Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: ASMI launches new marketing for old crabs

“It’s what’s on the inside that counts” is the message Alaska crab marketers are pushing to their customers, encouraging them to put appearances aside.

“We’re telling them to ‘Get Ugly,’” said Tyson Fick, executive director of the trade group, Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, speaking of the new campaign launched last week in partnership with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute at the big Seafood Expo in Boston.

The promotion showcases Alaska crabs with darker, discolored or scarred shells or adorned with barnacles, that may be less appealing to shoppers.

FISH FACTOR: Discarded nets find new use; still waiting on halibut quotas

More big bundles of old fishing nets will soon be on their way from Dutch Harbor to Denmark to be remade into high-end plastics. It will be the second batch of nets to leave Dutch for a higher cause and more Alaska fishing towns can get on board.

Last summer a community collaborative put nearly 240,000 pounds, or about 40 nets, into shipping vans that were bound for a Danish “clean tech” company called Plastix. The company refines and pelletizes all types of plastics and resells them to makers of water bottles, cell phone cases and other items.

FISH FACTOR: State’s seiner fleet still slow to adopt winch safety gear

The most common piece of gear on a seine vessel is also one of the deadliest: the rotating capstan winch used for winding ropes. Anyone who has ever worked aboard a seiner has horror stories of close calls, or worse.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI gives world buyers a taste of life in Dutch Harbor

The nation’s top fishing port welcomed seven European seafood buyers in late January — all women — and showed off its massive seafood industry during peak operations at Dutch Harbor.

The women, whose companies import more than $60 million in U.S. seafood, hailed from France, Germany, Lithuania, Portugal, Spain, and the U.K., said Hannah Lindoff, international program coordinator for the trip host Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute.

“They are interested in Alaska pollock, cod, surimi, octopus, salmon, roe, black cod and king crab,” she explained.

FISH FACTOR: Millennialls a major potential market for Alaska seafood

Millennials are now the nation’s “peak spenders” and they are gravitating towards healthier eating which favors more seafood.

“We see year over year that there is this cohort aged 35 to 54 that is going to be spending far more across categories, including food expenditures, than any others,” said Will Notini, consumer insights manager at Chicago-based Technomic, a leading market tracker for over 50 years.

FISH FACTOR: US-Canadian impasse a first for halibut allocations

As expected, catches of Pacific halibut will decrease for this year, and likely into the foreseeable future.

Following an increase in catches last year for the first time in several decades, the International Pacific Halibut Commission on Jan. 26 set a “suggested” coastwide catch for 2018 at 28.03 million pounds, a 10.7 percent reduction.

Alaska’s share could be 20.52 million pounds, a drop of 2.1 million pounds from 2017.

FISH FACTOR: Divers keep pushing for changes to Southeast sea otter plans

Sea otters and their devastating impacts on Southeast Alaska shellfish were among the many emotionally-charged topics at the state Board of Fisheries marathon meeting running from Jan. 11-23 in Sitka.

The board was set to address 153 proposals for state subsistence, commercial, sport, guided sport, and personal use fisheries for the Southeast and Yakutat regions.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood trimmings have huge uncaptured value

State seafood marketers are rebranding fish parts as “specialty” products and mapping a path for millions more dollars in sales.

Alaska’s fisheries produce more than 5 billion pounds of seafood each year. When all the fish is headed and gutted or filleted and all the crab legs are clustered, it leaves about 3 billion pounds of trimmings. Some is turned into meal and oil, but for the most part, the “gurry” is ground up and discharged into local waterways.

FISH FACTOR: Annual picks and pans

For 27 years this weekly column has featured news for and about Alaska’s commercial fishing industry. It began in 1991 in the Anchorage Daily News and now appears in more than 20 news outlets across Alaska, nationally and in the UK.

Today, Alaska fishermen and processors provide 65 percent of our nation’s wild-caught seafood, and 95 percent of the wild salmon. The industry puts more people to work than oil and gas, mining, timber and tourism combined.

FISH FACTOR: Grant funds deckhand apprenticeship program

The clamor of “take me fishing” is taking on new meaning in Alaska.

Prospects for a deckhand apprenticeship program just got a big lift from a $142,000 national grant awarded to the Sitka-based Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, or ALFA, and the group plans to get more boots on deck statewide.

Deckhand apprenticeships are recommended as one way to attract younger entrants into an industry where the average fisherman’s age in Alaska is over 50.

FISH FACTOR: Kodiak, Gulf communities brace for cod disaster

Kodiak officials already are drafting a disaster declaration due to the crash of cod stocks throughout the Gulf of Alaska. The shortage will hurt many other coastal communities as well.

Gulf cod catches for 2018 will drop by 80 percent to just under 29 million pounds in federally managed waters, compared to a harvest this year of nearly 142 million pounds. The crash is expected to continue into 2020 or 2021.

Cod catches in the Bering Sea also will decline by 15 percent to 414 million pounds. In all, Alaska produces 12 percent of global cod fish.

FISH FACTOR: Pollock push continues with Seattle food truck

Alaska pollock is the nation’s largest food fishery, usually producing more than three billion pounds each year. The flaky whitefish dominates in fish sticks, fast food sandwiches and surimi “seafood salad” blends — but most Americans don’t even know what a pollock is.

Trident Seafoods is intent on changing that by bringing the fish directly to the people.

FISH FACTOR: After rebound, halibut harvests may drop again

It’s going to be a tough year for many Alaska fishermen.

Following on the heels of announcements of a massive drop in cod stocks, the industry learned last week that Pacific halibut catches are likely to drop by 20 percent next year, and the declines could continue for several years.

That could bring the coastwide catch, meaning from Oregon to British Columbia to the Bering Sea, to about 31 million pounds for 2018.

FISH FACTOR: DiCaprio backs farmed fish to save wild stocks

Recurring news headlines that have widely circulated about alarming declines of Pacific salmon have spawned a savvy new marketing strategy that tells consumers they can help save wild fish by eating farmed.

Earlier this year actor Leonardo DiCaprio invested in a company called LoveTheWild (“a champion of sustainable, delicious fish”) that is promoting its oven-ready farmed fish dishes to U.S. supermarkets.

FISH FACTOR: Upcoming Summit tackles ‘graying of the fleet’

The biggest classes of Alaska fishermen are phasing out of the business and fewer young cohorts are recruiting in. The Alaska Young Fishermen’s Summit has convened over a decade to help stanch that outward flow, and facilitate a future for fishing leaders.

The average age of a commercial fisherman in Alaska was 50 in 2014 compared to 40 in 1980. At the same time, the number of Alaskans younger than 40 holding fishing permits fell to just 17 percent, down from nearly 40 percent of total permits across the state.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood jobs in 2016 mirrored decline in harvests

Fewer men and women went out fishing in Alaska last year, in a familiar cycle that reflects the vagaries of Mother Nature.

A focus on commercial fishing in the November Economic Trends by the Alaska Department of Labor shows that the number of boots on deck fell by 5 percent in 2016 to about 7,860 harvesters, driven by the huge shortfall in pink salmon returns and big declines in crab quotas.

Fishing for salmon, which accounts for the majority of Alaska’s fishing jobs, fell by 6.4 percent statewide in 2016, a loss of 323 workers.

FISH FACTOR: Salmon permit values soar, halibut quota slides

It’s steady as she goes for the values of Alaska salmon fishing permits, with upticks in the wind at several fishing regions.

“There’s a lot of cautious optimism,” said Jeff Osborn of Dock Street Brokers in Seattle.

As well there should be after a salmon fishery that produced 225 million fish valued at nearly $680 million, a 67 percent increase over 2016.

FISH FACTOR: Latest fishing facts by the numbers

Alaska’s fishing fleet of 9,400 vessels would span nearly 71 miles if lined up from bow to stern.

And Alaska’s fishing industry catches and processes enough seafood each year to feed every person on the planet one serving; or a serving for each American every day for more than a month.

Those are just a few of the fish facts highlighted in the annual “Economic value of Alaska’s seafood industry” report by the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute compiled by the McDowell Group.

FISH FACTOR: Dept. of Energy looks to seaweed as energy source

Kodiak is at the center of a national push to produce biofuels from seaweeds.

Agents from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, ARPA-E, recently traveled to the island to meet with a team of academics, scientists, businesses and local growers to plan the first steps of a bicoastal pilot project to modernize methods to grow sugar kelp as a fuel source.

The project is bankrolled by a $500,000 grant to the University of Alaska Fairbanks through a new DOE program called Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources, or MARINER.

FISH FACTOR: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Fishing outlooks for some of Alaska’s largest catches are running the gamut from celebratory (salmon) to relief (Bering Sea crab) to catastrophic (cod).

First the bad news.

Stakeholders were stunned to learn that surveys yielded the lowest numbers ever for Pacific cod in the federally managed waters of the Gulf of Alaska, meaning from three to 200 miles offshore. was the first to report the bad news as the North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting got underway last week in Anchorage.


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