscal issues. The Commercial Fisheries Revolving Loan Fund is coordinated through the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development and is only available to people who have lived in Alaska for at least two years. Fishermen can take out low-interest loans for up to 15-year terms to finance fishing-related expenses like vessel upgrades, gear purchases or permit purchases. The $300,000 amount was set in 1982, Ortiz wrote in a sponsor’s statement to the Legislature. Adjusting for inflation in the 36 years since, that would be about $746,000 today. Alaska fishermen have been facing steeper and steeper thresholds to entry in commercial fisheries over the years. Because of concerns about stock sustainability and overharvesting, Alaska established the limited entry system in 1972 for state-regulated fisheries. The value of permits goes up and down depending on the value of the fishery, but can cost as much as $190,800 for a set gillnet permit in Prince William Sound or as little as $3,300 for a set gillnet permit for salmon in the Upper Yukon River, according to the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. That’s not counting boats, gear and fuel. In 1992, federal regulators implemented a quota system for halibut that created IFQ for a similar reason — to preserve the stocks and slow down the fishery while still allowing harvest opportunity. The season now lasts from March until November compared to the “race for fish” in the past when the total harvest could be taken in just days. However, the market-based value of those quota shares has increased so much that small, rural Alaskan fishermen have been pushed out by the cost of purchasing quota, causing significant disruption in those rural fishing communities even two decades later. IFQs have been implemented in a variety of fisheries in Alaska including Bering Sea crab and pollock to achieve the goal of sustainability through limited entry. While that may work for some fisheries, it has shown negative consequences for smaller ones, according to a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in August. Courtney Carothers, a University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences professor who co-authored the study, said in a news release from the university that the study was meant to question whether a broadly applied fishery management tool like the IFQ system, also known as ITQ (individual transferable quotas) works for all fisheries. “Social scientists have been frustrated by the assumption that ITQs are a simple solution for fisheries management across the world,” Carothers said. “We were excited to come together and evaluate some examples of where ITQs work, why sometimes they don’t work, and who is being impacted when an ITQ isn’t the right option for a fishery.” She cited the halibut fishery in Alaska as an example, where some quota shares can cost up to $70 per pound. The paper suggests developing an “institutional diagnostics toolkit” to help fisheries regulators and officials gauge the impact of a measure before implementing it, based on the context of the fishery. “Toolkits like this could be used in many governance settings to challenge users’ understandings of a policy’s impacts and help them develop solutions better tailored to their particular context. They would not replace the more comprehensive approaches found in the literature but would rather be an intermediate step away from the problem of panaceas,” the paper states. The Legislature was considering another bill, HB 188, to address the same entry-cost problem. HB 188, sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tompkins, D-Sitka, would allow up to three regions in Alaska to establish commercial fisheries trusts which would hold permits and temporarily transfer those permits to fishermen, essentially providing a middle step between being a deckhand and laying out a small fortune to buy an entry permit. Introduced in 2017, the bill was last heard in February 2018 and referred to the House Labor and Commerce Committee. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

Biologists, fishermen puzzle over late Kenai sockeye run

First they were underweight, with underwhelming numbers. Then they weren’t there at all. Then they were coming in late, showing up as Upper Cook Inlet fishermen were packing up their gear for the season. The unpredictable and significantly smaller Kenai River sockeye run frustrated a lot of fishermen this year. As of the last day of sonar counts on Aug. 28, about 1.03 million sockeye had entered the river. More than half of them arrived after Aug. 1, leading to a stop-and-start fishery that included significant time and area cuts for commercial fishermen in Cook Inlet and a complete sockeye salmon sport angling closure on the Kenai River from Aug. 4–23. That resulted in a total catch of 813,932 sockeye, less than half of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s preseason forecast commercial harvest of 1.9 million sockeye. Even the late fish arrival wasn’t much of a boon to the area’s commercial fishermen. Per the management plans, the East Side setnet fishermen are largely out of the water by Aug. 15, and the drift gillnet fleet is moved mostly to the west side of Cook Inlet to focus on silver salmon. On Aug. 23, in response to late incoming fish passing the Kenai River sonar, The Alaska Department of Fish and Game opened Drift Area 1 — a broad fishing area between the Anchor Point Light and Kalgin Island in the middle of the inlet — to drifting. Despite the opening and the numbers of sockeye passing the sonar in the river, fishermen only picked up 209 sockeye in that opening. By comparison, they picked up 1,105 silvers, which have reportedly been running well in Cook Inlet this year, despite the poor numbers of sockeye, king and pink salmon. The managers were expecting the sockeye catch to be better, said Brian Marston, the area management biologist for the Division of Commercial Fisheries in Soldotna. “We were hoping to get at some of those late fish,” he said. “We couldn’t open it up in Area 2 (closer to the mouth of the Kenai) … we just missed them.” The silver run has been a little better than usual this year, providing a small extra buffer for fishermen. Most Kenai River sportfishermen have been switching from sockeye to silvers as well, with guides grateful that the silver run has been strong enough to support angler effort with a weak or closed sockeye fishery. Biologists have been puzzling over what happened with the Gulf of Alaska sockeye this year. Weak king salmon runs weren’t uniform across the gulf, and since 2008, Alaskans have been adjusting to a reality with fewer king salmon in it. But sockeye are normally plentiful, and this year presented some firsts. Chignik’s commercial fishermen, for example, never opened, earning a disaster declaration from Gov. Bill Walker before the summer was even over. The poor runs of sockeye have happened in some rivers before, but the complete closure is a first for Chignik, said Bill Templin, the chief fisheries scientist for Fish and Game’s division of commercial fisheries. Other fisheries have been seeing a late burst, like the Kenai, and the commercial fishermen have been able to take some advantage, such as the Copper River and in Kodiak. Those fisheries have been seeing a sharp underperformance in pink salmon fisheries, too, though, as they did in 2016 when a federal disaster was declared and for which $56 million was appropriated by Congress for impacted stakeholders. So far, indications seem to point to ocean conditions unfavorable for survival. Research through the Chinook Salmon Research Initiative for the last five years has provided good tracking and life history data on ocean survival for king salmon, but the department hasn’t been doing the same kind of research for sockeye salmon, Templin said. But even then, there are some mysterious snags — while one sockeye stock may have come back poorly this year, a neighboring stream would do just fine. Next door to the Kenai River, the Kasilof River’s sockeye run handily made its escapement goal this year with harvest and increased bag limits. “Generally the freshwater conditions are pretty good, pretty consistent,” he said. “Ocean conditions seem to be driving a lot of it.” In the case of the Kasilof, that may be because the main cohort for that river is largely four-year-old fish as opposed to five-year-old fish being the norm on the Kenai, Marston said. The department staff will do more analysis after the season about the run, but so far it looks like the fish caught were for the most part smaller than usual. The Kasilof River escapement goal for sockeye was exceeded in part because of concerns for the Kenai run that restricted the commercial fleet. More fish escaped into the Kasilof, so even though the run itself wasn’t that large, more fish made it into the river, Marston said. Some fishermen have still been out harvesting silvers, but in a fishery that depends almost entirely on sockeye for the majority of its value, this season was a hard one for Upper Cook Inlet fishermen. “It’s hard to make (that sockeye catch) up,” Marston said.

Tariffs throw wrench into seafood supply chain

KENAI — Many seafood processors, fishermen and support businesses have been watching with increasing dismay as the trade war between U.S. and China heats up and impacts billions of dollars in trade. In March, President Donald Trump’s administration announced its intention to levy tariffs against China in connection with “unfair” trade practices, including theft of intellectual property. When the first round of tariffs on Chinese products were announced, the seafood industry hoped to escape the list of impacted items. That hope faded when a host of seafood products were included on the list of proposed retaliatory tariffs from the Chinese government. Then Office of the U.S. Trade Representative proposed another set of tariffs, including seafood products, at 10 percent in July. Then that number was upped to 25 percent in August. In a hearing hosted by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative Aug. 20–24, Bob DeHaan of the National Fisheries Institute said the tariffs will effectively punish American fishermen for Chinese intellectual property theft, which has nothing to do with them. Of the $2.7 billion in proposed tariffs on seafood, more than $95 million came from Alaskan fishermen. “In many cases such as the iconic Bristol Bay salmon run that just concluded this year, the fishermen are family-owned enterprises who sell their catch to seafood companies for processing, distribution and sale around the world,” he said. “How punishing these harvesters and these businesses for in effect buying American will convince China to respect its obligations regarding intellectual property rights and technology transfers is difficult to fathom.” Taking advantage of a growing consumer market and the country’s geographic position between Alaska and Europe, many seafood companies have been working to establish trade relations of their own with China. A number of seafood companies, including Copper River Seafoods, went along on a recent trade mission headed by Gov. Bill Walker to build relationships with Chinese businesses and government. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute has been working to expand its international markets for the last 20 years, with a branch office in Shanghai, said Hannah Lindoff, the director of ASMI’s international marketing program. The marketing agency, which promotes Alaska’s wild seafood as a brand worldwide, has been following the tariff developments and providing regular updates with concerns about the far-reaching impacts of tariffs on the international supply chain. A major part of that is because much of Alaska’s seafood that is shipped to China is eventually re-shipped elsewhere — in that case, the only thing that happens in China is reprocessing. “Europe is still a major market for us,” she said. “It makes a lot of sense to go through where processors are already established.” A lot of processing still happens in Alaska. However, the reprocessing side in China and other international markets makes sense because of the better access to markets with frozen fillets — demand for fillets has replaced the demand for canned salmon over the years, Lindoff said. ASMI and other organizations have been working on building the domestic consumption market is China, as opposed to just re-exporting seafood from there, Lindoff said. In America, price is still king, and in Europe, people are more used to eating salmon and paying more for it, but in China the consumers are still getting used to eating salmon. Wild Alaska seafood is only a drop in the bucket of the international salmon supply — roughly 2 percent — and so ASMI markets it as a luxury, healthy alternative to farmed salmon, which commands a higher price. The tariffs on the U.S. side with product coming back from China after reprocessing would hit American consumers, pushing up prices. However, it would also lead to interruptions in the supply chain, which could also push up costs as companies reshuffle. DeHaan explained in his testimony that the tariffs could destabilize the year-round supply chain and cost jobs in the middle and tail ends of the supply chain. “Forced to abandon China sourcing, these companies in many instances will have no choice but to drop that product line or select a third country substitute, which itself will require significant cost and expense and time,” he said. “The existing supply chains in seafood as in any other sector can take many years to build, refine and perfect. Modifying them is neither simple nor inexpensive.” Sen. Dan Sullivan testified to the committee against the seafood tariffs as well, asking the administration to remove the seafood items. “The vast, vast, vast, vast majority of this product is American,” he said. “It is an American product. And yet we’re going to penalize this with almost a billion dollars of value of tariffs on our own products by our own people. I don’t think that’s what the president or his team has intended.” Lindoff said ASMI intends to continue its international operations for now, assessing the situation as it evolves. Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

After year in DC, Oliver reflects on fisheries progress

SOLDOTNA — Chris Oliver has had a busy year since he made the leap from Anchorage to Washington, D.C. to take the lead job at the National Marine Fisheries Service. As soon as he arrived, there was an annual priorities document to review, he said at a recent roundtable discussion event hosted by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association in Soldotna. The document is both internally-facing and public to help guide NMFS’ decisions. There were three goals listed in that document, the first of which was to ensure the sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities. He changed it to read “maximize fishing opportunities while ensuring the sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities.” “There are a number of fisheries around the country where we’re not fully utilizing the available harvest whether it’s choke species or bycatch constraints or outdated regulations,” he said. “We’ve been approaching that pretty aggressively in that form. There’s not a huge amount of headroom in our wild stock harvest fisheries, but there’s some.” The second was to manage protected species, including those under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Endangered Species Act. Under that, he added language to manage those species while supporting responsible fishing and resource development. NOAA encounters a variety of resource conflicts with endangered species, be they migrating salmon species impacting agriculture or fishermen wanting to harvest king salmon that whales feed on or, more recently in Alaska, fishermen concerned about the number of sea otters impacting the shellfish fisheries in Southeast. “I think that’s another reflection of the priorities of this administration, approaching things in a more business-minded manner while not disregarding the basic science mandate of our mission,” Oliver said. “Balancing that mandate of our mission to protect and conserve those protected resources with the administration’s focus on supporting energy and infrastructure development is a very delicate balancing act. And it’s really taken a lot of my focus and a lot of my time, but it’s an important balancing act.” The third goal he revised was to improve agency excellence, adding “regulatory efficiency,” in line with President Donald Trump’s administration’s goal to reduce regulatory burden on business. He said NMFS has “aggressively” moved that direction as fisheries managers move many more regulations than other agencies. Oliver spent 27 years in Alaska with much of that time as the executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council — one of eight such regional councils established under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act — and said he brought much of the experience he gained working with the council to the job in Washington. He’s now getting a better look into what other fisheries around the country are dealing with. His moves toward streamlining regulations and promoting simultaneous uses with fisheries align with another initiative the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is advancing known as the Blue Economy Initiative. Included in that is maximizing both recreational and commercial fishery opportunities and boosting the opportunities for aquaculture in the country. NOAA Acting Administrator Rear Adm. Timothy Gallaudet said at a July 24 hearing before the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Science and Transportation the fact that U.S. aquaculture production is ranked 17th in the world despite its large Exclusive Economic Zone “unacceptable.” “We are changing that by executing a strategy to use existing authorities to expand aquaculture in federal waters,” he said. Aquaculture is a particularly hot-button topic in Alaska. Aquaculture is allowed in a variety of types: operations in Southeast and Kachemak Bay produce clams, mussels, oysters and kelp. In 2015, the state permitted 65 farms, though only 22 reported production, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. For finfish, it’s limited to the hatchery operations that dot Southeast, Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Kodiak; net-pen farming in the style that other countries and states like Washington allow is illegal in Alaska. Even hatcheries have recently come under fire from fishermen and environmentalists with concerns about the impact of increasing pink salmon hatchery numbers on the food web of the Gulf of Alaska and their interference with wild stocks by straying into nearby streams. Oliver said the initiative will include a set of incentives to invest, making it easier for potential aquaculture operations to make it through the permitting hoops and get going. “As I mentioned before, we don’t have a lot of headroom in our wild capture fisheries,” Oliver said. “but with the growing population of the world, and the amount of coastline that we have, promoting marine aquaculture is a huge initiative of this administration. I know in Alaska that’s not always a welcome prospect … nobody’s going to be forcing anybody to take on anything, but we want to make it (easier to permit).” Elizabeth Earl can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: West Coast fishermen go bounty hunting for lost gear

Cell phones are being used by fishermen to bounty hunt for pay for lost fishing gear. California fishermen created the retrieval project last year along with the Nature Conservancy to get ropes, buoys, pots and anchors out of the water after the Dungeness fishery so they don’t entangle whales, and Washington and Oregon quickly followed suit. Nearly 50 whales were taken on the west coast last year after the annual crab opener, one of the region’s largest and most lucrative fisheries. “They are using their cell phones and its GPS to take a picture of what the gear looked like, tell when they found it, and any identifying markings on the buoy — the vessel, the ID number, and also the latitude and longitude of exactly where they found it,” explained Nat Nichols, area manager for groundfish and shellfish at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game office in Kodiak. He added that it is not uncommon for gear loss rates in different fisheries to be “anywhere from 3 to 23 percent.” Under a special permit, the West Coast bounty hunters head out two weeks after the Dungeness crab fishery closes to search for derelict gear. “Dungies tend to be in shallower water and that means there is more wave energy and the gear can get lost or rolled up on the beach. A lot of it has a tendency to move around because it’s in the tidal surge,” Nichols said. The fishermen get paid $65 for every pot they pull up. The gear then goes back to the original owners who pay $100 per pot for its return. Whereas saving whales was the prime motivator for pot retrievals on the West Coast, in Alaska’s crab and pot cod fisheries, it’s ghost fishing and gear conflicts. “The animals go in the pots and starve and that rebaits the pot, so they will fish for years. That can kill a lot of animals because they’re doing it 24/7 and always rebaiting themselves,” Nichols explained. By Alaska law, all pots must use twine in escape panels that biodegrades in about 30 days. But sometimes the escape routes get blocked. “At Kodiak, we average around 7,000 pots in the water for our small Dungeness fishery,” he said. “If you lose 10 percent or even 5 percent, that’s a lot. It starts to build up over the years and get in everyone’s way. It’s a burden on everyone out on the water if they constantly have to avoid all this gear that is out there doing nothing.” Gear recovery permits are issued to help with retrievals shortly after a crab or pot cod fishery closes; a state enforcement vessel also does a roundup of all the gear it finds. Nichols said the main focus is preventing the loss of pot gear in the first place He believes a cell phone bounty program could work in Alaska and “it’s been talked about” at the Kodiak office, although it would be on a much smaller scale. “Even though we have quite a bit of gear in the water, I’m not sure it’s enough to really incentive people to go find it in compared to the West Coast,” Nichols said. “Instead of retrieving hundreds of pots and having 20 to 30 people participating in the recovery, we may just have three or so.” The cell phone idea hasn’t attracted any takers yet at Southeast Alaska, said Douglas-based shellfish biologist Adam Messmer in an email from a survey boat. Southeast is home to the state’s largest Dungeness fishery, where about 45,000 pots are dropped each year. Pink salmon disaster plan unveiled Two years ago, the state’s largest pink salmon regions at Prince William Sound, Kodiak and Southeast and lesser areas went bust from the worst pink returns in decades. At Gov. Bill Walker’s request the fishery was declared a disaster and Congress appropriated $56.3 million for Alaska fishermen, processors and communities. Alaska and NOAA have developed a draft distribution plan for the funds, according to Seafoodnews.com. Once approved, the money will be administered by the Pacific States Marine Commission. There are four categories outlined in the draft spending plan: research, municipalities, fishery participants and processors. The suggested distribution is $4.18 million for research; for municipalities, $2.43 million is set aside for the coastal communities that would have received 1.5 percent of the landed value of the foregone catch. Processors would get $17.7 million for lost wages as a result of the disaster. Alaska fishermen would get the biggest portion at $32 million. It would be distributed using a calculation that will restore lost ex-vessel (dockside) value equal to 82.5 percent of their five even-year averages. Talk fish Kodiak’s famous fisheries debate featuring Alaska candidates for governor is set for Oct. 22. Since 1991 all leading candidates have participated in the event, which focuses on the seafood industry and is broadcast statewide. Gov. Bill Walker and Democrat candidate Mark Begich have confirmed they will be in Kodiak to “talk fish”; no response yet from Republican candidate Mike Dunleavy, said Frank Shiro, director of the Kodiak Chamber of Commerce, which hosts the fish debate. Hatchery facts Hatcheries in the southern portion of Southeast Alaska provide stability for the region’s fishermen and processors, and a big chunk of fish for sports anglers. A new economic impact report by the McDowell Group profiled the Southern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association, a 42 year old nonprofit that operates seven hatcheries and seven release sites from Dixon Entrance to Frederick Sound. The combined operations produce and release around 170 million salmon smolts to the sea annually. Over the last 10 years, the hatchlings have contributed 19 percent of the volume and 28 percent of the value of the region’s total harvests. As a portion of the overall catches averaged over five years from 2008 through 2017, salmon that began their lives in local hatcheries accounted for 57 percent of chum catches, 39 percent for chinook and 31 percent of the coho harvests, valued at $175 million to the local fisheries. Fishermen averaged $84 million over the five years from hatchery catches, with most of the benefit going to salmon fishermen in the Petersburg-Wrangell area at 37 percent, followed by Ketchikan at 29 percent and Prince of Wales residents claiming 25 percent of the salmon’s dockside value. By gear type, 46 percent of the hatchery salmon harvest value is dominated by the seine fleet, 32 percent are gillnetters and 21 percent are trollers. The report said that a key benefit of salmon returning home to local hatcheries is that it provides stability with the chums balancing out the volatility of other species, notably, those tough to predict pinks. Other findings: local processors earned an estimated gross margin of $134 million on hatchery salmon over the five years; chum roe accounted for nearly half. The role of the fish in the sportfishing sector is especially prominent near Ketchikan. Creel surveys showed that roughly a third of the chinook salmon caught were from local hatcheries along with 13 percent of the sport cohos. The state closely monitors straying of hatchery fish into wild systems in all areas where the fish are released. An 11-year study at Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound is currently underway focused on interactions of hatchery and wild salmon to provide guidance for assessing Alaska’s hatchery program. Pollock possibilities Researchers at Japan’s National Institute for Materials Science have discovered that gelatin from pollock skins makes a sealant that is 12 times stronger than conventional uses. A big plus is that the fish gelatin remains liquid at room temperature and can be sprayed directly onto an open wound on any body organ. Pollock skins also are an exciting new source for nanofibers that are similar to tissue in human organs and skin. “Hopefully, if you have a damaged organ you can grow these cells outside the body and then reintroduce it into the wound to help improve the ability of an organs to heal itself,” said Bor-Sen Chiou at the U.S. Department of Agriculture lab in California. He added during a radio interview that studies show fish gelatins improve cell growth far better than traditional animal gels. Along with pharmaceuticals, gelatin from pollock skins also has huge potential in the food industry. “They have substances that can be used as a beverage thickener, a clarifier for juices, plus you can roll it out into great films,” said former USDA food technologist Cindy Bower. “When you test it against bovine and pig skin films there is decreased water vapor permeability, meaning the fish films are a better barrier to water. So there is application for using them to coat foods, to keep moisture in or out,” Bower added. “Plus, they’re fish so they satisfy kosher and Halal (Muslim) dietary restrictions. That opens markets for millions of people worldwide.” From skin to bones, ground up pollock bones are being roto tilled into the soil in California neighborhoods to neutralize toxic lead, a problem in nearly every U.S. urban area. Instead of digging up and disposing of contaminated soil, the calcium phosphate in tons of Alaska pollock bone meal is turning the lead into a harmless mineral. The alchemy has been known for nearly 20 years and used mostly at mining sites and military bases. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ferry makes extra stop in Chignik after salmon fishery failure

The salmon didn’t show in sufficient numbers to allow any significant commercial fishing, with just 128 sockeyes landed. The state ferry made an extra stop as if to evacuate refugees. And now the Chignik salmon fishery has been officially declared a disaster. Gov. Bill Walker declared an economic disaster for the Chignik fisheries region on Aug. 23, including Chignik, Chignik Lagoon, Chignik Lake, Perryville, and Ivanof Bay, which depend on salmon for both subsistence and commercial harvests. “Chignik is used to catching more than a million sockeye every year. This year, they caught 128 fish,” said Walker. “Salmon is the economic and subsistence staple in these communities and the failure of this year’s fishery is a one-two punch. It is critical that we do what we can to support them as they work to recover. That’s what we’re here for.” The request for a disaster declaration from the Bristol Bay Native Association warned of winter hardship. “Without the salmon returning, they will not be able to purchase home heating fuel, electricity, gasoline, propane, basic food necessities, mortgage payments, boat expenses, and financial obligations to the state,” according to BBNA. Last year, Chignik fishermen caught a total of about 1 million sockeye, accounting for 45 percent of the total paid to salmon fishermen of $15.8 million, with 41 percent of the ex-vessel dollars paid for pink salmon. The 67 permit holders fishing in 2017 earned an average of $236,000, including kings, chums and coho, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. In June, ADFG Commissioner Sam Cotten said the salmon run was the worst since Alaska became a state in 1959. A few weeks later, it improved but not by much, upgraded to the worse since the 1960s, according to ADFG Biologist Lisa Fox. “I haven’t put my net in the water once,” said Unalaska purse seiner Roger Rowland in June, lamenting the failure of the first run of salmon. “It’s literally the worst run ever.” While he still had hopes for the second run, the fish counted swimming through the Chignik River weir provided the same sad story as the first run to a different lake in the two-lake spawning grounds. In the only fishing period on July 7 and 8, fishermen landed a paltry 128 sockeyes, 124 chums and 6 pink salmon, according to Lucas Stumpf of ADFG. “It’s pretty sad. It’s a terrible year,” he said. That opener was aimed at pinks and chums, and only six vessels participated. There were no fishing periods targeting sockeye. As the Chignik salmon disaster continued, the Alaska Marine Highway System doubled the stops on the Aug. 8 -14 Aleutian Islands trip on the state ferry Tustumena, as fisheries workers departed early. The ferry was originally scheduled to stop only once in the Alaska Peninsula community while southbound to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor. An additional Chignik stop was added on the return trip to Kodiak, according to ferry spokeswoman Aurah Landau. ADFG biologist Dawn Wilburn said in a normal year, fishing continues the whole month of August. And in more bad news, she said the pink salmon run also failed. Warmer ocean temperatures are a suspected cause, she said. While subsistence salmon fishing was available, the harvests were small, though the numbers won’t be known until early next year, after the deadline for subsistence catch figures to be sent to Fish and Game, Wilburn said. And even as the season wound down with next to nothing, the salmon-counting weir had to be pulled early, as it had started washing away in the rain-swollen Chignik River, Wilburn said. The economic disaster declaration allows the state Legislature to appropriate money for assistance grants and allows the governor to make budget recommendations to accelerate the region’s existing capital projects and provide funding for new ones. It also waives specific provisions of Alaska statute and regulations relating to capital project requirements, employment, and contractor preference. In addition to the disaster declaration, Walker directed the Division of Economic Development to commit as many resources as possible to assist salmon permit holders who participate in the Commercial Fishing Revolving Loan program and may be unable to meet the terms of their loans because of Chignik’s low harvest. With a preliminary harvest count of 128 sockeye salmon, the 2018 sockeye harvest was only .00922 percent of the prior 10-year average. Escapement counts for 2018 for all salmon in the Chignik Management Area (as of July 29) are 54 percent of what they were on the same date in 2017, according to the governor. Additional support for Chignik area residents is available from the Division of Public Assistance, which provides food relief and financial assistance to Alaskans in need. The division offers programs such as the Heating Assistance Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and the Alaska Temporary Assistance Program. For information about the Division of Public Assistance, visit dhss.alaska.gov/dpa. More information about the Division of Economic Development is at commerce.alaska.gov/web/ded. Jim Paulin can be reached at [email protected]

Tariffs set to take toll on Alaska seafood exports and imports

More seafood tariffs in Trump’s trade war with China are hitting Alaska coming and going. On July 6, the first 25 percent tax went into effect on more than 170 U.S. seafood products going to China. On Aug. 23 more items were added to the list, including fishmeal from Alaska. “As of right now, nearly every species and product from Alaska is on that list of tariffs,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group. Alaska produces more than 70,000 metric tons of fishmeal per year (about 155 million pounds), mostly from pollock trimmings, with salmon a distant second. The pollock meal is used primarily in Chinese aquaculture production, while salmon meal goes mostly to pet food makers in the U.S. In 2017 about $70 million worth of fishmeal from Alaska pollock was exported to China from processing plants all over the state. Anchovy-based fishmeal from Peru is the predominate source for world aquaculture, but whitefish meal made from Alaska pollock is regarded as the premium. According to Undercurrent News, pollock meal commands $600 to $700 more per ton than Peruvian meal and is currently trading at up to $2,300 per ton. The tariffs on U.S. seafood products exported to China is a done deal. In the long run, Evridge said Alaska might be able to shift exports to other countries, but the size of the Chinese market makes it tough to replace. “On the Chinese side, it looks like there is little recourse,” Evridge said. “At least in the short term there is little ability for the Alaska seafood industry to avert these tariffs.” And there’s also a flip side. Trump has proposed a 25 percent tariff on products coming into the U.S. from China. It would include seafood that is caught in Alaska, shipped to China for reprocessing into fillets, portions or fish sticks and then resent to the U.S. for distribution to buyers. “That will possibly be the case next month when those tariffs go into effect on the U.S. side,” Evridge said. On Aug. 20, the U.S. International Trade Commission began hearing from over 350 speakers representing a wide variety of industries harmed by Trump’s tariffs from flooring to fruit juices to fish. The commission also must review more than 2,300 letters received so far; the pile is expected to grow by the Sept. 6 public comment deadline. “We’re kind of a pawn in a broader game,” Evridge said, adding that the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska’s congressional delegation and the governor’s office are “closely engaged.” The National Fisheries Institute voiced strong opposition to the proposed new tariffs in testimony last week saying that “it will punish American fishermen and the communities that rely on them by making their products more expensive for American families to eat.” “Of the $2.7 billion in annual seafood shipments subject to this proposal, an estimated $950 million comes from an American fisherman – primarily an Alaska fisherman – harvesting in U.S. waters in a U.S.-flag vessel using a U.S. crew,” said NFI’s Robert DeHaan. One of the Trump Administration’s stated goals — making China respect its obligations regarding intellectual property rights — don’t line up with tariffs on seafood, DeHaan added. “How punishing these harvesters — and these businesses for ‘Buying American’ — will convince China to respect its obligations regarding intellectual property rights and technology transfers is difficult to fathom,” he said. “Cutting fish is not an intellectual property secret.” Last year China purchased 54 percent of Alaska’s seafood, valued at nearly $800 million. Salmon wrap Alaska’s statewide salmon catch is 31 percent below expectations and is unlikely to reach the preseason forecast of 147 million fish. In what the Alaska Department of Fish and Game is calling an “unusual season” in a wrap up announcement, they said that the shortfall stems from poor pink salmon returns to Gulf of Alaska regions. ADFG also cited unexpected run timing for sockeyes at several major regions, causing uncertainty for managers and lost harvest opportunities for fishermen. Bristol Bay’s Kvichak River saw the latest peak since 1956; more than half of the Kenai River’s late-run sockeye returned during the month of August, which has only occurred once before; and Copper River sockeye salmon returned in three distinct pulses, the third happening in mid-July. But “it is important to maintain perspective on historical salmon harvests,” ADFG said, pointing out that the three largest Alaska salmon harvests on record occurred between 2013 and 2017. The 2018 season has not been without bright spots, notably at Bristol Bay, which experienced the second largest sockeye salmon harvest on record of nearly 42 million fish, and the fourth consecutive season with the harvest topping 35 million sockeyes. Norton Sound also is likely to exceed last year’s record coho salmon harvest and at Kotzebue, the chum salmon harvest will be among the top four on record. Preliminary statewide total harvests and exvessel (dockside)values by salmon species and area will be available by mid-October. Salmon cells Plans are underway to grow and sell salmon and other seafoods made directly from fish cells. San Diego-based BlueNalu says it will “disrupt current industry practices” and be a pioneer in “cellular aquaculture,” in which living cells are isolated from fish tissue, cultured in various lab media and then assembled into “great-tasting fresh and frozen seafood products.” BlueNalu is being seeded with $4.5 million in startup money from a private venture fund called New Crop Capital whose mission is ‘funding the future of food.’ Seafood perceptions Seafood lovers around the world believe that the biggest threat to the oceans is pollution, followed by overfishing. Those are some of the top takeaways from a survey earlier this year of more than 25,000 people in 22 countries. The survey was done by the public opinion research firm GlobeScan for the Marine Stewardship Council. The non-profit MSC led the movement starting 20 years ago towards certifying fisheries that are managed sustainably, which has become a requirement of doing business by most seafood buyers around the globe. The study found that 72 percent of seafood consumers want sustainability verifications at their supermarkets, but price is still the biggest motivator for buying decisions. A surprising gender divide showed that men are more motivated by price while women regarded seafood sustainability as more important. Seventy-two percent also agreed that buying seafood from sustainable sources will help save our oceans; 70 percent said people should switch their purchases to earth friendly fisheries. Eighty-three percent of global consumers agreed that seafood needs to be protected for future generations, and 70 percent said they would like to hear more from companies about their sustainability purchasing practices. In what the survey called “a climate of persistently low consumer trust in business globally,” trust in the blue MSC label remained high at 69 percent and understanding of the label has increased to 37 percent, up from 32 percent in 2016. Younger consumers are even more tuned in to choosing sustainable seafood, with 41 percent of 18-34 year olds understanding what the MSC label means. That group also showed a slightly different profile, eating less seafood on average and worrying more about the effects of climate change on the oceans than their older counterparts. Global consumers also rated certification organizations third for their contribution to protecting the oceans, after NGOs and scientists. Governments and large companies rated as contributing the least. Fish event Big names in fisheries are inviting the public to participate at a special town hall event on August 31 at the Centennial Hall Convention Center in Juneau. Keynote is retired Navy Rear Admiral Timothy Gallaudet, an American oceanographer who currently serves as the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Oceans and Atmosphere within the U.S. Department of Commerce. Gallaudet will discuss the DOC’s Strategic Plan and NOAA’s Blue Economy priorities. Joining him in a roundtable discussion is David Wetherell, director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council; Nicole Kimball, vice president of operations for the Pacific Seafood Processors Association; Alexa Tonkovich, director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute; Frances Leach, director of United Fishermen of Alaska; Rich Yamada, president of the Alaska Charter Association; Stephanie Madsen, director of the At-sea Processors Association; Chad See, director of the Freezer Longline Coalition; Ben Stevens, tribal advocate for the Tanana Chiefs Conference; Mark Fina, policy analyst for U.S. Seafoods; Jamie Goen, director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers; Paddy O’Donnell, president of Alaska Whitefish Trawlers; Brett Veerhusen, alternate director of the North Pacific Fisheries Association, Chris Woodley, director of the Groundfish Forum and Linda Behnken, director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. The group will take questions from the public. Doors open at 3:30. Contact is Kevin Wheeler at [email protected] or 202-482-5096. Video deadline Aug. 31 also is the deadline to submit videos to the worldwide Women in Seafood competition. Videos must be no longer than four minutes and will be judged in two categories: Under 25 which highlights futures for young women in the seafood industry, and Women’s Contributions from a social and/or economic perspective. Winners will receive 1,000 Euros (US $1,162) and their films will be shown to global audiences. Send videos to [email protected] or [email protected] Winners will be announced in late September. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry has vast potential

As Gov. Bill Walker prepares to sign a bill this week enacting the Alaska Mariculture Development Plan, 16 new applicants hope to soon begin growing shellfish and seaweed businesses in just more than 417 acres of tideland areas in Alaska. The new growers will add to the 35 farms and six hatchery/nurseries that already are producing a mix of oysters, clams, mussels and various seaweeds. Eventually, sea cucumbers, scallops, giant geoduck clams and algae for biofuels will be added into the mix. Most of the mariculture requests in Alaska are located in Southeast and Southcentral regions and range in size from 0.02 acres at Halibut Cove to 292 acres for two sites at Craig. Data from the state Department of Natural Resources show that two farms have applied at Kodiak totaling nearly 37 acres, and one Sitka applicant has plans for a 15-acre plot. Other communities getting into the mariculture act include Seldovia, Port Chatham, Juneau, Naukati, Cordova, Ketchikan and Gustavus. In 2017, Alaskan farms produced 11,456 pounds of clams, 1,678 pounds of mussels, 16,570 pounds of seaweeds and 1.8 million oysters. Oysters always have been the dominant mariculture crop, and several farmers have added kelp to their acreage. The seaweed takes just three months to grow to harvestable size and can provide a ready cash flow to farmers while they wait for up to three years for their bivalves to ripen. Kelp is poised to be one of Alaska’s biggest crops with one of the biggest payouts. The first Alaska crop of 15,000 pounds was harvested last year at Kodiak, which yielded a payday of about $10,000 for grower Nick Mangini. This year he tripled his take with 42,000 pounds of two products: brown kelp (alaria) and sugar kelp. Mangini said 75 percent of the crop was alaria, for which he received 90 cents per pound, and 45 cents per pound for the sugar kelp, adding up to more than $33,000. The kelp is marketed under the name Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed, or KISS, and sold to a California company called Blue Evolution. “We are making it into products that are familiar to North American consumers, so our first items were pastas and macaroni and cheese,” said founder Beau Perry. “It actually deepens the flavor profile. Everyone from moms and dads who are feeding it to their kids to gourmet chefs are responding very positively.” It’s all a drop in the bucket compared to the real potential for the new industry in Alaska. “If only three-tenths of a percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters, for example, it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 50 cents (each) adding up to $650 million a year,” said Julie Decker, director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation and head of an 11-member mariculture task force established in 2016 by Walker through administrative order. The task force concluded that mariculture crops could yield $1 billion for the state within 30 years. The governor plans to sign the bill at grower Trevor Sande’s farm near Ketchikan. Treadwell talks fish Politics aside, one thing that can be said about Republican candidate for governor Mead Treadwell is that he knows fish. “One thing I know is that fishing is Alaska’s largest employer and you can’t have good fishing unless you have good science and transparent management,” he said in a phone interview. Treadwell touts research as the cornerstone for fisheries sustainability. “I believe we could double or triple the endowed science available for North Pacific, Bering Sea and Arctic marine research and I think it’s very important to do,” he said. Treadwell was a past chairman of the U.S. Arctic Research Commission, involved with the North Pacific Research Board and one of the earliest advocates for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute and Alaska’s Community Development Quota program. As a student of international fisheries policy law, Treadwell said his first job was as a “foot soldier” working with then Department of Interior Secretary Wally Hickel in the fight for the 200-mile limit that removed foreign fishing fleets from U.S. waters. Treadwell pointed to other protein industries and said he believes Alaska’s seafood industry could add jobs and revenues by using more of every fish. “Other industries sell everything but the squeal,” he said. “I think we have to do much more with all of the fish and add the value here so we are not exporting jobs. Let’s look at our incentives for keeping more processing plants open year round — it might be a fix in power costs or something to do with tax policy.” Treadwell said he is a big supporter of growing the state’s mariculture industry, including biofuels. “As governor you control the tidelands. We can back that up with a process that helps financing and helps grow a new industry. I’m excited about that,” he said. “And this opportunity with energy is also significant. I’ve visited some of the labs that are working on algal energy and we have to look at these kinds of opportunities to diversify our economy.” As governor, Treadwell said he also would fight to get more chinook salmon for Southeast Alaskans who have lost over 60 percent of their catch quotas in the treaty with Canada. “We have lost too much of that allocation and it’s just not fair,” he said. Numerous attempts to interview Mead Treadwell’s Republican opponent, Mike Dunleavy, were unsuccessful. Fish smell Fish scientists proved years ago that the tiniest traces of copper in water can affect a salmon’s sense of smell. Now, new research shows that increasing levels of acidity in the oceans does the same thing. The damage is caused by the ocean’s absorption of carbon dioxide, which is generated primarily by the burning of fossil fuels, like oil and coal. The CO2 combines with seawater to produce carbonic acid, which makes the water more acidic. Fish use their sense of smell to find food, elude predators, locate spawning areas, even to recognize one another. Losing it could mean big trouble for the fishing industry, tourism and global nutrition. “In the marine environment it has some serious implications. If there are predators around and the fish are not able to respond to these danger signals in the water, they would be the next snack for these larger predators,” said Jason Sandahl at Oregon State University, who was one of the first to show how contaminants can disrupt the chemical balance of sea creatures. His studies showed that copper levels at just two parts per billion impaired small salmon’s sense of smell. Last month, scientists at England’s University of Exeter compared the behavior of juvenile sea bass at carbon dioxide levels typical of today’s ocean conditions with those predicted for the end of the century. The results showed that the sense of smell in the fish was reduced by half. They also found that sea bass exposed to the more acidic conditions swam less and were less likely to react when encountering the smell of a predator. The longer the fish were in high CO2 levels, the worse they fared. The scientists concluded that future levels of carbon dioxide can affect fish population numbers and entire ecosystems. While their study was on sea bass, the researchers said they believe all species important to commercial and sport fisheries are likely to be affected in a similar way, and possibly crabs and lobsters as well. Pollock is tops Alaska pollock is the largest fish catch in the world for four years running, toppling anchovies from Chile and Peru. More than 40 million commercial fishermen were out at work on global waters on nearly five million boats, of which 90 percent are less than 40 feet long. Those numbers have held steady over several years, said the latest State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report compiled every other year by the U.N.’s Food and Agriculture Organization. It is the only publication of its kind that oversees fisheries track records and trends around the globe. Highlights from 2016 show that the world’s total marine catch was nearly 80 million tons, a slight decrease due to that drop in anchovies. Aquaculture represented 53 percent of all seafood eaten and it is the fastest growing food production sector on the planet. Nearly 600 different species items are farmed around the world; No. 1 is carp. Growing aquatic plants, especially seaweeds, has more than doubled in 20 years to top 30 million tons. In per capita terms, global fish consumption has grown about 1.5 percent per year from less than 20 pounds in 1961 to 45 pounds. Americans eat far less fish, averaging about 15 pounds a year. So how are the world’s fish stocks doing? Sixty percent were called “maximally sustained” and 33 percent were classified as being fished at unsustainable levels. Problem regions were the Mediterranean, Southeast Pacific and the Southwest Atlantic, with 60 percent of their stocks called overfished. By contrast, the Northeast, Northwest Pacific and Central and Southwest Pacific had the lowest levels of overfishing ranging from 13 percent to 17 percent. The World Fisheries Report said that impacts from climate change are likely to push down global ocean production by six percent by the year 2100, and 11 percent in tropical zones. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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