Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values rise on optimism; halibut shares sinking

Nearly all Alaska salmon permits have gone up in value since last fall and buying/selling/trading action is brisk. “We’re as busy as we’ve ever been in the last 20 years,” said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “Boat sales are doing well and between IFQs (individual fishing quota) and permit sales, we’ve got a busy year going.” The salmon permit interest is fueled by a forecast this year of more than 213 million fish, an 85 percent increase over 2018. Also, salmon prices are expected to be higher. For the bellwether drift permit at Bristol Bay, the value has increased from around $165,000 and sales are now being made in the low- to mid-$170,000 range. Several good salmon seasons in a row pushed drift permits at Area M on the Alaska Peninsula to about $175,000 last fall, Bowen said “and if you can find one now, it’s going to cost you over $200,000.” At Cook Inlet, where salmon catches have been dismal for the drift fishery, permit values bottomed out at $28,000 and have climbed a bit to $38,000. At the salmon fishery’s peak in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Cook Inlet drift permits were traded at more than $240,000, Bowen said. “When Alaska’s salmon industry crashed in the early 1990s due to the flood of farmed fish, those permits dropped to under $10,000 and since then have been all over the map,” he added. The drift fleet at Prince William Sound also had one of its worst years last summer and that permit is one of the few that has gone down in value. “They were over $150,000 and the last one we sold was at $145,000,” Bowen said. For Prince William Sound seiners, who are expecting a good pink salmon year, the permit value is listed at $170,000, a $5,000 increase from last fall. At Kodiak, seine permits have held steady for several years in the $28,000 range. At Chignik, where seiners experienced the worst fishery ever last year catching just 128 sockeyes, there is little to no interest in permits. Salmon permit action in Southeast Alaska “is kind of a mix,” said Olivia Olsen at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg. For both buying and leasing, there’s less interest in power troll permits for a second year but prices “are holding at a respectable $27,000 to $28,000,” Olsen said. “The permit holders have a really positive outlook for all species except kings, so they don’t understand why the price isn’t going up,” she said, adding that there is little interest in hand troll permits. Southeast drift permit prices are up with expectations of good prices and lots of fish. “Last year they were selling for $79,000 to the low $80s and currently prices are at $95,000. So that’s been a hot permit,” Olsen said. “They are opening new fishing areas which they feel should thin out the herd and have plenty of fish for everybody.” Demand also is up for Southeast seine permits and the price has increased to $250,000, a boost of $25,000 since last fall. Both Olsen and Bowen agreed that Alaska salmon permit holders are looking toward a good year. “We’re seeing a lot of optimism pretty much across the board,” Bowen said. Halibut quota slump A slight increase in this year’s halibut catch and respectable dock prices haven’t done much to boost the value of IFQs. Halibut quota shares that topped $70 per pound in some regions took a 30 percent nose dive in 2018 and have remained there ever since. Now $63 per pound is the high for halibut IFQs in the Southeast fishing region, with most moving at the $52 to $58 range, said Olivia Olsen. In the Central Gulf of Alaska, quota is listed in the $35 to $45 per pound range, down from a high of $50 last November. The value per pound in the Western Gulf, is down by 50 percent from 2017. “It’s advertised at $27 and selling for less,” Olsen said. Last fall, halibut prices dropped by $2 per pound to the $5 range at the Alaska docks and boats sometimes couldn’t find buyers for their fish. The biggest hit was a flood of seven million pounds of cheaper Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada displacing Alaska’s fish in east coast markets. But things seem to be looking up. “This year there is an increased confidence level for halibut. There is some optimism that we’ll see better recruitment into the fishery,” said Doug Bowen, referring to strong year classes from 2011-12 that are showing up in the fishery. Olsen agreed. “The confidence level is up a bit in halibut after last year being our slowest selling year ever for IFQs,” she said. “Buyers are interested but at last year’s prices and it seems to be working. Considering that the IFQ prices were out of whack on the high end, perhaps it’s a good adjustment.” Baited fisheries Herring and smelt at Upper Cook Inlet are fisheries that pay out nicely for the few who participate, and both are open to all. Ten to 20 fishermen usually take part in the bait herring fishery that runs from April 20 to the end of May. A combined take of 150 tons can be taken from four areas by set or drift gillnets, although nearly all comes from the upper east side, said Pat Shields, commercial fisheries management coordinator for Lower and Upper Cook Inlet at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Soldotna. “It’s a pretty small quota but we’re not even reaching the quota of up to 40 tons on the east side,” he said, adding that all of herring goes into the bait market for halibut fishermen, either commercial or sport. The catch might be small, but it fetches big bucks as bait. “Currently the fishermen are selling that product for $2,000 to $3,000 a ton, or $1 to $1.50 a pound,” Shields said. In contrast, the average price for herring caught only for their eggs at places like Sitka, Kodiak or Togiak averages 12 cents per pound. Shields speculated the price is so high because there are so few bait herring fisheries in the state. Most Alaska fishermen purchase herring for bait from the east coast, often at about $1 per pound. The Cook Inlet herring is frozen and sold throughout the year and Shields said demand far exceeds the supply. Also at Upper Cook Inlet: A smelt fishery with a 200-ton limit will open from May 1 and run through June. Fewer than 20 fishermen participate in what Shields calls “one of the most interesting and challenging fisheries in the state.” “It’s done with dip nets at the mouth of the Susitna River. People usually take a drift boat across the mudflats. That’s eight or nine miles of a muddy mess that you have to navigate with winds coming in from three different areas: Knik Arm, Turnagain Arm and Cook Inlet. Some people refer to it as a cesspool because the waters are just swirling and it’s shallow,” Shields said. The boats come back to the Kenai River to offload their catches and the smelt is frozen, boxed up and shipped out. “Then it gets distributed primarily along the West Coast for human consumption, where Columbia River smelt fisheries are very restricted or closed,” Shields said. “It also goes into the bait market for the sturgeon fishery and the marine aquarium market.” Fishermen can get a nice price, twice: 25 cents to 75 cents per pound for their catch, and up to $2 per pound after it goes to market. Estimates from 2016 peg the annual smelt run to the Susitna River at 53,000 tons but Shields said the catch remains very conservative. “The reason for the small limit is that this is a beluga critical habitat area and this is a forage fish that is considered very important to that species,” he explained. Both the smelt and herring fisheries are open to anyone but require special permits. “Anytime you have an interest in what we call these smaller fun, interesting fisheries, please give us a call and we’ll do all we can to help you get involved in them,” Shields said. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Net recycling effort spreads to Southeast; almanac seeks stories

The Panhandle plans to be the next Alaska region to give new life to old fishing gear by sending it to plastic recycling centers. The tons of nets and lines piled up in local lots and landfills will become the raw material for soda bottles, cell phone cases, sunglasses, skateboards, swimsuits and more. Juneau, Haines, Petersburg and possibly Sitka have partnered with Net Your Problem to launch an effort this year to send old or derelict seine and gillnets to a recycler in Richmond, British Columbia. “We’re going to be working in a new location with a new material and sending it to a new recycler,” said Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem and the force behind fishing gear recycling in Alaska. Baker, a former fisheries observer who also is a research assistant for Ray Hilborn at the University of Washington, jumpstarted recycling programs for trawl nets, crab and halibut line two years ago at Dutch Harbor and Kodiak quickly followed. The nets can weigh from 5,000 to 25,000 tons and can cost $350 to $500 per ton for disposal in landfills. The community/industry collaborations in both towns have so far sent 300,000 pounds of gear in seven vans to Europe for recycling. “Each fishing port will have its own special logistics plan but the general role is the same,” she said. “You need somebody to give you the nets, truck them around, load them and ship them.” No two plastics are the same, and the B.C. recycler opened the door for removals of seine and gillnets made from nylon. Baker said only gear that contains lead, such as longline gear or leaded lines, cannot be accepted for recycling. “The recycler I have been using in Europe told me it is illegal to import lead into the EU. So that is something that is still a bit of a struggle,” she said. “But as far as polyethylene and polypropylene trawl gear, or nylon seine or gillnet gear, I can recycle all of those at the moment.” The pace of the fishing seasons will determine the best time for the Southeast towns to begin collecting the nets from fishermen, Baker said, and she hopes to hear from other communities that have net pile ups. “If you are dealing with this issue please feel free to reach out to me because I am happy to try to establish the logistics for a program in your community,” she said. “My goal is to expand slowly but surely and add one new location every year while still continuing support for recycling efforts at the previous locations.” Baker will start off the Southeast tour in Haines during its Earth Day events on April 19. Hatchery numbers Salmon that got their start in Alaska hatcheries are maintaining a decade long trend of comprising one third of the statewide catch. In 2018, a hatchery harvest of 39 million salmon — mostly chums and pinks — was 34 percent of the total statewide take, valued at $176 million to Alaska fishermen. Forty-one million adult salmon returned to Alaska’s 29 hatcheries last year, shy of the 54-million fish forecast, and below the 61 million 10-year average. That’s according to the 2018 salmon enhancement report released each year by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Prince William Sound is Alaska’s largest hatchery salmon producer and last year’s catch of 19 million fish accounted for 76 percent of the region’s total, and 75 percent of the value to fishermen at $65 million. Southeast is the second biggest hatchery producer. The 2018 catch of about 8 million fish was 46 percent of the region’s harvest, and 59 percent of the value to fishermen at $63 million; $53 million of that was from chums. At Kodiak, just less than 4 million fish from two hatcheries made up 42 percent of the Island’s total catch last year. The fish were valued at $7 million, or 25 percent of the salmon value. At Cook Inlet, a catch of just more than a half-million hatchery salmon accounted for 26 percent of the total harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value of $5.3 million. About 70 percent of those fish were pinks. Nearly 1.8 billion tiny salmon were released to the sea in 2018 from pink and chum salmon eggs collected in 2017, and from chinook, sockeye, and coho eggs collected in 2016. Alaska hatchery operators forecast a return of about 79 million fish in 2019. This includes returns of 54 million pink, 21 million chum, 2.5 million sockeye, 1.5 million coho, and 109,000 king salmon. Almanac calls Personal glimpses that chronicle the fishing life make up the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Almanac and the call is out for submissions. The second version of the Almanac is in the works and sales of the first run last year were so good, it’s covering costs for the whole project. “People loved it. They’d ask which submission is yours. And you’d be eternally flipping to the picture of the fillets and peanut butter you fed your crew all summer,” said Jamie O’Connor, a Homer-based fishermen and head of the Alaska Young Fishermen’s Network for the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “It’s a really fun way to communicate to people outside of this community about the culture of fishing, especially from the perspective of the young fishermen.” Last year’s 141-page Almanac featured nearly 60 items from almost every region of the state. “Everything from essays to recipes to photos, poems and art. There’s also a lot of useful stuff in there,” O’Connor said. “Plus, fun stories, a little bit of mischief, pro tips from more mature fishermen to people who want to get into the industry.” The Almanac is styled similar to a younger version of a publication for farmers that dates back to 1792. “It’s modeled after the Young Farmer’s Almanac as a way to share the culture and put out a touchstone every year that people can refer back to or share with their families,” O’Connor said. “That’s what we’re hoping to do for young fishermen as well.” “We’re looking for anything people want to send in. We’re hoping they really flex their creativity, she added. Deadline to submit to the Almanac is Sept. 1 at www.akyoungfishermen.org or via email at [email protected] Fishing watch Lots of April fishing is underway all across Alaska. One sad exception is the roe herring fishery at Sitka Sound where seiners have yet to wet their nets. Typically the fishery has come and gone by mid-March and the harvest this year called for a nearly 13,000-ton haul. The herring, which are valued for their eggs, are showing up but they are too small to call an opener. The last time a fishery was called off at Sitka Sound was in 1977. Golden king crab also has been slow going: 10 to 15 crabbers have pulled up less than 50,000 pounds out of a 76,000-pound limit. The crabs have paid out at $11 per pound, making each worth $70 to $80 to fishermen, reported KFSK in Petersburg. Southeast’s winter Tanner crab catch of 1.3 million pounds was the third-best in 15 years. The month-long fishery was valued at $4.2 million for a fleet of 69 crabbers. Divers are still going down for geoduck clams and Southeast’s spring troll fishery for chinook begins on May 1 in some districts. There’s lots of fishing action at Prince William Sound with a shrimp pot fishery opens April 15 to the 23. Ninety-nine boats will compete for 68,100 pounds of the popular prawns. A sablefish season also opens on April 15 for 134,000 pounds. And due to weather, the Tanner crab fishery was extended in parts of Prince William Sound to April 18. A one-day a week herring fishery opens at Upper Cook Inlet on April 20 through May 31, and a small smelt fishery opens on May 1. Kodiak’s herring fishery kicks off on April 15 with a harvest set at just over 1,400 tons. And spotters are already flying at Togiak looking for early herring arrivals there. That herring fishery, which should come in at around 23,000 tons, usually opens in May. Halibut and sablefish are still crossing the docks and fisheries for cod, pollock, flounders and other whitefish and more are ongoing throughout the Gulf and Bering Sea. Believe it or not, in just a few weeks Alaska’s salmon season will officially begin with runs of reds and kings to the Copper River in mid-May. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon harvest projection takes big leap from 2018

Alaska fishermen could catch 85 percent more salmon this year (nearly a hundred million more) if state forecasts hold true. That’s good news for fishermen in many Gulf of Alaska regions who in 2018 suffered some of the worst catches in 50 years. The Alaska Department of Fish and Game is predicting a total salmon catch of 213.2 million fish for 2019, compared to about 116 million salmon last year. The increase comes from expectations of another big haul of sockeyes, increases in pinks and a possible record catch of chum salmon. The harvest breakdown calls for 112,000 chinook salmon in areas outside of Southeast Alaska. The catch for the Southeast troll fleet, which is determined by a treaty with Canada, will be 101,300 kings, or an increase of 5,600 fish. For sockeyes, a catch of just less than 42 million is projected, about 9 million fewer than last year. A harvest of nearly 138 million pink salmon would be 97 million more that last summer, and a coho harvest of 4.6 million would be an increase of 900,000 over 2018. Chums could set a record with a projected catch of 29 million, a boost of nine million and well above the 25 million chum catch record set in 2017. Some highlights and lookbacks: Copper River’s commercial sockeye salmon catch for 2019 is pegged at 756,000 million and 31,000 for chinook (all fisheries). Managers said the forecast should “be interpreted with caution as poor runs of many Gulf sockeye stocks in 2018 suggest there is considerable likelihood of overforecasting.” Last year the Copper River drift gillnet catch of 47,000 reds was the second-fewest in 100 years. Southeast Alaska’s pink salmon run is predicted to be weak this summer with a catch of 18 million, half of the 10-year average. That follows on a catch of just more than 8 million pinks in 2018, which ranks 51st in harvests since 1962. Biologists said a big source of uncertainty is abnormally warm Gulf sea surface waters “may have a negative impact on the survival of pink salmon.” At Kodiak, the predicted 27-million pink salmon harvest is in the “excellent” category and compares to a catch of just 6 million pinks in 2018. The total salmon take last year at Kodiak of just nine million salmon compares to a 10-year average of more than 21 million. Upper Cook Inlet could see a slightly improved sockeye harvest of three million. The 2018 catch at UCI of 1.3 million sockeyes was 61 percent less than the 10-year average and the smallest harvest since 1975. At Chignik on the Alaska Peninsula where an astonishing 128 sockeye salmon were caught last year, a hopeful harvest of about 965,000 reds is projected this year. At Bristol Bay, a sockeye harvest of about 27 million compares to a catch of 41.3 million in 2018. That stemmed from a run of more than 62 million reds, the largest on record. It was the fourth consecutive year that the Bay’s sockeye runs topped 50 million. State salmon managers don’t produce formal forecasts for most salmon runs in the Arctic-Yukon-Kuskokwim, or AYK, region, but they predict continued good returns to Norton Sound, Kotzebue and a half-million chum catch at the Lower Yukon. Salmon fishermen near Nome set records for coho and chum catches last year, and a 4,000 sockeye take was the second-most ever. Pink salmon runs also were stronger than expected but met with little interest from the one buyer. Fishermen at Kotzebue Sound caught a record 695,153 chum salmon in 2018 and managers said a 700,000-chum harvest would be possible if there was a market for the fish. The lack of a buyer will beach Kuskokwim salmon fishermen for the fourth year, although it’s not due to a lack of fish. For example, the weir on the 75-mile Kanektok River did not operate in 2018 due to a lack of funding, but aerial surveys showed the second-largest escapement of sockeye salmon on record. A fish plant at Platinum that bought salmon, herring and halibut starting in 2009 closed abruptly in 2015. According to owner Coastal Villages Region Fund, a group created to provide economic benefit for its 20 member communities, the plant “never became sustainable” and was a big money loser. CVRF has instead invested in five vessels, the largest at 341 feet, that fish for pollock, crab and cod in the Bering Sea, Three of the boats are homeported in Seattle. CVRF claims it “has grown to be the largest seafood owner/operator headquartered in Alaska.” Herring on hold Herring at Sitka Sound is still a waiting game in a fishery that’s usually come and gone by late March. Many seiners and tenders left on March 28, reported KCAW, along with the state research vessel Kestrel that does fish sampling. Most of the herring, which are valued only for their eggs or roe, have so far been too immature for an opener. By April 3, more than 21 miles of herring spawn had been mapped, usually signaling the beginning of the end for a fishery. But spotters were still flying and biologist Eric Coonradt at ADFG in Sitka said some seiners and processors were sticking around. “I feel like there’s still time left. Some years the larger versus smaller fish kind of split up. It’s just kind of a wait and see game,” he said. Seiners were hoping to haul in nearly 13,000 tons of roe herring after a total bust last year that produced just 2,800 tons. Sitka Sound’s latest herring fishery was April 15 in 2002. The last time there was no commercial fishery there was in 1977. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay is expecting a big run and an earlier start as soon as mid-April. ADFG area manager Tim Sands told KDLG in Dillingham that unusually warm waters are making it tough to predict run timing. “This year there’s no ice anywhere near Bristol Bay and sea surface temperatures are much warmer. We have different models that worked relatively well when conditions were normal. But we’re so far from normal this year, we don’t have a lot of faith in our predictive ability,” Sands said. Budget cuts and a lack of aerial surveys for three years also have also contributed to the uncertainty and caused a more conservative approach to the Togiak herring fishery. “We retroactively introduced this idea of reducing the exploitation rate by 2 percent a year for years of poor data,” he explained. Togiak has a 2019 herring catch quota of 26,930 tons, up slightly from last year. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Plan to end local fish tax split panned at Senate hearing

None of the members of the Senate Community and Regional Affairs committee lives near the sea, but at a hearing last week they were not impressed by Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy’s plan to pull millions of dollars in fish taxes from remote coastal towns. Bills submitted to the Legislature by the governor would remove the ability of towns to keep their share of local fisheries business and landing taxes. For decades, the taxes have been split 50-50 with the state. Dunleavy wants to take all of the funds for state coffers, meaning a combined loss of $29 million to fishing towns come October. More than 20 mayors, financial officers, harbormasters and fishermen testified against the tax grab at the CRA and outlined how it would devastate coastal Alaska. “The share of fish taxes is used to ensure sustainable communities,” said Nils Andreassen, executive director of the Alaska Municipal League. “They contribute to general funds, operate and maintain ports and harbors, many of which the state transferred in neglect to municipalities 10 years ago; they support education, hospitals, public works, solid waste, grants to local nonprofits and to replace gaps in state capital investment.” Yakutat City and Borough Manager Jon Erickson said the loss would likely close down the community’s lone fish plant. “What part of shutting down rural Alaska equates to Alaska is open for business?” he asked. Kodiak City Mayor Pat Branson called the tax loss “cost shifting and revenue grabbing” and a “quick fix to a long-term problem of the state budget deficit.” “Every municipality and every Alaskan should have in-depth research and analysis,” Branson said. “This budget approach lacks the understanding and awareness of the realities of living in a resource economy and in a geographically remote location.” “Moorage rates in Wrangell would increase from 43 to 57 percent to cover the loss of money dedicated to our harbors,” said Lee Burgess, financial manager of the City and Borough of Wrangell. “It’s an example of arbitrarily picking winners and losers and causing disproportionate harm to certain communities relevant to how much of their economic platform is made up by commercial fishing.” “Fisheries is our only industry and fish tax revenues make up 26 percent of our $31 million general fund revenues, over $8 million annually. We use fish and sales taxes to pay our own way,” said Frank Kelty, mayor of Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, the nation’s top fishing port for more than two decades. “If the state takes away the share of fish taxes, who will step up to assist communities across Alaska with projects needed to support the seafood industry, which is the economic engine of all fishery dependent communities?” “If you’re looking for money to run the state why not revise the oil subsidies to big oil that collect more profits per barrel than any other oil field in the world. We fish hard and pay our taxes. We deserve our taxes to benefit our communities,” said Shawn Dochtermann, a longtime Kodiak fisherman. “You took oaths to defend Alaskans,” said Jeff Guard, a Cordova city council member. “We are under attack and you have the power of the purse to defend us from these draconian budget cuts.” Fisherman Stosh Anderson of Kodiak closed his testimony with a haiku: “Fishermen pay tax, “Absconded by the government. “Infrastructure fails.” And so it went as Alaskans from Petersburg, Akutan, Bristol Bay, Adak, Homer, St. Paul, Kenai and more shared their concerns. Sens. Click Bishop, R-Fairbanks, Chris Birch, R-Anchorage, and Elvi Gray-Jackson, D-Anchorage, asked Department of Revenue Commissioner Bruce Tangeman if there had been any communication with communities about the fish tax loss, or any economic impact analyses done. The answer was no. Tangeman said the governor intends to share 50 percent of state alcohol tax revenues through a community assistance program to soften the loss, or about $20 million. Birch asked about the motivation behind allocating alcohol taxes to the fishing towns. “I don’t know what the policy call was,” Tangeman responded. (Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, and Dunleavy policy advisor John Moller both said they were unaware of the alcohol tax proposal at subsequent public meetings in Kodiak.) “The thinking behind this is we need to bring all our revenue streams together to benefit all Alaskans,” Tangeman said. “Obviously, these folks are seeing this from their backyards. I hope they can all appreciate the state is really struggling and we have a budget that is unsustainable.” “Is this bill a priority of the Dunleavy administration?” asked Bishop. “Yes, it is,” Tangeman said. “I want to tell you how much I appreciate and respect your comments that the state is struggling,” said Gray-Jackson. “But you can’t punish communities because the state is struggling. That is just not the way to handle this.” Halibut intel More halibut from Atlantic Canada and a shift in consumer preferences are two new drivers in the halibut market. The Pacific fishery opened on March 15 to prices similar to last year, where they’ve pretty much stayed: in the $6 per pound range to fishermen on the Alaska mainland; $5.50 to $6 in Southeast and in the $4.75 to $5.25 range at Kodiak. A major Kodiak buyer said the market is favorable for fish headed to fresh markets, but that won’t absorb all of the halibut coming out of Alaska. Contrary to preseason reports, just about every major packer is sitting on frozen inventory from last year, “a halibut hangover,” and buyers will be cautious about freezing more. The market for frozen halibut is really changing, he added. “Two of the largest buyers in the old steaking program, where they’d buy an 80-or 100-pounder, that’s just completely going away,” he said, adding that it’s tough to even move frozen halibut in the smaller sizes. What consumers want now is the convenience of vacuum-packed halibut fillets or chunks, either fresh or frozen. All market reports show that the biggest hurt in Alaska’s halibut market is coming from Atlantic halibut from eastern Canada. That could put more than 10 million pounds into the U.S. market this year compared to 300,000 to 400,000 pounds just six years ago. Alaska fishermen can catch 17.7 million pounds of halibut through Nov. 14. Salmon surprises An ambitious winter research trip to study salmon in the deepest waters of the Gulf of Alaska yielded some surprises. The five-week trip by an international team of 21 researchers docked in Vancouver last week. CBC News said researchers collected thousands of samples in their quest to learn more Pacific salmon survival in the open seas of the Gulf, a major feeding ground. “The main inspiration of this project is to increase our awareness of the challenges the salmon meet in the open ocean and in the coastal areas,” said Dr. Vladimir Radchenko, director of the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission with five member countries: the US, Canada, Russian, Japan and Korea. The Gulf project was a centerpiece of its International Year of the Salmon initiative, a five-year project to study salmon in the northern hemisphere as they face challenges from an off kilter climate. Aboard the research vessel Professor Kaganovsky the team trawled a span of nearly 5,000 miles in waters 200 miles from shore and collected salmon data at 60 locations. “Since during the winter all salmon species migrate off shore, the main spots of aggregation should be located beyond 200 miles in February and March,” Radchenko said. Researchers also pioneered a new DNA testing method to identify where the salmon hatched. The research led to some surprising discoveries. One of the most abundant species in their catches was coho, contradicting the belief that most coho overwinter in coastal areas. Pink salmon — the most abundant of all Pacific species — comprised only 10 percent of their trawl catches. The scientists also hope to learn if large releases of hatchery pinks and chums from Pacific Rim countries are impacting wild fish in the open ocean. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Legislators learn hatcheries are a self-sustaining salmon program

Commercial fishermen pick up the tab for just about anyone who catches a salmon in Alaska that started its life in a hatchery. That was a finding that wended its way to the surface during a hearing last week of the House Fisheries Committee on the state’s hatchery program. The program began in the mid-1970s to enhance Alaska’s wild salmon runs. Unlike meetings that are top heavy with fishery stakeholders, most of the committee members are not deeply familiar with many industry inner workings and their interest was evident. “Who funds the hatchery programs?” asked Rep. Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins, D-Sitka, referring to the 25 private, non-profit associations that operate in Prince William Sound, Southeast Alaska, Kodiak and Cook Inlet. Turns out, it’s commercial fishermen. “In each region where there is an aquaculture association, commercial salmon permit holders have levied a salmon enhancement tax upon themselves from one to three percent,” said Tina Fairbanks, executive director of Kodiak Regional Aquaculture Association. Fishermen also catch and sell returning adult salmon to the hatchery, which operators use to pay operating expenses, a process called cost recovery. In 2017 cost recovery fish, which fetch a lower price for fishermen than selling to processors, accounted for 79 percent of hatchery income. There have been discussions about sport charter operators contributing, but it’s not really needed, said Steve Reifenstuhl, executive director of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. “Because of the mechanism we have for doing cost recovery there is not really a need to bring in additional money,” he said. “That’s very refreshing to hear right now that you have adequate revenue. That is not something we hear very often,” said Rep Sarah Vance, R-Homer. “So thank you to all the fishermen who contribute and make it sustainable.” “The hatchery programs truly represent one of the most successful public/private partnerships in the state’s history,” Fairbanks said. “These facilities produce salmon for sport, subsistence, personal use and commercial fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. The revenues generated through commercial landings and fish taxes go back into the communities and state coffers and represent a great return on the state’s initial investment.” “It’s very uncommon,” said Dan Lesh, an economist with the McDowell Group. “It is quite impressive that it produces such large economic benefits with no cost to the state.” “It seems to me that the commercial fishing industry is paying out millions of dollars through foregone revenue in cost recovery and enhancement revenues that benefit Alaskans collectively,” responded Kreiss-Tomkins, adding that he would like to see an analysis done. “It’s paying for all Alaskans in a sense by underwriting this common benefit.” Alaska’s hatchery harvest in 2017 of 47 million fish accounted for 21 percent of the statewide salmon harvest valued at $162 million to fishermen, which was 24 percent of the statewide value. That was the lowest percentage of hatchery fish in the overall catch since 1995, and due largely to a wild stock harvest that was the third-highest in Alaska history. An additional 194,000 Alaska hatchery fish were caught in the sport, personal use and subsistence fisheries. Fish differences Americans have very different perceptions on wild versus farmed fish, and whether it is grown in fresh or saltwater. In a new report called Aquaculture/Mariculture, US Market Insights and Opportunities, food industry trackers Changing Tastes and Datassential surveyed 1,500 consumers and 400 restaurant operators about their preferences for America’s three favorites: salmon, tuna and shrimp. Nearly half of consumers and 40 percent of restaurateurs said they prefer wild fish and shellfish because it has better flavor, quality, texture, is free of antibiotics, pesticides and other chemicals. For salmon, 57 percent of consumers said they prefer wild caught; it was 64 percent for restaurants. Both believe less than half of the seafood we eat today comes from aquaculture. Overall, land based and near-shore aquaculture operations got much lower marks across the board. Water pollution and impacts on water quality were listed as the top concerns by 66 percent of consumers for land-based fish farms and 58 percent for near-shore. Water concerns jumped to 80 percent among buyers. The use of antibiotics and pesticides in fish farms ranked as the second concern by 64 percent of consumers and 68 percent for restaurant operators. Consumers and buyers believe a substantial amount of seafood is already farmed in the deep ocean, and one quarter believe that open ocean mariculture is better for the environment than wild capture fishing. The report concludes that as more Americans shift to eating seafood, the share with no established preferences for wild versus farmed increases. Fish bits Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy has nominated Nicole Kimball, vice president of Pacific Seafood Processors Association, and Cora Campbell, CEO of Silver Bay Seafoods, to seats on the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. They would replace two current members whose terms expire this summer: Theresa Peterson of Kodiak and Buck Laukitis of Homer. The NPFMC oversees more than 25 fisheries in federal waters off Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets April 1-9 at the Anchorage Hilton. On the agenda: Navy war game plans for May in the Gulf of Alaska. Comments on any items can be made through March 29. For its upcoming meeting cycle, the state Board of Fisheries is accepting proposed changes to subsistence, personal use, sport and commercial and statewide fisheries at Kodiak and Lower and Upper Cook Inlet through April 10. Tariffs on U.S. imports from China will continue indefinitely the Trump Administration announced last week. The trade war, which began last July, has hit the seafood industry on both sides. SeafoodSource reports that Trump said he plans to “leave them on for a substantial period of time.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Groups collaborate to launch fishermen’s loan fund

A new lender is offering loans to young Alaska fishermen who want to buy into the halibut and sablefish fisheries, and repayment is based on their catches. The Local Fish Fund opened its doors this month to provide alternative loan structures to young fishermen as a way to help turn the tide on the trend called the “graying of the fleet.” The average age of an Alaska fisherman today is 50 and fewer recruits are choosing the fishing life. A big part of what’s turning them away is the cost to buy into fisheries that are limited through permits, or in the case of halibut, catch shares that can cost up to $75 per pound. The high values have made conventional loans unobtainable, especially for crewmen who may know how to catch fish but have little collateral. “The cost and risk involved in accessing Alaska’s quota share fisheries are comparable to purchasing a hotel as a first step in home ownership,” said Linda Behnken, founder of the Alaska Sustainable Fisheries Trust and director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. “We’re looking for ways to help the next generation of fishing families get that start and build sufficient equity to eventually access conventional loans.” The Trust is among a group of entities that collaborated on the unique lending concept for more than a decade. They include The Nature Conservancy, Craft3, Rasmuson Foundation, Catch Together, Oak Foundation and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation. The Local Fish Fund was jump started with $1.5 million from Catch Together and the Rasmuson Foundation and will be centered for now on fisheries in Southeast Alaska. “We’re hoping to build the fund to be available more broadly and capitalize at a higher level,” Behnken said. The Fund’s flexible “revenue participation” approach will let fishermen repay their loans according to the ups and downs of fishing. “Part of what has made it really challenging to buy into the fisheries is the uncertainty and how that will affect their ability to make fixed payments that don’t fluctuate as catches or fish prices drop,” Behnken said. “We share and reduce that risk so the payments are based on what fishermen are paid at the dock. If the price falls, so does the payment; conversely, if they go up, it’s a bigger share.” The Local Fish Fund comes with another good catch. Fishermen are encouraged to participate in local resource conservation projects, such as electronic monitoring or networking to keep whales away from fishing gear. They are given a 1 percent break in their loan interest if they do. “Part of our goal is to involve more fishermen in conservation research and fisheries management. Our perspective has always been that fishermen are the best problem solvers and when we engage them, we find solutions,” Behnken said. “Some of the partners we’re working with are coming specifically from that impact investment sector that is trying to obtain conservation goals through innovative lending,” said Dustin Solberg of The Nature Conservancy in Cordova. “There are great opportunities for fishermen and scientists to team up to get a better understanding of our fisheries and the ocean environment.” Get more information at LocalFishFund.org or [email protected] Halibut starts The Pacific halibut fishery started on March 15 with more fish to catch and favorable market conditions. The coastwide catch limit from California to the Bering Sea is just less than 30 million pounds, an 8.2 percent increase over 2018. Alaska’s share of the halibut catch is 22 million pounds, up 1.5 million pounds, with increases in all fishing areas except the Western Gulf of Alaska. Market conditions are more favorable this year, due mostly to fewer fish in the freezers. SeafoodNews.com reports that less carry over going into the new season has renewed interest in halibut, especially during Lent which runs until April 20. Buyers pulled back on halibut purchases last year after years of high prices and a sudden flood of cheaper fish from eastern Canada sucked the wind out of the Pacific market in 2017. The Canadian fishery, which operates year round, has recently been putting up to 11 million pounds of halibut into U.S. markets. Starting prices to Alaska fishermen last year were in the $4 to $5 range, down $2 on average from previous years. Prices ticked upwards during the season but never reached the levels of a few years ago. Roughly 2,000 Alaska longliners hold quota shares of halibut, which they can fish through Nov. 14. ComFish at 40 Hundreds of visitors will flock to “the Rock” to celebrate the 40th ComFish Alaska trade show March 28-30 at Kodiak. Joining all the vendors and exhibits at the downtown convention center will be U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, who reportedly plans to stay a few days. From the governor’s office, special advisor John Moller and Rachel Baker, deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, will hold open meetings, as will Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. Trending topics on the ComFish agenda also include a Q &A with Mark Lester, president of Alaska Aerospace Corp., which has over 30 rockets planned for the Kodiak launch pad that could curtail fishing. Also, updates on the Pebble mine, seafood marketing, “throw me a rope” safety tips, fish stories and sea songs, legal advice, net recycling and much more. Recognizing Kodiak’s processing workers has become a ComFish Saturday tradition and teams from different companies compete in skill competitions. This year includes a shark dissection, a new Fish in a Box contest where a line up must be identified by touch and/or tail, and a fish toss. A contest to showcase the most able fisherman will bring ComFish to a close. Alaska Airlines is offering a 7 percent off ComFish special for Kodiak flights. See the full line up of ComFish events at www.kodiakchamber.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trade war takes big bite out of Alaska seafood sales

So how’s that trade war with China going? Up until last July, China was Alaska’s biggest trading partner for seven years running. In 2017, China bought 54 percent of Alaska’s fish and shellfish products, valued at $800 million. The initial U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports were followed by a retaliatory 10 percent tariff from China last September that included U.S. seafood exports; U.S. tariffs against $200 billion worth of Chinese imports were to increase to 25 percent on March 2, but that deadline was extended by 60 days late in February as trade negotiations continue. All the tariff tit-for-tat has taken a big bite out of Alaska’s seafood market share and sales continue to sink. The new taxes have tamped down Alaska seafood sales to China by one-fifth through 2018, said Jeremy Woodrow, acting director of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. In a presentation this month to the House Fisheries Committee, Woodrow said “sales so far this year are off by more than 20 percent and we expect to take a big hit from China this year.” Woodrow said a survey of Alaska processors and industry stakeholders revealed that “65 percent reported they had immediately lost sales from the increase of these tariffs, 50 percent reported delays in their sales, and 36 percent reported they lost customers in China. Another 21 percent said they had unanticipated costs because of the trade conflict.” He added that the taxes have caused inventories to pile up in freezers as Alaska seafood sellers seek markets to fill the China shortfall. Sales inroads are being made in other countries like Spain and Brazil, Woodrow said, but the loss of China would leave a lasting hurt. Meanwhile, state general fund dollars have been zeroed out for ASMI’s budget by the Dunleavy Administration and its travel budget slashed by more than half to $158,000. Other trade impacts A new report by economists from Columbia, Princeton, and the New York Federal Reserve explores the impacts of the Trump Administrations trade policy on prices and pocketbooks. In the short term, it says the U.S. has experienced substantial price increases, large changes to supply chain networks, a drop in the availability of imported varieties, and complete passthrough of the tariffs to domestic consumers. While the long-run effects are still to be seen, the economists said, “we also see similar patterns for foreign countries who have retaliated against the U.S., which indicates that the trade war reduces real income for the global economy as well.” Seaweed to the rescue “They are coming to take our cows away!” yelped critics of the proposed Green New Deal that’s cropped up in Congress. The deal calls for major investments in clean-energy jobs and infrastructure to help the U.S. transform to a more earth friendly economy. The GND is making farmers uneasy because fingers are pointing at cows as big polluters from the methane gas they pass. Most of the gas is actually belched from the cow’s mouth and not released from the back end. Cow burps account for 26 percent of the nation’s total methane emissions according to the EPA. Seaweed can help put the brakes on all those burps. Researchers in Australia started investigating after a dairy farmer noticed cows that grazed on washed-up seaweed along the shore were healthier and more productive than those in the field. Another study five years ago confirmed those results and 20 different kinds of seaweed were tested in cow feeds. Overall, they reduced methane production by up to 50 percent but required high doses of seaweed, almost 20 percent by sample weight. Enter Asparagopsis, a red seaweed found throughout the Pacific. The Queensland researchers found that adding less than 2 percent of that particular seaweed to a cow’s diet reduced its methane output by up to 99 percent! The cows have good taste; asparagopsis is one of the most in Hawaiian cuisine and used traditionally in poke. The problem now is producing enough of the methane suppressor. Wild harvesting is not sustainable, the researchers said, and it will take financial and industry backers to cultivate production to an industrial scale. Meanwhile, that dairy farmer has sold his farm and is selling kelp and rockweed infused livestock feed full-time with a Prince Edward Island company called North Atlantic Organics. Fish gals on the job Women at work in the seafood industry is the focus of an international video competition that’s now open for entries. The scope includes all segments of the industry: fishing on boats, fish farming, processing, selling, managing, research, monitoring, teaching and any related services. It’s the second round for the contest that was launched last year by the Paris-based group Women in the Seafood Industry. “Women are very numerous in the industry, but not very visible,” said Marie Christine Monfort, WSI president and co-founder. Studies show that one in two workers in the seafood industry is a woman, but most are over-represented in low skilled, low paying positions. Montfort said women account for less than 10 percent of company directors and just 1 percent of CEOs. A WSI international survey last year revealed that 61 percent of women reported perceptions of gender inequality in the seafood industry compared to 48 percent of men. Raising awareness of gender biases is the first step towards making positive changes, Montfort said. And that is what the film contest is all about. Last year’s winner showcased women who mend nets for a living in Vigo, Spain. Second place went to a film about California women who formed a clam farming cooperative. Tied for third place were films about female fishing mentors in Newfoundland and women in India who started food trucks to sell their husbands’ catches. One entry from Alaska called Copper River featured veteran Cordova fisherman, Thea Thomas. Individuals and groups are invited to contribute videos of up to four minutes showing women at work in the industry. Winners receive 1000 euros along with two 500 euro prizes. Deadline to enter is Aug. 2. Learn more at womeninseafood.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Trident’s pollock noodles sweep Symphony of Seafood awards

Push that pasta aside. Noodles made from Alaska pollock are poised to become a center of the plate favorite. Alaska Pollock Protein Noodles from Trident Seafoods swept the awards at the 26th annual Alaska Symphony of Seafood new products competition in Juneau. The low carb, “flavor neutral” noodles contain 1O grams of protein per serving and can be swapped with any pasta favorites. The ready to eat item drew raves from judges and samplers from Seattle to Southeast who gave the noodles quadruple awards at the Feb. 20 bash. “That’s never happened before,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation,” host of the Symphony event. “It really blew everything out of the water.” The new products played to a packed house as part of United Fishermen of Alaska’s annual legislative reception where everyone gets to sample and vote on the goods. “It’s a great chance for policy makers to mix with people in Alaska’s statewide seafood industry,” Decker said. “Sen. Murkowski gave away the grand prize. Lots of legislators were there and a number of them presented awards. A number of people from the governor’s office also attended.” The annual competition kicks off at Pacific Marine Expo in Seattle in November where the new products are judged and first place winners in three categories are announced. All other winners are kept under wraps until the Juneau event. Trident’s protein noodles took top honors in the retail category, People’s Choice awards in Seattle and Juneau and the overall grand prize. Second at retail was Wild Alaskan Salmon Jerky by Fishpeople Seafood of Portland, Ore.; Smoked Sockeye Salmon Chowder by Heather’s Choice of Anchorage took home third place. First place in the Food Service category was awarded to Alaska Cod Dumplings by Tai Foong USA, followed by Trident’s Entrée Redi pollock fillet portions. The winner in the Beyond the Plate category, which features items made from seafood byproducts, was Wild Alaska Pollock Oil by Alaska Naturals Pet Products. Second place went to Tidal Vision’scrab shell based Tidal-Tex Odor Preventer that “de-funks” footwear, camp gear and pet beds. Top winners are automatically entered into the Seafood Excellence competition at the Seafood Expo North America March 17-19 in Boston. Fishing updates Hundreds of boats are out on the water all winter throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea targeting pollock, cod, flounders, other whitefish and more. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery is still ongoing as are openers for their bigger cousin, bairdi Tanners, in Southeast Alaska. The Tanner harvest should top 1 million pounds. Southeast crabbers also are finishing off a golden king crab fishery that has a catch limit of 76,000 pounds. A fishery for seven types of rockfish will remain open in outside waters of Southern Southeast until March 14 or until the fleet takes the nearly 112,000-pound quota, whichever comes first. A Tanner crab fishery opened in Prince William Sound on March 1; Norton Sound’s red king crab fishery opened on Feb. 25 with a winter harvest limit of 12,048 pounds. The Pacific halibut fishery opens on March 15, soon to be followed by herring fisheries. Love wild? Eat wild Fish farming does little if anything, to conserve wild stocks. In fact, aquaculture has failed to reduce the pressure on the world’s fish stocks, it has not advanced fishery conservation, and should focus more on species lower in the food web, such as clams and other bivalves. Those are the conclusions of a study published in Science Daily by researchers at the University of North Carolina, who base their findings on historical data from the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization from 1970 to 2014. Yet the push to convince consumers that eating farmed saves wild has gotten new life by meal kit makers LoveTheWild. The Boulder-Colorado based group, which launched its oven-ready farmed salmon, trout and barramundi offerings in 2014, has announced they will be available at Whole Foods stores nationwide this month. Among their investors is actor Leonardo DiCaprio who claims that “the exploitation of our oceans has left many marine ecosystems on the brink of total collapse” and that LoveTheWild is “empowering people to take action on the crisis in a meaningful way.” LoveTheWild omits the fact that meals and oils made from wild fish are used to feed farmed fish, thereby removing more from the ocean, not less. Also, many fish are grown in packed net pens and are routinely doused with additives, antibiotics and pesticides. “There are some perceptions in the consumer market on the production and management of our wild fisheries that are misconstrued and quite frankly, wrong,” said Michael Kohan, Seafood Technical Director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “Alaska’s fisheries support over 60,000 jobs by people whose livelihood is putting wild fish on the market for people to purchase. You support wild fish by eating wild fish.” Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association, called the farmed saves wild push “misplaced.” “Their hearts might be in the right place but I don’t think they are thinking it through,” Wink said. “When you buy fish from a sustainably managed fishery, you’re voting with your dollars to support those who are doing things right.” Fish funds American Seafoods has issued a call for grant applications targeting community programs in Kodiak, the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. A total of $45,000 will be allocated in grants that typically range from $1,000 to $7,500 each for projects that focus on hunger, housing, safety, education and cultural activities. The deadline to submit a request is April 10; the company’s Western Alaska Community Grant Board will select recipients on April 25. Grant request forms are available online at www.americanseafoods.com or by contacting Kim Lynch at [email protected] or 206-256-2659. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Administration tight-lipped on budget; UFA promotes priorities

Alaska’s new slogan is “open for business” but good luck trying to find out any budget details when it comes to the business of fishing. The Dunleavy administration has a full gag order in place at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and all budget questions, no matter how basic, are referred to press secretary Matt Shuckerow. Likewise, queries to the many deputies and assistants at the ADFG commissioner’s office are deferred to Shuckerow, who did not acknowledge messages for information. “It isn’t just the media or Alaskans. Legislators are faced with that same gag order,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak. “I don’t know if the administration is just trying to settle in and thinks that the Legislature is their worst enemy and they want to keep people at bay or what,” she added. “Hopefully, they will realize that we have to work together and the sooner we do it, the better relationship we’re going to have.” Stutes, who is the majority whip in the House and also chairs both the House Fisheries and Transportation Committees, said that “the governor has made very few appearances and nobody can get an appointment with him.” She confirmed that anyone who meets with Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy must relinquish cell phones, Apple watches and any recording devices. The executive committee of the Alaska Municipal League was able to meet briefly with the governor during its annual meeting last week in Juneau, said Pat Branson, a committee member and mayor of the City of Kodiak. The AML includes 165 cities, boroughs and municipalities that represent more than 97 percent of Alaska’s residents. “We were grateful to meet with the governor because he did not come to any of the AML meetings,” Branson said. “All we heard was that he’s all ears. I told him that we are problem solvers and it is something we do every day. We’re all aware that the state’s fiscal plan has not been in order for many years. How can we maintain our services and work through a plan that meets our community needs?” Branson said the AML is “shocked and upset” at the drastic cuts in the governor’s proposed budget and the way it came about. “It was done without any communication with municipalities, school boards, or boroughs and, I believe, without any care or understanding of how things work in Alaska, or the importance of the marine highway system or fisheries to local communities or how it will affect Alaska’s overall economy,” Branson said. “Why would people want to come or stay here? We’ve never seen a budget come forth from an administration like this. It’s just not acceptable.” AML members plan to hold town hall meetings, Branson said, and return to Juneau with ideas to present to the legislature and the governor. “We, as elected officials, are just getting a grasp on this budget. I don’t know if Alaskans understand the degree that these cuts affect them individually,” Branson said. “We want to bring in a neutral party to explain the cuts and how it affects our communities. We’re hopeful the governor will listen to some alternative solutions from Alaskans.” Fish committee The House Fisheries Committee has several new faces among its members that include Stutes, Speaker of the House Bryce Edgmon of Dillingham, and Reps. Geran Tarr, Chuck Kopp and Lance Pruitt of Anchorage, Sarah Vance of Homer and Jonathan Kreiss-Tomkins of Sitka. “We are going to focus on fish, fish and more fish, and how important and critical it is that we sustain our fisheries in a healthy manner. And part of that equation is making sure that the Department of Fish and Game is fully funded,” Stutes said. Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska, said she is excited about the make-up of the committee. UFA is the nation’s largest fisheries trade organization with 35 diverse member groups. “Stutes as the chair really knows how to run the show and I think it’s going to deliver some great benefits,” Leach said. She agreed with the committee’s main focus to educate people in the capital about how critically important commercial fisheries are to the economic stability of Alaska. “UFA is proud of the fact that commercial fishing is the number one private sector employer in the state of Alaska employing over 60,000 men and women and I think that’s often forgotten,” Leach said. Both UFA and the Fisheries Committee will continue to push for HB 35, an act relating to participation on the Boards of Fisheries and Game that resolves conflicts of interest. “This bill will ensure that people who are sitting on the boards have an opportunity to participate in the discussion even if they can’t vote,” Stutes said. “That’s why they are there, because of their expertise, and right now they are conflicted out.” UFA also is focused on shellfish enhancement bills that were reintroduced this year. “We’re really excited because if it all goes through, in 20 years Alaska mariculture could be a $100 million industry,” Leach said. UFA also will strongly support the state’s hatcheries and “urge use of good science and facts to guide the future of the program,” Leach said. UFA is opposed to the governor’s proposal to divert $28 million in fisheries landing and business taxes from local towns to state coffers. “We’re very concerned and believe it will cause a lot of hardship for coastal communities,” said Leach. “Not just for fishermen, but for the towns that use that money for education and infrastructure. It impacts everybody.” Budget bits Dunleavy’s proposed budget for the state’s Commercial Fisheries Division is $69.45 million, a $1.64 million reduction, according to Stutes’ office. Details are sketchy but it aims to reorganize and consolidate the Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission into the Commercial Fisheries Division. Also, the directors of the Habitat and Subsistence divisions would be moved from ADFG to the Office of Management and Budget. The travel budget for all state departments would be cut by 50 percent, which will be difficult for the Boards of Fisheries and Game to hold meetings in constituent regions. A proposed 16.3 percent increase to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute was removed and ASMI will receive zero from the state. Fish meetings A push for a personal use fishing priority over all other users in Cook Inlet will be among 16 proposals before the Board of Fisheries at its meetings on March 9-12 at the Anchorage Sheraton. Dubbed “Help Move Alaskans Up the Food Chain,” proposal 171 by the Kenai River Sportfishing Association, would “require the BOF to consider Alaskans’ food needs and use of fisheries by Alaskans when setting fishery allocations. The current allocation method prioritizes the export of Alaska’s fish for consumption by outsiders over the need of Alaskans.” On March 8 the board’s Hatchery Committee also will hold a special meeting. All meetings are open to the public and available via live audio at www.boardoffisheries.adfg.alaska.gov. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: FCC issues warning on fishing gear beacons

Small electronic beacons that are being widely used by increasing numbers of fishermen could net them big fines. Automatic Identification Systems, or AIS, are easily attached to nets, longlines and pots and signal the locations of the gear via a vessel’s navigation system, laptops, or even cell phones. The inexpensive buoys, which range from $47 to $199 from most online retailers, are regarded as a Godsend by fishermen in the way they help locate gear as well as being a potential money saver. “If you’re not sitting on your gear with your vessel either on radar or on AIS, somebody can come along that doesn’t think there’s any gear in the water in the absence of an AIS marker and set over the top of you. Or a trawler could potentially come and nail your gear and it could result in substantial financial loses,” explained Buck Laukitis, a Homer-based fisherman and a member of the North Pacific Fishery Management Council. AIS is required for boats longer than 65 feet and in certain shipping lanes, said Jerry Dzugan, director of the Alaska Marine Safety Education Association. But warning bulletins are advising that other users and sellers are subject to fines of more than $19,000 to $147,000 per day for those who continue to use them. A Federal Communications Commission bulletin says “anyone advertising or selling these noncompliant fishing net buoys or other noncompliant AIS devices should stop immediately, and anyone owning such devices should not use them. Sellers, advertisers, and operators of noncompliant AIS equipment may be subject to substantial monetary penalties.” The reason for the severe warning? The systems being used on fishing gear are not authorized by the Federal Communications Commission nor the U.S. Coast Guard. The small AIS buoys transmit a strong signal without essential navigational safety information and can interrupt or obscure the situational transmissions of other boat operators. “In crowded areas, the signals create a lot of clutter for vessels to navigate around — is it a vessel they are seeing on their plotter or just a buoy?” said Dzugan. “It’s especially problematic for large vessels or tugs with a tow that can’t maneuver quickly.” He added that the cheaper, small units coming from China also do not have proper standards for signals, which cause more identification problems. The FCC seems very committed to getting AIS fishing gear buoys out of the water and off the market, said Michael Crowley of National Fishermen. “Even if you have a certified AIS device, it shouldn’t be used for a fishing buoy because its purpose is vessel safety or personal rescue,” he wrote. “Equipment for tracking nets is authorized only when it operates in the 1,900 to 2,000 KHz band, not AIS frequencies, and they cannot be advertised as AIS approved.” Alaska’s congressional delegation sent a letter last month to the FCC requesting reconsideration for AIS use by fishermen, Laukitis told radio station KMXT in Kodiak. Meanwhile, he advises fishermen to forego the beacons. “I don’t think the word’s really gotten out, but we’re kind of in a pickle for this summer,” he said. “Fishermen are definitely not going to want to use these AIS beacons given the FCC’s warning. That means we’re probably going to have a lot more conflicts on the fishing grounds.” Tanners round two Crabbers are gearing up for another Prince William Sound Tanner fishery next month. It will be the second go for Tanner crab after last year which was the first opener since 1988. “The fishery will open March 1 in the western and eastern districts of Prince William Sound, which covers the southwest area of the sound and wraps around to the outside,” said Jan Rumble, area manager for Prince William Sound and Cook Inlet shellfish and groundfish at the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game office in Homer. Last March 14 boats dropped pots for Tanners and hauled up 82,000 pounds of crab with average weights of just under two pounds, or about 44,000 animals. Rumble said summer trawl surveys and a first ever pot survey last November came up pretty scratchy. “In our trawl survey it was pretty much half of the legal males we saw the previous year, so we are not opening the Northern and Hinchenbrook part of the Sound based on those results,” she explained. “In the pot survey we saw some crab, but it was not as good as we hoped so we will be monitoring each area throughout the fishery to make sure we are comfortable keeping it open.” Crabbers are required to get a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission card, a commissioner’s permit and pot tags, which have been reduced to 25 due to the expected number of participants. Also mandatory: daily call-ins by 3 p.m. from the fishing grounds. “There was a mandatory call in last year but the compliance was pretty low,” Rumble said. “We’re really encouraging fishermen to call in because low compliance will result in our being more conservative. We want to work with information that’s coming from the grounds and not try to speculate on what’s going on out there.” Depending on catch rates, the fishery could remain open through March 31. The deadline to register for the Tanner crab fishery is Feb. 15. Bivalves help beat diseases Shellfish such as oysters, clams and mussels may hold clues to fighting flu and cancer in humans, as well as aiding in bone regeneration. In studies at the Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Science in Maine, oysters were exposed to human bacteria and viruses and fought off the pathogens without antibodies, the proteins that immune systems in mammal use to attack disease. Likewise, clams could contract a contagious cancer, but also cured themselves without antibodies. “Clams don’t have chemotherapy or radiation, and somehow they are able to get rid of cancer,” said Jose Robledo, lead author on the study that was published in the journal Developmental and Comparative Immunology. “How on earth do they do it? Their strategy can give us clues about how to fight cancer in humans,” he told the Bangor Daily News. Studying immunity in bivalves could help researchers find an alternative to antibiotics, which are becoming more resistant to pathogens. And mimicking the antimicrobial compounds that mussels produce may yield new drugs for both humans and livestock, Robledo added. Along with helping humans, the research could also benefit the shellfish industry. Robledo plans to develop recommendations to guide farmers and hatcheries in breeding bivalve stocks for resistance to disease, and for development of strong shells and rapid growth. The bivalve study was funded by grants from the Saltonstall-Kennedy Foundation, the National Science Foundation, and the National Institute of Health. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Concerns raised over increase to Pacific halibut harvest

Contrary to all expectations, commercial catches of Pacific halibut were increased for 2019 in all but one Alaska region. The numbers were revealed Feb. 1 at the International Pacific Halibut Commission annual meeting in Victoria, British Columbia. The reason was due to increased estimates of the overall halibut biomass based on expanded surveys last summer from Northern California to the Bering Sea, said Doug Bowen who operates Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “There’s a couple of strong year classes from 2011 and 2012 that are just starting to show up in the commercial catches and I think the scientists are cautiously optimistic that we could see some better harvests as a result of those halibut entering the fishery,” he said in a phone call as he was leaving the meetings. The coastwide commercial catches were increased to nearly 25 million pounds, almost 6 percent higher than 2018. Alaska’s share will be just less than 20 million pounds, a boost of about 3 million pounds. Southeast Alaska’s catch was upped by just more than 1 percent to 3.6 million pounds; the Central Gulf gets a nearly 10 percent increase to more than 8 million pounds. The Western Gulf is the only Alaska region to get a halibut reduction; a catch of 2.3 million pounds is a drop of more than 11 percent. Halibut harvests at the two Aleutian Islands regions were increased to more than 1 million pounds and the Bering Sea catches went up by nearly 30 percent to top 2 million pounds. Bowen said the increases came despite concerns by IPHC executive director, Dr. David Wilson. “He feels that any coastwide catches over 20 million pounds will result in declines in the biomass. So, it is interesting that the catch limits are going up in light of the fact that we do have both declining recruitment and harvest rates coastwide,” Bowen said. The halibut fishery will open on March 15 and run through Nov. 14, said Malcolm Milne, president of the Kenai Peninsula Fishermen’s Association. And in more good news for Alaska, Milne added that next year’s IPHC annual meeting will be held in Anchorage. Deckhands wanted The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing. It’s the second year for the Crewmember Apprenticeship program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. More than 100 applied last year from all over the country, over half were women, and 13 were placed on local boats. “It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the industry,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. “You always hear about the graying of the fleet but it shows that the interest is out there. Young people just need these resources to explore and get involved.” ALFA received a $70,000 matching grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program last year and to help support expansion of similar apprenticeships in Alaska. “We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve learned and materials we’ve created from this program and give it to anyone interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said. Most of the recruits last year went out on longline and troll vessels and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule. “We have short and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an introduction to fishing. We also have plenty of individuals who go out for the entire season or several weeks at a time.” The rookies are paid for their work and Racine said skippers are eager to show them the ropes. “The skippers that are interested are looking for reliable crew and want to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen,” she said. “So not only are they training a pool of young people as deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities.” Longtime salmon troller Eric Jordan has mentored over 40 young fishermen aboard his vessel, the I Gotta. Out on the water, he teaches them the intricacies of commercial trolling and encourages a strong conservation ethic. He calls the apprenticeship program “a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” “The future of our fisheries is dependent on young fishermen learning to love and care for the fish we harvest and the habitat essential to their well-being,” said Jordan. “Finding crew with some experience is critical for individual businesses and the industry as a whole. Our generation’s legacy will be defined how we, as Alaskan fishermen, rebuilt and enhanced our fisheries, and how we mentored the next generation.” Applicants must be 18 or older to apply and the deadline is Feb. 28. Sign on at www.alfafish.org/apprenticeship. Fish farm fans The push for industrialized offshore fish farms is gaining steam among American lawmakers. Farming fish is banned in Alaska waters, but the Trump administration proposes to put net pens in federal waters, meaning from three to 200 miles out. The farms are being touted as a silver bullet to boost seafood production, provide jobs and reduce the nation’s $15 billion seafood trade deficit from importing more than 85 percent of its seafood. Since last June a coalition called Stronger America Through Seafood, or SATS, has swelled from 14 to 21 large companies, including Cargill, Red Lobster, Sysco, Pacific Seafoods and Seattle Fish Company. Currently there is only one offshore farm operating in U.S. waters, a mussel farm called Catalina Sea Ranch six miles off the coast of Los Angeles. At a U.S. Commerce Department hearing in Juneau last September, spokesperson Margaret Henderson said that Alaska’s stance is a sticking point. “We in no way mean to impede a state’s authority to manage their own waters, but when it comes to managing federal waters outside the state line, we think that there’s a balance to be had there, that there’s room for both,” she said. Undercurrent News reported last week that SATS has begun collecting signatures to support legislation to streamline the permitting process for offshore fish farms and plans to submit its petition to Congress on February 6. An earlier effort failed, but the Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture Act will be reintroduced soon in the U.S. House and Senate by lawmakers from Mississippi, Florida and Minnesota. At the Alaska hearing, Undersecretary of Commerce Timothy Gallaudet cited climate change in his pitch for the push. “Changes in the environment are affecting fish stocks,” he said. “They are either moving or they’re not thriving and so this aquaculture, done the right way and scientifically based, provides a means for employment of fishermen who are losing some of their gain through these changing conditions.” A group of about 140 small-scale fishermen and fishing groups has formed to fight the effort. At the Juneau hearing, Sam Rabung, new director of Alaska’s commercial fisheries division, also spoke out against offshore fish farms. “I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to fight pretty hard to maintain the state’s opt-out option and maintain the ability to prohibit finfish farming off of Alaska.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon market looks up, but many still can’t cook it

Heading into the 2019 salmon season, markets are looking good as global demand exceeds supply. That’s due in part to constraints on the world’s biggest producers of farmed Atlantic salmon — Norway and Chile. While farmed production continues to tick upwards, growth in both countries is limited as to the maximum amount of fish regulations permit them to have in the water. Chile also is still recovering from a deadly virus that wiped out millions of fish in 2016, and Norway is battling pervasive sea lice issues. All told, the days appear to be over when both countries could count on double-digit increases in production to meet setbacks in supply. “Now it appears the salmon farmers don’t have any rabbits left in the hat. They are still increasing production but not to the extent in percentage terms that it used to be,” said Andy Wink, a fisheries economist and director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Couple that with expanding salmon demand, and current market conditions create a larger niche for wild salmon, Wink said, not only in the U.S. but also in China. “Demand for salmon in China is growing in a big way,” he explained. “News reports say they expect farmed salmon consumption in China to go from 90,000 metric tons (198 million pounds) this past year to around 250,000 mt (550 million pounds) by 2025. There’s a lot of opportunity for all wild salmon.” Market watchers are awaiting the last four months of sales data, but all salmon species have been selling well and holdover inventories are not expected heading into the coming season. “We saw strong pricing on the wholesale side and volumes moved at a quick clip,” Wink said. “As far as sockeye goes, people I’ve been in touch with anecdotally say things are moving nicely even though prices are up.” Another good sign is that the value of the dollar has held steady. “For the past year the dollar has been going sideways in terms of its strength,” Wink explained. “If it moves a lot, that will have a huge impact on fish prices, but for the time being we haven’t seen a lot of change.” Demand continues to increase in the U.S. where Wink said more appreciation has grown for wild salmon in general. He pointed to Costco as a new market channel, which rolled out a national sockeye salmon program last year. That really gave sockeyes a boost, and Wink said it was clearly shown in Bristol Bay’s branding promotion that has grown from a small pilot program in a handful of stores in Boulder, Colo., in 2016 to 1,000 stores across the country and growing. “When we approach a retailer they are generally very receptive and excited to work with us,” he said. “They know their customers want wild salmon, they want to know where it comes from and that connection with the producer, and that it’s a quality product. Whether it’s from Bristol Bay or other places in Alaska, there’s great demand for that in the U.S.” Wink said the decades of hard work by Alaska’s salmon industry is really starting to pay off. “A lot of great work has been done to develop the quality of the pack, push new products and new markets are opening up,” he said. “Even though they’ve taken years to cultivate, we’re seeing a lot of those investments bear fruit now.” Fish fears A lack of knowledge about seafood is the biggest hurdle to increasing sales and U.S. consumption. That’s the main take away from one of the industry’s most popular events: the Global Seafood Market Conference held this month in California. Results of a first ever Power of Seafood Survey of more than 2,000 Americans by the Food Marketing Institute yielded some surprises about why Americans aren’t buying more seafood and revealed hurdles that prevent them from buying more. A recap of the FMI survey by SeafoodSource found that only 56 percent of Americans eat seafood twice a month, a far cry from the twice a week recommendation by the U.S. government. Just one in five adults said they meet that weekly threshold. Freshness and flavor have a major impact on seafood purchases, the survey revealed, but most shoppers said they feel “turned off” by their lack of knowledge. Nearly half of consumers said there is not enough information about how to judge quality and freshness, and 42 percent said they wanted more information about different species of fish and shellfish. Guy Pizzuti, seafood manager for the Publix supermarket chain, called consumers’ worries over evaluating freshness a “failure of the industry.” Just 29 percent of the respondents said they feel very knowledgeable about how to buy seafood; only 28 percent said they felt confident in how to prepare or season it. Buyers from major grocery chains said they can’t focus on the appeal of raw seafood; instead, they must stimulate consumers to believe they can easily cook it at home. Pizzuti added that for decades the industry has been talking about teaching consumers how to prepare seafood and it still hasn’t been figured out. Dave Wier of the Meijer chain added that the industry is “too busy telling customers what boat caught the fish instead of how to cook it.” He said they’ve taken their eye off what consumers really want and that the industry is “terrible at this and must improve quickly.” The survey found that the average seafood eater spends more on food in weekly shopping than non-eaters, and frequent seafood eaters spend even more - showing it to be a small but lucrative demographic group. Funds for saving lives Saving lives and reducing injuries is the goal of fishing safety grants available to non-profit groups, municipalities, academics and businesses involved in the fishing and maritime industries. The Fishing Safety Research Grant Program was funded in 2010 as part of the Coast Guard Reauthorization Act, and the money is finally available. “These are moneys that came to the Coast Guard first and we are partnering with them to administer these important safety training and research grants. This is the first time that these funds have been available,” saidJennifer Lincoln, co-director of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health Maritime Center for Safety and Health Studies. The grants will provide up to 75 percent of the costs and range from $250,000-$650,000 per grant over two years. Academics and nonprofits already involved in research and training are likely applicants, but communities and businesses also are encouraged. “They could partner with a training organization to offer training for fishermen in their area,” Lincoln explained. “There also are small business grants that include things like developing new technologies for industry. It’s those types of ideas that I would potentially expect from municipalities or businesses.” Different fishing fleets have different hazards and proposals can be targeted to what works best for a particular fishery, gear group or region. “A group of fishermen might want to focus on fatigue-related issues,” Lincoln said. “Other ideas could include improving a piece of deck equipment that is particular to a fleet. Catcher processors or the head and gut fleet might want to focus on ergonomic issues and improved processes on their vessels.” Lincoln said ideas continue to evolve on improving safety equipment such as life jackets and she expects some grants will target vessel stability training. Another potential opportunity, she said is exploring hearing protections for fishermen. February 21 is the deadline to apply in two categories: safety research and training. The “opportunity numbers” are RFA-OH-19-004 and RFA-OH-19-005. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Smaller crab fisheries give winter business boost

When most people think of Alaska crab, they envision huge boats pulling up “7-bys” for millions of pounds of bounty in the Bering Sea. (“7 bys” refers to the 7 foot-by-7 foot-by-3 foot size of the crab pots.) But it is the smaller, local crab fisheries that each winter give a big economic boost to dozens of coastal communities across the Gulf of Alaska. They occur at a time when many fishing towns are feeling a lull while awaiting the March start of halibut and herring openers. The gearing up means a nice pulse of extra work and money for just about every business tied to fishing. High winds and overall snotty weather delayed Kodiak’s Tanner crab fishery, but 83 boats dropped pots a day late on Jan. 16. They will compete for a 615,000-pound catch quota, an increase from 400,000 pounds last season. At an average weight of 2.2 pounds, that will yield about 280,000 crabs. The fishery will go fast, said Natura Richardson, assistant area manager for shellfish at the Department of Fish and Game office at Kodiak. “It could be as quick as a couple days but it’s looking more like four to six days, something like that,” she said, adding that the mid-winter crab season picks up the pace at work. “Oh yeah, there’s a lot of activity with all the registrations and figuring out who’s going where. There’s a lot of excitement in the office. It’s fun,” she said. Reports of prices starting at $4.65 per pound also were exciting, an increase from $4.50 last year. That could mean a payout of nearly $3 million to Kodiak fishermen. Crab fisheries for Tanners and golden king crab will open throughout Southeast Alaska in mid-February. A fleet of about 60 boats typically participates each winter for a harvest of less than one million pounds of Tanners; around 30 boats fish for golden king crab which has a harvest guideline of about 70,000 pounds. Southeast’s Dungeness crab fishery, which occurs in the summer and late fall, is one of the region’s most lucrative fisheries. In the 2017-18 season, a fleet of about 200 boats took just less than 2 million pounds (937,701 crabs) valued at nearly $6 million to local fishermen. Processor reports for 2017 show that they paid $194 million for total crab purchases from Alaska fishermen and sold it to customers for nearly $252 million. Fish stats One click will take you to a site where you will find all you need to know about prices and landings for nearly every Alaska fish species, where they were caught, how much of each was processed and into what products, and what processors sold it all for. It’s called Commercial Fisheries Statistics and Data from the Department of Fish and Game and it extends back to the early 1980s. For salmon, charts and graphs show historical harvest rankings by the number of fish, the total poundage and average prices for each species by Alaska region and more. It shows that at Cook Inlet, for example, the highest sockeye price ever paid was $2.54 per pound in 1988, the lowest price was 56 cents in 2002. The best sockeye price to fishermen at Kodiak was $1.83 paid in 2014. At Bristol Bay, the lowest sockeye price was 42 cents a pound paid in 2001. The highest price for chum salmon at Southeast was $1.03 per pound in 1988; in Prince William Sound the low for pinks was 9 cents in 1996, the high was 82 cents in 1988. Click on herring and you’ll see that for Southeast Alaska’s sac roe fishery, the average price in 2017 was 38 cents per pound and 51 cents for food and bait herring. The shellfish data includes octopus, shrimp and all crab taken in state waters, meaning out to three miles from shore It also covers aquatic farming and shows that through 2017, 35 farms in Alaska were producing shellfish and sold nearly 2 million oysters in 2017. The first harvest ever of seaweed (from Kodiak) that year totaled nearly 17,000 pounds. The dive fisheries are included, as are harvests of lingcod, pollock, cod, rockfish and other whitefish. Data from Alaska processors are compiled in Commercial Operator’s Annual Reports, or COAR, and show how much fish was processed into frozen, fresh, canned and other forms, plus the wholesale poundages and values by species and area going back to 1984. For sea cucumbers from Southeast, for example, processors purchased 1.3 million pounds in 2017 and sold them to customers for nearly $12 million dollars. At the Alaska Peninsula, nearly 17 million pounds of cod were processed valued at $27 million to local processors. Find the statistics and data pages at the Alaska Department of Fish and Game website on the left sidebar under fishing. WA is big AK fish winner Each year United Fishermen of Alaska updates its Fishing Facts that provide snapshots of coastal communities and municipalities throughout Alaska, plus the west coast. The numbers show that is where most of the fish bucks flow. The latest data show that just less than 9,000 permit holders fished in 2017, of which 70 percent were Alaska residents. Nearly 22,000 crew licenses were purchased, split almost evenly between in-and out-of-state residents. The 2017 Alaska harvest totaled 6.4 billion pounds valued at $1.8 billion in gross dockside earnings for fishermen. The seafood industry provided more than 64,000 direct jobs making it Alaska’s largest private-sector employer, and it contributed more than $245 million in taxes and fees to the state and over 50 local municipalities. Permit holders live in 214 Alaska communities and every U.S. state except for West Virginia. Fishing vessels registered to California owners totaled 1,423, which harvested 160 million pounds of seafood valued at $36.6 million. There were 2,723 vessels registered to Oregon owners who landed 576 million pounds valued at $136 million at the Alaska docks. It’s the state of Washington that takes home the bulk of the benefits from Alaska’s fisheries. A total of 1,713 fishing vessels plying Alaska’s waters in 2017 were registered to Washington owners. Permit holders plus crew from Washington who fished in Alaska added up to 6,707. And it was those fishermen who took home most of Alaska’s catch and paychecks. Of the 6.4 billion pounds landed in Alaska, just less than 4 billion pounds were taken by Washington residents. And of the total $1.8 billion dockside seafood value, $873 million went to Washington. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest commercial fishing trade organization with 35 member groups ranging from small skiff operators to huge at-sea catcher processors. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Studies link fewer premature births to fishy omega-3s

Eating seafood can save lives. Premature birth is the leading cause of death for children younger than 5 years old worldwide, accounting for nearly one million deaths annually. Now there is proof that eating seafood or marine oils can significantly reduce that number. The lifesaving ingredient? Omega-3 fatty acids. The conclusion of a new Cochrane Review of 70 studies worldwide on nearly 20,000 pregnant women stated that omegas from marine sources reduce early premature birth by a whopping 42 percent. “The effect really has to be strong to see it in a Cochrane Review and I am very impressed that it has come out as significant as it has,” said Dr. Tom Brenna, a professor of pediatrics, chemistry and nutrition at Dell Medical School at the University of Texas. Research on marine omega-3s and pregnancy has been going on since at least 1992, Brenna said, who called the formal medical global collaboration and conclusions in the Cochran Review a “blunt instrument.” “The number of studies and the number of women studied is large enough so that it is very difficult to imagine that future studies are going to affect these results. We really are looking at something that may well be the final word,” he said. The results also included a 10 percent reduction in low birth weight babies of less than 5.5 pounds. Premature babies are at higher risk of a range of long-term conditions including developmental delay, learning difficulties and visual impairment. Brenna said marine-based omega-3 fatty acids also improve those problems. “Many of us believe that omega-3s are important for continuing development of the neural system and of the eye,” he said. “The brain and the retina in the eye are really omega-3 organs. You can say that as calcium is to the bones, omega-3 is to the brain.” A challenge now, Brenna said, is to translate the marine omega 3 findings on premature birth prevention and other positives into health policy and wider educational outreach. “I think that we have a major effect here that ought to be heralded from the rooftops far and wide,” he said. Fish smell snuffed Fish scientists proved years ago that the tiniest traces of copper in water can affect a salmon’s sense of smell. New research shows that increasing levels of acidity in the oceans does the same thing. Fish use their sense of smell to find food, avoid predators, find spawning areas, even to recognize one another. Losing it could threaten their very survival. “In the environment that has some serious implications,” said Jason Sandahl, whose research team at Oregon State University was one of the first to show how contaminants can disrupt the chemical balance of sea creatures, and that copper levels at just two parts per billion impaired small coho salmons’ sense of smell. “If there are predators around and the fish are not able to response to these danger signals in the water, they would likely be the next snack for these larger predators in the water,” he added. Oceans that are becoming more acidic have the same effect. Research at the University of Washington and NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center is the first to show that high levels of carbon dioxide impair the sense of smell in salmon. “We did this study because over the past 10 years there’s been a lot of research coming out of Australia on tropical reef fish and other places in the world looking at the effects of elevated CO2 in fish behavior,” researcher Chase Williams told KBBI in Homer. Williams and his colleagues exposed young coho salmon in tanks for two weeks to different acidity levels from today and predicted at 50 and 100 years out. Ground up fish scales were added to indicate a predator attack, which usually prompts the salmon to hide or swim away. The juvenile cohos exposed to the higher acidity levels did not appear to even detect the smell. The UW team also looked into where in the sensory-neural system the ability to smell erodes, and how it changes fish behavior. “We found that the salmon are still likely still smelling the odors, so there are no changes in the way their nose is detecting them,” Williams said. “But we did pick up changes in the way that their brain was potentially processing those odor signals. So that’s what is likely driving the behavioral changes.” The researchers said they hope their findings on such an iconic fish as Pacific salmon will alert more people to the consequences of carbon emissions being absorbed by our oceans. Fish watch Lots of winter fishing is going on and gearing up across Alaska. Boats have been out in the Gulf and Bering Sea since Jan. 1 targeting cod. Openers for pollock, flounders and various other whitefish kick off on Jan. 20. The snow crab fishery gets going in earnest around this time of year in the Bering Sea. In Southeast Alaska, mostly small boats using jig or hand troll gear are targeting black rockfish and lingcod. Divers are still tapping away on the last bits of Southeast’s 1.7 million-pound sea cucumber quota in just one open region. Divers also are still going down for more than 700,000 pounds of giant geoduck clams. The winter king salmon season for Southeast trollers opened on Oct. 1 and it’s been slow going. Fewer than 6,000 kings have been taken since the fishery opened; the five-year average is closer to 16,000 fish. Based on new treaty agreements with Canada, Southeast’s winter troll catch rate will determine the takes for commercial and sport users this year and that will likely mean more cutbacks. The state also has announced a full closure for king salmon in the Northern Cook Inlet region and Susitna River due to extremely poor returns. Boats at Kodiak, Chignik and the South Alaska Peninsula are fishing for rockfish and a half million pound Tanner crab fishery opened at Kodiak on Jan. 15. Turning to fish meetings, the state Board of Fisheries will meet from Jan. 15-19 in Anchorage to take up more than 60 proposals for Arctic/Yukon/Kuskokwim fish issues. Stakeholders will learn later this month how much halibut will be available for this year’s fishery that begins in March. The International Pacific Halibut Commission will announce the catch numbers and other management updates when it meets Jan. 28 through Feb. 1 in Victoria, British Columbia. Fish and ships While the Trump Administration and some of the nation’s biggest food producers push for industrialized fish farms off the coasts of the U.S., others are taking the technology inside. A German engineering company called Next Generation Cargo is planning to farm Atlantic salmon aboard the world’s largest sailboats by the year 2023. Each of five 540-foot sailboats will be able to produce 5.5 million pounds of salmon per year. Undercurrent News reports that the first vessel — called the Quadriga — is already being built at a Chinese shipyard. The big ship will receive fingerlings from European salmon hatcheries and raise them to harvest size in sea cages contained within the vessel. Because the vessels will sail in international waters, they do not require a license to farm. The Quadriga will operate on solar and wind power and will choose routes which best cater to fish growing. Next Generation also claims the vessels will use controlled feeding and incur “no feed losses” into the ocean. A promotional video describes the Quadriga as a “first in the Ecoliner class,” and says it will include luxury passenger cabins on board. A Norwegian company called Pure Atlantic AS is planning an even bigger fish growing ship measuring 1,600 feet in length. Fish Farming Expert reports it will be powered by wind turbines mounted on the back of the vessel and water will flow through the ship into built-in channels in the fish cages. Both the German and Norwegian companies hope their designs will revolutionize freight and shipping as well as aquaculture. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Few problems so far for fisheries amid partial shutdown

The government shutdown has caused few problems so far in Alaska’s fisheries, but concern is growing as it enters a third week. The shutdown of nine out of 15 federal departments and agencies on Dec. 21 has furloughed about 800,000 workers nationwide, most with no pay, including fishery oversight and research jobs. In many cases, that means there’s no one to issue fishing permits, licenses or other documents and services required before setting out. “I have not heard of any problems, but that’s not to say that there aren’t any,” said Forrest Bowers, acting director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Commercial Fisheries Division, referring to the cod fishery that opened on Jan. 1 and the ongoing Bering Sea crab fishery. State operations are not directly affected by the shutdown, but fisheries in Alaska waters intertwine and are closely timed with the federal ones. In the co-management case of Bering Sea crab, for example, the feds provide the surveys and science, the state does the rest. “The state sets the total allowable catch and we handle the in-season management of the fishery, including vessel registrations, observer coverage and harvest tracking,” Bowers said. The cod and crab boats had their paperwork in order prior to the shutdown, Bowers said, except for one straggler who needed the services of a furloughed electronic scale inspector and was stuck at the dock. “They haven’t been able to have that scale inspection done and it’s delaying them. We’re hoping we can get that resolved for them,” Bowers said, adding that other such “behind the scenes” unavailable services in the tightly regulated fisheries could cause problems as more boats come online this month. The shutdown also is causing a headache for federally contracted onboard fishery observers who collect stock data and track what’s coming and going over the rails. Regulators at NOAA are not holding debriefings for the observers when they return from a fishing trip, which are required before they can sign on to another. That’s sidelined five of her employees so far, said Stacey Hansen, program manager at Saltwater, an Anchorage-based company that provides observer services to the fleets. “I’ve got a group of people that are now stuck. They’re just sitting and waiting until they can get on with their lives,” Hansen told Alaska’s Energy Desk. Meanwhile, Alaska’s largest fishery, pollock, gets underway on Jan. 20 along with openers for flounders and myriad other whitefish. “I think there is uncertainty right now about what’s going to happen,” Bowers said. “Fortunately, we have a pretty sophisticated group of folks in the fishing industry in Alaska who are very professional and know how to do their jobs. It helps a lot when there is a good working relationship with the managers; it makes these uncertain times go more smoothly.” One is done Only one person applied for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game commissioner’s job and it’s the same one who’s holding it now. Doug Vincent-Lang was selected as acting commissioner in early December by incoming Gov. Michael J. Dunleavy. The governor said in a statement that he believed it was important to have someone managing the department while the boards of Fish and Game compiled a list of other potential applicants. State law requires that a new governor select a commissioner from nominees suggested by the joint boards and the group will fulfill that statutory obligation on the evening of Jan. 16 at the Anchorage Sheraton. It will be a quick meeting, said boards support executive director Glenn Haight. “For this particular year, we have one applicant so it’s a fairly simple task for the joint board to go through the review process,” Haight said. “Anyone could’ve applied, it’s up to the individuals. Sometimes in the past there’s been more than 10 names that have come into the department for consideration and sometimes there’s just five or so.” No testimony will be taken at the Jan. 16 joint board meeting but the public is invited to listen in. Vincent-Lang was director of the division’s wildlife department under former Gov. Sean Parnell and was assistant director of the sportfish division in the early 2000s. The ADFG commissioner oversees 1,700 employees at 47 offices across the state and manages approximately 750 active fisheries, 26 game management units and 32 special areas. The commissioner appointment must be approved by the Alaska Legislature at the end of the upcoming session. Got gas? Liquified biogas from dead fish and other organic wastes will soon power a fleet of luxury cruise ships as a way to save money and protect the environment. The 125-year-old cruise operator Hurtigruten, known for its trips to the Arctic, will operate at least six of its 17 ships using a combination of biogas, liquified natural gas and large battery packs by 2021. “While competitors are running on cheap, polluting heavy fuel oil, our ships will literally be powered by nature,” spokesman Daniel Skjeldam said in a statement. “Biogas is the greenest fuel in shipping and will be a huge advantage for the environment. We would love other cruise companies to follow,” he added. Concerns over the atmospheric impacts of high-sulfur fuel favored by the shipping industry led the International Maritime Organization to set a 0.5 percent sulfur limit on marine fuel by 2020. A 2017 report by the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union in Germany claimed that a midsize cruise ship can use more than 100 tons of fuel a day, producing as much particulate as a million cars. The Norwegian cruise ship company is taking other steps to boost its green credentials: it has ordered three new hybrid-powered cruise liners, has banned single-use plastics from all its ships and plans on becoming carbon neutral. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Annual Picks and Pans closes 27th year of Fish Factor

This column that each week focuses on Alaska’s seafood industry will enter its 28th year in 2019. It began in the Anchorage Daily News in 1991 at the request of longtime former business editor Bill White and has appeared in the ADN ever since. Fish Factor also is featured in more than a dozen weekly papers across Alaska and nationally. The goal is to make all readers more aware of the economic, social and cultural importance of one of Alaska’s oldest and largest industries. Here are Fish Factor’s annual Fishing Picks and Pans for 2018 – a no holds barred look back at some of the year’s best and worst fishing highlights, in no particular order, and my choice for the biggest fish story of the year. • Biggest new industry potential: Mariculture. Growing shellfish and seaweeds could be a $100 million Alaska industry in 20 years, says a comprehensive state report. Kelp farms are cropping up around Kodiak and, along with food makers, the Department of Energy already has its sights on Alaska for biofuels from macroalgae. • Best fish sigh of relief: Many Gulf fishermen began using pots instead of hooks to keep whales from robbing their pricey sablefish catches, called “getting whaled.” • Best fish visionaries: Tidal Vision of Juneau, for their eco-friendly method of extracting chitin from crab shells, a first in the US. Uses for chitin range from fabrics to filters to pharmaceuticals. • Best Fish Legislators: Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, Rep. Bryce Edgmon, D-Dillingham, Rep. Dan Ortiz, I-Ketchikan • Best fish knowledge sharers: Alaska Sea Grant • Best fish giver: Sea Share, over 225 million fish servings to food banks since 1994. The program began as a way to use bycatch caught in Bering Sea fisheries. • Trickiest fishing conundrum: Sea otters vs. crab and dive fisheries in Southeast Alaska • Most earth friendly fishing town: Kodiak, for generating nearly 100 percent of its electricity from wind and hydropower, and for turning its fish wastes into high quality oils and meals • Biggest fish WTF? Rick (Rydell) Green being chosen as a special assistant to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to “restore trust” in the department. Green has no education or experience in fisheries or wildlife and was a talk show host on KENI/Anchorage since 2001. • Scariest fish stories: Ocean acidification and warming oceans • Best daily fish news site: SeafoodNews.com • Best fish watchers: Cook Inletkeeper, Salmon Beyond Borders • Best new fish economist: Garrett Evridge, McDowell Group • Best go to bat for their fish: Genuine Alaska Pollock Producers; the fishermen funded/operated Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association • Best fish motivators: The Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association’s Alaska Ocean Cluster Initiative that promotes Blue Economy business ideas and entrepreneurs. • Best fish mainstream push: The Get Ugly crab campaign by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. Older crabs with shells that are discolored, scarred or covered with barnacles can comprise 30 percent of the catch in Bering Sea fisheries. The “ugly” crab can be a turn off to buyers. “It’s what’s on the inside that counts,” the campaign says, adding that the older crab often have better meat fills. • Biggest fish bust: 25 percent tariffs on nearly all U.S. seafood products going to and from China. China is Alaska’s biggest seafood buyer, purchasing 54 percent of our seafood exports last year valued at $1.3 billion. • Best Industry Entrepreneurs: Salmon Sisters of Homer • Best eco-friendly fish feat: The removal of hundreds of thousands of pounds of old fishing nets, lines and gear from Dutch Harbor and Kodiak by Nicole Baker’s “net your problem” program. The nets are shipped to Europe where they are recycled into plastic products. • Biggest fish fake: Genetically modified salmon, aka Frankenfish • Biggest fish raised eyebrows: Offshore fish farms being proposed by the Trump Administration. Backers that include Cargill, Pacific Seafood, Red Lobster, High Liner Foods, Sysco and Seattle Fish Company are pushing a bill in the U.S. Senate called Advancing the Quality and Understanding of American Aquaculture (AQUAA) Act that will streamline the permitting process for offshore aquaculture projects. • Best new fish writers: Elizabeth Earl, Alaska Journal of Commerce; Alistair Gardiner, Kodiak Daily Mirror • Worst fish travesty: Commercial and sport fishermen get cuts every year while nearly six million of pounds of halibut are allowed to be taken as bycatch in other fisheries. It’s getting better, but still a long way to go. • Best fish assists: Every person at ADFG and NOAA Fisheries/Alaska. • Best go to bat for its future fishermen: Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, Sitka • Best fish showoffs: Alaska Symphony of Seafood, hosted for 26 years by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. • Biggest fish uncertainty: Dunleavy administration • Best fish switch: Herring taken for its roe pays $100 to $350 per ton in a fading Japanese market; herring used for food and bait can fetch up to $2,000 per ton. (While many fishermen pay over $1 per pound for bait herring from the east coast.) Time for a management shift? • Biggest fish opportunity: Turning Alaska’s three billion pounds of fish heads, skins, internal organs and other “wastes” into pet foods, nutraceuticals, pharmaceuticals, etc. An Analyses of Alaska Seafood Specialty Products report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute says using byproducts could be worth an additional $700 million or more to the industry. • Biggest fish disappointments: Salmon catches throughout the Gulf of Alaska were the lowest in 50 years in some regions. Likewise, catches of cod, halibut and Bering Sea crab also tumbled. • Best fish boosters: Alaska’s salmon hatcheries • Biggest fish story: Alaska Fish are changing their behavior in search of colder waters. No sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea led to the disappearance of the “cold pool,” a big tongue of bottom water that corresponds to the usual southward extent of the ice cover. That’s led to more than half of the cod biomass being found in regions north of the normal surveys, as well as a big plug of pollock. There also was a 20 percent shift in the density of Pacific halibut from a year ago in the northern Bering Sea. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Costs rise while values fall; season starts uncertain during shutdown

Fishermen in Alaska who own catch shares of halibut, sablefish and Bering Sea crab will pay more to the federal government to cover 2018 management and enforcement costs for those fisheries. For halibut and sablefish, also known as black cod, the annual fee, which is capped at 3 percent, is based on dock prices from the March start of the fisheries through September and averaged across the state. For this year, bills went out to 1,834 holders of halibut and sablefish shares, down by 60 from last year. Their tab ticked up from 2.2 percent to 2.8 percent to cover additional costs to maintain information systems, and yielded $4.6 million, said Carl Greene, cost recovery coordinator for NOAA Fisheries in Juneau. The combined value to fishermen of the halibut and sablefish fisheries for 2018 was $161 million, Greene said, a 22 percent decrease from last year’s payout of $208 million. “The value of the halibut fishery was down 24 percent year over year, while sablefish was down 21 percent,” Greene said, adding that the decreases stemmed primarily from lower dock prices. The average halibut price of $5.35 per pound was down from $6.32; sablefish at $3.68 per pound was down from $4.84 in 2017. Federal fish managers don’t track dock prices for the various Bering Sea crab catches, only the total value of the combined fishery, which continues its year-over-year declines. The total value of crab to fishermen for the 2017-18 season was $164 million, down $24 million, or 13 percent, from the previous year. The coverage fee for the crab fisheries, paid by just 18 permit holders, increased slightly to 1.8 percent and yielded $3 million for enforcement costs, Green added. Another group of about 18 boats that in 2016 began paying for coverage costs of their fisheries includes Bering Sea trawlers, mostly Seattle-based, that fish for flounders, pollock and other whitefish, including vessels owned by Alaska Community Development Quota groups. “The fee for these programs was less than 1 percent and were used to cover about $2 million in enforcement costs,” Greene said. Fish shutdown shaft Hundreds of boats that are gearing up for the January start of some of Alaska’s largest fisheries could be stuck at the docks due to the government shutdown battle between President Donald Trump and Senate Democrats. Nine of the government’s 15 federal departments and several agencies were shuttered at midnight on Dec. 21 when U.S. senators reached a stalemate over Trump’s demand that $5.7 billion be included for a wall of “artistically designed steel slats” at the Mexican border. The inaction by lawmakers meant funding expired for the Agriculture, Commerce, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development, Interior, Justice, State, Transportation and Treasury Departments. The shutdown sent home 380,000 workers, while more than 420,000 employees deemed “essential” will continue to work without pay. Hardest hit will be the Department of Homeland Security, said the New York Times. “Nearly 54,000 Customs and Border Protection agents and 42,000 Coast Guard employees are projected to work without pay and, as travelers flood the nation’s airports and train stations, 53,000 T.S.A. agents will keep working, as will air traffic controllers and aviation and railroad safety inspectors,” the Times reported. Also included in the work without pay list are correctional officers, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents and Weather Service forecasters. Alaska’s federally managed fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Commerce Department, which has furloughed 87 percent of its 47,896 workers. That likely includes some or all of Alaska’s fishery managers, license and permit issuers, fishery trackers, onboard observers, researchers and enforcement agents, but details are vague at best. In an untimely and unusual first, no one at NOAA in Juneau could speak about the impacts a government shutdown might have on the upcoming fisheries. All questions were referred “to the White House.” Calls and email messages to those headquarters were not returned. At NOAA Fisheries in Alaska, about 105 fishery regulators are located in Juneau, 15 in Anchorage, one in Kodiak and two in Dutch Harbor. Another 100 or so are employed in fishery research labs in Seattle, Kodiak and Juneau. Alaska’s cod fishery is set to open in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea on Jan. 1 followed on Jan. 20 by pollock, flatfish and other whitefish fisheries. The snow crab fishery, also federally managed, gets underway in mid-January. Meanwhile, no one is predicting how long the Trump shutdown will continue. On Dec. 22, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell adjourned the Senate until Dec. 27. Holiday seafood traditions For centuries seafood has taken a special spot on holiday tables all over the world and is served up with traditional meaning. One of the oldest stemming back to Roman times is the Feast of Seven Fishes, an Italian Christmas Eve celebration by Catholics to honor the birth of Jesus. The number seven is considered the perfect number and is repeated 700 times in the Bible, making the Feast of Seven Fishes a symbolic Christmas celebration. Dining tables can include seven or up to 13 different seafood dishes as a way to refrain from eating meat or milk on holy days, a long ago dietary taboo. One of the most famous dishes is baccalào or salted codfish; celebrants also feast on fried fish such as smelt and calamari. In other countries around the world: Eating lutefisk is a Christmas tradition in Norway and Sweden. It is made from dried whitefish, usually cod, that is prepared with lye in a long series of water treatments until the fish becomes jelly-like. Lutefisk dates back to the days of the Vikings. In Japan, consuming prawns on New Year’s Eve is to ensure long life, and eating herring roe is to boost fertility. Feasting on pickled herring at midnight in Germany, Poland, and parts of Scandinavia is done in hopes of bringing in a bountiful catch. In China a fish is served whole, symbolizing a good beginning and end in the coming year. One seafood that isn’t popular in holiday celebrations in many parts of the world is lobster — because it swims backwards. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

Alaska dominates annual fisheries landings report once again

Alaska is the nation’s super power when it comes to seafood. American fishermen landed just shy of 10 billion pounds of fish and shellfish last year valued at $5.4 billion, both up slightly. Of that, Alaska accounted for 61 percent of total landings (6 billion pounds) and 33 percent of the value ($1.8 billion). That’s according to the 2017 Fisheries of the US Report just released by National Marine Fisheries Service that covers all U.S. regions and species, recreational fishing, aquaculture, trade and much more. The popular annual report also includes the top 50 U.S. ports for seafood landings and values and once again, Alaska dominated the list. “The Alaska port of Dutch Harbor led the nation with the highest amount of seafood landings – 769 million pounds valued at $173 million – for the 21st year in a row,” said Ned Cyr, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration director of Science and Technology at a media teleconference. “New Bedford, Massachusetts, had the highest value catch for the 18th year in a row – 11 million pounds valued at $389 million with 80 percent coming from the highly lucrative sea scallop fishery.” The “Aleutian Islands” ranked second for seafood landings thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the nation’s largest seafood processing facility. Kodiak bumped up a notch from fourth to third place. The “Alaska Peninsula” ranked 7th and Naknek came in at No. 9. Alaska ports rounding out the top 20 were Cordova, Sitka, Ketchikan and Petersburg. In all, 13 Alaskan fishing communities ranked among the top 50 list of U.S. ports for seafood landings. The report also highlights the growing role for aquaculture in the domestic seafood industry. U.S. marine and fresh water aquaculture was valued at $1.5 billion in 2016, equal to about 21 percent of the value of the nation’s combined seafood production, with oysters, clams and salmon generating the highest value. The U.S. still imports more than 80 percent of its seafood and federal overseers are intent upon turning that tide. “The Department of Commerce and NOAA are committed to addressing the U.S. seafood trade deficit through regulatory streamlining, increasing aquaculture production and creating a better, fairer trading system for all Americans,” Cyr said. Nearly six billion pounds of fish and shellfish were imported to the U.S. last year, up 1.6 percent, valued at $21.5 billion, a 10.4 percent increase from 2016. Shrimp, salmon and tuna continued to top the list of imports. In other report highlights: • Alaska pollock accounted for 28 percent of all fish landed in the U.S. and 17 percent of the value. • Alaska accounted for nearly 98 percent of the nation’s salmon landings. • The average dock price paid to U.S. fishermen last year across the board held at 55 cents per pound. • Sport fish enthusiasts made 202 million saltwater fishing trips last year with striped bass and blue fish being the biggest catches. Only 2 percent of the anglers went to the Pacific coast. Alaska data were not available for 2017. • The U.S. seafood industry’s contribution to the economy increased slightly, according to an accompanying fisheries economic report for 2016. Commercial fisheries generated $53 billion in sales, supported 711,000 jobs and added $28 billion to the nation’s GDP, all up by 2 percent. Eat more fish! Americans ate more seafood in 2017, reaching the highest level since 2008. Per capita consumption was 16 pounds, an increase of 1.1 pounds from the year before. That’s according to the top 10 list of favorites compiled each year by the National Fisheries Institute and based on data from the NOAA fisheries report. Shrimp remained at the top of the list of favorites with Americans eating 4.4 pounds per person last year. Salmon ranked second at 2.4 pounds followed by canned tuna, at 2.1 pounds. Rounding out the top 10 were pollock, tilapia, catfish, crab, cod, clams and pangasius. Fish watch Cod catches will decline next year in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, while catches for pollock will be up in the Bering Sea and down in the Gulf. The 2019 numbers were set this month by the North Pacific Fishery Management Council for more than two dozen fisheries in federal waters from three to 200 miles offshore. The Bering Sea pollock catch got a 2.4 percent increase to nearly 1.4 million metric tons, or more than three billion pounds. Bering Sea cod catches were cut 11.5 percent to just more than 366 million pounds (166,475 mt). In the Gulf, pollock catches will be down 15 percent to 311 million pounds, a drop of 55 million pounds from this year. Gulf of Alaska cod catches will again take a dip to just over 27 million pounds, down 5.6 percent. Meanwhile, boats are still out on the water throughout the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea hauling up final catches of various groundfish for the year. The 4 million-pound red king crab fishery at Bristol Bay is a wrap, but crabbers are still tapping away at the 2.4 million-pound Bering Sea Tanner crab quota. Snow crab is open but fishing typically gets going in mid-January. Divers are picking up the last 35,000 pounds of sea cucumbers in parts of Southeast Alaska. About 170 divers competed for a 1.7 million pound sea cucumber quota this year; diving also continues for more than 700,000 pounds of giant geoduck clams. Southeast trollers are still out on the water targeting winter king salmon. Looking ahead: There will be no king salmon catches allowed next year at the Stikine and Taku rivers due to low run forecasts. A fishery for seven kinds of rockfish will open in Southeast on Jan. 5. The 55,000 pound quota can include yelloweye, quillback, canary, copper, China, tiger, and rosethorn rockfish. The 2019 Sitka Sound sac roe harvest has been increased slightly to 12,869 tons. This past season the fleet took just 2,800 tons out of the 11,128 ton herring catch. At the state’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak, the harvest for next year will be 24,430 tons, a slight increase. The year-round cycle of Alaska’s fishing industry will begin on Jan. 1. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Sisters from Homer, Chevak team up on skin care products

An Alaskan sisterhood of sorts is advancing a line of tundra botanicals mixed with the sea to create potent anti-aging skin care products bearing the best of both. A wild salmon Skin Serum is the first wellness product the Salmon Sisters have added to their popular line that features original designs on clothing and other ocean-themed goods. “We love how smooth and light it feels. There are beautiful notes of crowberries, which we picked throughout our childhood on the tundra behind our homestead to make jam and pies. It doesn’t smell fishy, but the salmon oil gives it a silkiness that feels very nostalgic of Alaskan summers at fish camp,” said Emma Teal Laukitis. She and sister Claire Neaton of Homer have become two of Alaska’s most well-known seafood industry ambassadors with features in Vogue, a Microsoft television ad, the Forbes’ 30 under 30 list, and their now famous legacy designs on XtraTuf boots. The crowberries in the serum are gathered from the tundra by the Sparck triplets, along with fireweed and Arctic sage (or “Ciaggluk,” meaning “nothing bad about it,”) explained Michelle (Macuarr’uq) of Chevak, who along with Cika (Ji-kah) and Amy (Kelama) operate ArXotica. Along with their own Quyung-lii brand, the Sparck sisters are producing the Skin Serum for the Salmon Sisters. ArXotica has gained fame since 2006 for its “Tundra Loving Care” products that “harness the unparalleled properties of extreme environment flora to create a super status skin care line.” “Right now we are working with the Salmon Sisters’ vision, and they are very good at design and packaging and marketing. We are hoping they will add their own magic touch to their skin care line,” said Michelle. “We love ArXotica products because they are made with ingredients unique to our state with a rich history of wellness and healing,” said Emma. “We have grown up with the wholistic benefits of wild Alaska salmon and their nutrients allow us to stay sharp and healthy and feel beautiful. It is a superfood for your skin!” The salmon/skin benefits have been borne out by other advocates. Famed New York Fifth Avenue doctor Nicholas Perricone’s bestselling books promise that eating wild salmon for 28 days is the cure for wrinkles and provides a “nutrition based face lift.” Scientists in Norway discovered a skin softening enzyme called zonase in the hatching fluid of salmon eggs that helps digest the protein structure of the shells without harming the tiny fish. A company called Aqua Bio Technology uses the enzyme in its AquaBeautine XL skin care lotion. ArXotica is now expanding into men’s and unisex products using their anti-aging serums mixed with ground mammoth tooth and will soon introduce a bearded seal oil item. “It’s for men’s beards. There’s no seal in it but we’re playing on an item that people still eat out in western Alaska,” Michelle said with a laugh. Naknek Plans Expo No. 3 It’s months away but plans already are underway for the third Bristol Bay Fish Expo on June 9 and 10 in Naknek. Naknek swells from about 400 to 12,000 people as the world’s biggest sockeye fishery gets underway each summer, and it’s the hub for 10 major processors and a fleet of nearly 1,000 boats. Bringing the industry and community together is a main impetus for the event; the bigger goal is to raise money for Little Angels Childcare Academy. “We are so fortunate because unlike many nonprofits that are always concerned about income, thanks to the Fish Expo we are doing very well,” said Katie Copps, event co-organizer, adding that after expenses, about $35,000 was raised for childcare last year. One of the biggest moneymakers and fan favorites is a fashion show that includes wearable art. (A brailer bag ball gown by Nomar of Homer stole the show last year.) The fashions and hundreds more donated items are sold at live and silent auctions. Last year 56 exhibitors were on the show floor and Copps said room is being made for more, along with added food booths. Donations and for the fashion show, auction and sponsors are being accepted now. Early sign ups can choose their space from a floor plan at www.bristolbayfishexpo.com/ Blue economy buzz Using robots and bioengineered bacteria to refurbish old fishing boats took top honors at the recent Ocean Technology Innovation Sprint, or OTIS, at the Loussac Library in Anchorage. The Google-inspired sprint concept, hosted by the Alaska Ocean Cluster, brings entrepreneurs together to create prototype solutions to challenges of their choice within a set time. The OTIS event attracted 16 people who split into four teams over four weeks. Team Silver’s winning First Step Marine Refurbishment prototype was designed to create more value for Alaska’s aging fleet of fishing boats and other vessels by using robotics and bacteria to remove hull fouling, pollutants and paint. Team King came up with a FishStat Alaska Wet Ruler, a phone app that manages fishing licenses and regulations, identifies fish, and more. “It measures your catch, records where you caught it — it’s an alternative to traditional methods and makes it quick and easy in the field,” said Meg Pritchard, marketing and communications manager for the AOC. Team Coho conceptualized an Alaska Marine Biotechnology Institute that focuses on uses for sea organisms and systems. The Fan Favorite was Team Sockeye’s Happy Clam Portable PSP Tester. Just swab the shellfish with a test strip and the kit tells if it is safe to eat. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is modeled after a program that began decades ago in Iceland to connect entrepreneurs, academia and businesses and bring blue economy ideas to fruition. The Alaska Cluster acts as a mentor for incubating new businesses. “For people who want to keep going we have other programs, like our Blue Pipeline Initiative and our scale accelerator that takes viable business ideas and helps them scale up,” Pritchard said. The Cluster also hosts Ocean Tuesdays, a weekly webinar platform open to all to exchange blue economy ideas in Alaska and globally. The Alaska Ocean Cluster is funded by the Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association in partnership with the University of Alaska’s Economic Development and Business Enterprise Institute. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: More cuts to halibut harvest expected in 2019

Alaska fishermen are bracing for more cuts to their halibut harvest next year. Results of this year’s surveys showed that the Pacific stock from California to the Bering Sea continues to decline, and will likely result in lower catches. “We estimate that the stock went down until around 2010 from historical highs in the late 1990s. It increased slightly over the subsequent five years and leveled out around 2015 or 2016 and has been decreasing slowly in spawning biomass (total weight of mature fish to catch) since then,” said Ian Stewart, lead stock assessment scientist with the International Pacific Halibut Commission, at its interim meeting last week in Seattle. The IPHC oversees the Pacific halibut resource and sets annual catch limits for the U.S. and British Columbia. A summary of the 2018 data show that coastwide fishery landings were about 23.5 million pounds, a low for the last decade. For Alaska, the total halibut take was nearly 16.7 million pounds, 5 percent shy of the fishery limit. Total halibut removals by all users, including bycatch, added up to 38.7 million pounds in 2018. Sixty-one percent of the catch went to commercial fisheries; recreational users took 19 percent and 3 percent went for subsistence use. Halibut bycatch in other fisheries accounted for 16 percent. Halibut bycatch in the Central and Western Gulf totaled 2.1 million pounds, nearly all taken by trawl gear. In the Bering Sea and Aleutian Islands, halibut bycatch is projected at 3.5 million pounds, primarily by Seattle trawlers fishing for flatfish. The average price at the docks for Pacific halibut this year was $5.74 per pound, compared to $6.53 in 2017. Nearly 2,000 fishermen participate in Alaska’s halibut fishery. Catch limits for 2019 will be revealed by the IPHC in Vancouver in January. Warm water watch In recent years, IPHC scientists have included ecosystem impacts in their assessments of the Pacific halibut stock, such as how the fish are reacting to warming oceans. At the IPHC meeting, Ian Stewart referenced the massive, warm blob in the Pacific Ocean from 2014 through 2017 and said remains of it appear to be hanging around. “We’ve seen a continued presence of warm surface waters through the fall of 2018. It’s not quite the magnitude of the previous blob, but it is definitely different from what would be the norm in the North Pacific,” Stewart said. “Particularly of note, and relevant to halibut in Region 4 (Bering Sea), which means halibut across the entire coast because much of the coastwide recruitment likely comes from Region 4,” Stewart added, “is the fact that there was virtually no sea ice in the winter of 2018 in the Bering Sea. And that led to no cold pool in the summer, that being a tongue of cold bottom water that extends southward, generally corresponding to the extent of ice cover in the winter time.” The lack of that cold pool, he said, has caused big behavioral changes. “It’s led to more than half the cod biomass being distributed in the northern Bering Sea north of the normal survey grid, and a northward shift as well of pollock, although not quite as extreme,” Stewart said. “We saw a shift as well in Pacific halibut on the order of about a 20 percent increase in density between 2017 and 2018 in the northern Bering Sea.” The halibut scientists also track Pacific Decadal Oscillations that show recurring patterns of ocean/atmospheric climate variability. Stewart said the PDO is used as an index of halibut productivity. “A positive PDO tends to correspond to relatively warm and relatively productive conditions in the North Pacific. On average, this tends to be correlated with the level of halibut recruitment, historically,” he said. “We have seen a period starting in 2014 of relatively positive values, with 2018 moving back to almost a neutral value.” Salmon stats The average chinook salmon caught by Alaska fisherman this year weighed 11.6 pounds and paid out at nearly $70 per fish, or more than a barrel of oil. That’s just one of the interesting stats to come out of the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game’s 2018 salmon season wrap up. The fishery ranks as one of the most valuable on record to fishermen at nearly $596 million, and at just over 114 million salmon, one of the smallest harvests in 34 years. The average ex-vessel, or dockside, price per salmon in 2018 was $5.20 per pound, up more than $2 from 2017. The average salmon price paid to Alaska fishermen was 98 cents per pound. Each sockeye salmon was valued at $7 for fishermen, on average, and it was those fish that saved the day for a fishery that was a bust Gulf-wide. Sockeyes accounted for 44 percent of the total 2018 salmon harvest and nearly 60 percent of the value. Statewide, fishermen caught 50 million reds valued at $350 million. Fewer than 9 million of the fish came from non-Bristol Bay regions where catches were the worst in more than four decades. At Bristol Bay, a catch of over 41 million reds was the second-largest ever. It also was the most valuable catch for fishermen, topping $281 million. After bonuses and postseason adjustments are added in, that could climb to more than $335 million, said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. Bristol Bay is home to the largest red salmon run in the world and the fishery accounted for 57 percent of global sockeye production this year. It’s the third year in a row that Bristol Bay has accounted for more than half of world supply. Alaska Salmon Price and Production Reports for the key sales months of July and August show a first wholesale value of Bristol Bay frozen and fresh sockeye products was 36 percent higher than last year. The average wholesale value increased from $4.01 to $4.51 per pound and sales volume increased 21 percent. Bristol Bay fishermen averaged $1.26 a pound for their sockeyes this summer, up from $1.02 last year, but 43 cents less than the average of sockeyes caught elsewhere. At Prince William Sound, sockeyes paid out at $2.71 per pound to fishermen; Cook Inlet averaged $2.27; Kodiak fishermen got $1.56 and sockeyes averaged $1.23 per pound at the Alaska Peninsula. Fishermen in other Alaska regions averaged $1.69 for their red salmon. Find more information about Alaska sockeye salmon at www.bbrsda.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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