Fisheries

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest tops forecast

Alaska’s salmon season is nearly a wrap but fall remains as one of the fishing industry’s busiest times of the year. For salmon, the catch of 213 million has surpassed the forecast by 9 million fish. Highpoints for this season are a statewide sockeye catch topping 50 million for the 10th time in history (37 million from Bristol Bay), and one of the best chum harvests ever at more than 22 million fish. The total 2017 salmon catches and values by Alaska region will be released by state fishery managers in November. Hundreds of boats are now fishing for cod with Sept. 1 openers at Prince William Sound, Cook Inlet, Kodiak and throughout the Bering Sea. Pollock fishing reopened to trawlers in the Gulf of Alaska on Aug. 25. More than 3 billion pounds of pollock will be landed this year in Alaska’s Gulf and Bering Sea fisheries. Fishing also is ongoing for Atka mackerel, perch, various flounders, rockfish and more. Halibut are still crossing docks across the state, and Alaska longliners have taken 75 percent of the 18 million-pound catch limit. Most of the halibut catch (more than 2.5 million pounds so far) is crossing the docks at Kodiak, followed by Seward. Homer, which bills itself as “the nation’s top halibut port,” is a distant third for landings. The sablefish (black cod) catch is at nearly 70 percent of its 22.5 million pound quota. Both the halibut and sablefish fisheries continue this year through Nov. 7. Crabbers are gearing up for the Oct. 1 start of the fall Dungeness fishery in Southeast Alaska, and mid-October crab openers in the Bering Sea. The dungy fishery should produce more than 1 million pounds; the catch quotas for red king crab, snow crab and (hopefully) Tanners will be released in a few weeks. Shrimpers also will drop pots on Oct. 1 for nearly a half million pounds of big spot prawns from Southeast waters. Dive fisheries also open that same day for sea cucumbers, where a harvest of usually around one million pounds (“poke weight,” meaning drained) will be delivered over a few months. Smaller sea cucumber fisheries also occur at Kodiak, Chignik, the South Peninsula, Aleutian Islands and Bering Sea with a combined take of 185,000 pounds. Seafood sways Getting people to eat your products is the goal of any food provider and industry watchers closely track what people are buying, and why. Latest reports indicate that more Americans are aware of the health benefits of seafood, and they will pay more for fish from well managed sources. That’s according to a new survey by Cargill, one of the nation’s largest producers and distributors of agricultural products. Seventy-two percent of more than 1,000 shoppers said they know fish is good for you; 88 percent said they are willing to reward good stewardship with their wallets. That figure rose to a whopping 93 percent of millennials. In all, 70 percent said where and how their seafood is sourced affects their buying decisions; 84 percent said they trust their seafood purchases are sourced in a safe and responsible way. Despite its popular pull, touting seafood sustainability has not transferred into U.S. restaurants. Market researcher Datassential reports that just 1.1 percent mention the word or a derivative on their menus, three times higher than in 2013. Other terms are more popular among diners: “wild” appears on 9.3 percent of seafood menus and “local” is mentioned on 4.6 percent, also up a third over four years. The sustainability concept is getting a wider push from chefs who launched Smart Catch under the James Beard banner in Seattle two years ago and now includes nearly 300 restaurants. The program lets chefs key in information about seafood purchases and quickly receive a good or bad rating based on data from the nonprofit FishChoice and Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch. The Smart Catch program “is well-timed, with growing consumer interest in both eating seafood at restaurants and learning more about the provenance of their food,” said Bloomberg News. Sustainability is a winning marketing component for Alaska seafood, which is regarded as a model for responsible management around the globe. “An increasing number of retailers and food service companies either have or are updating policies that include purchasing and selling sustainable seafood because consumers are increasing their demand for it,” said Jeremy Woodrow, communications director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Fish bits Global fish trade is projected to hit an all-time high this year, boosted by an economic recovery of key European importers and high prices of popular fish such as salmon. The Financial Times reports that the value of the world’s fish trade is expected to rise more than $150 billion this year as demand for salmon and shrimp increases, an increase of about 7 percent compared with 2016 and on course to eclipse the previous record of $149 billion in 2014. The global aquaculture market is expected to continue growing at four to five percent a year over the next decade and should exceed the 100 million ton mark for the first time in 2025. Salmon was second to shrimp as the most sought-after seafood product last week at Seafood Expo Asia, one of the continent’s largest trade shows. A survey of over 3,300 attendees at the Hong Kong event revealed that 41 percent wanted to purchase shrimp, followed by salmon at 40 percent. Scallops were third in demand (36 percent), fourth was abalone (34.6 percent), lobster ranked fifth (34.5 percent), crab came in sixth at nearly 34 percent, oysters finished in seventh place (30 percent), tuna was eighth (25.5 percent) cod was ninth with 25.3 percent. Squid rounded out the top 10 with over 24 percent of participants expressing purchasing interest. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts that Asia will lead world seafood consumption by 2025. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ballot measure would give greater say to ADFG

Alaska fishing groups concerned about the impacts that large-scale development projects could have on salmon habitat are pushing to reform the state’s permitting requirements through a voter initiative on the 2018 ballot. The initiative would primarily establish a two-tiered permitting structure for projects with the potential to impact salmon-bearing waters. It would give the Department of Fish and Game commissioner the authority to issue broad approval for projects deemed “minor,” but also require proponents of larger projects to prove they would not have a significant adverse impact on salmon habitat. Additionally, it would require project advocates to prove to Fish and Game that the area of the water body the development could damage is not used by salmon sometime in their life cycle if the water is connected to one known to have salmon. The initiative was sponsored by Cook Inlet commercial fisherman Mike Wood, Bristol Bay lodge owner Brian Kraft and Gayla Hoseth of Bristol Bay Native Association. Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott will decide whether to certify the initiative by Sept. 12. In an interview, Wood said it is not intended to stop development projects, but rather to simply update the state’s protections for salmon as the Board of Fisheries requested. Current law directs the Fish and Game commissioner to approve fish habitat permits if a project is deemed to provide “the proper protection for fish and game.” Board of Fisheries Chair John Jensen wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to House and Senate leaders that there is nothing in current state laws or regulations defining what is a proper protection. “Additional guidance is warranted for the protection of fish, to set clear expectations for permit applicants and to reduce uncertainty in predevelopment planning costs,” Jensen wrote. “To strengthen ADF&G’s implementation enforcement of the permitting program, the Legislature may want to consider creating enforceable standards in statute to protect fish habitat, and to guide and create a more certain permitting system.” The Board of Fisheries letter was spurred by public pressure to amend Title 16, the state’s general laws relating to Fish and Game, according to Jensen. To that end, the initiative, which would rewrite state law, is mirrored after House Bill 199 sponsored by Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “We don’t want to stop (development); we want to make sure that the permitting process is rigorous so that we don’t destroy the fish habitat that we need to get the returns that are so important to the Alaska economy,” Wood said. The Alaska Constitution was written with a huge amount of thought toward salmon resources and the effort is to get back to that mindset in the state, he added. “It’s gotten a little blown out of proportion because this won’t stop things; it’s just trying to elevate the level of accountability back to where we believe it began at statehood. Over the years the regulations have been whittled away from administration to administration,” Wood said. Initiative opponents have cited federal laws, such as the Clean Water Act and National Environmental Policy Act that guides the environmental impact statement process as additional adequate salmon habitat protections; meaning an update to Title 16 is unnecessary. “I think there was a time when we thought we could have faith in the feds, the EPA, to have those standards and I think now we’re seeing that we can’t and it’s just part of the state having a greater say in its own outcome to have those high (permitting) standards,” Wood said. Wood characterized Alaska as simply “lucky” it hasn’t seen a large-scale manmade disaster of late similar to the 2014 Mount Polley mine tailings dam failure in British Columbia. He noted many of the state’s largest mines and other developments are in the Interior region or otherwise away from major salmon-bearing watersheds. The Department of Law deemed an earlier iteration of the initiative as a means to allocate resources and prohibit projects such as the Pebble and Chuitna mines and Susitna-Watana dam, which the initiative sponsors have opposed. A June 30 Department of Law letter to the sponsors outlined the provisions in the first draft of the initiative that would not pass legal muster. Assistant Attorney General Elizabeth Bakalar emphasized in an interview that the letter was in large part a response to industry concerns about the initiative that the department heard and is the same type of opinion state attorneys issue on any ballot measure — just earlier. She commented that the department isn’t likely to issue “courtesy” opinions in the future because this one has been incorrectly perceived as the state helping the petitioners. However, it could just as easily be seen as a way to calm development industry concerns by clarifying ahead of time that the initiative would not be ratified. “It’s just a heads up; do with it what you will,” Bakalar said. Wood said small changes were made to the latest version to hopefully meet the Department of Law standards. He acknowledged that the preferable vehicle to address salmon habitat protections would be through HB 199, which could be amended to include input from development proponents, but characterized the ballot proposal as a “belt and suspenders” approach to the issue. The Resource Development Council and other pro-development groups stressed in testimony on HB 199 that reforming the state’s habitat permit requirements is a solution searching for a problem. “The intent to safeguard Alaska’s salmon fisheries is an objective we share and it is why we support Alaska’s existing rigorous and science-based regulatory system,” wrote a coalition including the Alaska Chamber, Southeast Conference and the Anchorage and Fairbanks economic development corporations in an April letter to legislators. “As a coalition that includes urban and rural Alaskans and businesses and associations representing tens of thousands of jobs for our state’s citizens, we cannot overstate how important it is to have consistent regulator and permitting processes.” They continued to contend that HB 199 or the initiative would likely cause delays to smaller community projects like wastewater facility upgrades or airport expansions while worsening the state’s fiscal crisis by slowing or stopping economic development without any true benefits to fish habitat. Alaska Native corporations such as Cook Inlet Region Inc., Calista Corp. and Doyon Ltd. have opposed the measures, while Native tribal organizations such as the Tanana Chiefs Conference and the Native Village of Eklutna support it. The Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly unanimously approved a resolution in September 2016 supporting an update to Title 16 to further protect fish habitat. A 2014 state ballot measure requiring legislative approval for a large mine in Bristol Bay — which Pebble argues is a blatant violation of the Alaska Constitution — was billed as a way to protect the region’s salmon and passed with 66 percent support among Alaska voters. It was supported by 72 percent of voters in Bristol Bay and greater southwest Alaska, according to Division of Election results. Elwood Brehmer can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Bumper salmon hauls around state as season winds down

Alaska’s salmon season is winding down and while catches have made the record books in some regions, the statewide take will fall a bit short of the 204 million fish forecast. “We are within about 10 percent of the forecast, so that’s very positive and overall it’s been a pretty good season,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the Commercial Fisheries Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The statewide salmon catch through Aug. 25 topped 191 million. The shortfall, Bowers said, again stems from the arrival of fewer pink salmon. “We were expecting a harvest of about 142 million, right now it’s at 114 million. We’re probably not going to catch another 30 million pinks between now and the end of the season,” he said. Still, the “bread and butter” catches are far better than last year when pink returns were so dismal, it prompted a disaster declaration by Gov. Bill Walker. This summer’s humpy haul at the three prime producing regions all are within the lower ends of the forecast ranges with Southeast’s take so far on its way to 28 million, Kodiak at 19 million and Prince William Sound nearing 42 million pink salmon (humpback whale predation is being blamed on lower pink salmon catches there). One big pink winner this year, Bowers said, is the Alaska Peninsula which had a “spectacular season.” “Their pink harvest (nearly 19 million) and chum catch (nearly 2 million) will end up in the top five on record,” Bowers said. “And the Peninsula sockeye harvest (7 million) is going to the second or third largest ever.” It will be sockeyes that help offset any number shortfalls this season with a statewide take of about 52 million, of which nearly 37 million came from Bristol Bay. “It is the 10th time in history that we’ve harvested over 50 million sockeye salmon,” Bowers said. “Catches for the previous two years also topped 50 million, but prior to that, you had to go back to the mid- to late 1990s to see such a large sockeye harvest.” Perhaps the biggest salmon surprise this year was the huge returns of chum salmon across the state. The catch to date of 21.2 million chums is just shy of the all-time record of 24 million fish set in 2000. “It’s one of the six times we’ve ever harvested over 20 million chums. That was a surprise. We didn’t expect that at all,” Bowers said, adding that coho catches are also stronger than usual. Salmon fishermen way out west also are enjoying some of the best returns ever. At Norton Sound, catches of chums and cohos (more than 300,000 combined) are among the top 10 of all times. At Kotzebue, the chum fishery has topped 400,000 for the second year in a row and could rank as the sixth best in the 56 year history of the fishery. On the Yukon River, a catch of more than 1 million chum salmon have been taken so far, with the best fall catches in history. The Yukon also has seen the biggest king salmon returns since 2005. Salmon even appeared at Barrow where locals were able to pack their freezers with a mix of chums, pinks and kings. “That’s a relatively new phenomenon,” Bowers said. “We don’t have any assessment projects to monitor up there, but it’s pretty exciting. That would be a range extension potentially for some species and it will be interesting to hear if those have established themselves as spawning populations or if it’s just a few strays that wandered up there.” The only westward region that was a total bust was at the Kuskokwim River where enough sockeyes and coho salmon returned to allow for harvest opportunities, but no buyers meant no fishing. Another big salmon downer this year was the unprecedented and complete closure for king salmon in Southeast Alaska, the largest producing area. Catches there totaled just 165,000 fish; the statewide king salmon take stands at 244,000. Bowers said it’s too soon to predict a total dockside value for the 2017 salmon catch, but with higher prices across the board, it will certainly eclipse the 2016 value of $406 million. Preliminary totals for the 2017 salmon season will be released in November. Escaped salmon watch Alaskans should be on the lookout for some of the 100,000-plus Atlantic salmon that escaped a week ago from a failed net pen near Bellingham Bay, Wash. The 10 pounders are reportedly “heading for every river in Puget Sound,” according to the Seattle Times. The salmon were undergoing a yearlong treatment for a bacteria called yellowmouth. They are the property of Cooke Aquaculture, the largest farmed salmon producer in North America, and the new owners of Icicle Seafoods in Alaska. Several hundred Atlantic salmon have been taken in Alaska waters in past years, and Forrest Bowers said some of the latest escapees will probably make their way here. He said it is not likely that the Atlantics would breed with Pacific salmon, or even with each other. “They may be triploids that are sterile but I’m not sure about that,” he said. “But certainly large numbers of these fish competing for food and other habitat resources with native Pacific salmon, Dolly Varden or steelhead trout is a concern for sure.” Anyone catching an Atlantic salmon is urged to report it, and if possible, bring the fish to a local ADFG office. The department’s home page has an “Invasive Species” link with reporting instructions, and a hot line number (1-877-INVASIVE). As a side note: every fish species caught in Alaska has a unique fish ticket number. For Atlantic salmon, the number is “666,” the Biblical number for Satan. Discards drop Fewer fish are being discarded by the world’s fishing fleets, but they still are tossing back 10 million tons of fish every year, or 10 percent of global catches. Nearly half of all discards occur in the Pacific Ocean. The discards are fish that may be too small, damaged, inedible, out of season or of little market value. Prior to the year 2000, discards comprised up to 20 percent of the world catches, reaching a peak of 19 million tons in 1989. The discard levels have been dropping steadily ever since. Those are some of the conclusions in a new University of British Columbia catch reconstruction project that derived discard estimates for all major fisheries in the world going back to the 1950s. High discards result from poor fishing practices and inadequate management, the report says. The biggest reason discards are declining likely reflects lower global fish catches. Fishing operations are catching less fish, so there’s less for them to throw away. From 1950 through 1996, world catches rose from 28 million to 130 million tons per year; since then fish catches have declined by 1.2 million tons a year. Better fisheries management in some areas also has played a role in reducing discards, including strict rules on reducing waste and forbidding discards in Norway and parts of Europe. The location of fish discards also has shifted over the decades. From the 1950s to the 1980s, discarding mostly occurred in northern Atlantic waters off the coasts of the U.S., Canada and Europe. In the Pacific Ocean, discards hit a high of more than nine million tons in 1990 and have declined since to under five million tons per year. Pacific fish discards are happening mostly off the coasts of Russia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia. Russian fishing fleets have accounted for more than half of the discards in recent decades. In Alaska waters, much of the fish taken as bycatch is not discarded but instead is donated to food banks. Halibut updates Meeting dates and the call for regulation proposals to be considered for 2018 were just announced by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. Any proposed changes to halibut management, including catch limits, must be submitted by Oct. 29 to be on the agenda for the interim meeting, set for Nov. 28 and 29 in Seattle. The proposals considered at that meeting will automatically be included at the IPHC annual meeting Jan. 22-26 in Portland, Ore. Informal statements also may be submitted by email and will go directly to the commissioners at each session. ([email protected]) New this year: people planning to attend the IPHC meetings will be required to pre-register. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Judge orders council to get to work on Cook Inlet salmon plan

KENAI — The United Cook Inlet Drift Association’s lawsuit against the federal government has finally reached its conclusion, though its repercussions are far from over. Alaska U.S. District Judge Timothy Burgess signed an order Aug. 3 stipulating the next steps for UCIDA and the National Marine Fisheries Service. A panel of three federal judges in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of UCIDA in September 2016, saying the North Pacific Fishery Management Council had been wrong to remove Cook Inlet, Prince William Sound and Alaska Peninsula salmon fisheries from federal oversight. The order requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to file a report with the district court three times per year, keep the public involved in the council process of determining a proper rule and ensure that the National Marine Fisheries Service finalize a rule within a year of the council passing one. It also provides measures if the council doesn’t produce an amendment and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce, which oversees the National Marine Fisheries Service, has to produce a secretarial amendment. It also gives UCIDA a right to ask the court to set a deadline for a new fishery management plan for Cook Inlet salmon if the council doesn’t form a stakeholder group that includes UCIDA. Both sides would still have the right to brief the court on their beliefs about a reasonable deadline date, according to the judgment. When the fishery management plan was discussed at the council’s meeting in April, the testifiers asked for some type of stakeholder group to be formed so the users could have a voice in the amendment process. The council passed a resolution solidifying the preliminary purpose and need for the FMP amendment, a number of alternatives and forming a stakeholder workgroup, which would decide its scope and agenda at future meetings. UCIDA isn’t the only stakeholder group involved, either. When Cook Inlet was removed from the federal FMP in 2011 upon the council’s passage of Amendment 12 to the FMP, an area of Prince William Sound near Cordova and an area near the Alaska Peninsula were as well. Both those groups testified at the meeting in April that they wanted to be left under state management as much as possible. Under an FMP, the management of the fishery would have to comply with federal sustainable fisheries criteria under the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Other fisheries that do use tools like annual catch limits and acceptable biological catches as compared to the state’s escapement goal-based management system for salmon. The Aug. 3 judgment only requires an FMP to address Cook Inlet. However, it doesn’t mean that the Alaska Peninsula and Prince William Sound fishermen will be left out of the discussion in the future. UCIDA Vice President Erik Huebsch said the court settlement was specifically applied to UCIDA and so didn’t address the other two groups. However, at the meeting in April, the council members asked if they could separate the three areas and address the FMPs individually. “At some point, they’ll probably have to deal with (the other areas),” Huebsch said. “But … this whole FMP for Cook Inlet isn’t necessarily going to be what they end up with. One size doesn’t fit all in these things.” There’s also still the matter of the state of Alaska asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case, leaving the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision up in the air. The state, which filed to become an intervener in the case in 2013, asked the Supreme Court in February to overturn the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision on the grounds that the lower court didn’t understand the issue and that reverting to federal fisheries management could risk overfishing. The Supreme Court, which is currently on break for the summer, is scheduled to consider the case during a conference Sept. 25. UCIDA filed its opposition in June. ^ Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Stakeholders voice preferred changes to federal fisheries act

SOLDOTNA — Sportfishing groups and advocates want to see the federal government separate the management of sport and commercial fishing in the upcoming renewal of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The act, originally passed in 1976 and co-sponsored by the late Alaska U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, establishes the management system for federal and state fisheries in marine waters. Under the law, the state has authority over waters from the mean high tide line out to three nautical miles offshore, and federal government has authority over waters from 3–200 nautical miles offshore, known as the Exclusive Economic Zone. The National Marine Fisheries Service, a branch of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, oversees the fisheries in federal waters. Last reauthorized in 2006, the act is up for renewal and potential amendment. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who chairs the Senate Oceans, Atmospher, Fisheries and Coast Guard subcommittee, chaired a field hearing for the act at Kenai Peninsula College on Wednesday, hearing from more than a dozen witnesses on three panels and discussing potential changes to the act. The hearing on the Kenai Peninsula was the first of the field hearings on the reauthorization. Panelists with interests in the sportfishing industry repeatedly emphasized that commercial fishing and recreational fishing are two distinct activities and asked for recreational fishing to be considered in management decisions. “The recreational and commercial fishing are simply two fundamentally different activities needing distinctively different management tools,” said Ben Speciale, the president of Yamaha Marine Group, in testimony at the hearing. Liz Ogilvie, the director of the Keep America Fishing initiative for the American Sportfishing Association, echoed Speciale’s point and noted that a group of senators had introduced a bill addressing some of the sportfishing industry’s concerns. The bill, formally entitled The Modernizing Recreational Fisheries Management Act of 2017, was introduced this summer. “Fairly or unfairly, the general perception among anglers is that NOAA Fisheries only understands and cares about commercial fishing,” she said. Some of the provisions included in the act include mandatory periodic review of allocations among various fisheries, setting up alternative management approaches for recreational fishing, amending limited access privilege programs for mixed-use fisheries, amending the timelines for rebuilding fishery stocks considered depleted and setting up data collection systems that include recreational fishery considerations, among other provisions. Some of those with commercial fisheries interests on the panel disagreed that commercial and recreational fisheries diverge enough to merit separate management methods. Shannon Carroll, the deputy director of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, said the two were not so different. “We may agree that they have different objectives, but the end result of both sectors is really the same — it’s the harvesting of a public resource,” he said. “I would urge this committee to ensure that sound science and individual accountability are the foundation of any new proposal.” Some of the speakers with commercial fisheries interests said they thought the act was largely working and should stay the course, though others raised their own issues. Duncan Fields of the Gulf of Alaska Coastal Communities Coalition, who completed nine years on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council in 2016, urged Sullivan to amend the act to mitigate the impacts of limited access programs on coastal communities. Limited access programs, which issue quota shares to fishermen, have raised the cost of participation so young people in small coastal communities have not been able to enter the fisheries, contributing to what has become known as “the graying of the fleet.” “I have a real sense of urgency relative to the rural communities in the Gulf of Alaska,” Fields said. “This isn’t abstract to me. Changing the community provisions in Magnuson will affect real people that I know, families and communities that I’m engaged with.” However, both sides had some common ground. Both identified the need for greater flexibility for the eight regional councils created under the act, which locally set harvest limits and other regulations on their fisheries. Dan Hull, the current chair of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, testified at the hearing that the council largely supports the current act’s structure for fishery management, though some flexibility could help. “We also recognize the potential benefits of increased flexibility in some circumstances to allow regional councils the opportunity to optimize their management programs with the appropriate precautionary notes,” he said. Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Sam Cotten, who also sits on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, said at the hearing that the reauthorization of the Magnuson-Stevens Act should address the issue of recusals during council votes. Because of the entangled interests on the council by the stakeholders, some have had to recuse themselves from votes when it may not be totally necessary, so the rules could use some revision, he said. He also mentioned the state’s concern over the recent court decision that Cook Inlet’s salmon fisheries must be managed under a federal Fishery Management Plan, which is under the purview of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. The council only jumped into the process this April and it will likely take years to develop a plan, and the state has also appealed the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court. Cotten said the decision could have heavy implications in jointly managed state and federal fisheries around the country. “Cook Inlet salmon management is fairly complicated, always controversial, difficult to satisfy all 10 or 12 different interest groups in those fish,” he said. “To have the United States government as a player on that scene I do not think would be helpful or a positive addition.” One common note among many of the panelists was additional funding for scientific research. Accurate stock assessment data is a major component in modern fisheries management, and without data, the only option is for management to be more conservative and reduce harvest opportunities. Though scientific funding for NOAA is separate from the Magnuson-Stevens Act, many of the testifiers took the opportunity to ask Sullivan to pressure for it. Sullivan said he has long been committed to securing full funding for NOAA and fisheries management research and would push for it in Washington, D.C. Sullivan said he hoped to use the hearing to gain a variety of perspectives. The Magnuson-Stevens Act places conservation first, and after that comes the charge to maximize opportunity for both recreational and commercial fisheries, he said. “That is the greatest responsibility that Congress has assigned to our fishery managers through the MSA,” he said. “This requirement is often a strained balancing act and it forces tough choices between competing interests, but again, what I think we’re trying to do here is look at ways to achieve consensus.” Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Alaskan seafood has opening in home meal kits

Alaska aims to get in on the growing popularity of Home Meal kits that will deliver seafood directly to American kitchens. The kits typically offer a subscription service where customers order weekly meals based on how many people they plan to feed and their food preferences. The kits include portioned, high quality ingredients with foolproof cooking instructions and can be delivered within hours or overnight to nearly all locations. Many grocery stores also are providing in-store options that don’t involve delivery. The kits typically cost $60 to $70 per week for three two-person meals. Since the launch in 2012, it has grown into a $2.2 billion business, according to the Chicago-based consulting firm Pentallect, which predicts annual growth at 25 percent to 30 percent over the next five years. The numbers could go higher with Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods and its July 6 announcement that it will enter the meal kit arena using a trademarked logo of “We do the prep. You be the chef.” Ocean Beauty Seafoods, which operates six processing plants in Alaska, is already in the game, said Tom Sunderland, vice president of marketing. “We’ve been involved in home meal replacements (HMRs) since they started in the 1990s and this is a natural extension for us,” he said, adding that meal kits provide “a different experience.” Whereas HMRs offered selections of ready to eat items like pot pies, salads or pasta dishes, meal kits provide a different experience. Companies such as Blue Apron, Home Fresh or Plated have gone beyond convenience and hooked into people’s desire to cook with high-quality ingredients, Sunderland said. “The convenience comes in the sourcing of the raw ingredients, but it brings the creativity and the home cooking into the mix. You are actually getting a particular experience which is very fulfilling to a lot of people. I think the insight into that is quite great,” he said. Advances in packaging technology and logistics also play a big part in the meal kit popularity by taking the difficulty out of delivery. “We refer to it as the last mile,” Sunderland explained. “The minute you put a frozen product on a delivery truck the cold chain is no longer maintained. That’s always been a deal killer for a lot of this. “But with the advent of oxygen permeable packaging films you can allow a frozen product to thaw out and still have it be food safe. That’s been an enormous change in the market because it allows you to do something you couldn’t do before.” The meal kit concept also reduces waste. “The fish or the meat is portioned just right, the vegetables are portioned to a particular dinner and recipe and the waste stream is greatly diminished. I think that’s appealing to people as well,” he added. But it is the customer focus on high quality ingredients that plays into Alaska’s hands, Sunderland believes. “Over the years Alaska has been constantly improving the quality of the raw materials and the finished goods all the way through the system. That puts us in a great position to take advantage of this,” he said. Also, the ability for home kit providers to rotate products allows Alaska to capitalize on the timing of various fisheries throughout the year. “That can match up really well with how Alaska product is managed in inventory,” Sunderland said. Another plus: for decades research has shown that 65 percent of Americans eat seafood only at restaurants because they claim they don’t know how to cook it properly. Home meal kits will bring fish right into their kitchens. “That’s the key,” Sunderland said. “When they get top quality fish with very specific cooking directions, it maximizes the likelihood that they are going to be successful and they will order it again. It is about as perfect as it can be.” Fish funds Alaska’s fisheries and related programs got a mix of budget guts and gains for 2018 before Congress left for its five-week recess. On the hit list: total funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration budget was set at $5.6 billion — an $85 million cut — but far less than the $900 million cut proposed by President Donald Trump. Senate appropriators also rejected Trump’s call for a 32 percent cut for climate, weather and oceans research, and instead provided a budget of nearly $480 million for those programs. Also rejected were plans to gut the national Sea Grant program that supports more than 20,000 jobs and nearly 3,000 businesses. Sea Grant was funded at $65 million, a $2 million increase. Coastal Zone Management grants also were fully funded, and fisheries data collection, surveys and stock assessments were boosted to nearly $165 million. Regional fisheries councils and commissions also received robust funding of $36 million. Pacific Coastal Salmon Recovery Funds were maintained at $65 million, and Pacific Salmon Treaty activities received a $2 million increase to $14 million. Weather satellite programs funded at nearly $420 million reflect a $90 million increase, $239 million above the Trump administration’s request. The Senate appropriations bill also provides $75 million to begin building a new NOAA survey vessel, $11 million for addressing ocean acidification, and an extra $3 million to expedite electronic monitoring programs. King closure Fishing for king salmon was shut down on Aug. 10 in Southeast Alaska for all commercial and sport users. The unprecedented move stems from record low returns, resulting in the worst commercial harvest since 1975. “We felt compelled to do as much as we could to look toward the future,” said Alaska Department of Fish and Game Deputy Commissioner Charlie Swanton. “Ocean conditions don’t look all that promising in 2018, and we want to do whatever we can to turn that around into 2018 and beyond.” The king salmon closure will be reviewed in September. No product pride? The first batch of genetically modified salmon is now being sold in undisclosed supermarkets in Canada. Massachusetts-based AquaBounty reported that five tons of Frankenfish were shipped from its farm site in Panama, generating $53,000 or roughly $4.82 per pound. No one besides the company knows where the GM fish are being sold, and no labels are required to alert customers what they are buying. AquaBounty plans to produce 1,300 tons of GM salmon annually, (nearly 3 million pounds) starting next year. The manmade fish reaches adult size in 16 to 18 months, compared to 2½ years for normal Atlantic salmon. The U.S. gave a nod to the salmon in 2015 making it the first GM animal approved for human consumption, but it has yet to make it to market. Lawmakers are demanding that Frankenfish must be labeled if and when it is sold in the U.S. More than 80 U.S. grocery chains and restaurants, including Costco, have stated they will not sell the GM salmon. Winning! Elizabeth Lind is the winner of the Predict the Bay contest sponsored by United Fishermen of Alaska’s Salmon Habitat Information Project. Her correct guess was a catch of 37.7 million sockeye salmon at Bristol Bay; the total on Friday was posted at 37.6 million. Lind wins an Alaska Airlines gift card for her winning guess. There’s still time to enter for more prizes. Send a text to 313131 and put “UFASHIP” in the message to get four chances to win up to $200 in gifts from Alaska Air and LFS Gear Supply, plus salmon news you can use. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fishing deaths renew reminders for safety measures

“It’s time for a checkup from the neck up” — meaning an industry time out to evaluate fishing operations and behaviors, advises Jerry Dzugan, the director of the Sitka-based Alaska Marine Safety Education Association for more than 30 years. Dzugan was speaking in response to the 11 fishing deaths that have occurred in Alaska so far this year. It’s the most in 13 years and follows a 76 percent decrease in commercial fishing fatalities since the 1980s. “The causes are still capsizing, sinkings, swampings and man overboards (MOBs). They haven’t changed much,” Dzugan said. “People need to step back and focus on the basics, such as making sure your vessel is stable and watertight, and that your crew is protected from man overboards.” Flooding and loss of boat stability are the cause of 50 percent of all fishing fatalities. Between 25 percent to 35 percent are from falling overboard, which is easily preventable. Dzugan said a long-term federal study of more than 500 Alaska fishing fatalities showed that not one MOB was wearing a life jacket. “You don’t fall in the water and die right away. You’ve got a half-hour to an hour before you succumb to hypothermia. The biggest risk is drowning and we’ve had a solution to that for hundreds of years, and that’s a life preserver,” he explained. There are a lot of “cultural barriers” to wearing PFDs (personal flotation devices), Dzugan said, combined with a lack of awareness of what is available today. The arguments heard in AMSEA training workshops are that PFDs are uncomfortable, they get snagged on things and they are difficult to work in. Minds are slowly changing, he said, and more fishing operations are now requiring that PFDs be worn on deck. “When you show them products that are built in to your coveralls or comfortable vests that help keep you warm and help absorb shocks from banging around on deck, they go out and buy them,” he said. Test trials by fishermen bear that out. In a 2012 study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, 400 Alaska fishermen wore six different PFDs for one month aboard crab boats, trawlers, longline and gillnet vessels. They then rated the gear for performance and comfort with a Mustang auto-inflatable PFD vest coming out on top. Most of the fisherman-approved models have PFDs built into suspenders, including Guy Cotton or Stearns rain gear. Stormy Seas, Regatta and Stearns models also feature yokes and bibs that clip into Grundens deck gear. Prices for the PFDs range from $125 to $200 and most are available at local gear shops. Along with wearing life preservers, Dzugan said all vessels should have a mechanical way to get people back on board, at least with blocks and tackle, and a boarding ladder. “Make sure the crew knows what to do in that situation. If you fish alone, be sure you get yourself back on the boat,” he stressed. Many man overboard alarms have an engine shut off capacity (most are in the $400 range), and Dzugan advises not going out on deck alone without telling someone, especially at night. More than half of all MOBs are not witnessed. He added that a lot of fishermen don’t have good technical knowledge of vessel stability. “A swamping takes just one wave,” he cautioned. Have respect for anything that changes a boat’s center of gravity, and make sure your vessel is watertight. “Even if the vessel originally had a watertight bulkhead, people drill holes through them for piping or electrical passages and don’t fill them up again,” he explained. “People get other priorities and they defer maintenance and often forget about the watertight integrity of their vessel.” Vessels also should have high water alarms in every space and good pumps. Check your immersion suits and other survival gear, Dzugan stressed, and do onboard safety drills. The U.S Coast Guard Fishing Vessel Safety Act states “the master, or other person in charge of each commercial fishing vessel, must ensure that basic safety drills and instructions are given to each crewman at least once each month.” “It’s tough for the Coast Guard to enforce,” Dzugan said. “A lot of people think doing a drill is talking about it around the galley table once a year.” Another cause of fishing accidents is simply fatigue and not getting enough sleep. “All the studies show that your decision making decreases the longer you go without sleep, and you start making stupid mistakes,” he said. Another lifesaving safety tip: pay attention to weather forecasts. Dzugan said. “Mother Nature doesn’t care a whit about you,” Dzugan said. “If there’s a storm forecast, don’t go out. It’s not worth it.” Fish watch Salmon takes center stage all summer but lots of other Alaska fisheries are going on as well. For salmon, the catch by Aug. 4 was nearing 121 million fish. Sockeyes totaled about 50 million, of which nearly 38 million were from Bristol Bay. Statewide pink salmon catches were on their way to 52 million with half coming from Prince William Sound. The total Alaska salmon catch for this year is pegged at 204 million fish. A lingcod fishery continues in Prince William Sound through year’s end with a 32,600-pound harvest. In Southeast Alaska, beam trawl shrimping continues through the end of August with a 175,000-pound catch quota. Starting Aug. 15, 78 permit holders in Southeast will set out for 720,250 pounds of pricey sablefish. A small 54,000-pound sablefish fishery also is underway in Cook Inlet. Cook Inlet also opens to scallop fishing on Aug. 15. Dredges are still dropping in other parts of the state with a total catch quota of 306,000 pounds of shucked scallop meats. Nearly 60 percent of the 18 million-pound halibut catch has been taken with Kodiak leading all ports for landings, followed by Seward and Homer. Statewide sablefish catches also are nearing 60 percent of the 22.5 million-pound quota. Both sablefish and halibut fisheries end in early November. Fishing for pollock, cod and other whitefish continues in the Bering Sea. Pollock reopens in the Gulf on Aug. 25 with a 4.2 million-pound harvest. Golden king crab kicked off along the Aleutians on Aug. 1 with a 5.5 million-pound catch quota. Fish agenda The state Board of Fisheries is lining up its agenda items for its annual meeting cycle that will focus on regulation changes for subsistence, commercial, personal use and sport fish fisheries at Prince William Sound, the upper Copper and Susitna regions and Yakutat, along with Dungeness crab, shrimp and miscellaneous shellfish issues. The Board has 227 proposals on its docket so far and the call is out for proposals from other regions to be considered at an Oct. 17-19 work session in Anchorage. “The board will review agenda change requests (ACRs) and decide if they meet the defined criteria to accept them,” said Executive Director Glenn Haight, adding that up to 25 requests are usually submitted. Last year, when the focus was on Kodiak and Cook Inlet fisheries, 12 ACRs came in from other regions and only two were accepted, he said. For an ACR to be accepted it must not be an item that is included in the regions already being considered; it must address a fishery conservation purpose, or correct an error in a regulation; or an impact on a fishery that was unforeseen, Haight explained. Agenda change requests must be submitted by Aug. 17 to be considered at the October work session in Anchorage. No regulations are passed nor are public comments taken at that time, although written comments may be submitted. A special consideration added to the October agenda is a Kodiak/Cook Inlet salmon genetic study. Comments may be faxed or mailed to ADF&G Boards Support Section in Juneau or via email to [email protected] Salmon day! Aug. 10 was Alaska Wild Salmon Day, an annual recognition signed into law in 2016 by Gov. Bill Walker. It also kicks off the upscale, nine day Sitka Seafood Festival hosted by the Alaska Sustainable Trust and the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association. All proceeds go to the Young Fishermen’s Initiative. www.sitkaseafoodfestival.com. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI keeps up export push on shoestring budget

Seafood is Alaska’s top export by far, usually topping $3 billion in sales each year to 120 countries around the world, and comprising 55 percent of our nation’s total seafood exports. Credit for the state’s export sales goes mostly to the international program run by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, or ASMI, which runs eight regional offices in Japan, China, Brazil, London, Spain, France, Germany and Eastern Europe. The overseas marketing reps, or OMRs, work under contract with ASMI to coordinate hundreds of seafood promotions each year to build the Alaska brand. “We work closely with overseas trade groups, food service and HRIs (hotels, restaurants, institutions),” said Hannah Lindoff, ASMI international director. “We also do promotions with chefs, schools, and caterers, and some programs have advertising elements as well.” China is Alaska’s largest seafood export market in terms of volume and value accounting for 35 percent and 27 percent, respectively in 2015. The fish isn’t ending up on Chinese dinner plates, however, as up to 90 percent of the seafood is sold to secondary processors which send finished products to other markets around the world. Japan is Alaska’s largest and most established market, Lindoff said, and the bulk of ASMI’s shoestring budget goes to maintaining customers there. “Alaska is facing lots of competition and a declining consumer base in Japan,” she added. Europeans rank second as customers for Alaska seafood, especially in the U.K. “Alaska salmon has been going to the U.K. for over 100 years and canned salmon is a traditional product for them. It’s part of their culture, but it is a declining market,” Lindoff said. Alaska’s newest marketing program is in Brazil where ASMI has been able to capitalize on its Japan connection. “Brazil has the largest population of expat Japanese in the world so we already have a population there that is familiar with Alaska seafood. We do several trade shows in Brazil, including a Japan Trade Show every year,” Lindoff said. Spain is another new and growing buyer for Alaska seafood. “This is a country where Alaska salmon is competing to be seen as better quality over farmed fish,” Lindoff said, adding that ASMI has taken advantage of a big downturn in farmed production from Chile due to a deadly fish virus. “The growing trend for sushi and Asian cuisine also has really helped Alaska salmon gain a foothold in Spain,” she said, “and it is a traditional market for Alaska cod.” ASMI also is trying to expand the brand in Eastern Europe to make up for losses from an ongoing Russian embargo on U.S. seafood, by building a presence in Latvia, Estonia, Romania and Ukraine. It’s a tough go, Lindoff admits, because many nations simply are not familiar with Alaska or its seafood. “We think of ourselves as having the greatest seafood in the world, but we are only 2 percent of the world supply and we are up against a lot of competition,” she explained. “Especially in Europe where Norway can provide a lot of farmed fish and they have a very aggressive marketing agency. It’s not a fair fight.” Norway’s annual marketing budget tops $50 million derived from a small tax on its seafood exports. That compares to an ASMI export budget of less than $7 million from a mix of grants and federal dollars. The State of Alaska contributes $1 million to ASMI’s overall budget of roughly $22 million, of which $16.5 million is paid by the seafood industry. The state plans to zero out its funds to ASMI in the coming fiscal year. Another marketing challenge is that many nations are only newly aware that Alaska is part of the United States. “It wasn’t until Sarah Palin was running for vice president in 2008 that some people learned that Alaska was part of the U.S,” Lindoff said with a laugh. She added that the popularity of the “Deadliest Catch” television show also “did tremendous things for creating awareness of Alaska seafood.” More recently, that recognition has helped increase buyer interest because Alaska (and the U.S. in general) is regarded as a source of clean and wholesome “free from” foods. “Especially in countries like China where they have a lot of food contamination problems, Alaska seafood is seen as a trusted source,” Lindoff said. She added that ASMI is partnering with several other regional groups as part of a USA global seafood initiative with a focus on Southeast Asia. “It’s definitely an advantage having a clean and pure environment in Alaska,” she said. Other sales benefits are coming from the use of eCommerce, especially in China, where the appetite for Alaska seafood is growing. “Our marketing dollars can go much farther online. It allows us to widely advertise Alaska’s core messages and we’ve seen millions of dollars in sales through eCommerce in China,” Lindoff said, adding that the same strategy is paying off with canned salmon in the U.K. To boost more brand awareness, ASMI also brings chefs and seafood savvy press people from Asia and Europe to Alaska to generate free publicity when they go home. Overseas marketing reps from eight countries are scheduled to arrive in Kodiak on Aug. 7 to tour processing plants, visit a remote salmon fishing site and hold brainstorming sessions. “Visiting Alaska is always one of our most powerful tools,” Lindoff said. “It’s great when you have limited time and budget to go to a place like Kodiak where you get so much of the seafood industry in one place.” Bringing in the chill Bristol Bay fishermen are chilling their fish like never before, and they are setting up to do even more. Two former longtime Bay fishermen are converting a 150-foot helicopter logging barge into a floating fish processor with plans to operate it next summer on the Ugashik River, about 85 miles from the nearest processing plants at Naknek. Co-owner Ben Blakey said the barge will freeze up to 300,000 pounds of whole sockeye salmon per day and employ about 20 people, compared to the 200 or more needed to run a shore-based processor. “There are a lot of communities in Alaska that can’t support a full-time processor with that many people because they don’t have enough volume,” Blakey told KCAW in Sitka. “If an outfit like this can get by with less overhead and lower labor costs, they might be able to park it in front of an isolated area and process the fish at a more effective cost.” The refurbished four decker will provide ice and help reduce the time the salmon spend in the fish hold before being delivered, especially for the many boats that don’t have onboard chilling systems, said co-owner Pat Glaab, who built the fish processing plant at Leader Creek and Silver Bay Seafoods at Naknek. The revamped barge is his 11th fish processor. “There’s nobody in the world who wouldn’t say that there isn’t a portion of that Bay fleet that doesn’t have the ability to take care of this fish properly. We feel this thing will fill that need,” he said. Glaab and Blakey operate as Northline Seafoods out of Sitka’s industrial park, where they are testing out the revamped plant on pinks this summer. If it’s successful, the duo plans to build at least three more brand new barges at a cost of about $5 million each. Red flag from afar U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross this month dismissed a report from the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission that concluded New Jersey was violating a conservation plan for summer flounder, also called fluke. The decision, which allows New Jersey to harvest nearly 100,000 more summer flounder, marked the first time the federal government has disregarded such a recommendation by the commission, according to the Boston Globe. Congress established the multi-state commission 75 years ago to ensure the region’s fisheries are managed sustainably. The commission lowered fluke catch limits after it found that their population was down almost 25 percent since 2010. Ross, who oversees the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, overruled the commission and allowed New Jersey to go ahead with its plan. Outraged members of the commission, fishery managers, and NOAA officials said it was unprecedented for a Commerce secretary to make a decision without seeking their input. The broader impact of the decision remains unknown, the Globe said. Fishery managers worry that Ross’ decision sets a precedent for states to reject the commission’s findings and appeal to the federal government whenever they don’t like what they’re hearing. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Ocean Tuesday starts conversation on innovation

Picture crustacean DNA that allows crabs the ability to grow a new leg. That chemical makeup, in an innovator’s hands, becomes a product to seal up a human puncture wound. Imagine a band-aid made of it. Alaska has lots of crab, but getting from raw seafood byproducts to a marketable commodity will take a new infrastructure. A blue economy movement now in its Alaska infancy is involved in engaging all the human resources necessary to help such innovations evolve. Joel Cladouhos, program director for the Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative, conducted a workshop July 25 at the Alaska Communications Business Technology Center in Anchorage as part of Startup Week to get the conversation started on how to turn ocean products into wealth. “That’s our mission: to transition from an extractive economy to a diversified economy based on sustainable resources from the ocean,” Cladouhos said. The Ocean Tuesday event allowed almost 100 people to connect via a video conferencing tool called Zoom, bringing together a variety of public members, academics, business leaders and policy makers from Anchorage, Bethel, Kodiak, Valdez, Homer, Fairbanks, Petersburg and Juneau to talk about barriers and opportunities in the sustainable development of Alaska’s vast ocean resources by launching an Alaska Ocean Cluster. Like an Icelandic Ocean Cluster and the New England Ocean Cluster, an Alaska one would bring together innovators, investors and others for capitalization projects. Ocean Tuesday — an event Cladouhos would like to see occur each week — was a chance to start the community conversation. One of Cladouhos’ featured speakers, also appearing via Zoom, was Patrick Arnold, an entrepreneur in Portland, Maine, who founded the New England Ocean Cluster or NEOC. The for-profit business model is based off a similar operation in Reykjavik, Iceland, where they have figured out how to generate value from more than 80 percent of a fish. “After two years, we’re still in the nascent stage,” Arnold told the Alaskans July 25. But already, one of the development teams at the NEOC came up with an innovative way to use lobster shells in the human healing process similar to the band-aid example above. “Much of the crustacean shell waste in the United States contains valuable proteins, and yet the majority of waste goes to landfills or composting operations,” Arnold said, describing a status-quo situation those on the Zoom conference knew well. “In Alaska you have crab. Keep it in Alaska,” Arnold advised. Arnold gave encouragement to form working groups, approach new partners who currently process the waste or toss it out, and introduce the concept of changing how things are done. “It helps to have a cultural shift. You have to show the benefits in a variety of outcomes,” Arnold said. “The strongest way to get cultural change is to show incremental examples of success.” Iceland’s “infrastructure” started with a 40-foot shipping container, Arnold said. “And now they are producing 22 million metric tons and selling it for millions of dollars.” Another presenter at the workshop was Dianne Tilton, the executive director of the Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research and Education in Beals, Maine. DEI conducts mariculture research that aids commercial shellfish farming and other marine-based entrepreneurship. Tilton’s overview showed a critical partnership piece provided through public university research. “Maine has recognized and put significant investments into building up their R&D (research and development) into the ocean economy,” Cladouhos said. “They are partnering with the private sector to help solve problems.” Finding those opportunities is the stage Alaska is at now, he added. The July 25 event had breakout groups in each of the Alaska towns to discuss challenges and opportunities for capturing more value from Alaska’s ocean resources by starting an ocean initiative. The Anchorage conversation was led by Rachael Miller, Hickel Professor of Strategic Leadership and Entrepreneurship at Alaska Pacific University. The group included Britteny Cioni-Haywood, division director of the Alaska Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development, Nigel Sharp, the Global Entrepreneur in Resident at the University Alaska Anchorage and UAA Business Enterprise Institute leaders as well as members of the general public. The Anchorage group noted barriers presented in an economy dominated by the oil industry. A solution would be to seek what common interests the oil industry shares with an ocean-focused effort. Alaska also lacks a K-12 curriculum that would lay a foundation for next-generation understanding of ocean resources. There’s also a lack of a common space to let the conversation convene, Miller said. A solution would be to invite Launch Alaska to become the convener or incubator for economic ideas. It would also require leadership from the new UAA Global Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Sharp, who may be able to help find capital and markets. Around the state, other groups identified isolation from business centers and high energy costs as barriers. But opportunities were presented in the expertise of each community, such as Kodiak’s Seafood and Marine Science Center and Valdez’ ocean monitoring program, put in place after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. As an organization, the AOCI comes under the umbrella of the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association, which has a long history of identifying and supporting economic development, noted Executive Director Karen Gillis. The workshop laid some foundation for a step to forming the ocean cluster. But in addition to ideas, it requires economic sector voices, Cladouhos said. He’s looking at emerging sectors such as ocean technology, marine biotechnology and renewable energy. And he’s looking at the existing sectors like coastal tourism and marine transportation. “Oceans are the unifying theme to this amalgamation of sectors doing business in Alaska,” Cladouhos said. A cooperative cluster of those sectors, like Maine’s and Iceland’s, would help speed along economic successes. Cladouhos calculates Alaska is woefully behind other coastal countries and states in utilizing the wasted tonnage from seafood. One company moved from Juneau to Seattle to develop a value-added shell product. One clear step ahead is to continue “Ocean Tuesday.” It would take place weekly at a place as yet to be decided, and would involve a hybrid of virtual and physical platforms. “This would start a collaborative statewide conversation,” Cladouhos said. “We have many differences from Iceland and Maine. We have to find a way to collaborate across this large state. This morning was a perfect example of a platform that would allow us to do that. That’s really what excites me.” Ocean Tuesday is open to all entrepreneurs and innovators who want to engage. To sign up or learn more, go to  http://www.oceantuesday.com/ or write to Joel Cladouhos at [email protected] Naomi Klouda can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: UFA getting message out through tech; ‘Frankenfish’ sales loom

As state lawmakers mull ways to update permitting laws to protect salmon habitat, a dual sweepstakes is using text messaging and social media as the means to keep more fishermen informed. “One of the things we’ve learned over the past two years is that most fishermen are getting almost all of their information on their phones,” said Lindsey Bloom, program manager for United Fishermen of Alaska’s Salmon Habitat Information Program, or SHIP. “Since the start of this program we have heard from thousands of Alaska fishermen who say they care deeply about all issues related to salmon habitat, from ocean acidification and water quality to in-river impacts such as dewatering and blocked fish passage,” Bloom added. They also have learned that fishermen have a variety of preferred communication styles, and Bloom said the sweepstakes were created “to increase our reach to fishermen through multiple channels.” To test the waters, SHIP is encouraging fishermen to text “ufaship” to 313131, and UFA will send back four chances to win gift cards of up to $200 from Alaska Airlines or LFS, Inc. A second “Predict the Bay” contest at SHIP’s Facebook page invites guesses of this year’s Bristol Bay’s total sockeye catch and offers similar prizes. “Highlighting Bristol Bay is intentional, as it’s an incredibly prolific fishery that is based on superb quality habitat,” Bloom added. Fishermen who opt in will receive monthly SHIP updates, as well as alerts about other issues. “We are trying to incentivize participation and get the numbers up a little higher,” Bloom said. “Throughout the year we’ll be able to send out messages about what’s going on with certain policies, whether it’s at the federal level or state issues with the Board of Fish or the legislature or something else.” “We have a vast range of age groups who are participating in fishing and we’re trying to get a better sense of how to best communicate and get the farthest reach for our efforts,” she added. Various state and federal agencies, such as the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, also are interested in bettering communication with fishermen, and Bloom said they are closely watching the SHIP outreach efforts to mirror what is most effective. The sweepstakes also aims to boost membership in UFA, the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade group. “If habitat is as important of an issue as fishermen are telling us it is, it would be excellent if they would put some money where their mouths are and support UFA by signing up through the SHIP program,” Bloom said. Winners of the SHIP sweepstakes will be announced in September. ‘Frankenfish’ moves forward Plans are in the works to send genetically modified salmon to markets in the U.S. and Canada by next year. Despite an outpouring of nearly two million messages opposing the manmade fish, in 2015 it got the nod by the Food and Drug Administration. That followed a more than 20-year push by AquaBounty Technologies of Massachusetts for approval of what will be the first GM animal OK’d for human consumption. Health Canada approved the fish for consumption last year saying that fillets derived from so called AquAdvantage salmon “are as safe and nutritious as fillets from farmed Atlantic salmon.” Lab technicians at Prince Edward Island currently are creating fertilized Atlantic salmon eggs that include growth-enhancing DNA from two other fish that make them grow twice as fast as real salmon. The eggs will be shipped to growing tanks in Panama, and then transferred to a land based aquaculture system in Albany, Ind. A second facility also is planned in Canada. AquaBounty said they plan to produce 1,300 tons of Frankenfish annually starting in 2018. Meanwhile, last week a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators from Alaska, Washington and Oregon filed a Genetically Engineered Salmon Labeling Act that would require any manmade salmon must be labeled as such. The act also requires an independent third-party review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA. “The primary purpose of this bill is to ensure that consumers have all the facts and can make an informed decision when they are purchasing salmon,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski. “There’s a huge difference between ‘Frankenfish’ and the wild, healthy, sustainably-caught, delicious real thing — and I want to make sure folks are aware of that. I will not accept that this ‘fake fish’ will be sold in stores without clear labeling.” “Additionally, this bill would create a much-needed review of the environmental assessment process within the FDA for the approval of these new species that are being created in labs,” Murkowski added. No matter how it pans out, the salmon will be a tough sell. More than 80 grocery chains and restaurants have stated they will not sell the genetically modified fish. Wisdom on the airwaves Older Alaska fishermen are taking to the radio airwaves to offer career advice to new and younger industry entrants. It’s part of a wrap up of a three-year study that has attempted to define the problems associated with the “graying of the fleet” and to find ways to turn the tide. The average Alaska fisherman today is older than 50, a decade older than the average of a generation ago. Since limited entry programs began in state fisheries in the late 1970s, permit holdings by local rural residents have declined by 30 percent. The trend is similar in federal fisheries since the mid-1990s, with Gulf of Alaska communities showing a 53 percent decline in individual fishing quota holdings. The lack of recruits threatens the healthy succession of fishing as an economic and cultural mainstay in Alaska’s communities, and creates a public policy concern for Alaska, concludes the “Next Generation of Fishermen Study” done by the Alaska Marine Conservation Council, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Sea Grant. “It is getting more and more challenging for young people to enter into our fisheries and once they are there, to make sure their fishing businesses are viable and successful,” said Danielle Ringer, a UAF researcher. The project, which targeted Kodiak and the Bristol Bay region, included more than 130 interviews with permit holders, processors and other stakeholders to identify problems and come up with ways to attract more industry participants. The group has compiled a white paper that speaks to policy solutions called “Turning the Tide — How Alaska can address the Graying of the Fleet and Loss of Fisheries Access.” “It summarizes current efforts in Alaska, as well as in other U.S. fisheries and other nations to address access problems,” Ringer said. The researchers also have launched a serious of public service announcements for Alaska radio stations in which fishermen pass along tips on how to improve their success in a fishing career. Throughout the three-year project, Ringer said there was one agreement among all fishermen. “They love fishing!” she said. “And they want people to keep doing it and they want it to continue to be a thriving industry.” Learn more at fishermen.alaska.edu. Correction Fishermen in Southeast averaged 70 cents a pound for chum salmon last year, not 25 cents as was reported last week. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon surge to Bay as prices rebound

As predicted, Alaska fishermen are getting higher prices for their salmon this year. It’s good news following a 2016 season that saw lackluster catches in all regions but Bristol Bay, a failure of pink salmon runs, and paltry paychecks nearly across the board. Prices paid to Alaska salmon fishermen depend on the region, the species, the type of fishing gear and, most importantly, global market conditions. Salmon prices also reflect bonuses for iced fish, dock deliveries and other agreements between a buyer and seller. As a fishing season unfolds, details can be sketchy as buyers watch the strength of the salmon runs. Until the fish are actually sold at the wholesale level, prices are in flux, and it’s tough to determine what a final outcome will be. It all adds up to a lot of uncertainty, making it tough for sellers and buyers to pencil in a bottom line. That said, a canvassing of fishermen, processors and managers shows that early indicators are good. Bristol Bay started the optimism when Copper River Seafoods in late June posted a price of $1.35 per pound for top quality sockeyes. Bay reds averaged 93 cents per pound last summer. No word yet from other buyers as the sockeye run blows past the 27 million forecast with no end in sight. At Kodiak, sockeye prices were posted at $1.40 for bled and chilled fish, compared to a 96 cents average last year. Chums, which are arriving in record numbers at parts of the island, were posted at 40 cents per pound for bled and chilled fish, up from 29 cents on average at Kodiak last year. For early Kodiak pinks, a price of 35 cents was on the board for bled/chilled fish, a 20-cent increase from 2016. Icicle Seafoods at Kodiak’s Larsen Bay has chums posted at 55 cents per pound for bled/chilled fish and $1.40 for sockeyes. Troll caught kings from Southeast’s four-day July fishery fetched nearly $7 per pound according to fish tickets, up $2 from last summer’s average. Trollers now have switched to coho salmon and are averaging $1.40 per pound. Other Southeast fishermen also are seeing some record chum catches which are fetching 80 cents per pound for chums compared to just 25 cents on average last year. Gillnetters so far have caught nearly five times as many chum salmon this year compared to last year. Similar chum prices were reported from Prince William Sound, up from 32 cents. It’s the demand for roe that’s driving the interest in chums, most of which goes to Japan. Steady declines of Japan’s local fishery over a decade, which normally accounts for 70 percent of total chum roe supply, have sent prices soaring 30 to 40 percent over the past year. The news site Seafood.com reports that salted chum roe is selling at Tokyo’s Tsukiji Market for $30 to $35 per pound, the highest prices in 30 years. Seafood Symphony switch The timeline for Alaska’s most celebrated seafood bash has been advanced by several months to broaden the exposure for new products. The 2018 Alaska Symphony of Seafood is switching its popular events from the traditional winter unveilings to the fall. “We heard from a number of companies that the timeline was a bit late for preparing new products and participating in national and international competitions. It will give winners more time to plan their travel and to enter their products in the Seafood Expo North America contest in Boston in March,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 25 years. The annual contest showcases new products in four categories: retail, food service, Beyond the Egg and Beyond the Plate, which features items made from seafood byproducts. The judging now will occur during Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle, set for Nov. 16-19. The November event also will feature a Hall of Fame that highlights winners over the past quarter of a century. “It will be a really interesting opportunity for everyone to see product development trends over time,” Decker said. “With some of the winners, people will recognize common, everyday items that were actually Symphony winners many years ago. It will be a really fun way to encapsulate what 25 years has meant to the industry.” An official awards ceremony is planned at a special seafood soiree set for February in Juneau. For 2017, Coppa of Juneau took home the grand prize and tops in food service for its candied salmon ice cream. Dear North Alaska Salmon Bites, a product of the Huna Totem Corp., won first at retail. Bruce Gore Coho Salmon Bottarga by Triad Fisheries won in the Beyond the Egg category, and Tidal Vision of Juneau’s Crystal Clarity pool cleaner made from crab shells was the winner of Beyond the Plate. The call for products is set for mid-August with an entry deadline of Oct. 6. Get more info at the AFDF website. Bay brand expands The world’s biggest sockeye fishery at Bristol Bay is living up to its name with a catch already topping the 27 million fish forecast with no end in sight. Many of the reds will soon be showcased during an expanded program that builds on the success of a three-month pilot project last fall in Boulder, Colo. “During that time our retail partners saw an 8 to14 percent lift in sales compared to year over year. Based on those results, we decided to move forward and continue with some expansion and keep building our brand in other markets,” said Becky Martello, executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. The fisherman-run group is bankrolling the “Wild Taste, Amazing Place” branding program with a one percent tax paid by drift netters on the landed value of their catch. Details of the expanded promotion are still being worked out and Martello could not disclose the regional chains that plan to participate. “We’ll be focusing on larger areas rather than retailers in one city as we did in Boulder,” she explained, adding that a big push will include National Seafood Month in October and during Lent. In partnership with Anchorage-based Rising Tide Communications, the group has created in-store videos and digital images, recipes, chef specials, even fish wrapping paper and stickers bearing the Bristol Bay logo. The most important component, Martello said, is training the people behind the seafood counters. “We educate the retail staff so they can be champions of the brand and really sell it to customers. They are able to talk about why Bristol Bay salmon is a good choice, and explain how they are supporting small boat fishermen,” she added. Support for the program has been strong all along the supply chain, including Bay processors. “I feel like we’ve really opened the door for communication and collaboration between us as a fishermen’s group and the processing sector,” Martello said. Five Bristol Bay processors this year also will send out their fresh and frozen sockeye salmon with 200,000 labels featuring the Wild Taste, Amazing Place brand which directs customers to learn more at www.bristolbaysockeye.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Robotic technology emerging as tool for fish processing

Robots are cutting up snow crabs in Canada in a sign of things to come in the seafood processing industry. Overall, seafood processing has a relatively small robotic involvement compared to other sectors. Robots have yet to make it into any of Alaska’s 176 fish processing shops, but the lure of reduced production costs, increased fish quality and crews of worker-bots is turning the tide. The CBC reports that the world’s first crab plant robot began work this spring in a plastic chamber about the size of a shipping container in remote Newfoundland. The robot receives crabs on a conveyor belt and quickly dismembers each with a buzzing blade. The crab legs then tumble into a tub below, all sorted, sectioned and ready to go. Another robot in the works will soon shuck all the meat from the crab for a better financial return. “Instead of sending our crab out as sections with the meat in the shell, we thought we could attract a higher price if we sold the meat instead,” said Bob Verge, director of the Canadian Centre for Fisheries Innovation where the crab cutting robots were created. The meat extraction used to be done by hand in Newfoundland plants, but years ago that job shifted to China where the labor is cheaper. Bringing that step back to Newfoundland, Verge said, would make more money for plant operators and get more value from the resource. And for the first time robots also are deboning and filleting cod fish on Norwegian processing lines. New Atlas reports that a machine called APRICOT (automatic pin-bone removal in cod and whitefish) is using x-ray technology to locate the tiny pin bones in the fish and neatly trim them away using water jets. “Unlike farmed salmon, which are similar in size and shape and therefore suitable for automated machine filleting, the variability of wild-caught white fish such as cod has kept filleting of these fish a manual affair,” said a spokesman for Marel of Iceland, the world’s biggest fish processing equipment manufacturer. The APRICOT robot system is expected to be ready for commercial use by year’s end. As the U.S. seafood industry becomes more reliant on products from aquaculture, equipment makers are designing machines for processing those more predictable fish. Complete lines are now operating, for example, where whole farmed salmon enter at one end and portions ready-packed for supermarkets leave at the other. Norwegian processor Nordlaks described the Marel-made system as “a seamless flow of salmon portions without manual handling.” “A robot places the fish pieces directly into the packaging and the system reduces labor costs by up to 20 percent,” a spokesman said. Robot makers say they are hoping their machines will help solve workforce problems in fish plants caused by changing demographics and global markets, and labor shortages. In the near future, they predict more highly skilled humans will work on sophisticated machines and computers, and not on the slime lines. “If we are going to attract young people we need better jobs, not more jobs,” said the crab robot’s Bob Verge. “We have to offer them a better deal. We’ve already demonstrated this technology to young people and they are very impressed with it. They say I’d like to do this.” Robots also are making inroads into the big freezers that hold the bulk of Alaska’s seafood before it goes to markets. A Netherlands company called NewCold has partnered with Trident Seafoods to build one of the nation’s biggest cold storage warehouses outside of Tacoma. Wash. The companies call it “a solution for increased labor, land and energy costs.” Seafood products will be stored on a robot-run system of tiered trollies and racks in low oxygen and in pitch dark, and then transported to the loading area by conveyors and worker-bots. When the $50 million project is completed at year’s end, it will have storage capacity of more than 25 million cubic feet. Fishing updates Alaska’s salmon catch by July 7 was nearing 32 million fish on its way to a forecast of 204 million, with fishing in many regions just getting serious. Fully half of the harvest so far is sockeye salmon from Bristol Bay, where buyers were struggling to keep pace with the surge of fish and most boats were on limits. In other fisheries: Low catches mean Southeast’s summer Dungeness crab fishery will close July 25, an unprecedented three weeks earlier than usual. Alaska’s first red king crab fishery for the year is underway at Norton Sound with a 400,000-pound limit. Shrimp fisheries closed in Prince William Sound last week but opened in parts of Southeast, and lingcod fisheries are now open in both regions. Scallop fisheries opened July 1 at Yakutat, Prince William Sound, Kodiak, the Alaska Peninsula, Dutch Harbor, and a portion of Bristol Bay. Cook Inlet will open to scalloping in mid-August, for a combined Alaska catch of 306,000 pounds of shucked meats. Fishing for pollock, cod and other whitefish is ongoing in the Bering Sea; the Gulf reopens to pollock Aug. 25. Halibut fishermen are about half way to their 18 million-pound catch limit. Kodiak is leading all ports for halibut deliveries followed by Seward and Petersburg; Homer had yet to top one million pounds. Seward and Sitka are the leaders for sablefish landings, each at well over two million pounds. Fishermen have pulled up 53 percent of the 22.5 million-pound catch quota. Stories help salmon Stand for Salmon is calling for photos and stories depicting the role salmon plays in Alaskans’ lives. The grass roots group is working to change salmon habitat laws that haven’t been updated since statehood in 1959, and believes a contest will help spread the word. “It’s always exciting to see where people fish, how they fish, how their families are impacted, how they cook and smoke their fish - the list goes on. I think photo contests like this give us a great opportunity to work with Alaskans and learn why salmon matter to them,” said SFS spokesman Samuel Snyder. Contest deadline is Aug. 31. Learn more at www.standforsalmon.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Pollock skins to dog treats coming soon

Americans love their pets and are willing to shell out $23 billion per year on their food, which would be good news for Alaska seafood marketing if more products were developed to serve all those well-cared-for dogs and cats. Now a treat for dogs made of pollock skins has been developed to the marketing stage, perhaps even allowing for a secondary market in millions of tossed-out pollock skin tonnage to come into its own market at 30 to 50 cents per pound. The now market-ready product made from vacuum-dried skins developed by Chris Sannito might be just the treat pets have been waiting for. Sannito, an Alaska Sea Grant seafood technology specialist based at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Science Center, inherited a research product when he came onboard in 2015. The science center is an arm of the University of Alaska Fairbanks College of Fisheries and Ocean sciences. Pollock skins from billions of pounds of fish go to seagulls and other destinations each year, a food source researchers tinkered with turning into dog treats before Sannito arrived. The Pollock Conservation Cooperative Research Center or PCCRC, a group that focuses on the commercial fisheries of the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, is particularly concerned about waste, he said. “The project was funded, but there were no researchers or staff to work on it,” Sannito said. The Fulbright scholar looked at the fish skins and the net screens meant to dry them. “I wondered how would you be able to commercialize something like this, individual pollock skins that weigh fractions of an ounce. It would be so time consuming,” he recalled. “Laying them out on screens and drying them, I thought there’s no way this would work in Alaska where labor is so expensive. There’s got to be a better way.” Unlike salmon skins whose high oil content makes it a more volatile prospect, pollock skins are low in oil and easier to dry. In thinking through the first phase, Sannito recalled an extrusion machine he’d seen in action during his graduate days. The researcher had used a Clextral extruder — a machine that pushes material through a barrel — to create a snack of rice flour and fish powder. Cheerios, Lucky Charms, Goldfish snacks — these shapes are all possible from the same process, as well as spiral ropes, like licorice. Why not try that? The $500,000 machine is manufactured in France, and ironically, the Kodiak Seafood and Marine Center used to own one in a pilot engineering project. But the University of Alaska Fairbanks, during times of budget cuts, sold it back to Clextral a few years back after it fell into disuse, Sannito said. One in Tampa, Fla., at the Clextral Food Compliant Pilot Plant, rented for $5,000 a day, Sannito discovered. The machine is 10 feet tall by 15 feet long and has a giant high-torque electric motor that grinds a 10-foot barrel with a twin screw. He made the arrangements, scheduled trials for a day in July 2016 and sent 500 pounds of frozen fish waste via FedEx to Tampa. “We ran the skins through an extruder and it transformed them under high pressure and temperature, turning the collagen in the skin into gummy bear texture,” he said. Glycerine with water, wheat flour and fish skins achieved the right consistency. “The beauty of it: it goes in wet and comes out dry. In the extrusion barrels there are nine different chambers that at the end applies a strong vacuum,” Sannito said. “It has an adjustable valve to get material from soft gummy bear to a hard pasta noodle based on the vacuum pressure. It’s neat because you have precise control.” Sannito chose the tooling to get a licorice-like spiral that came out an Army green. During the day of experimenting at the plant, he applied artificial and natural coloring to look at red and blue versions of the treat. “We decided to keep it the natural Army green,” he said. “It seemed healthier and we wanted clean labels, a wholesome product. Pet owners read labels for their dogs like they do for themselves.” The end result was a nicer looking product that retained the pungent fish smell dogs love so much. Back when it was just dried skins, dogs like the pollock treats just as well, Sannito said. But he reasoned a more attractive product would likely sell better off store shelves. Back in Kodiak he taste-tested on lots of Kodiak dogs. “This is a dog town so there’s no shortage,” he said. “I didn’t find anyone who turned it down.” The treats are shelf-stable when they come off the machine. All 500 pounds of skins, now dried licorice-shaped treats, came back to Kodiak with Sannito in stand-up re-sealable pouches. Most all of it is gone now, eaten by the local taste-testers, he said. In January, Sannito presented his research results to the PCCRC. Several faculty from the UAF sit on the board, one of them Dean Bradley Moran, head of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and Sannito’s supervisor. The dean was impressed. On May 5, Sannito and Quentin Fong, Alaska Sea Grant’s seafood marketing specialist, received the 2017 Invent Alaska Award for “innovation in research leading to commercialization.” It was presented by the UAF Office of Intellectual Property and Commercialization. The next step is to find industry partners to develop a commercial product, with a name and graphics for the package labels, Sannito said. The PCCRC board is more interested in research than commercialization of the resulting products, but UAF’s interest was piqued after the January presentation. Sannito is in the process of licensing the product with the Intellectual Property Office. The university offers a generous 50-50 split with its researchers on the patents created by the UAF faculty. At one point, Sannito did reach out to Purina with his product, but wasn’t able to connect with the right person. “Hopefully, as soon as it’s licensed, we can introduce it to a value-added partner,” he said. “It will be neat to see it commercialized. I’ve seen a similar product ‘Greenies’; it’s a very successful dog treat at Costco. Theirs is similar but made with chicken meal. Fish protein would probably be better, more easily digestible.” Partnerships also would create a new market for the tons of fish skin going to waste out at sea where some processors grind and discharge it, or at landed canneries where a separate machine de-skins the fish before tossing out the waste. “Any coastal community is awash in fish skins wherever they process a large amount of skinless boneless filets,” Sannito said. White fish varieties would work equally well. He envisions a full-scale operation would pay costs to processors for handling and freezing the fish skins and selling them to the dog treat manufacturing operation. “I think they would be tickled pink to be able to sell it 30 or 50 cents a pound,” Sannito said. He also would like to see a Clextral machine back in Alaska; it wouldn’t be practical to haul thousands of fish skin pounds elsewhere to process. The machine could be used for crossover products, perhaps like collagen bars used by the beauty industry in products, and other value-added Alaska food products. For Sannito, his interest in seafood comes full circle. He grew up in Indiana and earned his undergraduate degree in science and math at Hawaii Loa College. He completed graduate work at UAF School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, then won a Fulbright Scholarship in1992. “He’s uniquely able to see both the research side of a project and the practical aspects,” Moran said. “We’re excited to see where the pollock skin dog treat project goes.” In Fiji as a Fulbright scholar, he worked with small-scale tuna fisheries to export tuna sashimi to Japan. In Alaska, he worked 15 years as a quality assurance manager for seafood processors on Kodiak. Since 2015, he has served in his current UAF faculty position at the Kodiak Seafood and Marine science Center where, besides inventing a new dog treat, he teaches a variety of seafood courses. If Sannito’s dog treats are successful, UAF stands to make money back into its programs, Moran said. Sannito said he’d love to give back during this time of severe state budget cuts to the tune of $8 million next year for the UA system. For now, he has the immediate gratification of his four-legged fan club. Sammy, his own finicky-eating golden retriever, enjoys the fish-skin snacks. But he’s running out soon. “It’s time to make more,” Sannito said.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon spawn unusual research

Salmon skin, heads, bones and other body parts have long been popular in cultural usages around the world. Now add salmon sperm to the list of desirable byproducts being hailed by specialists in two diverse realms of research. A team of Japanese researchers is calling dried salmon sperm a miracle product for its ability to extract rare earth elements, or REEs, from ore. An ore is a type of rock that contains minerals with important elements and metals that can be extracted from the earth through mining. The rocks are refined, usually by smelting, to extract the valuable compounds. Retrieving the REEs involves an expensive process that uses toxic and sometimes radioactive chemicals which often end up polluting the environment. To the rescue: salmon sperm! The Japanese scientists discovered that salmon sperm has phosphate in its DNA. Previous studies showed that phosphate on the surface of some bacteria extracted rare earth elements from ores. To test the idea, the researchers poured dried salmon milt into a beaker containing liquid ore waste. The semen did indeed absorb several rare elements from the solution, which were easily extracted using a centrifuge. The process was accomplished 10 times more efficiently than the more hazardous and costly conventional methods. The scientists claim salmon sperm could someday replace the toxic brew of chemicals currently used to extract REEs. But before it can be used for extraction on a commercial scale, the researchers said an economically viable process would have to be put in place to capture it from commercial fisheries. The team noted that in its dried form, salmon sperm is very easily stored. Salmon sperm also is the first bio-material used to help turn on the lights. LEDs (light emitting diodes) brighten the numbers in digital clocks and every kind of appliance and electronics. Scientists recently discovered that LEDs can be intensified by using biological materials — notably, salmon sperm. It is the unique shape of the salmon DNA that produces the bio-magic, said Dr. Andrew Steckl, a photonics expert at the University of Cincinnati. “The salmon’s double helix has some interesting properties regarding light. Because of the way it is shaped, you can insert light emitting molecules within it that operate more efficiently than in other host materials,” Steckl said in a phone interview. Steckl’s studies, in collaboration with U.S. Air Force researchers, used sperm taken from wild salmon in Japan, where it is widely harvested for its DNA. In Steckl’s lab, researchers refined the DNA molecules into pure fibers, then into thin films of tightly controlled dimensions that produce light. “Starting with this material, you can actually make a competitive, if not a superior device,” he said, adding, “People in the semi-conductor and in flat panel display industries are quite concerned that certain specialty metals that are critical to device fabrication are going to begin to run out. And this is not 100 years from now, this is maybe as soon as 10 years from now.” Steckl said bioorganic materials are abundant and readily available, and reduce the need for heavy metals and other hazardous materials. “We have the biggest and most competitive industries in America in agriculture and fishing, producing huge amounts of biomaterials that have many technologically important qualities — electronic, optical, structural, magnetic and more,” he said. Steckl believes the trend towards “biomimetics” is inevitable. “Mother Nature’s bounty is widely available and renewable,” he said. “We can use the naturally occurring molecules as a model to learn how they operate. They’ve had millions of years of refining their operations. If we understand how they operate, maybe we can mimic them using man-made materials. We are just scratching the surface.” Crabs can hear Creepy soundtracks of noises made by predators had mud crabs running for shelter and proved, for the first time, that the animals can hear. Marine acoustic experts at Boston’s Northeastern University made the discovery in lab tests on 200 mud crabs during a two-year study. When they piped in certain noises, the crabs didn’t dare venture out to eat juicy clams placed in their tanks and their skittishness lasted for several hours. The scientists said the crabs hear through a small sac at the base of their antennae called a statocyst. It contains thousands of sensory hairs important for the animal’s balance but also, the study found, for responding to sounds. Might it be the same for Alaska crab? “That’s unknown. I’m not aware of any studies that have gone into that level of detail on the sensory organs or abilities of any of the commercial crab species in Alaska,” said Bob Foy, director of NOAA Fisheries’ top crab lab at Kodiak. “I would not be surprised if it was the same,” he added. “Sound is just a pressure wave, so I’m not surprised that the crab can hear the sound. The interesting fact is how they are reacting to a predator or to another organism, and being able to measure the stress that the animal is undergoing at the same time.” Other studies showed that ship sounds affected foraging behavior of shore crabs. Foy said all of the findings can be important for crab scientists and managers on a couple of fronts. “Just knowing that the animals have that additional sensory capability is huge for us to understand how they are interacting with their environment. Crab communication is very important,” he explained. “We are trying to understand the behavior of the crab, such as how the males and females find each other. Crabs don’t broadcast spawn like a fish does; they have to find each other in a very large ocean. So knowing more about their hearing behaviors would be critical for understanding how these animals are moving throughout their environment.” The impacts of sonar usage for oil/gas exploration, ships and other kinds of ocean noises also could be assessed, Foy said. “Knowing that crabs do have this hearing sensitivity helps us think about how we might test for these things,” he said. Foy called the crab hearing studies “fascinating” and hopes they continue. “If you had asked me if crabs can hear prior to this, I probably would have said they probably have a way of detecting sound,” he said. “But seeing how they are detecting it and then responding to noises and other predators is very intriguing in terms of how we might be able to use this in the future.” Codfish creamsicles, anyone? Coppa in Juneau proved that seafood can add to a winning confection. Its Candied Salmon Ice Cream took home the grand prize in the 2017 Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition, and could follow dessert a la mode that is trendy throughout Asia. Ice cream with seafood chunks has become popular in Japan, where the Kagawa fishery cooperative has been scooping it up for customers for 10 years. The ice cream is available in six flavors — yellowtail flounder, baby sardine, seaweed, octopus, crab and shrimp. According to the Japan Times, the makers have developed a way to remove as much of the fishy smell as possible, while keeping the delicious flavors. The ice cream is sold at some airports, highway parking lots, and resorts. The co-op also sells its ice cream by mail. Although some tend to think of it as a joke product, the sellers take their ice cream very seriously. The Kagawa makers said they developed the desserts because more children and young women are shifting away from a healthful fish diet, and seafood ice cream is one way to draw them back. People in Taiwan also have gotten a taste for seafood ice cream. For about a dollar a scoop you can select from 13 flavors including strawberry tuna, wasabi cuttlefish and pineapple shrimp. The savory ice cream comes in stark colors like orange, green and black and is topped with sprinkles of dried fish, roe or chopped squid. The novel dessert was created by Liny Hsueh, who sells under the brand name “Doctor Ice.” She is expanding to a second outlet and adding scallops as the newest flavor to her seafood ice cream line up. Since the baby food makers won’t do it, perhaps the ice cream industry will lead the charge to get more seafood into the mouths of American kids. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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

China holds big promise to become a top customer for Alaska salmon, and not just for the bright red fillets. Since 2011 China has been the No. 1 customer for Alaska seafood with purchases nearing $800 million and comprising 54 percent of all Alaska exports to China. In Chinese food culture, fish symbolizes abundance and prosperity, which plays into a growing middle class that now earns the equivalent of about $25,000 in U.S. dollars a year. That gives buyers significant disposable income to spend on more high-end foods, such as salmon. Add in increasing public concerns about food safety and pollution, and it means Alaska is well poised to send even more salmon to China. A photo-filled Alaska Sea Grant report — called Consumer Preference and Market Potential for Alaska Salmon in China — gives a glimpse of that potential in a country with 1.4 billion people. Researchers from the University of Alaska/Fairbanks and Purdue spent over three months surveying more than 1,000 urban supermarket shoppers in Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou to get their results. Here’s a sampler: While nearly 40 percent of Chinese consumers said they eat seafood at least once a week, only about 9 percent eat salmon that often, and 7 percent have never eaten salmon. The most popular fish consumed by Chinese is carp. More than 66 percent considered seafood to be healthier than other foods, and more than 25 percent preferred wild-caught seafood. Nearly the same number did not pay attention to or understand the difference between wild and farmed fish. Almost 40 percent of Chinese consumers said they eat salmon in restaurants and prefer it raw, as sashimi or sushi. Nearly 18 percent eat salmon in the same uncooked ways at home. On average, consumers ranked the method of harvest as the most important salmon attribute, followed by environmentally friendly certificates, color, the method of preservation, country of origin, and fat content. More than 68 percent said they would be more likely to buy Alaska salmon after knowing it comes from a clean environment and is sustainably harvested. Nearly 59 percent of Chinese urbanites said they definitely or probably would buy Alaska salmon if it were available at an acceptable price. They also find appealing parts of the fish that most Americans toss in the trash. Chinese culinary traditions include cooking fish heads, tails, and bones for various soups and stews. Supermarket prices showed salmon heads selling for $4.99 (U.S.) per pound, salmon skins at $2.46, and salmon bones at $5.10 per pound. The report said those low-value parts can add significant value to Alaska seafood exports to China. “The survey responses show that consumers, if presented with more opportunities to purchase Alaska salmon, would favor the wild fish because of its health benefits, pristine source waters and sustainability,” said Quijie “Angie” Zheng, a study co-author along with H. Holly Wang, Quentin Fong, and Yonggang Lu, all professors within Alaska’s university system. The salmon potential has not been lost on Norway, the world’s top producer of farmed fish. The national fish news site Seafood.com reports that Norway plans to export 343 million pounds of farmed salmon to China by 2025, worth about 4.4 billion yuan, or $646 million (U.S.). Salmon at sea Alaska is the second-largest salmon harvester in the North Pacific, topped only by Russia, and leads all other nations for releases of hatchery-reared fish. That’s according to the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission which revealed last month that salmon catches reported by its member countries — Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia, and the U.S. — remain at all-time highs. Since 1993, the commission has tracked the abundance and origins of chum, coho, pink, sockeye, chinook, cherry salmon and steelhead trout in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. Salmon abundance is based on the aggregate commercial catches of the five nations which in 2016 totaled nearly 440 million fish, just slightly less than previous years. Russia ranked No. 1 for total salmon catches at 51 percent (967 million pounds), U.S. fleets took 33 percent at 617 million pounds, and all but 19 million pounds of the U.S. catch came from Alaska! That was followed by Japan at 13 percent (245 million pounds), 3 percent from Canada (47 million pounds) and less than 1 percent of the North Pacific salmon catch was taken by Korea. Pink salmon made up 41 percent of the total catch by weight, with Russia hauling in 75 percent of the pink pack. That was followed by chums at 33 percent, sockeyes at 21 percent, coho at 3 percent and Chinook salmon made up 1 percent of the North Pacific catch. Hatchery releases of salmon from NPAFC member countries topped 5 billion fish in 2016 (38 percent of the total salmon catch), similar to numbers over the last three decades. The U.S. released 37 percent of the hatchery fish (1.9 billion fish), followed by Japan at 37 percent (967 million), Russia at 19 percent (282 million) and Canada at six percent (22 million fish). Sixty-five percent of the hatchery releases were chum salmon, followed by pinks at 24 percent. Chinook, sockeye and coho salmon releases were 5 percent of less. Pinger paybacks Alaska salmon fishermen can get rebates on pingers aimed at keeping marine mammals away from their gear. The six-inch, battery operated tubes are tied into fishing nets and transmit animal-specific signals every five seconds. “Pingers can be really helpful to alert the whales to something in front of them, so you have less entanglements, explained Kathy Hansen, director of the Southeast Alaska Fisheries Alliance. SEAFA received a $25,000 Hollings Grant from the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation to fund the pinger program, which pays out $25 rebates for up to five pingers per permit per vessel. The pingers retail for about $100 each, which adds up by the time you put the number needed for the length of a salmon net. “A Southeast gillnet that is 200 fathoms long needs at least five,” Hansen said. The rebates are good for any Alaska salmon fishery. Along with Southeast Alaska, Hansen said, pingers are also used by fishermen at Kodiak and Sand Point. Hansen uses pingers in her salmon gear and swears by them. “It’s not 100 percent effective — kind of like a red stop light. Ninety-nine percent of the people will stop, and there’s that 1 percent that might not. But we’ve used them on our fishing gear for about six years and are completely sold on them,” she said. And, she added, pingers don’t act like a dinner bell for whales, nor affect the salmon catch. “In our personal experience and all the people we’ve talked to say they have not seen any kind of dinner bell effect with the pingers,” Hansen said. “And they do not scare the fish away. We constantly see fish clumped up next to the pingers.” The rebates will continue while the funds last. Get forms from the SEAFA website and at local gear shops. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

North Pacific council director takes top federal fish job

Chris Oliver, the former executive director of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, has moved up the ladder to lead the agency overseeing the all the federally managed fisheries in the U.S. Oliver, who has lived in Alaska since 1990 and been the executive director of the council since 2001, officially took the post of assistant administrator at the National Marine Fisheries Service effective June 19. The move places him in the top job at the federal agency within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that regulates and enforces fisheries occurring in federal waters, which are between 3 and 200 miles off U.S. coasts. As administrator, he will oversee NMFS’ 3,200 employees, five regional offices, six science centers and 24 labs and fish stations. NMFS works with the eight regional fisheries councils across the country to develop recreational and commercial fisheries policies, providing research and recommendations for conservation and management. “I look forward to leading NOAA Fisheries and working with our partners to rebuild U.S. fisheries and conserve and recover protected resources where necessary, promote domestic marine aquaculture production where appropriate, maintain our reputation for world-renowned science and analysis, and do so while maximizing fishing opportunities for the benefit of recreational and commercial fishermen, processors, and the coastal communities which depend on them for generations to come,” Oliver said in a NOAA news release. Oliver has a reputation for practicality and being politically neutral. His new position is a political appointment, which he told the Journal in February could be “a bit of a misfit” because he was able to stay out of the notoriously heated politics of fisheries as the executive director of the council. Seafood companies with interests in Alaska backed Oliver’s nomination in large numbers, having worked with him first as a biologist and deputy director before he became executive director for the council. He replaces former administrator Eileen Sobeck, who left as President Donald Trump’s administration began. When he was first tapped for the position in the spring, he said he didn’t know if he’d accept the position were it to be offered. At the last council meeting in Juneau in early June, the members took time to say farewell. Oliver thanked the council members and said he’d likely be back to visit. “I want to say what an honor and a privilege it’s been again to work for this council. It’s because of this council that I’m having this opportunity,” he said. “…It’s been a wonderful ride and I’m going to miss all of you.” North Pacific Fishery Management Council Deputy Director David Witherell will serve as interim executive director until a new one is hired. ^ Reach Elizabeth Earl at [email protected]

Sitka direct marketing sales soaring

It could signal fundamental changes in the way seafood will be marketed for a century-old Alaska industry. Or it could be just another marketing niche, profitable for just a few. Either way, Sitka Salmon Shares caught a lot of attention when it began direct sales of Alaska fish to Lower 48 consumers in 2012. Direct marketing of Alaska fish to the Lower 48 is hardly a new idea. Years ago, Sitka harvester Sherry Tuttle drove around San Francisco with king salmon in the trunk of the car, begging chefs to try the product. They did, and liked it. Nic Mink at Sitka Salmon Shares is taking this to a whole new level, however, moving and selling fish in large enough quantities to overcome economy of scale challenges that confront individual harvesters who do direct sales but not so large that the connection for the consumer of where the fish comes from, and who caught it, is lost. That information goes along with a box of fish delivered to customers, and there’s even a link to a video tour of the fishing vessel, Mink says. Sitka Salmon Shares will process and sell about 150,000 pounds of seafood this year with about $4 million in sales. This is no competition for big, traditional processors in Sitka like North Pacific Fisheries, which moves several million pounds of fish every year from its plants in Sitka. But things can change fast these days in business, and the internet and e-commerce have unleashed whole new ways of marketing and business organization even if the seafood enterprises are, for now, small niches. Sitka Salmon Shares had an unlikely beginning. Its startup in 2012 was a project of the Sitka Conservation Society, a conservation group, and was in fact a fund-raiser. Mink, who has a Ph.D. in history and environmental studies, was teaching at Knox College, a liberal arts school in Galesburg, Ill. He was in Sitka in 2011 and helped the Sitka Conservation Society organize a fundraiser, selling fish to faculty at Knox College and friends of Mink’s in Galesburg. “The Sitka Conservation Society’s interest was in creating more support for sustainable fisheries and raising consumers’ awareness of where their fish comes from,” Mink said. The fundraiser was so successful Mink decided to start a business with some of the Sitka harvesters who had supported the effort. This was also near the start of the national “local foods” movement, and with the growth of internet marketing the timing seemed good for new players, like Mink, to bring a different background and new ideas to the business. “I was a professor of natural resource management. Now I’m a fish monger,” he jokes. The first two years involved small steps and learning lessons, with fish purchased from harvesters processed with local custom processors who mainly dealt with sport charters. The business quickly outgrew their capacity and Mink faced a dilemma. Sitka has several very small custom processors and its big, traditional seafood plants. There was no medium-scale processor in between. Sitka Salmon Shares had to create one in 2014 by purchasing Big Blue Fisheries, a custom processor, along with a formal incorporation of the business and recruiting 13 local fishermen as investors (there are 25 who supply fish to the company including the 13 shareholders). Sitka Salmon Shares spent a year updating equipment and installing a high-tech freezer and ice machine to ensure fish stays in top form during two to six weeks in surface shipping to customers. Marsh Skeele, one of the first harvesters to supply Sitka Salmon Shares and a company founder, and who now works full-time in its management, said he was interested in the direct-selling concept. “I want people who buy my fish to know the care that I put into handling them,” he said. Skeele was fishing full-time in 2015, part-time in 2016 while also working in management at Sitka Salmon Shares, and is now full-time with the company among its 35 employees. Mink credits Skeele, a second-generation fisherman, with being an early advocate for the company among harvesters in Sitka. “He helped sell our idea to other fishermen. This was important because there are a lot of small, fly-by-night processors in this business who have left people burned,” Mink said. “The big processors have been here 60 or 70 years and they are known to be reliable. It’s a big risk for a harvester to take a chance, selling to a small, new company,” he said. Skeele convinced fishermen to take the risk. Skeele is recruiting more fishermen to sell to Sitka Salmon Shares but he won’t take just anyone. “We want people who care about quality and who are willing to invest in chilling equipment and even take shorter trips,” to get fish back to Sitka faster, Skeele said. “We also want people who understand the direct connection to the consumer.” Mink said that Sitka Salmon Shares’ distribution and marketing strategy is aimed at selling the product at retail, for salmon typically at about $15 per pound to $25 per pound. That’s in the same general price range as Whole Foods, a national chain that touts its food quality, but Mink said his fish are of higher quality and handled better than Whole Foods. Repeat business from retail customers seems to affirm that, he said. For harvesters, the company’s direct-to-the-customer business model means that Sitka Salmon Shares can typically pay 20 percent to 30 percent above the “dock price” for fish paid by large processors, but since this can’t be guaranteed the company will at least guarantee to match the dock price, Mink said. The big advantage for harvesters, however, is that they know in advance what their prices will be, which gives them stability for planning, Mink said. The large processors’ dock prices can vary during the season. A key part of the business strategy in direct selling is knocking out the middlemen. Some larger seafood companies have as many as four steps in the supply chain, various wholesalers and distributors before the fish arrives at the grocery counter. Only Trident Seafoods and Ocean Beauty Seafoods, both large companies, sell their own branded products but even those go to large retail chains like Costco. Even these sales are a small share of the companies’ overall sales, but they are higher profit. Sitka Salmon Shares goes a step further by selling directly to consumers. The company has 4,000 direct-sale customers in the U.S. Midwest — that’s up from 70 in 2012, the company’s first year — who are served out of three company-owned distribution centers in Galesburg, Ill.; Schaumburg, Ill., a suburb of Chicago, and Madison, Wis. Sales span five states in the nation’s heartland, Minks said. It’s no coincidence that the distribution centers are in communities with colleges and a young demographic. Frozen product is shipped by barge to Seattle and trucked east to the distribution centers. Final deliveries to customers from distribution centers are in vans owned by Sitka Salmon Shares, and marked with the company’s name. Customers pay $79 to $109 per month to receive weekly boxes containing four to five pounds of the fish they request. “Eighty percent of our volume moves through our own distribution chain,” to retail customers, Mink said. Market promotion is mostly word-of-mouth through the growing networks of consumers interested in alternatives to the mass-market food supply chain. A critical part of the business model is doing the final processing and packaging at the Midwest distribution centers where costs are far lower than in Sitka, Mink said. “Electricity is almost 10 times more expensive in Sitka than in the Midwest; 15 cents a kilowatt hour here compared with 1.8 cents a kilowatt hour there,” he said. Land in Sitka is expensive and scarce because the community is hemmed in by the Tongass National Forest. Getting good workers can be a challenge in Sitka, a problem shared by all businesses there. Because of this, “we do as little with the fish as we can in Sitka and as much as we can in the Midwest where it’s cheaper,” particularly packaging, he said. There are other ways the company runs lean, such as using public docks to offload fish and load ice on fishing vessels. The large processors, which operate at a much bigger scale, must operate and maintain their own docks. Sitka Salmon Shares can’t be as competitive in wholesale as the big companies, Mink acknowledges. “Still, the large seafood processors sense the market opportunities and some are testing the direct-sales market, but large companies don’t operate well at smaller scale. They’re set up to operate most efficiently at wholesale and in larger volumes,” Mink said. Meanwhile, Sitka Salmon Shares is really into something, he believes. “There’s a huge, untapped market out there,” Mink said, for creative marketing to a younger generation. “E-commerce is changing the relationships between food producers and consumers.” As the nation’s appetite for seafood grows, the market share of consumers interested in the source of their fish, and the sustainability of fisheries, will also grow, he said. ^ Tim Bradner is co-publisher of Alaska Legislative Digest and a contributor to the Journal of Commerce. He can be reached at [email protected]

Copper River outlook improves

Things are looking better than expected for Copper River kings. Sportfishermen, personal-use dipnetters, subsistence fishermen and commercial fishermen are all out now on the Copper River drainage. When the season began May 18, the forecast estimated that only about 29,000 kings would return to the river system, leaving about 5,000 for total harvestable surplus. But early indicators from the commercial fishery showed larger takes, despite more conservative management measures such as restricting hours and closing certain areas. The low forecast also led the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to announce a preseason sportfishing closure for king salmon on the Copper River drainage and a two-fish king salmon limit for subsistence fishermen. On June 3, though, the managers reevaluated the king run based on commercial takes and limited inriver information, and opened up the sportfisheries and rescinded the subsistence restriction. As of the June 12 commercial fisheries opener, Copper River District fishermen had taken about 11,960 king salmon, according to ADFG’s inseason harvest summary. The managers are getting toward the end of the king salmon run and so far have been relatively relieved that the sockeye return hasn’t been exceptionally large, said Jeremy Botz, the assistant area management biologist for the Division of Commercial Fisheries in Cordova. “We’ll start to remove some restrictions here over the next couple of weeks as the chinook salmon run winds down and we’ll be focusing more on our delta wild sockeye and later-timed upriver sockeye salmon,” he said. “The schedule might become a little more liberal here in the next few weeks.” In the past several years, the managers have been dealing with exceptionally large sockeye returns on the Copper River, significantly surpassing the river system’s escapement goal. However, this year, the sockeye run was projected to be weaker than usual, and so far it looks like the run is coming in closer to the forecast than the kings. As of June 13, about 351,360 sockeye had passed Fish and Game’s sonar at Miles Lake, and Copper River District commercial fishermen had taken a total of 328,996 sockeye, according to ADFG data. The preseason forecast was for a run of about 1.5 million sockeye. The sockeye salmon escapement upriver is slightly ahead of what it usually is this time of year, according to the commercial fishing recorded announcement for the Copper River District. “I think the sockeye salmon escapement in the river is the really conservative fishing restrictions we’ve been prosecuting this year,” Botz said. “It just happens that that’s what this sockeye run can sustain anyway. It just ended up pairing fairly well.” Because there is little inseason data available on king salmon, ADFG biologists will gather data from the commercial fishery and from a mark-recapture project near Eyak and perform a post-season assessment of the king salmon run to determine the final escapement.

Assembly passes tax incentive for fresher fish

DILLINGHAM — Some Bristol Bay fishermen are getting a little extra incentive to upgrade their boats. On June 5, the Bristol Bay Borough Assembly passed an ordinance that will allow fishermen who install a refrigerated seawater system in 2017 or 2018 to get a one-time $1,500 fish tax credit. Improving fish quality in Bristol Bay has been a focus for many groups in recent years, including processors, industry organizations, and now the borough. Keeping fish cold is one of the main steps in producing top-quality fish, and a refrigerated seawater system enables a fisherman to keep fish colder without needing ice. Under the new borough ordinance, installing such a system in 2017 or 2018 will make fishermen eligible for a $1,500, one-time fish tax credit to help offset the cost of the work. The Bristol Bay Borough encompasses much of eastern Bristol Bay and the Naknek-Kvichak commercial fishing district. The borough charges a 3 percent tax on the value of raw fish caught in its waters. “It’s an incentive for fishermen to deliver better product,” borough manager John Fulton said. “The assembly wanted to reward Naknek-Kvichak fishermen who upgrade.” Better quality fish should, in time, result in higher value fish — and more revenue for the borough when it collects its fish tax, Fulton explained. Assembly Member Mary Swain helped develop the fish tax credit, and at the assembly’s May meeting said she wanted the borough to support fishermen who were improving fish quality. “I want Bristol Bay to be known as ahead of the curve,” she said at the time. Enacting the incentive, particularly through the raw fish tax, is a little bit tricky. The borough assembly considered both a property tax exemption and the tax refund, and ultimately decided to go the raw fish tax route to target those upgrading their boats right now. “It’s fairly selective in who it benefits,” Fulton said. To get the refund, a fisherman must upgrade their vessel between Jan. 1, 2017, and Dec. 31, 2018, and prove it to the borough with receipts. Then, the borough will issue the fisherman a voucher that he or she can take to a processor to prove that they get to keep the first $1,500 in taxes they would normally have to pay. In May, Swain said that processors suggested the voucher system when they were approached about the idea of a fish tax credit. That makes it a fishermen’s responsibility to do much of the legwork, rather than adding all of the work to the processors’ workload, she said. Fulton said the borough didn’t have an estimate of how many fishermen will be eligible for the tax credit this year, but it is not expected to be a large number. “We’ll definitely see some,” Fulton said, noting that the assembly hoped it might prompt fishermen who were on the fence about an upgrade to take the plunge. It will be in effect this season, and also next, so that fishermen who are just learning about the credit can upgrade next year and take advantage of it, he said. Bristol Bay Borough is just the latest entity to promote better quality fish in the region, in part in an effort to raise the value of Bristol Bay salmon. The Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, Bristol Bay Economic Development Corp., and others have also been supporting the push. BBEDC has offered programs to help resident fishermen purchase and install RSW systems, and BBRSDA has worked on incentives and an educational campaign to encourage chilling fish. BBRSDA has arranged for some incentives, like discounted shipping to Seattle for fishermen getting refrigeration work done on their boats, and also has a campaign to encourage chilled fish in general. Alaska SeaGrant has also worked on the educational component over the past several years, including working with the other parties to offer RSW operator classes in the Bay. ^ Molly Dischner is a reporter in Dillingham. She can be reached at [email protected]

FISH FACTOR: Mariculture industry gains momentum

Homegrown shellfish and kelp are gaining momentum in Alaska, spurred on by growing markets and the steadfast push by Gov. Bill Walker’s visionary mariculture task force. Applications for more than 1,000 acres of oyster and kelp farms were filed with the Department of Natural Resources by the April 30 deadline, far more than usual. Fifteen are for new farms in the Southeast, Southcentral and Westward regions of which seven plan to grow kelp exclusively. Two farms at Klawok also are adding kelp to their current oyster growing operations. “These permit applications are an indicator that there is developing interest and growth in the mariculture industry in Alaska,” said Linda Mattson with the Department of Commerce, Community and Economic Development upon announcing the numbers. Along with other state agencies, DCCED is an active part of the 11-member Alaska Mariculture Task Force established by an Administrative Order in 2016. The group’s mission is to provide Walker with a comprehensive report for statewide mariculture expansion by March 1 of next year. Walker believes mariculture of shellfish and seaweeds is a viable means to diversify the economy and provide a $1 billion economy within 30 years. “The timing is right,” said task force co-chair Julie Decker of Wrangell. “It’s exciting that many of the applicants are young Alaska fishermen who are planning to have kelp be an adjunct to help diversify their fishing portfolio. Plus, shellfish are filter feeders and clean the waters and seaweed are a carbon sink and also produce really healthy products. I think we’re on a good path.” For existing aquatic farmers who are growing shellfish, kelp can provide them with a ready cash flow while they are waiting for up to three years for their bivalve crops to ripen. “Kelp only takes about 90 days to grow so you can stagger your plantings and lengthen your seasons,” Decker added. The latest data from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game show that 54 aquatic farms, seven shellfish nurseries and two shellfish hatcheries are operating in Alaska, primarily growing Pacific oysters, with sales topping $1 million in 2014 and 2015. Production in 2015 of 10.6 million oysters fetched an average price of $9.84 per dozen, up 24 cents, or 2.5 percent, from 2014. “If just three-tenths of a percent of Alaska’s 35,000 miles of coastline was developed for oysters,” Decker said, “it could produce 1.3 billion oysters at 80 cents adding up to over $1 billion a year!” For blue mussels, production in 2015 showed a 74 percent increase to 16,688 pounds with a value of $5.27 per pound (down 47 cents from 2014) for a total of $70,800. In terms of the fledgling kelp industry, a first 15,000-pound harvest last month on a one-acre plot at Kodiak owned by Nick and Stephanie Mangini paid out at roughly $10,000. Their business, Kodiak Island Sustainable Seaweed, plans to expand to 17 acres by next year. Find links to Alaska’s Mariculture Task Force at the ADFG home page. Salmon at a glance Want to know the values of Alaska’s salmon catches by every region? Or what products the fish are made into and where each goes to market? Find it at a glance in the latest Seafood Market Bulletin from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. It’s compiled by the McDowell Group and also includes dockside values over a decade, and the rank of each species as a percent of Alaska’s harvests. Here’s a sampler: The projected pink salmon catch this summer of 142 million is up by more than one million fish over last year. The average pink price paid to fishermen last year was 34 cents per pound. Frozen fish accounted for 44 percent of the pink salmon value last year with canned pinks at 37 percent. Chum catches this year should increase to about 17 million due to higher catches in Western Alaska. Chums accounted for 15 percent of the Alaska salmon harvest and value over the past two years. The average dock price in 2016 was 61 cents price per pound. Globally, chum production dropped by 30 percent due to decreased catches in Japan. That pushed up roe prices to over $14 per pound. Roe accounts for 37 percent of Alaska’s chum salmon value. Coho catches are expected to increase to 4.7 million this year. The average coho price to fishermen last year was $1.17 per pound. Coho are the latest running of all Alaska salmon species and account for 3 percent of the harvest and 5 percent of the value. Alaska’s sockeye catch is expected to decline 23 percent this year to about 41 million fish, and prices are expected to increase. Fishermen averaged $1.05 per pound last season, up 23 cents from the previous year. Sockeye accounted for 34 percent of Alaska’s salmon harvest over the past two years and 55 percent of the value, ringing in at $302 million in 2016. The chinook harvest is projected to drop by 27 percent this year and produce the smallest harvest in state history. The average Alaska price last year was $4.88 per pound, for a value of nearly $24 million. Ninety-nine percent of Alaska’s king salmon go to markets in the U.S. Alaska’s 2017 salmon harvest calls for 204 million fish, up nearly one million from last year. A mighty wind A warmer than average April could mean an early return of chinook salmon again to the Yukon River and fish watchers are on alert for signs of the first pulse to arrive around June 10. While low numbers mean no commercial fishery again this year, the kings are crucial for subsistence users. Even with 56 years of Yukon data, it’s a tough run to track because the timing is so unpredictable, said Phil Mundy, director of NOAA Fisheries’ Auke Bay lab in Juneau. Mundy has been studying Alaska salmon since the 1970s, but said it was Yukon elders who taught him how to fine tune the run timing. “They told me ‘the wind blows the fish in the river — everyone knows that, young man,’” he said, adding that Cook Inlet fishermen said the same thing about sockeye salmon. “They said, ‘it’s when the wind blows and you get the biggest tide closest to July 17. Everyone knows that.’ But we couldn’t figure out exactly how. I didn’t think the fish put up their dorsal fin like a sail to blow into the river, but there had to be something because they seemed to be right,” Mundy mused. “I used to count fish from airplanes, and I’ve seen at Cook Inlet and at Bristol Bay where you get the river water piling up against the marine water on the river plume,” he added. “Then you’ll see the salmon weaving in and out along the edge of the front between the fresh water and the saltwater. I never knew why they were doing that. They will pile up if there is no wind to mix the fresh and salt water to make it brackish. They will pile up on that front until some other trigger, which we probably don’t understand, sends them all in.” In 2006, Mundy saw a scientific article that focused on how salmon make the change from fresh to saltwater and vice versa. “There’s this thing called a calcium ion switch, and it is triggered by alternating exposure to different salinities,” he explained. “Young salmon can’t swim straight into saltwater because it will kill them, and it’s the same for adults in the ocean returning to their home streams. They have to have alternating exposure to different salinities.” At the Yukon, Mundy said the wind mixing the water even tops early ice melts as the best indicator of the salmon arrivals. Today, satellite readings from the Alaska Ocean Observing System make predictions easier and more reliable. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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