Laine Welch

FISH FACTOR: Lasting impacts loom for seafood price, demand

The global seafood industry will experience lasting impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, including reduced demand and pricing. That is the conclusion of the State of World Fisheries and Aquaculture report produced every two years by the Food and Agriculture Organization, or FAO, of the United Nations, the only report that tracks global fisheries and food trends. This year it included a special focus on the pandemic that has toppled seafood markets and supply chains around the world. The report forecasts that global seafood production will be down 1.7 percent (6.6 billion pounds) and the trade value of seafood will decrease by nearly $6 billion. Of that, wild capture fisheries are projected to decrease by 2 percent (nearly 4.2 billion pounds), while aquaculture production is expected to decrease by 1.4 percent (2.6 million pounds). The virus impacts also have pushed down prices. The global Fish Price Index showed an 8.3 percent drop in fish prices between January and May of this year compared to the same time in 2019. The closure of restaurants has drastically curtailed seafood demand, the report said, leading to the “evaporation of food service demand in many important markets.” “Effects on retail sales have been more mixed, however, with demand for packaged and frozen products boosted as households look to stock up on non-perishable foods,” it added. “Whatever the timeframe, prolonged market downturn can be expected even after current restrictions are lifted or relaxed,” the report said. “Luxury products and species that are primarily marketed fresh and through food service will be the most heavily affected. Most seafood trade events will continue to be postponed or cancelled for some time to come.” Salmon has been the most valuable traded seafood commodity since 2013 and accounted for 19 percent of the total value of internationally traded fish products in 2018. Production growth is expected to increase, but at a much slower pace. A worldwide drop in demand for salmon of at least 15 percent is projected and retail sales are not expected to recover for some time, the FAO said, adding that retail sales of fresh salmon will be especially hit hard. More upbeat highlights: Seafood is one of the world’s most widely traded food commodities and global fish consumption has increased by 3.1 percent on average from 1961 to 2017, higher than all other animal proteins. Estimates peg global per capita fish consumption at over 45 pounds in 2018. World fisheries produced a record 212 billion tons in 2018, 5.4 percent more on average from the previous three years. The increase was due mainly to anchoveta catches of 15.4 billion pounds from Peru and Chile. Alaska pollock ranked second at 7.5 billion pounds, followed by skipjack tuna at 7 billion pounds. Global aquaculture production also reached another all-time record of nearly 252 billion pounds live weight in worth nearly $264 billion in 2018. The U.S. ranks 6th overall for marine fish captures following China, Indonesia, Peru, India, and Russia. The Northwest Pacific had the highest production at 25 percent of global landings. It’s estimated 59.5 million people were engaged in fishing and aquaculture in 2018; women accounted for just 14 percent. The total number of fishing vessels, from small non-motorized boats to large at-sea processors, was 4.56 million, down 2.8 percent from 2016. Asia still had the largest fleet, estimated at 3.1 million, 66 percent of the total. Nearly 80 percent of current landings come from biologically sustainable stocks. The Mediterranean and Black Sea had the highest percentage of stocks fished at unsustainable levels (62.5 percent), followed by the Southeast Pacific (54.5 percent) and Southwest Atlantic (53.3 percent). In contrast, the Eastern Central Pacific, Southwest Pacific, Northeast Pacific and Western Central Pacific had the lowest levels (13 to 22 percent). Too much seafood is either lost or wasted around the world, 35 percent, the UN report says. Seafood is recognized as not only some of the healthiest foods on the planet, but also as some of the least impactful on the natural environment. Fish watch Alaska’s salmon catch was nearing 8.5 million fish as of July 3; more than half were sockeyes, mostly from Bristol Bay where catches continued to build. Anecdotal reports said the average sizes of sockeye are down at Bristol Bay and the same for pinks at the Alaska Peninsula. Chinook salmon in Southeast also are smaller, according to the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The kings were weighing in at 11.7 pounds on average, down 2 pounds compared to the past five years. Trollers can catch more than 85,000 chinook salmon this summer, a 51 percent increase from last year. The summer fishery opened July 1 and was expected to last about one week. Fishermen in Quinhagak have formed a group of 70 harvesters to revitalize commercial salmon fishing in Kuskokwim Bay. The Independent Fishermen of Quinhagak Cooperative also includes members from Goodnews Bay, Platinum, and Eek who will sell to E&E Foods. It’s the first fishery since 2016 when the Coastal Villages Region Fund pulled the plug on buying local fish. Divers in Southeast continue to pull up giant geoduck clams and crabbers are into a two-month summer fishery for Dungeness based on a strong start to the season. Only 117 crabbers are on the grounds, down from 170 last summer; the price has dropped to $1.72 per pound compared to $2.97 last season. Kodiak crabbers also are dropping pots for Dungies. A red king crab fishery is open at Norton Sound, but because of concerns for the stock, most fishermen were opting to fish for cod. A golden king crab fishery opens on Aug. 1 in the Bering Sea with a 6.6 million pound quota. A ling cod fishery opened in Prince William Sound on July 1, and a herring food and bait herring fishery opened June 29 at Dutch Harbor. Scallop fishing opened in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea on July 1 with a reduced quota of 277,500 pounds of shucked meats. Almost half of that goes to the Yakutat region. Halibut landings were nearing 6 million pounds, or 36 percent of the 16 million pound catch limit. Homer leads for landings, followed by Sitka and Kodiak. For sablefish, 10.5 million pounds of the nearly 32 million-pound quota have been taken. Sitka has seen the most deliveries, followed by Dutch Harbor and Kodiak. Fishing for pollock, cod, flounders and other species is ongoing in the Gulf and Bering Sea. Catch this! Alaska Fishtopia brings previously scattered sportfishing information all together for the first time direct to mobile phones. “Literally everything you need to know about fishing in Alaska, whether you’re on the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak or wherever you’re at, you have all of the resources,” said Britt Lueck, Fishtopia marketing director. “You can also download the regulation books to your phone and you don’t have to be connected to the Internet to view them. And you can select a region and see every kind of species that you can fish for,” she explained. “And a really big piece of the app is the maps feature which has multiple layers and you can check out tides, currents, marine weather or what is the best time to fish for halibut or whatever.” Alaska Fishtopia also has a vigorous, interactive social component. “You can post pictures of the fish that you’re catching. And you can stay connected with local guides who have opportunities for you to jump on a boat if they have an open seat. We’re also promoting events and entertainment,” Lueck said. “So when I’m done fishing for the day and I want to go grab a bite to eat and maybe listen to some local music, where can I go? It brings the entire fishing community together in an app.” Alaska Fishtopia was created by Jim Voss of Alaska Boat Rental and Guide Service in Kenai. Members who pay $1.99 per year are eligible to win big prizes from local businesses all summer. www.akfishtopia.com Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Decision day approaches for Pebble mine review

The biggest red salmon run in the world is building at Bristol Bay. Up to 50 million fish could surge into its eight river systems in coming weeks, on par with past seasons. When it’s all done, the fishery will provide nearly half the global supply of wild sockeye salmon. But this summer is different. Not only due to the restrictions and fears and economic chaos caused by Covid-19. At the height of the fishery, fishermen will learn if a massive gold and copper mine that’s been hanging over their heads for two decades gets a greenlight from the federal government. In mid-July, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will unveil its federal “record of decision” on the permit application by Northern Dynasty of Vancouver, Canada, to build the Pebble mine at the sprawling mosaic of headwaters that provide the spawning and rearing grounds for the region’s salmon. Three decisions are possible for the mine: issue a permit, issue a permit with conditions, or deny the application. “As Bristol Bay’s fishermen head out to the fishing grounds for the next six weeks, we are counting on Congress to protect the 14,500 workers directly employed by the commercial salmon fishery,” said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association. “Pebble mine is a threat to Alaskan jobs, America’s food security, and a salmon resource unparalleled anywhere on the planet.” “The EPA’s own science shows that this project poses an unacceptable risk to our country’s greatest remaining wild salmon runs,” said Katherine Carscallen, director of Commercial Fishermen for Bristol Bay. “We look to Alaska’s senators for their leadership and implore the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Water Act to veto Pebble’s permit.” Such calls for help will likely go unheard. Alaska’s two Republican senators and lone congressman have staunchly stood behind the Pebble project’s right to go through a rigorous and fair permitting process and have been tightlipped about their opinions in the meantime. Now that the process is pretty much a wrap, will they finally tell Alaskans if they are “for or agin’ it?” “Congressman Young remains committed to seeing the process fully completed, but without a finished report, there is nothing that can be commented on,” responded press secretary Zack Brown. “The federal permitting process is ongoing, and until there is a decision document to review there is nothing on which to provide comment,” said Mike Anderson, Communications Director for Sen. Dan Sullivan. Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s office did not respond but she would likely express “concern.” Every survey and poll ever done has shown that a huge majority of Alaskans from all regions oppose the Pebble mine. But equivocating with constituents is the way of today’s politicians. Former Sen. Ted Stevens in 2008 stated emphatically and often: “I’m not opposed to mining, but Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place.” Love him or not, you always knew Uncle Ted’s stance on anything you asked him in his 40-year tenure in the U.S. Senate. Alaska’s current reps in Congress might not dare come clean about Pebble, but investors are wiping their hands of the project. Global investment banking firm Morgan Stanley, once the fourth largest institutional shareholder in Northern Dynasty, on March 31 sold 99.14 percent in its shareholdings in the project, reported the National Resources Defense Council and CNN Money. “While the reasons for Morgan Stanley’s recent sell-off are unknown, the global investment company is known as a strong proponent of the principle that environmental and social responsibility are essential to long-term investment success,” the NRDC said. That sell-off is just the latest of Pebble put-downs on a global scale. In 2011, Mitsubishi Corp. sold out. In 2013, Anglo American abandoned its partnership, walking away from a nearly $600 million investment. In 2014, Rio Tinto donated its shares to two Alaskan non-profits: Alaska Community Foundation and the Bristol Bay Native Corp. Education Foundation. In 2018, First Quantum Minerals walked away after five months from a $37.5 million investment and option for a 50 percent partnership. Also in 2018, BlackRock zeroed out its shareholdings. New York investment firm Kerrisdale Capital Management called Northern Dynasty’s plans “worthless,” “a value-destroying boondoggle,” “doomed,” “politically-impaired” and “commercially futile.” “The cash-strapped 100 percent owner’s desperate hope—its “business plan”—is that the issuance of a permit by the Army Corps will attract new investment, a new partner, or a buy-out,” the NRDC said. Despite its claims of a “smaller footprint” for Pebble, Northern Dynasty states on its website that its “principal asset, owned through its wholly owned Alaska-based U.S. subsidiary, Pebble Limited Partnership, is a 100 percent interest in a contiguous block of 2,402 mineral claims in southwest Alaska, including the Pebble deposit.” Every landslide begins with a single Pebble… Building a mine like Pebble (or Donlin) can be compared to building a new Alaska city. The “Pebble deposit” lies within a 417-square-mile claim block and will include an open pit, a 550 foot high tailings dam to hold roughly 30 billion cubic feet of mining wastes forever, overburden stockpiles, quarry sites, water management ponds, milling and processing facilities, a 188-mile natural gas pipeline from the Kenai Peninsula to the site, a power plant, water treatment plants, camp and storage facilities, and an 83-mile road along Lake Iliamna to haul the gold and copper to Diamond Point in Cook Inlet for shipment. (Based on a new “northern route” plan that Pebble opted for a few weeks ago.) The EPA said in a May 28 letter, “the discharges of dredged or fill material…may well contribute to the permanent loss of 2,292 acres of wetlands and other waters is anticipated, including 105.4 miles of streams, along with secondary impacts to 1,647 acres of wetlands and other waters, including 80.3 miles of streams, associated with fugitive dust deposition, dewatering, and fragmentation of aquatic habitats.” The tools of the mining trade - hundreds of huge, diesel-fueled bulldozers, blasters, crushers, trucks and other heavy equipment – kick up a lot of dust. The Army Corps says Pebble will generate nearly 16,000 tons of “fugitive dust” during mining and transports. When it’s blowing in the wind, the dust will carry copper and other particles to thousands of acres of wetlands and streams. “Increases in copper concentrations of just 2-20 parts per billion, equivalent to two drops of water in an Olympic-sized swimming pool, have been shown to impact the critical sense of smell to salmon which they use to avoid predators and to locate the stream in which they were spawned,” said Thomas Quinn, aquatic and fishery science professor at the University of Washington. In 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency ruled that a large scale mine like Pebble would be “devastating” to the world’s biggest salmon run and to the region’s culture, and special protections were provided under the Clean Water Act. The Trump Administration abruptly removed the protections in 2017, saying the move “pre-empted the permitting process.” It also got a big push from Gov. Mike Dunleavy who has made no secrets about his support for Pebble. Alaska’s Senators and Congressman supported Trump’s move. But D.C. can now step aside. The state of Alaska will make the final decision on the mine. The Pebble applicants do not own the surface rights associated with the mineral claims and all the lands are owned by the state. Notably, the claim(s) lies within the 36,000 square-mile Bristol Bay Fisheries Reserve, created by voter initiative (70 percent) in 1972 as a way to safeguard salmon from large scale oil, gas and mining projects. State law requires that the final say on permitting Pebble falls to the Alaska Legislature. Fish on! The competitions’ Take Dr. Al Gross, candidate for U.S. Senate running against Sen. Dan Sullivan: “I know the developers have scaled back the scope of the mine to try to reduce the impact, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still at the headwaters of one of the world’s most important salmon runs. And I’m worried that if they start small, that at some point in the near future they’ll push to expand it. Nothing is going to change the fact that this is the wrong mine, wrong place, and even a small risk to this state and national treasure is too much.” Alyse Galvin, candidate for U.S. House running against Rep. Don Young: “Alaska is a natural resource state and mining is a key part of our economy, however, so are our fisheries. I am opposed to the Pebble Mine Project because it is the wrong mine in the wrong location and represents too big a risk to Bristol Bay, the greatest salmon fishery in the world. We need Alaska’s representatives in Washington to once again be full-throated champions of Alaska’s fisheries.” Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Cod relief funds stall as humpy payments finally move

Unexpected upheavals stemming from the coronavirus have slowed the process of getting relief payments into the hands of fishermen and communities hurt by the 2018 Gulf of Alaska cod crash. In late February, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross cut loose $24.4 million for affected stakeholders. Then in late March, Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Doug Vincent-Lang proposed a written timeline for developing a distribution plan and also called for input from communities and fishing groups. A draft of the initial plan was intended to compile stakeholder comments in April, be revised in May, and go out for a second round of public input in June and July. But that timeframe was derailed a bit by Covid-19. Now, the state is “aiming” to get the draft distribution plan out for the first round of stakeholder and public comments by the end of June, according to Rick Green, assistant to the ADFG commissioner. There will be a month for comments, Green said, and after resulting revisions the plan will be sent out for more feedback, likely in late August. Then it will be reviewed, finalized and sent to NOAA Fisheries for approval, hopefully in September. ADFG will work with the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission to get the distribution done as quickly as possible, he added. The disaster funds will assist fishing communities affected by the cod crash by going to fishermen, subsistence users, shore-side businesses and infrastructure. Money also can be used for research activities to help improve the fishing ecosystem and environment. Pink salmon funds, finally Hopefully, the process for cod losses will move more quickly than they payout for the 2016 pink salmon failure in which more than $56 million in federal relief funds finally made it to fishermen, processors and communities in just the past few months. It includes Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat. Congress OK’d the money in 2017, but the authorization sat on bureaucrats’ desks in D.C. for more than two years. Then it was discovered that the ways in which the payouts to pink salmon fishermen were calculated was badly flawed, stalling the process even further. Salmon permit holders, who split the biggest share at nearly $32 million, were finally able to apply last October to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission which administers the funds. There were 1,318 permit holders who applied and 905 received payments, according to Karla Bush, ADFG Extended Jurisdiction Program Manager. Funds allocated to permit holders were calculated based on the loss of pink salmon ex-vessel,or dockside, value for each management area as compared to its five even year fishery average value. The disaster funds were distributed based on an area’s fishery value equal to 70.56 percent of the respective five even year average dockside value. That resulted in minimum payments of $139,200 for 464 permit holders in Southeast Alaska; $22,800 for 76 from Yakutat; $7,800 for 26 Lower Cook Inlet salmon permit holders; $97,500 for 325 at Prince William Sound; $71,400 for 238 Kodiak fishermen; $31,500 for 105 recipients at the South Alaska Peninsula; and $18,900 for 63 salmon permit holders at Chignik. Of the 2,233 crewmembers who applied for disaster funds 1,554 were eligible for payouts. According to a PSMFC fact sheet, payments to crew were deducted from a permit holder’s loss based on crew shares. For example, if a permit holder had a loss of $25,000, a crewmember listed as earning a 10 percent share would be eligible for a payment of $2,500. A total of 38 Alaska salmon processors applied for the funds and 30 were eligible, Bush said. They split nearly $18 million in relief funds, of which 15 percent of each processor’s total were deducted and distributed equally to eligible processing workers. In addition, $2.4 million was earmarked for Alaska municipalities affected by the pink crash and nearly $4 million for pink salmon research. Of that, $450,000 went to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project. The Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey was set to get $680,000 to help with pink salmon forecasting. And $2.5 million went to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2010 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast. U.S. regions that face fisheries disasters will no longer endure the years of awaiting funds if Congress passes a bipartisan bill introduced in January called the Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act, or Fishery FUNDD Act, that would improve the federal process and set a strict timeline for payout of funds. Signs of salmon trouble The total abundance of Pacific salmon in the North Pacific remains near all-time highs but there are some troubling signs. Harvests have slowly declined over the past decade, and last year showed especially low catches of some salmon species. That’s based on annual data from the North Pacific Anadromous Fish Commission, or NPAFC, which for nearly 30 years has summarized abundances and catches of salmon as reported by its five member countries: Canada, Japan, Korea, Russia and the U.S. It tracks all salmon species caught in the North Pacific, Bering Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk, and also coordinates research and enforcement. The latest NPAFC findings show that the total 2019 salmon catch was 563.3 million fish, down from 651 million in 2018. The declines were driven by several factors: Japan had its lowest chum catches since 1970 (55.9 thousand metric tons). In Canada, catches of chum, sockeye and pink salmon were the lowest since 1925 (2,973 metric tons). Even worse, for Washington, Oregon and California, catches of chinook, chum, and coho salmon were the worst on record (4,965 metric tons). In terms of who caught the most salmon, Russia took 51 percent of the total (499.2 thousand metric tons), followed by the U.S. at 42 percent (406.9 thousand metric tons), nearly all of which came from Alaska (401.9 thousand metric tons), mostly pinks and sockeye salmon followed by chums. Japan was a distant third at 6 percent (59.5 thousand metric tons), with Canada claiming just 1 percent of the salmon catch (2.9 thousand metric tons) and Korea at just 130 metric tons. Pink salmon made up 54 percent of the North Pacific catch by weight, followed by chum (24 percent) and sockeye salmon (19 percent). Coho comprised 2 percent, while Chinook salmon, was less than 1 percent of the total catch. Last year also saw record salmon hatchery releases into the North Pacific. While releases from the five nations have held at roughly 5 billion fish since 1993, they reached 5.5 billion in 2019 due to increased output from Asian hatchery. Hatchery releases were primarily chum (3,469 million, 63 percent) and pink salmon (1,357 million, 25 percent), followed by sockeye (341 million, 6 percent), Chinook (241 million, 4 percent), and coho salmon (82 million, 2 percent), The NPAFC added that “interannual variability in the total catch in North America has been more pronounced during the last decade than in previous decades, primarily because of variability in pink salmon catches.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: All systems are ‘go’ for Alaska’s fisheries

All systems are go for keeping close tabs on fish and crab stocks in waters managed by the state, meaning out to three miles. While constraints from the coronavirus resulted in nearly all annual stock surveys being cut in deeper waters overseen by the federal government, it’s “closer to normal” closer to shore. “While it’s not business as usual, we are conducting business in as close to normal fashion as we can,” said Forrest Bowers, deputy director of the commercial fisheries division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. “We have kept all of our area offices open and all of our field projects in place to monitor salmon stocks around the state this summer, as well as our projects and support for other fisheries,” Bowers said, adding that ADFG has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic “very seriously” and has had strict protection plans in place since March. The state surveys a wide range of fish and shellfish stocks each summer throughout waters in the Gulf and Bering Sea, all the way up to the Arctic regions of Norton Sound for red king crab. “We do all we can in support of the fisheries around the state because we recognize the importance to the people in Alaska and our primary objective is to keep our staff safe and protect the public as well,” Bowers added. It’s good news for fishery biologists at Kodiak who are heading out for the summer-long Tanner crab survey throughout the westward region. “We’ve modifying the schedule somewhat,” said Nat Nichols, area shellfish and groundfish manager at ADFG in Kodiak. “We’re doing two legs instead of five to minimize the number of times that the crew comes in. We also won’t be doing any of our normal ports of call into Sand Point, Dutch Harbor, King Cove, Chignik or Alitak.” The crew and three scientists, which usually totals about 10, do the surveys aboard the state-owned 95-foot stern trawler M/V Resolution and assess more than 300 stations each year at a rate of eight to 10 per day. “We came out of the shop two years ago 10 feet wider. So now we’re 95 by 36. It is a very capable platform,” Nichols said. “We tow a standard grid that has been fixed for years, and we’ve developed a really good time series since 1988.” The annual survey gets some federal funding to assess weights and lengths of any groundfish such as cod, halibut, rockfish or pollock that are hauled up but the primary focus is Tanner crab. The team is tracking the largest recruitment of Tanners they’ve ever seen, estimated at a whopping 270 million crabs. “By the time we see them in the survey they’re maybe the size of a quarter and about a year old, maybe year two even,” Nichols explained. “It’s typically about four years until we see them at legal size. Using that timing, we first saw these Tanner crab in 2018, so this group would be seen in a survey at a legal size in 2022 for a 2023 fishery.” Lots of the crab appear to be growing faster than normal and Nichols said the bulk of the pack could be ready sooner. “I think we could be seeing a good chunk, or at least the leading edge of them, legal in a 2021 survey. So that’s next summer for a 2022 fishery and it is not unlikely.” Fishing updates Salmon fisheries are popping open across the state but catches are barely registering so far. At Copper River, after four dismal fishing periods since mid-May, managers have officially called it a bust with low catches of sockeyes and kings at 69,000 and 4,000 respectively. “Most likely our next fishing period for sockeye will be in May 2021,” said Bill Webber of Paradigm Seafoods as he headed west to “the only game in town”: the Prince William Sound gillnet fisheries. Meanwhile, the reduced Copper River catch fetched record prices for its first delivery of salted sockeye salmon roe. A batch of 36 boxes (11 pounds per box) sold on June 6 for between $47.75 to $51.43 per pound at Sendai Market depending on grade, reported SeafoodNews.com. That’s 36 percent higher than last year. “Under the coronavirus situation, I was prepared for zero arrival, but local packers, technicians, and workers have carried a big risk of life to process the salmon roe. The price is a celebration and appreciation for their work,” a Sendai spokesman said. “In the midst of coronavirus pandemic, the demand for salted salmon roe for home consumption has increased and the carryover inventory from the previous season has already sold out. The sales environment is not bad, and we can expect good sales once the quantity and price become stable,” he added with an eye towards Bristol Bay. Elsewhere, Kodiak crabbers were still pulling up Dungeness crab although prices had reportedly dropped by more than a dollar from last year’s average of $2.65 per pound. That had several crabbers selling Tanners direct from the docks at $10 a pop. Southeast Alaska’s summer Dungeness fishery opens on June 15. Last year’s catch of 4.2 million pounds was the best in a decade for 200 permit holders and combined summer and fall openers set a record for fishermen at $16.3 million. Norton Sound opened for red king crab on June 15 for a 150,000-pound fishery; more will be taken during the winter season. A 5,000-ton herring food and bait fishery also is underway through June near Shaktoolik at Norton Sound. A lingcod fishery is ongoing in parts of Southeast and divers are still bringing up geoduck clams. A spawn-on-kelp fishery at Craig and Klawok yielded nearly 600,000 pounds of product for 147-pounders, the highest ever numbers for both. They won’t know the value of the unique delicacy until the fall. Halibut landings were approaching 5 million pounds out of a nearly 17 million-pound catch limit with Homer, Sitka and Kodiak the top ports for deliveries. For sablefish, the catch was pushing 10 million pounds out of a 32 million-pound quota. Sitka was way ahead of all other ports for landings followed by Kodiak and Cordova. Out in the Bering Sea, the nation’s largest food fishery — Alaska pollock — reopened for the “B” season on June 10. Fishing for cod also reopened in the Bering Sea that same day. Marine economy outpaces others A first ever analysis has measured the economic force of the nation’s marine economy, including contributions from recreation, commercial fishing, shipbuilding, seaports, beachfront hotels and other activities dependent on the oceans. A team from National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of Commerce and the Bureau of Economic Analysis looked at 10 business sectors that work on the nation’s oceans, coasts and Great Lakes between the years 2014 and 2018. Their report shows that the marine-related gross domestic product grew 5.8 percent from 2017 to 2018, and outpaced growth of the overall national economy over the five years of the study. The “ocean economy” contributed nearly $373 billion to the nation’s GDP in 2018 and “blue” businesses supported 2.3 million jobs. In announcing the report last week, NOAA said: “The statistics clarify just how dependent America is on our waters,” adding, “It is nearly impossible for most Americans to go a single day without eating, wearing or using products that come from or through our coastal communities.” Tourism and recreation, including sport fishing, topped the list of GDP contributors at $143 billion, followed distantly by national defense and offshore minerals. Commercial fishing and aquaculture ranked fifth at $13 billion to the GDP. Power generation, and research and education contributed a paltry $4 billion and $3 billion, respectively. Marine industries “poised for growth” include offshore wind energy, marine robotics, aquaculture and ocean pharmaceuticals, NOAA said. Now, for the first time, the US has ocean data that can be compared with statistics on other U.S. industries and with the ocean economies of other nations, a BEA spokesperson said, adding that “businesses, policymakers, and coastal communities can use the data as a compass as they chart the way forward.” The current report ranks sectors making the largest contributions to the nation’s gross domestic product: • Tourism and recreation, including recreational fishing ($143 billion) • National defense and public administration ($124 billion) • Offshore minerals ($49 billion) • Transportation and warehousing ($25 billion) • Living resources, including commercial fishing and aquaculture ($13 billion) • Ship and boat building ($9 billion) • Power generation ($4 billion) • Research and education ($3 billion) • Construction ($2.5 billion) • Professional and technical services ($31 million) Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Crucial fish surveys curtailed by COVID-19 precautions

Surveys of Alaska’s fish, crab and halibut stocks in the Bering Sea have been called off or reduced due to constraints and dangers posed by the coronavirus. In what they called an “unprecedented” move, NOAA Fisheries announced in late May that five Alaska surveys will be cancelled this summer “due to the uncertainties created by the COVID-19 pandemic, and the unique challenges those are creating for the agency.” NOAA said in a statement that they found “no way to move forward with a survey plan that effectively minimizes risks to staff, crew, and the communities associated with the surveys.” The annual surveys are the cornerstone of Alaska’s sustainable fisheries management and provide data on how fish stocks are trending, where they are and, ultimately, how much will be allowed for harvest each year. The cancellations include bottom trawl surveys at the Aleutian Islands, the eastern Bering Sea and the northern Bering Sea, the Bering Sea pollock acoustics survey, and the fall ecosystem survey. To reassure stakeholders, NOAA said “we are fortunate to be working in a robust management system with a long time series of fisheries and ecosystem data and stock assessment models which helps ensure there is limited conservation impact from the loss of survey data this year.” The agency also plans to use three wind-powered Saildrones equipped with echosounders to survey Alaska pollock stocks, which over 60 days will cover nearly the same area done by research vessels. NOAA also will gather data from state and industry partners and from fisheries observers. That’s small comfort to some, notably, fishing towns that count on cod. The Gulf of Alaska cod fishery was closed this year due to a collapse of the stocks from extremely warm water temperatures over several years that killed off two age classes. “We are concerned that with no surveys, the stock assessment will remain status quo and the GOA Pacific cod federal fishery will again be closed for 2021,” Alvin Osterback, mayor of the Aleutians East Borough, wrote in a letter to the North Pacific Fishery Management Council, which oversees the stocks from three to 200 miles offshore. Likewise, Bering Sea crabbers are feeling uneasy. While they “understand the constraints the agency is under given this pandemic,” crabbers worry the lack of surveys could result in more conservative catch levels. “We’re very disappointed and concerned given the status of many of our crab stocks,” said Jamie Goen, executive director of Alaska Bering Sea Crabbers, a trade group. “Our bairdi Tanner fishery was closed this past year and our red crab fishery is approaching thresholds of closing. We rely on having a survey every year.” The complex process of setting crab harvest limits already includes a myriad of built-in protection buffers, Goen said, and the lack of one data point should not add more. Goen credited NOAA’s “crab team” for working closely with the industry and said ABSC already is looking towards next year. “How can we start planning now so that this doesn’t happen again if we’re still under the same restraints with a pandemic?” Goen asked. “Generally, the government only allocates survey money for one year. Can they guarantee that we’ll have that money next year? What if there’s constraints on government staff? One of the things we can do in advance is a lot more planning for next season.” “We all need to be understanding that the whole world is adjusting to a different situation right now,” Goen added. “Our fishing industries in Alaska are suffering and it’s a lot more expensive and stressful just getting our operations out the door. We’ve all got to roll up our sleeves and help each other out and find solutions to make sure we can continue to put food on people’s tables.” Halibut surveys reduced Similarly, the annual survey of the Pacific halibut stock also will have a “reduced footprint” this summer. A total of 898 stations will be surveyed, down 385, or 30 percent, from the originally planned 1,283 stations “as a result of the impacts and restrictions that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on our field operational capacity and concern for our fishing communities coastwide,” according to a May 29 announcement by the International Pacific Halibut Commission. There are a total of 1,890 set line halibut survey stations ranging from the west coast states and British Columbia to the far reaches of the Bering Sea, and typically 1,100 to 1,200 are assessed each year, said IPHC Executive Director David Wilson. About 17 longline vessels are usually contracted to conduct the surveys; this year 11 boats will participate. The survey duration also is reduced to July 1 through Aug. 31, instead of starting in June. The areas that will forego surveys this summer include waters off California, Oregon and Washington. For Alaska, areas 4CDE in the Bering Sea near the Pribilof Islands were cut, along with Areas 4A and 4B of the Aleutian Islands near Unalaska and Adak. “We also thinned out a little bit in 3B, the Western Gulf of Alaska, and we also removed the stations off Vancouver Island,” Wilson explained. He added that low halibut prices also affected their decision to reduce stations. The fish caught are sold to cover the costs of the surveys. “We’re looking at getting paid about 25 percent to 30 percent, less than in 2019,” Wilson said. Wilson agreed that when annual survey data is missing, it increases the level of uncertainty in stock assessments. But the IPHC believes it is acceptable for one year, Wilson said, adding, “we don’t have to sample every station every year.” “We’re going to maintain sampling in the core regions where about 74 percent of the known distribution and biomass of the halibut stock resides. So it’s still going to be a robust survey,” Wilson said. “The other thing to note is that we do this on an annual basis, and I don’t think there are any other surveys of this nature on this scale which then feed into annual stock assessments. We actually ran the scenario of what happens if we don’t survey this year at all and we would still feel confident that we would have very robust estimates of spawning stock biomass and mortality limits (catch limits) for 2021.” Free salmon updates More Alaska salmon fisheries are opening up around the state and weekly updates track catches and trends in every region. “We email them out at the beginning of every week that cover the prior week’s salmon harvests statewide, broken out by region,” said Garrett Evridge, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group in Anchorage. “The goal is to provide context for what our state is harvesting relative to the prior year and historical averages and to highlight interesting things that are happening in near real time throughout the salmon season.” His team compiles the weekly salmon send outs under contract with the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, and they work closely with the Alaska Dept. of Fish and Game to get the weekly numbers out as quickly as possible. “Over the last few years, we’ve narrowed the delay from about a week to 10 days to just a few days,” Evridge said. “Fisheries are happening statewide that conclude on the weekend and by Monday and Tuesday, we’re getting that information out to everybody. So it’s near real time.” Sign up for the free weekly salmon updates at [email protected] Fish subscriptions and feeding the needy Alaskans Own, the state’s first ever Community Supported Fishery, or CSF, is celebrating 11 years of its subscription service to seafood lovers. “A Community Supported Fishery project relies on forward funding from subscribers who pay in the beginning of the season and then receive fish on a regular basis, in our case, it’s once a month,” said Linda Behnken, executive director of the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. Up to 80 local boats supply a mix of salmon, halibut, rockfish, lingcod, sablefish and more to the program. “And the idea behind it is that consumers are getting to support the small scale, community-based fishermen who are bringing them the highest quality product, and we’re keeping more of that great Alaska seafood in Alaska,” Behnken added. Just 1 percent of Alaska’s billions of pounds of seafood remains in-state, and while many of their nearly 300 subscribers are from the Lower 48, Behnken says Alaska residents make up a good chunk of supporters. Subscribers also get seafood cooking lessons via Zoom. “Most people in this country eat seafood more at restaurants than anywhere else, and many people still are daunted by cooking seafood at home,” Behnken said. “So, one of the benefits we offer to our customers is that after they get their fish, a chef will make dinner with them through Zoom.” All CSF proceeds fund ALFA’s Fisheries Conservation Network in which fishermen and scientists partner on projects like mapping bycatch hotspots, testing electronic monitoring, fuel efficiency projects and strategies to avoid longline predation by sperm whales. Shortly after the coronavirus hit, Alaskans Own also started working with the Seafood Producers Cooperative and Sitka Sound Seafoods to donate fish to needy families. “We’ve set up a system where people can contribute to support the cost of processing, the cost of delivery and the fish is donated,” Behnken said. “We’ve been supported by the Sitka Legacy Fund, Silver Bay Seafoods, Slow Fish, along with 25 individual donors.” More than 800 pounds have been delivered to local families so far and Behnken said the donations will continue into the fall. Learn more at alaskansown.com. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Grundens partners with Alaskans for recycled net fishing gear

Recycled fishing nets from Cordova will soon help launch a new clothing line by Grundens, the maker of the iconic foul weather gear “built by fishermen for fishermen for over a century.” The Copper River Watershed Project is “refreshing” its net recycling program underway for a decade that’s been backed by the Pacific Marine States Commission. Now, the program wants to broaden its base and stand on its own, said operations manager Shae Bowman. “The vision with a new program is to create a self-sustaining recycling program that is a valued asset to the commercial fishing fleet. We also want to provide a high quality product to recyclers. And we don’t want to have to be constantly chasing down grants and sources of funding,” Bowman said, adding that the project has recycled more than 200,000 pounds over 10 years. Enter Nicole Baker, founder of Net Your Problem, who since 2015 has jumpstarted net recycling programs across Alaska. Her work so far has included gathering and shipping primarily plastic trawl nets to Europe where they are recycled into pellets for sale to makers of a myriad of products from skateboards to cellphone covers. “I think the gillnet fleet is pretty dialed in, but seines are made out of the same type of plastic that gillnets are, so those two gear types can be recycled together,” Baker said. A goal is to fill a 40-foot shipping container this summer. But changes in the recycling market mean that unlike before, the nets must be clean and stripped before drop off. “You have to collect a really high quality product that somebody wants to buy,” Bowman explained. “We don’t want to collect something that’s full of garbage and that’s the problem we’ve been struggling with. I really want to get the word out that we need to recycle nets better. Our nets coming in need to be clean and stripped of any non-nylon material; that’s the cork lines, the lead lines, the hanging twine, all that needs to be removed to increase our quality.” European recyclers will turn the Cordova nets not into pellets for making other plastics, but yarn for clothing. Enter Grundens. “Our statement as a brand is ‘we are fishing,’” said Mat Jackson, Grundens chief marketing officer. “We believe it’s really important to use our brand voice and strength to help protect and maintain healthy marine environments and to lend a hand where we can. But at some point, you’ve got to just start doing it and making the process happen. And when talking with Nicole, Cordova became something that seemed like a tangible opportunity.” Jackson said the net recycling project also dovetails nicely with Grundens new clothing line. “In 2021 we are launching a full line of products from technical outerwear to more lifestyle casual items like shorts built out of “Econyl” regenerated nylon, which is largely comprised of recycled fishing nets and has been a main source that Nicole has been pursuing in terms of shipping this gear out of Alaska and into a recycler supply chain,” Jackson said, adding that he believes it is “a really powerful package.” “Our consumer base is commercial fishermen, but it also includes recreational fishermen and delivering them a product that fits their needs, performs at a high level, and is built from recycled material that our core customer uses to make a living, we just feel is an incredibly powerful message to help put the spotlight on these efforts and hopefully build a coalition around this process,” Jackson said. “Because it’s going to take more than just our brand getting involved. This really has to become an effort that the whole industry starts to embrace.” Bowman agrees. “My big hope,” she said, “is that if we can get this program to work out, it can serve as a model for other commercial fishing communities in Alaska as they look into setting up a recycling program. Seafood Council redux “Got Milk?” … “Beef – It’s What’s for Dinner!” … “Pork – The Other White Meat” … “The Incredible, Edible Egg” … those are familiar brand slogans, all backed by the producers who pitch their products with a unified voice. From livestock to fruits and dairy, most U.S. food makers have some sort of national marketing board supported by federal and industry dollars to promote their products. Seafood could soon be among them. Reviving a dormant National Seafood Council is gaining steam among industry members, especially as Covid-19 upends markets. About a year ago, Seafood Source reports that the Marine Fisheries Advisory Committee brought up the idea to restart the council. MAFAC is a federal advisory committee to the Secretary of Commerce and NOAA Fisheries. Since then, the idea has met with lots of enthusiasm, and MAFAC has formed an 11-member task force to move forward. A National Seafood Council was created by the U.S. Fish and Seafood Promotion Act in 1987. It operated for five years before running out of money and becoming quietly defunct. MAFAC members agreed that if any food could now benefit from more consumer education, it’s seafood. A National Seafood Council could help with marketing, research, and educational awareness for all U.S. fish and shellfish products, both farmed and wild. It also could improve consumer confidence by allaying concerns about seafood safety and sustainability, and highlighting its many proven health benefits. The MAFAC committee’s first task is to define what direction a promotional council could take. Another is checking the language in the 1987 Act to make sure it is meeting the needs of today. The core mission would be simple: to get Americans to buy and eat more seafood. Patron saint of salmon As Alaska’s salmon season gets underway, it seems appropriate to acknowledge the patron saint of salmon: Saint Kentigern of Scotland. Born long ago in 518, Kentigern was the illegitimate son of a king’s daughter. He trained as a priest at a monastery, where his sainthood evolved around a dangerous love-triangle. Legend has it that the king suspected his wife of having an affair, because she had given one of her favorite rings to a court favorite. The king took the ring when the man was sleeping and threw it far out into the River Clyde. When he returned home, the king angrily demanded that his wife show him the missing ring and threatened her with death if she could not produce it. In her misery, the queen beseeched the priest Kentigern to help her. Kentigern took a fishing rod to the spot where the ring had been flung into the river and quickly caught a salmon. Amazingly, upon cutting it open the ring was found in the salmon’s belly. The queen was able to deliver the ring to her doubting husband and peace was restored. From the time of his death in 603, Kentigern was regarded as Scotland’s patron saint and the cathedral at Glasgow was built in his honor. To this day Kentigern’s figure and symbols, including a salmon, make up that city’s coat of arms. So who knows? Perhaps a quick prayer to the patron saint of salmon will lead more fish to your nets. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fishermen weigh in on best coronavirus relief ideas

A rapid response by nearly 800 Alaska fishermen will provide a guideline for giving them a hand up as the coronavirus swamps their operations. An online survey from April 14 to May 3 by Juneau-based nonprofit SalmonState asked fishermen about their primary concerns both before the COVID-19 outbreak and in the midst of the pandemic in April. It also asked what elected officials at local, state and federal levels can do to help them directly. More than half of the 817 responses came in over four days, said SalmonState communications adviser Tyson Fick. “Clearly, people were interested to have their stories heard and to weigh in. In several ways we feel like we had a very broad swath of regions and gear types and fishermen,” he said. A total of 779 responses (95 percent) were accepted of which 50 percent were Alaska residents, 28 percent were from the Lower 48, and 22 percent did not provide resident information. Nearly 95 percent said they participate in a salmon fishery, with the majority fishing for both salmon and a mix of nearly all other species commercially harvested in Alaska. Some takeaways: Prior to COVID-19, the top three concerns among fishermen were fish prices (65 percent), the Pebble mine (60 percent), and climate change (53 percent). After COVID-19 hit, concerns shifted to loss of income (75 percent), preventing the spread in coastal communities (69 percent), and bad policy decisions being made while fishermen are distracted (58 percent). Fishermen are combatting the negative impacts by using a combination of strategies while doing more work with less time and resources. More than half said they would look for non-fishing related work, 27 percent said they would fish a longer season, and 26 percent plan to fish with fewer crew. Nearly a quarter expect to venture into direct marketing or increase dock sales. Just more than 4 percent said they would sell their fishing businesses. By far, affected fishermen said giving them direct payments from emergency relief funds would be the biggest help (82.7 percent). The second- and third-most popular options were favorable debt consolidation opportunities (33.2 percent) and debt forgiveness (28.6 percent). Fishermen provided thoughtful responses when asked about actions of policy makers that revealed several themes. At both the congressional and state levels, stopping the Pebble mine was the most frequent request, at 24 percent and 18 percent, respectively; keeping fisheries open also was a top issue. For Gov. Mike Dunleavy and the Alaska Legislature, respondents said they should focus on COVID-19-related health and safety support for fishermen and provide help with marketing. Fishermen also shared their perceptions of the Dunleavy administration, saying it favors other interests over commercial fishermen, naming mining, oil and gas, and sport and personal use fishing. At the local level, fishermen expressed confusion over unclear guidelines for following local health mandates and suggested that signs at airports and boatyards along with a one-page guidance document would be helpful. They also mentioned that local communities should do all they can to support processors and their workforce. Fishermen also shared ideas on local taxes and harbor fees, and changing infrastructure to include things like cold storages in recognition of dynamic market patterns. Less than half of the fishermen respondents are members of a commercial fishing organization or trade association and the survey brings their voices into the conversation, said Fick. “These are frontline workers, small business owners who are pretty tight lipped and they don’t have fancy spokespersons or lobbyists speaking on their behalf. So they often just get left out,” he added. The goal now is to get the goods into the hands of those making the decisions on how COVID-19 relief funds are spent and invested. “Our commitment was to help get these results to decision makers on behalf of fishermen,” said SalmonState campaign strategist Lindsey Bloom. “We will do our best to get the information out as far as wide as possible for the fleet.” The fishermen’s survey is a project of the group’s Salmon Habitat Information Program. Find it at www.alaskasalmonhabitat.org Kelp farms sprout Interest continues to grow for startups of shellfish and seaweed farms, and in more remote regions of Alaska. Eighteen growers put in applications for new or modified farms in the 2020 time slot that runs from January through April, an increase of three from last year. Fifteen plan to grow kelp only, two aim to grow oysters, and one will farm kelp and geoduck clams. Most of Alaska’s growing operations occur in Southeast, near Homer and at Prince William Sound, but the trend is heading west, said Karen Cougan, Aquatic Farming Program Coordinator for the state Department of Natural Resources, which leases the farm tidelands. Kodiak pioneered the first kelp harvests in 2017 and could soon have more than five farms operating around the island, including one by the Afognak Corp. Sand Point is the first to grow kelp on the Alaska Peninsula, and this year an application came in from Adak. In all, Alaska has 70 open farm permits, which include eight with nurseries and five hatcheries to provide seed stock to aquatic farmers. In 2019, Pacific oysters were the biggest crop, making up 95 percent of sales of $1.5 million, up slightly from the 10 year average. For sugar and ribbon kelp, a crop of 112,000 pounds — up from about 17,000 pounds two years ago — was valued at $60,000. The advantage of kelp is the short grow-out time, said Flip Pryor, Aquaculture Section Chief for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, which issues the permits. “While interest is high, kelp farming production is just starting to come online,” Pryor said. “The growing process is pretty straight forward, but it sometimes takes a couple of tries to work the proverbial bugs out of each farm site. I expect to see that value increase significantly in the next couple of years.” Alaska’s mariculture task force predicts a $100 million industry by the year 2040. Halibut scholarships High school students who feel a special pull for halibut might merit a scholarship to a university or technical college. Every two years the International Pacific Halibut Commission funds several $4,000 scholarships to U.S. and Canadian students connected to the halibut fishery. The IPHC and its scientists have been stewards of the Pacific stock from British Columbia to the Bering Sea since 1923. “If I was to highlight some of the candidates who’ve been successful in receiving the scholarship, it’s been those who are dependents of active fishers within the directed Pacific halibut fleets, but we will certainly consider others if they are involved in charter or recreational fishing,” said IPHC executive director David Wilson. “We look at candidates from a broad spectrum of backgrounds, and somebody who expresses the desire or is more likely to come back to the industry postgraduate.” The scholarships are renewable annually for the normal four-year period of undergraduate education. The IPHC also offers other outreach teaching tools for all school ages. An Ocean Literacy Program package is downloadable, including lesson plans. And the colorful Flat or Fiction booklet is a keeper for any halibut lover! For example, did you know that the treaty that formed the IPHC was the first international treaty in the world for the protection of a marine resource? Back to the halibut scholarships: they will be available for school entrance or continuation this fall. Deadline to apply is June 30. Find applications at the IPHC website under opportunities. Questions? Contact [email protected] or 206-634-1838. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Efforts at seafood industry relief continue in Congress

Giving COVID relief funds to the seafood industry and stepping on the gas for offshore fish farming are two big takeaways from the executive orders and congressional packages coming out of the nation’s capital. Recent news that Alaska would receive $50 million from the $300 million fisheries relief funds in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act was well received by industry stakeholders and it’s likely to be followed by more. A May 15 hearing titled “COVID 19 impacts to American Fisheries and the Seafood Supply Chain” was scheduled by the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee to focus on the lack of assistance for harvesters and processors. A bipartisan group of 49 House members also has pushed for at least $2 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase domestically caught and processed seafood and to distribute it through food assistance programs, as the agency does for agricultural products. Likewise, a group of 25 Senators is trying to get an additional $3 billion for the seafood industry from the next relief package. A new bill called the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions Act would add another $3 trillion to overall relief assistance. While it builds on the CARES Act, critics claim it does little for the seafood industry except to give NOAA another $100 million to aid fishery participants. Undercurrent News reported that President Trump called the HEROES bill “dead on arrival” saying it contains too many unrelated priorities, such as expanding access to mail-in ballots. Somewhat lost in the particulars about relief payouts is the federal government’s renewed push and strict guidelines for expanding U.S. aquaculture. The May 7 executive order by Trump that cut loose the first batch of fishing funds also calls for an update to the 2017 National Aquaculture Development Plan in order to “strengthen domestic aquaculture production and improve the efficiency and predictability of permitting.” It states that “more than 85 percent of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported” and outlines rigorous ways and timelines to turn that around. It also designates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as the lead agency for aquaculture projects from three to 200 miles offshore. Among other things, the order calls for a “guidance document” within eight months that describes regulatory requirements for aquaculture operations and identifies grant programs. It also removes barriers to permitting and calls for a proposed U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “nationwide permit authorizing finfish aquaculture activities” within 90 days. Within one year, federal agencies, fishery management councils and states are required to identify at least two “Aquaculture Opportunity Areas” suitable for commercial operations. And within two years of identifying those areas, agencies must complete an environmental impact statement, and come up with two additional opportunities to be developed in the following four years. Finally, Trump’s order calls for the establishment of a new Seafood Trade Task Force that will, within 30 days, create a new agency to promote American seafood internationally, resolve technical barriers to U.S. seafood exports, and support fair market access for US products. (Suggestion: start with the seafood trade imbalance with Russia. Russia has not purchased a single pound of U.S. seafood since 2014, yet the value of Russian imports to the U.S. has grown 70 percent since 2014. The amount has tripled to nearly $670 million since 2016.) Tim Bristol, director of SalmonState, agreed with the need to maximize the value of our country’s seafood industry, but called Trump’s order “the wrong approach.” “It ignores the fact that America already has healthy wild fisheries generating billions of dollars in revenue and providing hundreds of thousands of jobs. We should be investing our resources in what we already have and better maximizing the value of our fisheries to American communities rather than displacing hard-working fishing families with open-water feedlots and fooling ourselves into believing that farmed fish will solve all of our problems,” he said in a statement. Fish farming is banned in Alaska although growing shellfish and seaweeds is permitted. At a U.S. Department of Commerce hearing in 2018, Sam Rabung, director of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s commercial fisheries division, said: “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.” Copper River salmon slump It was slow going for the May 15 fishery at Copper River, which marks the official start of Alaska’s salmon season. Just more than 3,000 fish crossed the docks (1,491 sockeyes; 1,646 Chinook) by 337 deliveries in a 12 hour opener. Prices tanked for the famous “first fish” that usually fetch the highest prices of the year. Fishermen reported a base of $3 per pound for sockeye salmon and $6 per pound or slightly more for kings, for starters. That compares to record prices in 2019 of $10 for sockeyes and $14 for kings, respectively. Instead of the usual diners at high-end restaurants getting the first tastes, front line workers at Seattle’s Swedish Hospital were the first to be treated to the prized fish the day after the fishery. A partnership of Seattle chef Tom Douglas, Alaska Airlines, Trident Seafoods, Ocean Beauty Seafoods and the Copper River Marketing Association provided 200 salmon meals to the nurses, doctors, and other medical professionals, reported SeafoodNews.com. On May 17, the same group organized a Grilling for Goodwill event in Ballard, featuring a special $45 Copper River salmon meal for pick up with 100 percent of the proceeds donated to Food Lifeline. Letter to the fleets As thousands of boats head to the salmon grounds, everyone knows it’s not business as usual. United Fishermen of Alaska has penned a letter to the fleets with a concise list of the new rules in place during the COVID plague. Above all, you must know what is required of you and have a plan to implement the protocols, wrote UFA president Matt Alward of Homer, adding: “As a vessel operator, you are responsible for your crew’s compliance with the mandate.” “We also need to understand if there’s any local rules in the communities that we’re fishing in, and on top of that, if some of the boat yards or harbors or even the supply stores and whatnot have their own rules that we should follow,” Alward said in a phone interview. “If your crew’s coming from out of state, it’s important to have already figured out how and where you’re going to quarantine and how you’re going to get food and supplies without breaking quarantine. The quarantine part for those coming from out of state I think is by far the most important thing to really protect our communities and ourselves from bringing the virus in.” What about those who refuse to wear masks? Alward said contracts with his crew require that they follow all mandates and not doing so is grounds for termination. “They don’t have troopers running around making sure everyone’s following this. It’s really upon ourselves to self-regulate,” he said. “If someone sees crew members from another boat running around town without masks and violating the rules, it’s going to get the whole industry in trouble with the community. Fishing is a privilege, not a right, and we have to respect the community we fish in. The hope is everyone will comply.” Find the UFA letter and get COVID fishing updates at www.ufafish.org. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Alaska halibut getting battered by foreign imports

Sales of Alaska’s most popular seafoods are being hit hard by markets upended by the coronavirus, but perhaps none is getting battered worse than halibut. Along with the big losses in the lucrative restaurant trade, Pacific halibut also is facing headwinds from increasing foreign imports. Starting three years ago, sales of fresh Pacific halibut to established markets on the East Coast were toppled by a flood of less expensive fish flowing in primarily from eastern Canada. Trade data show that for 2019 through February 2020, total Canadian halibut imports to the U.S. topped 15.3 million pounds for which the U.S. paid nearly $107 million. “It is taking over the eastern seaboard and also is being trucked from Boston to major middle American markets such as Chicago and Denver. It’s very hard to sell Alaska halibut to these traditional markets now. The Canadian product is cheaper and is available nearly year round,” said a marketer with more than 30 years of experience in selling halibut from Southeast Alaska, speaking on condition of anonymity. “All of a sudden, an important market that paid a good price for fresh halibut has disappeared,” he said. “Rule of thumb is generally, sell fresh make a profit, freeze halibut, lose money.” Earlier this year, fresh farmed Atlantic halibut was spotted for sale at $9.99 per pound at a Costco near Seattle. Total global production of farmed halibut is only 4.4 million pounds, of which 3.5 million comes from three farms in Norway. (The remainder is from Scotland, Canada and Iceland.) From 2019 through February 2020, the U.S. bought nearly 2 million pounds of wild caught and farmed halibut from Norway for $10.5 million. Alaska’s losses in fresh sales are combined with huge hits in the West Coast frozen market. That’s due to another newcomer: increasing imports of halibut caught by Russians and processed in China. “Halibut is not consumed by Asians nor Russians so they target the U.S. The Russian halibut is mostly fished longline, dressed collar and tail off and frozen in blocks at sea. They off load in Busan and auction it to processors for making into fillets,” he said. The fish then goes to the U.S. and Canada for resale at prices that undercut all others. “I have been calling end users and distributors trying to find placement for our Alaska product in the frozen fillet form. But the Russian product has taken over,” he wrote in an email. “I visited a customer in Vancouver and he showed me some Russian/Chinese skinless halibut fillets he had bought in the low $6s. Alaskan fillets, for reference, needed to be in the $13s to recoup costs. He mentioned that most of his customers have switched to the less expensive imported. I spent weeks calling fish and chip shops that have always used Alaskan and they prefer not to cut in house but use the imported twice frozen fillets,” he said, adding that Canada is where most of Alaska’s larger frozen halibut (60+ pounds) has gone over the last few decades.” Other market watchers agree that the appearance of Russian halibut is a new twist to conventional market trends. “We started seeing increased Russian production about a year and a half ago when it started to pop up in the data,” said Garret Evridge, a fisheries economist with the McDowell Group. “We were wondering where that volume was going, but given the difficult nature of trade data, we didn’t have a firm grasp. Now we see that some of that harvest is making its way into the U.S. It is a relatively new development,” The Russian/Chinese fish also makes an end run around trade tariffs of up to 25 percent imposed two years ago by the Trump Administration. “A lot of the product used to come in through Seattle, but since the USA imposed the duties for Chinese processed halibut coming into this country, a lot comes into Vancouver, thereby avoiding the duty,” said the marketer. The volume coming in from Russia has been tricky to track once it enters the “black box of China,” said Evridge who added, “Then our data really falls apart. But we understand that Russian Pacific halibut entering China can make its way to the U.S. through a variety of ways.” And the Russian imports are increasing. “In 2019, we saw about 2 million pounds of frozen Russian caught halibut imported into the U.S. The year prior it was 140,000 pounds. Through the first two months of 2020, we’ve imported about 420,000 pounds, so it’s trending higher. For a relatively low volume fishery and for U.S. markets 2 million pounds is pretty substantial,” Evridge said. Trade data show that the U.S. paid nearly $6.7 million for 2 million pounds of Russian caught halibut from 2019 through January 2020. The foreign fish also get the benefit of more favorable exchange rates. “The Russian ruble has weakened against the U.S. dollar by about 14 percent. If I’m a U.S. buyer, there’s a 14 percent discount. The ruble is also weak against the Chinese yuan, so if I’m a Chinese buyer, bringing that product in is relatively affordable. That’s another thing that that we struggle with,” he explained. Tariffs of up to 25 percent are in place for most seafood both coming and going to China, and Russia has not purchased a pound of U.S. seafood since 2014. Meanwhile, Alaskans have 17 million pounds of halibut to catch this year and landings so far are down 60 percent. With deflated markets and dock prices in the $3 to $4 range, there’s not much motivation to go fishing. Salmon starts! Alaska’s salmon season officially kicks off on May 14 at Copper River near Cordova with the arrival of kings and sockeyes. Other salmon fisheries will quickly follow. Alaska’s total 2020 salmon catch is projected at just less than 133 million fish, a 36 percent drop from the 208 million fish taken in 2019. The state’s largest herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay opened on May 3. Icicle is the only buyer for a haul of nearly 39,000 tons of herring caught for their roe. Kodiak’s roe herring fishery is still underway with catches topping 1,500 tons. The price was reported at $300 per ton. A small, one-day-a-week herring fishery is underway at Upper Cook Inlet through May 31. The UCI’s 200 ton smelt fishery runs from May 1 through June. Dungeness crab opened around Kodiak on May 1. Southeast Alaska’s longest ongoing fishery — beam trawling for pink and sidestripe shrimp — opened on May 1 with a catch quota of nearly 1.8 million pounds. A pot shrimp fishery opens on May 15 with a 32,000-pound quota. A lingcod fishery is underway and Southeast divers are still going down for giant geoduck clams. Trollers will be out on the water this month targeting hatchery kings in several regions. At Prince William Sound a second opener for big spot shrimp was set to wrap up on May 9. The total catch by 60 boats will come in at just more than 68,000 pounds. Just more than 2 million pounds of halibut has been landed since the mid-March opener. Sablefish catches at just more than 5 million pounds also are down. The Bering Sea snow crab fishery is wrapping up with a 30.6 million-pound catch. Final prices won’t be settled until July. And as always, catches for cod, pollock, flounders and much more are ongoing in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Get mugged Mug Updates tell Alaska fishermen how to navigate the strict COVID-19 mandates in place for salmon season. The updates are provided by the Alaska Fishermen’s Network, an arm of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. “The purpose is to help you dip your toe in and give you a roadmap for some information to prepare for this upcoming salmon season and for fisheries that are currently ongoing,” said Jamie O’Connor, Network director and a longtime Bristol Bay fisherman. COVID puts the kibosh on parties in the boatyard, the Mug Updates advise, and include simple suggestions like using paper dishware and changing up your galley game with gloves and masks for making meals. “Basics of sanitation and hygiene are huge,” O’Connor stressed. “I think when people are putting together their grubstake, whether they’re putting in a barge order for their summer in the community or they’re going fishing, it’s important that they flag some of these little things to put in their shopping cart. It can make a world of difference.” From what she’s hearing, O’Connor said fishermen “are committed to doing things as safely as possible.” “I’m also hearing a real concern for our supply chain, and people are very aware of the important role we play as food producers,” she added. “Keeping informed is vital right now,” she said, “and we’re doing our best to make that as understandable and digestible as possible. We’re also helping people work through the decision process about whether they are able to fish this season or sit this one out.” The Mug Updates tell it straight about salmon fishing during the COVID pandemic: Play by the rules or everyone gets sent home. Find the Updates at www.akyoungfishermen.org and on Facebook. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Virus fallout shaping value of fishing permits

The value of Alaska salmon permits is another casualty of the coronavirus with prices dropping for all fisheries across the state. There are a lot of permits for sale, and the most offers ever to lease permits, especially at Bristol Bay. The virus has changed everything, said Doug Bowen of Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. “There’s so much uncertainty about if there will even be a salmon season here and there, and if so, what kind of a price can be expected and so on. I can’t think of one salmon permit that is going up in value. And if there are different permit values that have not gone down, it’s simply because they’re not selling,” he said. Prices for the bellwether drift net permits at Bristol Bay are all over the place, he said, but well below last year’s high of $195,000. The 2019 fishery produced the second-highest harvest of all salmon species combined, and the highest value ever to fishermen at $306.5 million. “We sold quite a few Bay permits at that price and then the market softened a bit after the excitement died down, and we sold a number of them in the $180,000 range. Since the news of the virus broke, they’ve sold in the $150,000 range, and we just sold one recently for $165,000 and then the next one for $159,000. They are all over the map but the trend is unmistakable and it’s down. And that’s the same story with all the salmon permits,” Bowen said. Bowen’s brokerage lists 26 Bristol Bay drift permits for sale of which eight are offered for lease as Emergency Medical Transfers, or EMTs, in the $18,000 to $25,000 range. That’s perhaps the most eye-raising twist in this time of pandemic: the number of EMTs listed for Bristol Bay this summer. Dock Street brokers, for example, has 18 Bristol Bay drift permits listed, of which half are EMTs; Permit Master lists similar numbers. Of the six permits on the board at Alaskan Quota and Permits in Petersburg, four are EMTs. “Folks that are down in the Lower 48 are having trouble making arrangements or either can’t or won’t travel up here and they’re leasing their permits out,” Bowen said, adding that the same applies to out of state holders of Alaska halibut and black cod quota shares. “It’s not a selling issue. It’s just a temporary arrangement that someone else can go out and use your permit for the season. This year we’re seeing more folks using COVID-19 as a reason for transferring their permit or their quota on an emergency basis,” he explained. The upturned food market also has more industry stakeholders talking about increasing canning of salmon this summer to feed the need for more shelf stable proteins. While it’s a valuable market, cans have the lowest value of all salmon products. “Not many are going out for dinner and that restaurant trade was largely responsible for some of the great prices we’ve seen for seafood here for many years,” Bowen said. “And I think it’s going to take a while for those restaurants to reopen and for folks to feel confident to go out and sit down and enjoy a great seafood dinner with Alaska salmon, halibut, or whatever. It is just the times that we find ourselves in and there’s so much uncertainty about the virus. I think that’s why you see so many permits on the market.” New tool saves fuel A new online tool helps fishermen tap into how they can make their vessels more fuel efficient. It’s dubbed the Fishing Vessel Energy Analysis Tool and it was grounds tested in longline, seine, gillnet, troll and pot fisheries. From 2015 through 2018 the FVEAT was installed on nearly 50 vessels, said Chandler Kemp, an energy consultant with Nunatak Energetics who helped design the user-friendly fuel saver. “During the course of the project, we installed data loggers and strain gauges and measured all the different types of energy loads on the vessels. The tool compiles that information and puts it in a format that that we hope will be useful to people,” he said. A user simply enters data about the boat, its fisheries and operating patterns and the readout gives estimates on what fractions of fuel go through the different loads. “For example, it will give an estimate of how much energy goes to a refrigeration or freezer system versus propulsion versus electrical loads on the boat,” Kemp explained. Outputs also include hydraulics systems and hybrid propulsion options, which Kemp said can be a fuel saver in several fisheries, notably, trolling and gillnetting. “When the propulsion engine is doing very little work and you’re idling along at a low speed, maybe even deploying some drag bags to help slow down the boat, or you’re just drifting with the net. In those cases, it can make sense to have even a little electric secondary propulsion system. That would allow you to turn off that main engine during times when the load is really low,” he said. The Energy Analysis Tool is loaded with short videos. It’s free online at the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation website, a project partner along with Sea Grant, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association and Navis Energy Management Solutions. Fish voice counts Scientists who track Alaska’s fish stocks will soon get an assist from voice recognition software that can handle the rigors of an often sloppy job at sea. During yearly trawl surveys each summer in the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea, scientists must identify, sort and weigh hundreds of species quickly and accurately. These long-term studies are vital to keeping Alaska’s fisheries healthy and sustainable. Until 2013, scientists wrote the results on paper forms as they worked on deck, then switched to computer tablets to digitally record the data. But salt spray, rain and lots of fish slime caused the tablets to act erratically and freeze up. The solution? Voice recognition. NOAA’s Alison Vijgen is leading a NOAA team that is working with an Ohio-based company called Think A Move, Ltd, or TAM, which specializes in voice recognition software in noisy environments. Together they are developing an application for Alaska’s fish surveys. Tests so far at sea using eight different voices have worked on 350 of the most frequently encountered fish species. The response has been positive enough to get the software fine-tuned for use in surveys this summer. It will include coverage of the nearly 3,000 species found in Alaska’s waters. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Seafood industry gets $300M in relief under disaster bill

The U.S. seafood industry received a $300 million assist from the $2 trillion COVID-19 relief package passed by Congress on March 27, and a wide coalition of industry stakeholders is hoping for more. Fishery recipients in the relief bill include Tribes, persons, communities, processors, aquaculture and other related businesses. SeafoodNews.com reports that those eligible for relief must have “revenue losses greater than 35 percent as compared to the prior 5-year average revenue, or any negative impacts to subsistence, cultural, or ceremonial fisheries.” The funds will be provided on a rolling basis within a fishing season through Sept. 30, 2021. Two percent can be used for administration and oversight activities. The package follows a bipartisan letter sent on March 23 to Congress by Democratic Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Alaska’s Republican Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan. They asked, among other things, that fishermen be able to collect unemployment insurance, get help with vessel loan payments and ensure that the global pandemic does not compromise management of U.S. fisheries. Also last week a coalition of nearly 200 seafood stakeholders sent a 12-page letter to the White House and Congress asking the government to purchase at least $2 billion worth of seafood and provide another $1.5 billion in relief for businesses and fishing communities. The letter states that nearly 70 percent of the more than $102 billion that consumers paid for U.S. fishery products in 2017 was spent in dining out as opposed to eating it at home. As a result, they said that for many fisheries the sudden shutdown of restaurants and other storefronts has caused demand to evaporate overnight, “threatening the economic viability of the entire supply chain.” Undercurrent News reported that the letter also asks the government to appropriate a minimum of $500 million to purchase surplus seafood that can be shipped overseas or supplied to U.S. hospitals and state and local government programs. And while the Department of Homeland Security has declared that fishermen and processing workers are “essential critical infrastructure,” the letter asks that support staff also receive the same designation in order to continue operations amid any self-quarantine orders. The stakeholders also urge the government to launch a “Buy American” campaign to promote consumption of seafood, along with expedited visa plans that will help to quickly staff and reopen businesses and fishing operations when travel restrictions are reduced. Meanwhile, in Alaska the Governor’s Economic Stabilization Task Force is organizing a fisheries subcommittee to address safety provisions. Staff at the office of Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, is in contact with Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration about forming groups to report on the needs of each region. Fish for the needy Eighteen truckloads of more than a half-million pounds of donated breaded pollock portions went to 16 food banks in 12 states this month, and more seafood is on its way. “We did a press release and it’s actually grown to the point that another company, Gorton’s Seafood, has come up with 120,000 pounds at cold storages around the country. Our donors are so generous and everybody’s calling and asking how they can help. It’s rewarding to be in this business right now,” said Jim Harmon, executive director of SeaShare, a nonprofit that works with fishermen, processors, logistics and distribution partners to provide top quality seafood to Feeding America, a network of 200 large food banks in every state that services up to 500 smaller agencies. SeaShare dates back to the early 1990s when Bering Sea industry members banded together to turn mandatory discards of groundfish (bycatch) into frozen portions for food banks. “We’ve been doing it for 25 years and grown to the point where bycatch represents only about 10 percent of our total donations,” Harmon said. Products have broadened to include a wide variety of species, such as salmon, shrimp, rockfish, halibut, catfish, and tilapia. Most are frozen although canned and other shelf stable items are included. SeaShare also distributes seafood throughout Alaska where industry donations have put freezers in hub centers such as Bethel, Dillingham and Juneau. The fish is then sent to over 30 remote communities. During the coronavirus crisis the less fortunate are especially at risk, Harmon said, and SeaShare is getting requests for fish from all over the world. Anyone with products available in any quantity as a donation or at a low cost is encouraged to contact SeaShare as it has some resources to help access seafood that might not be available for free. “We’re asking everyone we know to pull on the oar with us,” Harmon said. “We’re hoping that getting the message out about the 18 truckloads of pollock and the 120,000 pounds from Gorton’s will resonate with others and get people thinking about how they can get on board.” “I’m so thankful and proud of our seafood partners who really come together when emergencies happen. It also takes financial support along with the efforts by seafood processors and fishermen,” Harmon added. A donation of just one dollar provides eight servings of seafood. See more at www.seashare.org. PWS aims to expand fisheries Prince William Sound’s Tanner crab fishery has been underway since March 2 for the third year running. Sixteen boats have pulled up more than 54,000 pounds so far fetching $3.50 per pound. That’s about half of last year’s 124,000-pound catch. “Things are going well and we’ll just let it click along and we’ll be monitoring it every day,” said Jan Rumble, PWS and Cook Inlet manager for shellfish and groundfish for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game at Homer. A test fishery also is underway in unfished areas in hopes of eventually expanding the Tanner fishery. “We’re collecting information and we’re hoping to combine that with our trawl survey data and historical harvest information to provide a more expansive harvest strategy than what we have in regulation currently,” Rumble said. Tanner crab fishermen also are recording the numbers and where they pull up golden king crab to provide more data for a potential fishery. Goldens appear to be on an upswing in some areas, but no stock assessments have been done since 2006. Two proposals to open a commercial fishery were denied this month by the Board of Fisheries but Rumble said ADFG and local harvesters are committed to gathering more information. ADFG already manages 25 shellfish and groundfish fisheries in the region and there’s no money in the budget for surveys, but Rumble said a test fishery, hopefully this year, might help get the data they need. “People bid on the test fishery and that could provide us with revenue where we could send observers aboard a vessel to collect biological and abundance information. So that’s kind of the route we’re pursuing right now,” she said. Another potential fishery for Prince William Sound is sea cucumbers. Rumble, a former diver for the state’s largest cuke fishery in Southeast Alaska, is working with local fishermen on a pilot survey for this summer. “With dive fisheries, you’re allowed to tax the product, it’s in the state statutes. So that creates a situation where you are providing funds for stock assessment through the taxation of the fishery,” she explained. “If things go well with the survey, we’re hoping to expand it throughout the Sound, and to continue stock assessments and development by using proceeds from anything that’s sold.” In 2018, sea cucumbers in Alaska averaged $5.29 per pound and a harvest of roughly 1.4 million pounds was valued at $7.4 million to divers. Up next in Prince William Sound is the popular pot shrimp season starting in mid-April with a harvest of 68,100 pounds. Registration is open through April 1 and shrimpers must first get a Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission card before they sign up with ADFG. The big spot shrimp can pay fishermen $10 to $16 per pound in what Rumble calls a very local fishery. “We provide shrimp to people on the street and people sell it through Facebook and to local restaurants,” she said. “It’s local sales that drive this fishery and I think that we would all say that we’re pretty proud of it.” ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Flattened prices greet fishermen to start halibut season

The Pacific halibut fishery opened on March 14 amid little fanfare and flattened markets. The first fish of the eight-month season typically attracts the highest prices and is rushed fresh to high-end buyers, especially during the Lenten season. But that’s not the case in this time of coronavirus chaos, when air traffic is stalled and seafood of all kinds is getting backlogged in global freezers. Alaska’s share of the 2020 halibut catch is about 17 million pounds for nearly 2,000 fishermen who own shares of the popular flatfish. A week into the fishery, fewer than 50 landings were made totaling just more than 262,000 pounds and, as anticipated, prices to fishermen were in the pits. Earliest price reports at Homer were posted at $4.20 to $4.40 per pound, Kodiak prices were at $3.25 for 10- to 20-pounders, $3.50 for halibut weighing 20 to 40 pounds and $4 for “forty-ups.” Prices ranged from $3.75 to $4 at Yakutat and $3.50 “across the board” at Wrangell, according to Alaska Boats and Permits in Homer. The highest prices of $5, $4.75 and $4.50 were reported at Southeast ports that have regular air freight service, although they are expected to drop by $1 to $2 per pound, a major buyer said. The average statewide price for Alaska halibut in 2019 was $5.30 per pound and $5.35 in 2018. For this season’s start, some Alaska processors were buying small lots of halibut on consignment or filling existing orders; others were not buying at all. “We are tentatively going to be buying longline fish on the first of May after the Columbia ferry gets back on line,” said a major buyer in Southeast who blamed not having traditional ferries that haul thousands of pounds of fish each week, and a lack of air freight options at smaller communities. “We’re down here where transportation is dictating where fish has to go,” he added. Most of Alaska’s halibut goes into the U.S. market where in recent years it has faced stiff competition from up to 8 million pounds of fresh Atlantic halibut, primarily from eastern Canada. And although Russia has banned purchases of U.S. seafood since 2014, increasing amounts of halibut caught by Russian fishing fleets are coming into our nation. Trade data show that 2 million pounds of Pacific and Atlantic halibut were imported to the U.S. over the past year through January 2020, valued at nearly $6.7 million. A major Alaska buyer said: “One of our salespeople shot us a deal showing that right now you can buy frozen at sea, tail off, 3-5 and 5-8 pound Pacific halibut from Russia for $3.25 a pound.” Also newly appearing on U.S. shelves: farmed halibut fillets from Norway retailing at $9.99 a pound. Hatchery hauls Alaska salmon that got their start in hatcheries made up 25 percent of last year’s total statewide catch. In 2019, roughly 50 million hatchery salmon were caught by Alaska fishermen, mostly pinks and chums, valued at $118 million, or 18 percent of the state’s total salmon harvest value. That’s according to the annual salmon enhancement report by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. Currently there are 30 hatcheries producing salmon in Alaska, of which 26 are operated by private, nonprofits. ADFG operates two sport fish hatcheries in Anchorage and Fairbanks, the federal government runs a research hatchery near Sitka, and the Metlakatla Indian tribe also operates a hatchery. The hatcheries are funded by a fishermen’s tax and sales of a portion of the returning fish and receive no state dollars. They also produce salmon for sport, subsistence and personal use fisheries at no cost to the state of Alaska. “For the coastal communities the hatchery program is a lifesaver for many of the people who fish for a living. It gives about 25 percent of the salmon harvest and that supplementation is a critical component for their business model,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, who on March 15 retired after 40 years as general manager at the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. At Prince William Sound, where most of Alaska’s hatchery fish call home, 31 million salmon were caught last summer valued at $64 million, or 56 percent of the region’s total dockside value. Nearly 83 percent were chums, 61 percent were pinks and 34 percent were sockeye salmon. For Southeast Alaska, the second-largest hatchery region, fishermen harvested about 6.5 million hatchery fish valued at $32 million, or 37 percent of the region’s landings value. Chum salmon contributed $24 million of that total. Kodiak has the state’s third-highest hatchery production and about 3.4 million hatchery salmon were caught last year, nearly all pinks. The value to fishermen was close to $5 million, or 11 percent of the total dockside value for Kodiak fishermen. Three hatcheries in Cook Inlet produce primarily sockeye and pink salmon. About 42,000 hatchery-produced salmon were harvested there last year for a total of nearly $2 million, or nine percent of the value for the region. About 1.7 billion tiny salmon were released by Alaska hatcheries in 2019 which operators predict will product a total return of about 52 million salmon in 2020 including 35 million pinks, 13 million chums, 2.2 million sockeyes, 1.2 million cohos, and 100,000 Chinook salmon. Alaska’s on acid Alaska waters are showing effects of increasing acidity faster and more severely than lower latitudes because cold water is richer in carbon dioxide and melting sea ice and glaciers worsen the problem. The off kilter ocean chemistry reduces the amount of minerals sea creatures need to build and maintain their shells. That’s the verdict in the 2019 report by the Alaska Ocean Acidification Network, which updates the science going on around the state. The Network has modeled 40 years of ocean changes in the Gulf and is doing the same for the greater Arctic. At Sitka, researchers are testing the effects of acidification and ocean warming on the earliest life stages of herring; early signs point to warming as the bigger threat. At the Alutiiq Pride Shellfish Hatchery at Seward, studies on razor clams indicate they are hurt by increasing acidity. Tiny swimming sea snails called pteropods that make up 40 percent of the diet of juvenile pink salmon already are showing extensive shell corrosion in both the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. The 2019 report also updates the monitoring being done since 2017 by the ferry Columbia as part of an unprecedented Alaska/Canada project to learn how increasing ocean acidity affects fisheries. The 418-foot ferry sucks up water samples every two minutes and has produced more than 700,000 measurements. The monitoring will resume when the Columbia is back on the water in May. “The fantastic thing about this vessel is it’s going from Bellingham to Skagway and back every week. That’s a 1,600-kilometer run. Nowhere in the world is there a ferry system that’s outfitted with CO2 sensors that’s running that scale of a transit. This is really exciting,” said Wiley Evans, program technical lead with the Hakai Institute. Early data point to an extremely variable seascape in which the surface water is more corrosive in fall and winter, representing the most vulnerable time for species that are sensitive to acidity. When spring arrives, the phytoplankton bloom removes carbon dioxide from the water through photosynthesis, and the water gets warmer making conditions more favorable for shell production. So far, only a limited number of Alaska’s commercially important species have been studied for their response to increasing acidity. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: More non-seafood ‘seafood’ proliferates in market

Genetically tweaked salmon that grows three times faster than normal fish…fillets grown in labs from fish cells…now plant-based seafoods such as “vegan shrimp,” or “Toona” are gaining footholds in the marketplace — and confusing customers. A new study by FoodMinds for the National Fisheries Institute showed that about 40 percent of consumers believed plant-based imitations contain actual seafood. Up to 60 percent thought the products had similar nutritional content as real fish. Still, fake seafood producers are pushing back against more accurate labeling, claiming without any evidence that customers know what they are getting. “We have to ensure that the labels are educating people about something as simple as what’s in the package. A lot of these plant-based alternative makers have even suggested that they have the ‘first amendment right’ to call their products whatever they want. And that’s simply not the case,” said Gavin Gibbons, NFI vice president for communications. Good Catch Foods, for example, positions itself as a “seafood company” and New Wave foods calls itself “shellfish evolved.” “During our consumer research, three of the five vegan seafood products we displayed were less nutritious than real fish. They had less protein and more saturated fat and sodium. Yet, almost 60 percent of the respondents thought that they all had similar nutritional content between actual fish and the highly processed plant based alternatives. So they’re actually being misled in some of these particular labeling scenarios,” Gibbons said. “In what society is it not a proper government role to ensure that consumers get the food that a label claims is in the package? The government has a legitimate interest in ensuring accurate labeling of foods. Otherwise, why not call ground meat filet mignon?” John Connelly, NFI president, wrote in a March 2 opinion piece. There’s nothing wrong with the vegan seafood products, Gibbons said, and they can make an important contribution to a growing world. But the makers don’t even want the term “imitation” seafood included on their packaging. “Consumers have a right to know what’s in the package and what’s more, a package has something called a Statement of Identity on it,” he explained. “A lot of these products have labels that tell you what is not in the package. For instance, it says ‘vegan shrimp.’ Well, it’s a vegan product that does not contain shrimp. And that is not how a Statement of Identity works. It has to tell you what is in the product. And those labels currently do not do that.” Gibbons said that along with the dairy, beef and poultry industry, NFI is working to get a federal labeling fix. “We have seen time and time again where the Food and Drug Administration does not take action on a labeling issue and then it becomes mainstream,” Gibbons said, using “almond milk” as an example. “Obviously, almonds don’t produce milk but they’re right next to cow’s milk on the shelf and labeled as milk. We want to get ahead of this now and we are talking to the FDA and folks on Capitol Hill to let them know that this is a problem that has to be fixed through an active regulatory effort.” Ironically, fake seafood makers brutally bash the seafood industry in their promotions as being unsustainable and cruel and urge customers to “leave fish off their plates for good.” On a related note: NFI has created a website to answer questions about seafood safety and the coronavirus at seafoodsafetycovid19.wordpress.com. Fishing updates The Pacific halibut fishery got underway on March 14. A fleet of nearly 2,000 Alaska longliners will share a 17 million-pound catch during the eight-month fishery. It was set to be a bumpy start in the face of jittery markets and transportation snags. No ferries and limited air freight meant no way to move the fish in many Southeast Alaska ports. A major processor there was not buying any halibut until April. Sablefish (black cod) also opened March 14. That market remains poor with a backlog of small fish in the freezers. For the second year, Sitka Sound’s roe herring fishery is not likely to occur this month due to small fish and no markets. Fishery managers had anticipated a harvest of 25,824 tons (nearly 57 million pounds), double from 2019. Just more than 10,000 tons of herring spawn on kelp can be taken from pound fisheries near Craig and Klawok. Herring pounds contain from 900 to 9,000 blades of kelp to catch the herring spawn. Alaska’s largest roe herring fishery at Togiak in Bristol Bay has a huge quota at nearly 39,000 tons (over 85 million pounds). That fishery typically opens in April but many fishermen are opting out due to low herring prices of less than $100 per ton. The winter troll fishery for Chinook salmon closed in all waters of Southeast Alaska on March 15. Boats are targeting black rockfish throughout the Gulf and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast, and some areas are still open for golden king crab and Tanner crab. A Tanner fishery opened in Prince William Sound on March 2 and the Kodiak fishery is still going slow in one open region. The snow crab fishery in the Bering Sea has yielded about 70 percent of its 34 million-pound catch quota. A red king crab fishery for 13,608 pounds opened at Norton Sound on Feb. 29 but no one showed up due to no buyers. Many stakeholders fear the stock is declining and opted not to drop pots (through the ice) for the winter fishery. Fishing for pollock, cod, mackerel, perch, flounders and many other whitefish continues in regions of the Gulf of Alaska and Bering Sea. Fishing fellows The call is out for young Alaska fishermen who want hands-on training in management, advocacy, research, marketing, conservation, business and more. The Young Fishing Fellows Program, now in its fourth year, is an initiative of the Alaska Marine Conservation Council. This year it includes six mentor groups: the Copper River / Prince William Sound Marketing Association, Kachemak Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, Homer Charter Association, Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association, North Pacific Fisheries Association and the Alaska Fishermen’s Network. The fellowships, which begin in the fall, are open to fishermen 35 and younger who are paid $16 to $26 an hour, depending on experience. The hours are flexible by design, said Jamie O’Connor, AMCC working waterfront director. “It usually ends up being about 10 hours a week for three to five months. There’s a lot of flexibility so people can work around their winter schedules and of course, work around fishing seasons,” she said. O’Connor, who fishes at Bristol Bay, was part of the first cohort in 2017 and it resulted in her job at AMCC. “One of the most beneficial aspects of this fellowship is access to the people who can open doors and show our young fishermen the work that’s being done on behalf of our oceans and our fishermen and our communities she said.” Apply by May 4 to the Young Fishing Fellows Program at www.akyoungfishermen.org/ Questions? Contact O’Connor at [email protected] Fish art contest update The deadline for entries to the State Fish Art contest is March 31. The contest is open to kids from kindergarten through grade 12 and can include any Alaska fish. For a new Alaska Fish Heritage category added this year, chinook salmon should be the star. “Here in Alaska, the chinook is our state fish. That’s something a lot of people don’t even know,” said Bobbie Jo Skibo, U.S. Forest Service regional partnership coordinator in Alaska, host of the state art competition. Young artists also can enter an international competition called the Fish Migration Award . Find entry forms at www.wildlifeforever.org COVID cancellations The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meeting on March 30-April 7 in Anchorage has been cancelled following the announcement of Alaska’s first confirmed case of the coronavirus. The 41st ComFish Alaska trade show at Kodiak set for March 26-28 has been rescheduled until Sept. 17-19. The fourth Kodiak Area Marine Science Symposium scheduled for April 21-24, sponsored by Alaska Sea Grant and the University of Alaska/Fairbanks, has been canceled until next year. ^ Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

House budget rejects proposal for shellfish sector to fund lab tests

Alaska shellfish farmers and divers fear they won’t be “open for business” much longer if they’re forced to pick up the tab for federally required lab tests as outlined in Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s budget. The Department of Environmental Conservation has proposed shifting the state cost to the harvesters which last year totaled almost a half-million dollars. Geoduck clam divers in Southeast Alaska, for example, pay about $150,000 each year to collect samples that are sent to the single federally approved laboratory in Anchorage and tested for paralytic shellfish poison and other toxins. Divers also pay $20,000 for water quality samples twice a year, and $8,000 to test for inorganic arsenic. “And then we pay the Alaska Department of Fish and Game about $25,000 a year for them to do the management and assessment of the geoduck resource,” said Phil Doherty, co-director of the Southeast Alaska Regional Dive Association, or SARDFA. The geoduck divers also tax themselves 7 percent to cover SARDFA’s $50,000 administrative costs. In all, Doherty said it adds up to $266,000 per year. SARDFA is unique in that it is the only commercial fishing group in Alaska that is taxed through legislative action to pay for state oversight of the fishery, which is centered around Craig and Ketchikan. “We pay the department to do the work they need to do and we pay for all of the PSP sampling that needs to get done. We just don’t pay for the lab costs,” Doherty explained. The geoduck fishery harvests about 650,000 pounds each year valued at around $4 million to about 60 divers. “Out of that $4 million, you take the 3 percent fisheries tax, So that is about $120,000 a year that goes to the state via the fisheries tax that goes into the general fund,” he said. If a testing fee of $400 to $700 per sample is added, Doherty said it would increase divers’ costs by $60,000 to $100,000 per year. “We would not have the money to pay for that,” Doherty said. “And therefore, the geoduck fishery would close down. That would mean a loss to the State of $120,000 a year in geoduck fish taxes, $25,000 in ADF&G payments and $20,574 for Dept. of Environmental Conservation permits.” Meanwhile, 50 or 60 geoduck dive boats and their crews have been beached for more than a month because their market in China is closed due to the coronavirus. Meta Mesdag, owner of the Salty Lady Seafood oyster farm in Juneau and president of the Alaska Shellfish Growers Association, called the cost shift “an impossible ask.” In a letter to the House Finance Committee and DEC Commissioner Jason Brune, Mesdag said, “asking a nascent industry that produced $1.6 million in revenue last year to absorb $457,700 in program expenses will decimate shellfish farming in Alaska,” reported the Alaska Landmine. “The state is fully on board with growing this industry; however, they seem to not understand that in order to do so, we must have the necessary infrastructure in place to comply with federal mandates, and it’s not the farmers’ responsibility, but a matter of public safety,” Mesdag said. The Alaska Mariculture Task Force, created in 2016 with a goal of growing a $100 million industry in 20 years, opposes shifting the lab costs. “This public health service assures that commercially available shellfish is safe for consumption. At the current size of the mariculture industry, the proposed fees are not financially feasible nor realistic. The rate increases will be devastating to the existing industry and will restrict future expansion,” the task force wrote in a letter to the legislative finance committees. Should it pass, Alaska will be the only state that makes its growers/divers pick up the federal testing tab. Mesdag also questioned Alaska’s high testing costs for samples from 26 Alaska shellfish oyster growers. She told the Landmine that Bigelow Analytical Services, a private nonprofit in Maine, told her they would do all of Alaska’s tests for $31,000 per year. “The industry believes that we are actually subsidizing (Alaska’s) environmental health lab at $457,700 a year for a test that should cost $31,000 a year to operate,” Mesdag said. Alaska legislators in the House rejected the proposal in the operating budget that passed last week, and it is now up to the state Senate — and the governor’s veto pen — to decide. Warm bottom crashed cod Warmer temperatures on the ocean bottom were key to causing the cod crash in the Gulf of Alaska. That’s the conclusion of a National Marine Fisheries Service study that connected low numbers of cod larvae, juveniles and adults to loss of spawning grounds in the 2013–16 heatwave called “the Blob,” the largest warm water anomaly ever recorded in the North Pacific. Pacific cod are unique among all cod species because they only spawn once in a season and have eggs that adhere to the ocean floor. Females can actually place their eggs in habitats with temperatures that optimize hatch success. Researchers Ben Laurel and Lauren Rogers at the Alaska Fisheries Science Center in Newport, Ore., determined that Pacific cod eggs have a very narrow bottom temperature range for hatching success, much narrower than Alaska pollock or Atlantic cod. The Blob caused Gulf of Alaska waters to reach nearly 61 degrees, compared to a norm closer to 50 degrees. Right after, biologists saw no first year cod. “A lot can happen in that first year of life that we would like to learn more about how to predict whether or not these year classes coming through are actually going to survive. But there is always variability and uncertainty that we have to be braced for,” Laurel said in a previous interview, adding that data on young Gulf cod go back to 2005. The research is providing a window into how the fish will fare in a changing climate, he said. “It’s sort of a dress rehearsal for things to come. And it’s encouraging we had really responsive actions to this really drastic reduction in the population,” Laurel added. “I’m encouraged by that, but also tentatively nervous about what’s in line for the future.” The report titled Loss of spawning habitat and prerecruits of Pacific cod during a Gulf of Alaska heatwave, appears in the Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences. Fishy winners Bullwhip Hot Sauce was the biggest winner in the final round of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood competition in Juneau. The hot sauce, made with bull kelp by Juneau-based Barnacle Seafoods, took home the Grand Prize in a field of 20 entries, four of which were seaweed products. The Symphony contest begins in November at Pacific Marine Expo where all entries are judged by an expert panel and first place winners are announced. Second and third place and the grand prize winners are kept under wraps until the Juneau event where legislators and others select their favorites in three categories: retail, foodservice and Beyond the Plate, which features items made from seafood byproducts. “It can be things that are edible such as fish oil capsules, or things that are nonedible such as salmon leather wallets,” said Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, host of the Symphony for 27 years. Barnacle’s Bullwhip Hot Sauce also took first place at retail. A Cod Fish and Chips Meal Kit by Alaskan Leader Seafoods placed second and Sea Asparagus Pesto by Seattle’s Foraged and Found came in third. For foodservice, Alaska Southern Style Wild Wings by High Liner Foods took top honors. Second was Alaskan Kombu Seaweed made with Kodiak kelp by Blue Evolution. Salmon Dumplings by Tai Foong USA placed third. For Beyond the Plate, Juneau’s WILD by Nature Alaskan Fish Skin Jewelry came in first, followed by Pescadots dog treats from Drool Central, a Mum and Pup Barkery of Anchorage. Top winners were set to travel to the big Seafood Expo North America next week in Boston which was postponed due to the Coronavirus. Fish givers American Seafoods is accepting applications for its community grant program from Kodiak Island, Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, Western Alaska Peninsula, Bristol Bay, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Norton Sound and regions north. The majority of awards will range from $1,000 to $7,500 each for a total of $45,000. Since 1997, American Seafoods has granted over $1.7 million to Alaska organizations and programs. Request forms are available at www.americanseafoods.com or contact Kim Lynch ([email protected]; 206-256-2659. The deadline is April 13; grant recipients will be announced on April 29. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Coronavirus ensnares global commerce, including seafood

Seafood coming from and going to China is piling up in freezer vans and cold storages indefinitely as the coronavirus continues to cause commerce chaos around the world. About 80 percent of trade of the world’s goods by volume is carried by sea and China is home to seven of the world’s 10 busiest container ports, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. Virus precautions mean that many ships can’t get into Chinese ports, others are stuck at docks waiting for workers to return, and still more are idling in “floating quarantined zones,” as countries refuse to allow crews of ships that have docked at Chinese ports to leave the boat until they have been declared virus-free. China is the No. 1 trade partner for the ports of Seattle and Tacoma, where ships are typically stacked with containers arriving full of goods ranging from clothing and toys to electronics. Many would normally return to China laden with Alaska seafood and other U.S. products, but operations have slowed dramatically. “Factories aren’t open and goods aren’t being made. We don’t know yet what that impact is going to be,” Peter McGraw of Northwest Seaport Alliance told KOMO news. “There have been a lot of blank sailings. That means a lot of canceled ships.” Alaska seafood exports to China of nearly $1 billion include products for their own markets, but the bulk goes there for reprocessing and shipment back to the U.S. and other countries. “If you have plants that have product coming in and no workers to fill it, you’re going to get that overflowing cold storage situation. So it’s definitely a problem on the reprocessing side. On the consumption side, if people aren’t going out to eat and going out to the market to buy seafood, that’s going to take consumption down as well. So there’s a couple different ways that it’s working against moving seafood through the supply chain,” said Andy Wink, director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Development Association and an economist who has tracked world salmon markets for more than a decade. The situation also is diverting more seafood from elsewhere into the U.S. “The big salmon farming companies are looking elsewhere to direct their products and the U.S. is the obvious choice,” he added. “So we’ve seen salmon prices on average down about 10 percent since the first of the year at the wholesale level.” As the crisis builds potentially into the spring, many major fisheries with year-round selling seasons but shorter harvests, such as Alaska salmon, begin engaging in price negotiations and set dock prices, said market expert John Sackton of Seafoodnews.com. “The price setting at the dock is based on packers’ and distributors’ expectations of price for the entire year, the supply and availability of what is landed, and the costs and business expectations of the harvesters,” Sackton wrote in his Winding Glass blog. “Regardless of what price is paid in May or June, packers are looking at what price they expect to get four, five or six months into the future. In normal years, this is fraught with risk … This year, the risk is off the charts, because we simply don’t know how severe, economically or socially, the disruption from this disease may get.” Alaska has worked hard to diversify its seafood markets beyond China since trade tariffs imposed in 2018 by the Trump administration cut into sales with its top customer. But the virus scare is causing disruption throughout new and more established sales regions, said Hannah Lindoff, global marketing director for the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. “We have on the ground representatives conducting marketing activities to help raise the value of Alaska seafood products. However, due to travel bans and health concerns, several chef seminars in China designed to boost knowledge of different Alaska species planned for this month have been cancelled. Additionally, events in Singapore and Italy were also cancelled. ASMI continues to prioritize the health of our overseas representatives and partners in these regions and hope for positive news,” Lindoff wrote in an email message. Air cargo operations have been affected differently, and “the cancellation of flights in and out of China has been so extensive that freight forwarders have had a very hard time finding any space at all on planes for their shipments,” according to the New York Times. U.S. shoppers could see items missing from store shelves as early as mid-April, Edward Kelly of Wells Fargo Securities told the Los Angeles Times. Big-box retailers such as Walmart and Target “could be the first to experience out-of-stock issues,” Kelly said. Of note: 80 percent of the drugs that Americans depend upon come from overseas countries, and China is the largest manufacturer. Shrimp still tops! Salmon remains as America’s second-favorite seafood, following shrimp. Third among the Top 10 is tuna, according to the list compiled by the National Fisheries Institute based on data in the 2018 Fisheries of the U.S. report. Americans ate 4.6 pounds of shrimp per capita, a record high. For salmon, 2.55 pounds was eaten along with 2.10 pounds of tuna. That’s followed by tilapia at 1.11 pounds, Alaska pollock at 0.77 pounds, pangasius at 0.63 pounds and cod at 0.62 pounds per capita. Rounding out the top 10 list was catfish at 0.56 pounds, crab at 0.52 pounds and clams at 0.32 pounds. In 2018 Americans ate slightly more seafood: 16.1 pounds, the highest per capita consumption since 2007 and a 0.1 pound increase from 2017. Push against plastics The first ever major lawsuit and a proposed new law both aim to hold companies responsible for the endless streams of plastics they continue to produce. A lawsuit was filed Feb. 23 in California State Superior Court against Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Clorox, Procter and Gamble and several other major companies for polluting waterways, coasts and oceans with millions of tons of plastics. The lawsuit was filed by the Earth Island Institute and Plastic Pollution Coalition. It claims violations of the state Consumers Legal Remedies Act, public nuisance, breach of express warranty, defective product liability, negligence and failure to warn of the harms caused by plastics to humans and animals. The complaint also claims the average person ingests nearly 5 grams of plastics each week, or the equivalent of a credit card. It also says plastics alter the chemical composition of the ocean when it breaks apart into smaller pieces and releases toxic chemicals into the water. Meanwhile, on Feb. 11, a group of congressional Democrats from New Mexico, Oregon, California and New Mexico introduced the Break Free from Plastic Pollution Act of 2020. The law would, among other things, require big corporations to take responsibility for their pollution; incentivize corporations to make reusable products that can be recycled; reduce wasteful packaging; create a nationwide beverage container refund program; reduce and ban certain single-use plastic products that are not recyclable; establish minimum recycled content requirements for beverage containers, packaging and food-service products, while standardizing recycling and composting labeling; and reform the nation’s waste and recycling systems. The Plastics Industry Association calls the bill “misguided” saying it “is more interested in getting headlines than finding solutions.” Today, 14 percent of oil and 8 percent of gas is used to make petrochemicals, the feedstock of plastics. The International Energy Agency predicts that within 30 years, 50 percent of the growth in oil demand will be related to petrochemicals. That means we are extracting fossil fuels, not for energy but for things like plastic soda bottles that we use once. Letters of support for the legislation can be sent to Sen. Tom Udall’s office at [email protected] Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Dutch Harbor still No. 1 in landings; Naknek No. 2 in value

Dutch Harbor remained the top fishing port in the USA for the 22nd year in a row with 763 million pounds crossing the docks in 2018 valued at $182 million. And Naknek ranked as the nation’s second-most valuable port for fishermen with landings worth $195 million. (Naknek also ranked No. 8 for landings at 191 million pounds.) Empire-Venice, La., held the second spot for fish volume (569 million). The “Aleutians” was close behind (539 million), thanks to Trident’s plant at Akutan, the largest processing facility in North America. Kodiak fell to fourth place with landings dropping from 530 million pounds to 391 million in 2018. Those are just a few of the gems in the annual Fisheries of the U.S. Report, described as “a yearbook of fishery statistics on commercial landings and values, recreational fishing, aquaculture production, imports and exports and per capita consumption” by Cisco Werner, chief scientist at NOAA Fisheries who gave highlights at a Feb. 21 press conference. “U.S. fishermen landed 9.4 billion pounds valued at about $5.6 billion, an increase of $150 million, or 2.8 percent from 2017. That’s on par with recent years with economic benefits both up and down depending on the seafood supply chain,” Werner added. New Bedford, Mass. claimed its 19th consecutive title of bringing in the most valuable catch at $431 million, due mostly to the sea scallop fishery. Other Alaska related highlights: Alaska provided 58 percent of U.S. wild seafood (5.4 billion pounds), more than all the other states combined. Alaska also led all states in the value of landings at $1.8 billion, 32 percent of the total U.S. value. Alaska accounted for 97 percent of U.S. salmon landings; the average Alaska price per pound for all species was 99 cents, an increase of 34 cents from 2017. The 2018 average price paid to U.S. fishermen across the board was 59 cents per pound compared to 55 cents per pound in 2017. The six highest value U.S. seafoods were lobster ($684 million), crab ($645 million), salmon ($598 million), scallops ($541 million), shrimp ($496 million) and Alaska pollock ($451 million). The value of U.S. farmed seafood totaled $1.5 billion in 2017, about 21 percent of the value of total seafood production. The top marine aquaculture species were oysters, clams and salmon. As much as 85 percent to 95 percent of seafood consumed in the U.S. comes from elsewhere. For 2018, the U.S. imported $22.4 billion worth of edible seafood and exported $5.6 billion, a $16.8 million trade deficit. Production of U.S. seaweed increased 186 percent from 2016-17 to (just) 69,053 pounds valued at $68,698. Data indicate the rapid rise in farmed seaweed production will continue. (Kelp production from Kodiak reached nearly 90,000 pounds in 2018.) Americans ate slightly more seafood – 16.1 pounds, the highest per capita consumption since 2007 and a 0.1-pound increase from 2017, but still well below the government’s recommendation to eat two seafood meals every week. Kodiak kelp goes retail Dried kelp from Kodiak is the first Alaska seaweed poised to make a splash at hundreds of retail stores across the U.S. It’s the debut product for Kodiak growers in their partnership with Blue Evolution, the California-based company that has pioneered the kelp industry in Alaska. The strips of dried ribbon and sugar kelp can be rehydrated or broken up and tossed in salads, rice or broths. The new product’s snazzy, biodegradable packaging promotes the nutritional power and purity of Alaska kelp and support for local, family owned farms. Founder and CEO Beau Perry said of all Alaska regions, Kodiak fits the bill. “Geography, currents, growing space, local stakeholder attitudes, the large fleet, logistics capacity, and we want to be accessible to processing for fresh delivery of raw material. Kodiak ended up ranking the best despite it being very remote, even by Alaska standards,” Perry said. Kodiak growers will expand from 40 acres to 100 acres this year with more in the works around the island. Perry said drying kelp is a challenge in Alaska because large volumes are landed in short periods of time and the bulk of the pack is going into a completely new market. “I would say well over 90 percent of our product is going into a blanched frozen product that you may not see on the shelves, but that we’re starting to move to high end restaurants, food service and manufacturing down in the Lower 48,” Perry said. Alaska’s fledgling kelp industry faces a lot of organizational challenges in the short term, Perry added, but he believes the possibilities are limitless. “I think Alaska can be one of the great seaweed producing regions on the planet and that it will have a transformative effect within the state,” Perry said. “That’s the vision we’re pursuing. I’m sure we won’t be alone in that, but we definitely have put ourselves in a leadership position and we want to spread that vision and build a business around it. Because if we do it right, it could be a very big deal indeed.” Find store locations or order the Alaskan dried kelp online at Blue Evolution.com Hatchery updates Salmon that get their start in Alaska hatcheries are intended to enhance wild runs and the program will again be featured during the Board of Fisheries final meeting next month in Anchorage. A hatchery committee was formed last year to better inform the Board on operations of the state’s 25 private, nonprofit facilities. “It’s to educate themselves about the hatchery program and if hard decisions have to be made about allocations or where fish can be released or harvested, it’s to their benefit to understand the program and the science behind it so they can make informed decisions,” said Steve Reifenstuhl, general manager of the Northern Southeast Regional Aquaculture Association. On March 6, a 12-member science panel will present to invited board members and to the hatchery committee, which will hold its meeting the following day. Reifenstuhl said most of the presentations will come from state managers on regulations and oversight and what the hatcheries produce each year. “For the coastal communities the hatchery program is a lifesaver for many of the people who fish for a living. It gives about 25 percent of the salmon harvest and that supplementation is a critical component for their business model,” he added. Critics of the hatchery program claim that too many tiny salmon are released each year and pose threats to the purity and health of wild stocks. The science panel will update research that has been underway since 2013 on pink salmon in Prince William Sound and chums in Southeast that aims to answer those questions. Reifenstuhl said the salmon study runs through 2024. “Why it takes so long is that we are looking at two full life cycles of chum salmon, which is roughly five to six years, and we’re also doing two full life cycles of pink salmon which just ended last year. Those results should be out by year’s end,” he said. Alaska’s hatcheries in 2018 contributed 34 percent of the statewide commercial salmon harvest and 30 percent of the dockside value. The hatcheries are funded by a fishermen’s tax and sales of a portion of the returning fish and receive no state dollars. You can tune in online to hear both the March 6 presentation and the hatchery committee meeting on March 7. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: ASMI paper outlines Russia’s ambitious seafood plans

Lost in the headlines about the hits to seafood sales from the Trump Administration’s trade war with China is another international barrier with Russia that’s been going on far longer. In August 2014 Russia placed an embargo on all U.S. food products to retaliate for sanctions the U.S and other Western countries imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. The ban included Alaska seafood, which at the time accounted for more than $61 million in annual sales to Russia, primarily from pink salmon roe. But here’s the bigger hurt: For the nearly six years that the embargo has been in place, no corresponding limits have ever been imposed on Russian seafood coming into the US. At first, Alaska seafood companies and the Congressional delegation made some “tit for tat” noise about imposing a ban on Russian seafood. But in fact, the value of Russian imports has grown nearly 70 percent since 2014; and it all comes into the U.S. almost entirely duty free. A four-page white paper from the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute outlines the trade imbalance further. For example, the U.S. imported $551 million of seafood from Russia in 2018, plus $50 million of pollock from China that was caught in Russia. U.S. crab comprised 84 percent of the value of Russian imports just in that one year. Through December 2019, the numbers increased again; federal trade data show that more than 80.2 million pounds of Russian seafood entered the U.S. valued at over $698 million. That included nearly 16 million pounds of red king crab valued at $293 million and 4.6 million pounds of frozen sockeye salmon worth more than $16.7 million. Alaska and Russia harvest many of the same fish and crab species, and many Russian seafood products compete in the U.S. at much lower prices. The trade report reveals how ASMI worked aggressively to build markets in Russia starting in 2006, and steady growth boosted Alaska pink salmon prices from 2010 through 2013, which benefitted fishermen and coastal communities. The trade imbalance will only get worse, the ASMI report said, as Russia aims to nearly double the value of its global seafood exports by 2024 to more than $8 billion. Huge investments are underway to increase and modernize capacity by building more than 20 new processing plants and 90 new fishing vessels by the year 2030. The plan also includes the launch of a new marketing and supply chain strategy called “The Russian Fish.” Total investments by Russia to its fishery sector between 2018 and 2025 are estimated at nearly $7 billion. Call for crew trainees The call is out for Alaskans interested in learning firsthand about commercial fishing. It’s the third year for the Crew Training Program hosted by the Alaska Longline Fishermen’s Association in Sitka. More than 213 have applied so far from all across the country and 25 deckhands and 20 skippers have participated. “It’s very exciting to see so many young people interested in entering the commercial fishing industry. 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,” said Tara Racine, ALFA communications and program development coordinator. ALFA received a $70,000 grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to launch the program and to support similar crew apprenticeships in Alaska. Additional grants came from the Edgerton Foundation, the City and Borough of Sitka, the Alaska Community Foundation. “We are hoping to share any information and lessons that we’ve compiled and learned and material we’ve created and give it to anyone else interested in doing a program like this,” Racine said. Most of the recruits have gone out on longliners and trollers and plans include expanding to seiners and gillnetters in a flexible fishing schedule. “We have short term and long term programs,” she explained. “It could be just a couple of days for people who just want an intro and that’s what the skippers have the availability and time for. We also have plenty 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 are looking for reliable crew and are wanting to mentor the next generation of resource stewards and skilled fishermen. So not only are they training the pool of young people in our area to become deck hands, they also are ensuring the life of this industry that they love and is so important to our coastal communities,” she said. Troller Eric Jordan has mentored more than 40 young fishermen aboard the F/V I Gotta. He believes the future depends on them learning the right ways to care for the fish. “Finding crew with some experience is so critical to the future of our individual businesses in the industry as a whole,” Jordan said. “One of the things this program provides is the taste of it. So, deckhands know they like it, and skippers can recommend them for future employment. It is a win-win for the crewmembers and the skippers.” The program’s growth will depend on more skipper participation. Applicants must be 18 or older to apply at www.alfafish.org/crewtraining. The deadline is Feb. 28. Dungie danger Two hundred fishermen in Southeast Alaska will share a record $16.3 million payday for the Dungeness crab they hauled up from combined summer and winter fisheries, which just wrapped up last month. Crabbers fishing primarily around Petersburg and Wrangell landed 5.3 million pounds of dungies for the season, the third highest catch and at an average $3.07 per pound, the most valuable ever. Meanwhile, some grim news for dungies has surfaced that reveals impacts of increased ocean acidity on the crab. Results from NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in California showed for the first time that corrosive conditions of coastal waters affected portions of the fragile, still-developing shells and legs of tiny, post-larval Dungeness crabs, leaving tell-tale features such as abnormal ridging structures and scarred surfaces. In another surprising discovery, lab studies on crabs collected in 2016 showed increased acidity caused the loss of hair-like bristles called mechanoreceptors that stick out from the shell and transmit important chemical and mechanical sensations that help the crabs navigate their environment. The research team said “this is a new aspect of crustacean sensitivity to ocean acidification that has not been previously reported.” Previously, scientists thought Dungeness crab were not vulnerable to current levels of acidity. “This is the first study that demonstrates that larval crabs are already affected by ocean acidification in the natural environment and builds on previous understanding of ocean acidification impacts on pteropods,” lead author Nina Bednarsek said in a press release. (Pteropods are tiny floating snails that are a main diet for juvenile pink salmon) Dungeness crab is the West Coast’s most valuable fishery and all states are working to develop policies and management tools to deal with effects on marine life from the off kilter ocean chemistry. Some reports have shown that even if preventive measures are taken now, the situation will still worsen in coming years before it gets better. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: Fish bills on move in Legislature; ASMI hosts young buyers

Alaska lawmakers are making fast work of several fish bills that have wide support from Alaska’s fishermen. “I was anticipating a somewhat slow start, but they’re organized and they’re diving right into these issues and taking these bills up. And so there’s lots of opportunities to participate,” said Frances Leach, executive director of United Fishermen of Alaska. House Bill 35, which would resolve a conflict of interest issue at the state Board of Fisheries, has been moving through committee hearings in Juneau and could finally be settled after a 14-year push. “One of the reasons they’re chosen for that board is they may have a regional expertise or they may have a user group expertise. So we want them to be able to not vote, but participate and lend that expertise in deliberations to provide clarification to other board members who may not be as familiar with that region or fishery,” Leach said. Another fast moving measure (HB 85 and Senate Bill 145) aims to give boat owners a break from having to register it in person at a DMV office. It was part of a well-intentioned Derelict Vessels Act whose ill-timed roll out last year by the Department of Administration created chaos among commercial and sport boat owners who were breaking a new law they didn’t even know about. UFA supports the concept of the act, which is aimed at identifying owners of abandoned boats, “but we are really pushing for this exemption because we already register our boats through the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission and they have all the details that would be going to the DMV because they’re both state managed data bases. So it’s kind of like reinventing the wheel and just causing more work,” Leach said. A bill that would allow Alaskans to transport live crab (HB 203) also is moving its way through the legislative process. Live crab is the most lucrative market and the bill has UFA’s strong backing. “As the statutes currently stand we’re not able to transport red king crab, Tanner crab and Dungeness live via ground. This bill would make it so that could happen and it would open up some new avenues, I believe,” Leach explained. UFA also strongly backs bills supporting Alaska’s mariculture industry and a sound commercial fisheries budget. Other fishery related bills in the legislative pipeline include providing product development tax credits for cod and pollock (SB 130) and a push for a personal use priority above all other users (SB 99). Another measure that is resurfacing is HB 199 which seeks to create “rehabilitation permits” to allow transfer of fish eggs or fry from waters in one locale or region to enhance habitat in waters elsewhere. Leach said UFA will solidify its positions on more fish bills at its annual meeting Feb. 25-27 in Juneau. United Fishermen of Alaska is the nation’s largest fishing trade group with 35 member groups, from small skiff fisheries to the largest at-sea processors. Future fish buyers A “Next Generation” of foreign seafood buyers is set for a whirlwind visit to the working waterfront of Kodiak, the nation’s No. 3 fishing port. After touching down in Seattle, eight visitors younger than 40 from Ukraine, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Mexico will spend two full days this week in Kodiak to meet with fishery managers, tour four big processing plants and go out on a few boats. “The goal is to show them all parts of the Alaska seafood story from harvesting, processing, sustainable management, everything, said Alice Ottoson-McKeen, the international marketing specialist at the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute who organized the millennial trade mission. “There’s really no better way to show off the wonders of Alaska than in person and for people to see it up close with their own eyes.” ASMI has strong relationships with buyers around the world who have long opted for Alaska seafood over other choices; this mission aims to build similar strong connections with the upcoming generation, she said. Two years ago, ASMI hosted a similar mission and brought a group of seven European seafood buyers to Dutch Harbor in February for four days. “Our goal when we bring these missions in is to showcase and impress upon people that Alaska seafood really is the things that we advertise in our taglines; it is wild, it’s natural, it’s sustainable,” she explained. Why bring all these visitors to Alaska in the middle of winter? “Alaska fisheries are open year-round, and just because it’s icy and it’s cold, that doesn’t mean that our fishermen aren’t out fishing,” Ottoson-McKeen said. “They get to really understand the hard work that goes into bringing Alaska seafood to market. I think that really reinforces that Alaska seafood is wild, and it’s totally natural. And it also allows us to showcase products that we wouldn’t necessarily get to see in the summer.” Grants give back The Alaskan Leader Foundation is accepting applications from non-profits and projects for its annual grant giveaways in Kodiak and Bristol Bay. Funding typically goes to programs such as food banks, shelters, educational and youth programs, museums and recycling efforts. Alaskan Leader Foundation was founded in 2000 by six Kodiak fishing families and was joined in 2007 by the Bristol Bay Economic Development Foundation. Deadline to apply is February 28. For an application, contact Linda Kozak at 907-539-5585 or [email protected] Fish watch Winter sees a wide array of Alaska fisheries out on the water with more to come. Cod and a big mix of whitefish kicked off the year in the Bering Sea and in many parts of the Gulf of Alaska. Alaska pollock, the world’s largest food fishery, opened on Jan. 20 in the Bering Sea with a 3 billion-pound harvest. Smaller pollock catches will come out of the Gulf (250 million pounds) and at Prince William Sound (5 million pounds). Boats are targeting black rockfish in Southeast, and at Kodiak, Chignik, the Alaska Peninsula and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast. (856,000 pounds). Bering Sea crabbers are still out on the grounds pulling up snow crab. This season’s catch was boosted to nearly 34 million pounds, a 24 percent increase. A 400,000-pound Tanner crab fishery at Kodiak is going slow but fishermen are fetching more than $4 per pound. Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast on Feb. 17. The Tanner catch usually comes in at around one million pounds; the golden crab quota of 41,000 pounds is down by about half. A Tanner crab fishery also opens on March 1 at Prince William Sound. Southeast’s shrimp trawl fishery closed on February 3 around Petersburg and Wrangell with a catch of 400,000 pounds of pinks and sidestripes. Shrimp trawling is Southeast’s longest ongoing fishery since 1915 and it will reopen again in May. And if you didn’t think Alaska salmon fishing goes on nearly year round, more than 100 Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter kings. The state Board of Fisheries is in the midst of a marathon meeting on Upper Cook Inlet fishing issues. More than 170 management proposals are on deck through Feb. 19 at the Anchorage Egan Center. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

UFA breaks down $1M in proposed cuts to ComFish budget

Alaska gets a good return on investment from its commercial fisheries. And surprise! Commercial fisheries expertise also sustains Alaska’s subsistence and most of the personal use fisheries. “This is probably not well-known,” said Sam Rabung, director of the commercial fisheries division for the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, at a presentation last week to the House Fisheries Committee. “Data collected by our division is shared across all divisions within the department as much as possible,” he explained to lawmakers. “We also share the cost of projects and facilities with other divisions. We work as a team. So that investment also carries over to other user groups.” Rabung pointed out that the commercial fishing industry is the largest private sector employer in Alaska, putting almost 60,000 people to work annually. “It contributes about $172 million directly in taxes, fees and self-assessments to state, local and federal governments, and contributes an annual average of about $5.6 billion in economic output to the Alaska economy,” he added. Of the $172 million in taxes, 43 percent ($73 million) goes to state coffers, 30 percent ($51 million) to local governments; 23 percent ($40 million) funds salmon hatchery management, and 5 percent ($8 million) goes to the federal government. Rabung pointed out that the division’s main charge is sustaining the revenue-generating fisheries long into the future, and that takes good science. “Most of our budget is used on research, which is another word for assessment tools,” he told the committee. “We assess the stocks to see if there is a harvestable surplus. If we can’t do that work, we can’t open a fishery and say we’re managing sustainably and we revert to being more conservative. We may have less openings or lower guideline harvest levels or in some cases, we might just close the fisheries altogether. We set the bar very high as far as sustainability.” Fisheries Committee Chair Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, stressed that few state investments return as much to the state operating budget. “When the budget for ADF&G is cut, that directly affects the resulting revenue to the state by affecting the ability to fully prosecute the fisheries that might be involved in the budget reductions,” Stutes said. “My goal in this hearing was to make it clear that Alaska’s commercial fisheries do indeed pay their own way. Investments in our commercial fisheries lead directly to fishing opportunities for Alaskans, great returns to the general fund, and produce benefits in spades for our state economy. We should be looking at targeted increases to the department’s budget.” Targeted reductions The Commercial Fisheries Division operates on a nearly $67 million budget, of which $36 million comes from state general funds. Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2021 calls for a nearly $1 million reduction. Here are targeted programs across the state at this early stage in the budget process, provided by United Fishermen of Alaska. Crab lovers in Southeast Alaska could go without if $315,600 in funding is eliminated for tracking the region’s red king crab population. “A lot of people don’t recognize that those stock assessments help evaluate if the personal use fishery can open. So without that assessment, there will be no personal use fisheries for red king crab in Southeast Alaska,” said United Fishermen of Alaska Executive Director Frances Leach. Leach said nearly 3,700 red king crab personal use permits are issued in Southeast every year. Only two commercial king crab fisheries have occurred in 10 years. “The Commercial Fisheries Division pays for a lot more than commercial fisheries,” Leach said. “We pay for research for personal use and sports. And it’s something to be noted for sure.” Cuts also are on deck for stock assessments for Southeast urchin and sea cucumber fisheries ($19,900) which will likely reduce fishing time. “Currently dive fishermen are paying a good percentage of that assessment. And now Fish and Game is cutting their portion and looking elsewhere for the funding,” Leach said. The Wrangle ADFG office will be closed and one position will be relocated to Petersburg; the other will be eliminated to save $66,200. In the Central Region, suppression projects for pike that are eating tiny salmon in the Susitna and Yenta Rivers also are set for elimination ($47,200). “The Division of Commercial Fisheries is attempting to get Sport Fisheries to take over this project,” the UFA breakdown said. At Kodiak, management of the Frazer Lake fish pass for sockeye salmon would be reduced. ($23,200) Research on Bering Sea salmon would be cut by $299,600 and funding would instead rely on grants or the federal government. Aquaculture planning and permitting projects would be reduced and a full time biologist position lost in Juneau ($159,000) This comes at a time when mariculture of seaweeds and shellfish in Alaska is taking off and new growers are waiting up to two years to get permits in hand. Fishing for science Halibut boats are wanted to help with the annual stock surveys from Oregon to the far reaches of the Bering Sea. The International Pacific Halibut Commission charters between 10 and 14 longline vessels each year to take aboard up to 30 scientists from late May through August. “The whole coast is broken up into 28 charter regions and vessels can bid on any number of those regions that they’d like to fish for us,” said Steve Keith, IPHC assistant director. “We supply the bait and the ice, they supply the vessel and crew, and we usually send out two to four of our own set line survey specialists to do the fish sampling and accounting and all the record keeping for our purposes,” adding that many of the boats and biologists participate year after year. “They love it,” Keith said. “Sometimes they’ll be in Canada, sometimes in Southeast or way out in the Aleutians. They get to see a lot of the North Pacific.” The charter is just like a regular four to five day fishing trip, Keith said, but the boats use standard techniques and protocols within a set grid of stations so that data are comparable from year to year. Our survey is one of the most extensive in the world, actually,” Keith said. “We have a time series now that goes back more than 20 years and it’s the primary index of abundance that we use as we’re doing our stock assessment each year.” “We appreciate the experience of the skippers and crews that come to us,” Keith added. “It’s, you know, the fishing community contributing to the science directly and to the management of the halibut resource.” Halibut charter vessels typically get a 10 percent share of the fish sales. Bids must be emailed to the IPHC Secretariat at [email protected] by Feb. 15. Questions? Call 206.634.1838. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

FISH FACTOR: First checks finally set for 2016 pink salmon disaster

It’s been a long time coming but payments should soon be in hand for Alaska fishermen, processors and coastal communities hurt by the 2016 pink salmon run failure, the worst in 40 years. The funds are earmarked for Kodiak, Prince William Sound, Chignik, Lower Cook Inlet, South Alaska Peninsula, Southeast Alaska and Yakutat. Congress OK’d more than $56 million in federal relief in 2017, but the authorization to cut the money loose languished on NOAA desks in D.C. for more than two years. The payouts got delayed again last October when salmon permit holders, who share the biggest chunk at nearly $32 million, were finally able to apply to the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission for their checks. But when it was discovered that the way in which the payouts were calculated was badly flawed, the PSMFC put on the brakes. “There was a big snafu because a lot of the crew was under reported by the skippers. So Pacific States said that until everything gets squared away, no one is going to get any checks,” said Rep. Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak, who has been watchdogging the payouts since the ink fishery was declared a disaster. About 1,300 salmon permit holders are eligible for payments, according to the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. “In terms of eligible crew, we can only report the number of crew names submitted on CFEC permit holder applications because no data are available on crew fishery participation. Pacific States received applications from about 850 CFEC permit holders that listed about 2,000 crew names,” the Alaska Department of Fish and Game said in a statement to Stutes’ office, adding: “We are working to try and follow up with CFEC permit holders that did not submit applications to try and maximize the distribution of payments.” “That was just not acceptable,” Stutes said, quickly crediting leadership at ADFG for coming up with a better solution. “With the help of Commissioner (Doug) Vincent-Lang and Deputy Commissioner Rachel Baker we worked with the commission and they agreed to send out checks to those individuals who they had no questions about,” Stutes explained, adding that checks should be in the mail by mid-February. “And they are going to send out letters to individuals they do have questions about to give them an opportunity to immediately reply rather than wait till the appeal period.” Alaska pink salmon processors will split nearly $18 million in disaster relief funds. “They are trying to figure out how to pay their employees and what employees qualify,” she said. “So, it’s finally moving after three-and-a-half years.” $2.4 million in disaster funds is set aside for municipalities and nearly $4 million will go to pink salmon research: $450,000 to Kodiak’s Kitoi Bay Hatchery for its Saltwater Marking Sampling project; $680,000 to the Southeast Alaska Coastal Monitoring Survey to help with pink salmon forecasting; and $2.5 million to the Alaska Hatchery Research Project that since 2010 has studied interactions of hatchery and wild salmon in Prince William Sound and Southeast. Fishery disasters also were declared for the 2018 cod collapse in the Gulf of Alaska and the sockeye salmon failure at Chignik. Recipients should fare better if Congress approves a bill introduced last week by Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif. The bipartisan bill, called Fishery Failures: Urgently Needed Disaster Declarations Act (Fishery FUNDD Act), would improve the federal fishery disaster process and set a strict timeline for payout of funds. As Stutes readied for Juneau for the Jan. 21 start of the legislative session, she said she was “optimistic.” “I feel like the people of Alaska have sent a message to the administration and I’m hoping the administration will be a little more willing to interact with the legislature,” she said. “That was a big stumbling block last year. We did not have much communication between the administration and the legislature. And you just don’t get anything done when you have such a divided body. I’m optimistic that we can come together as a unit and protect Alaskans.” As chair of the fisheries committee Stutes said a top priority will be ensuring a robust ADFG budget. “When you cut the Fish and Game budget, you’re cutting revenue to the state,” she said. In terms of fishery measures left over from last session, Stutes said a goal is to pass a bill (House Bill 35) that resolves conflict of interest protocols for the state Board of Fisheries. “When you have a board member who has expertise in a certain area and is conflicted out and can’t even express his knowledge to other board members, what’s the point of having him on the board?” she explained. “This bill will allow them to participate in the conversation but will not allow them to vote on the issue. We’ve been trying to change this for 14 years and this is the closest we’ve come.” Another Stutes bill (HB 185) aims to rewrite the 2018 Derelict Vessel Act to exempt boats already licensed with the state Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. The new law requires that owners of all boats longer than 24 feet register in person at a DMV, including those already documented by the U.S. Coast Guard. “That’s kind of a double whammy for individuals who already have registered through the CFEC. It’s a duplication of information,” Stutes explained. “The idea is not to create additional revenue for the state, but to create a data base so they have access to ownership to vessels that are in Alaska waters.” Forest fish A first ever, 10-year study estimates the numbers and values of what the Tongass and Chugach forest rivers and streams contribute to Alaska’s commercial salmon industry. The Tongass is the largest national forest in the U.S. at nearly 27,000 square miles and covers most of Southeast Alaska. The adjacent Chugach at half the size ranks as the nation’s second-largest forest and covers the Copper River delta, Prince William Sound, and part of the Kenai Peninsula. The study results showed that from 2007 to 2016 the two forests contributed 48 million salmon on average each year to commercial fisheries, with a dockside value of $88 million. These “forest fish” represented 25 percent of Alaska’s total salmon catch for decade and 16 percent of the total commercial value. For the Tongass, the most lucrative “forest fish” was pink salmon averaging $42 million to fishermen each year. Cohos came next, averaging nearly $15 million and chums at almost $9 million. For the Chugach, the priciest returns came from sockeye salmon, which produced $10.5 million in local catches on average. Pinks were next at $6.2 million. The study said it underestimates the value of salmon produced by the forests, as it only takes into account commercial harvests and does not recreational or subsistence uses. It also counts only dockside value, and not the economic impacts of local fish processing. The 10-year project was funded by the U.S. Forest Service, which is interested in estimating the different activities and services that national forests provide. Find Quantifying the Monetary Value of Alaska National Forests to Commercial Pacific Salmon Fisheries in the North American Journal of Fisheries Management. Fish updates Cod and a mix of groundfish kicked off the fishing year on Jan. 1 in the Bering Sea and throughout the Gulf of Alaska. Boats also are targeting black rockfish in Southeast, around Kodiak, Chignik and the Alaska Peninsula and along the Aleutians. Lingcod also is open in Southeast, where divers also have wrapped up a 2 million pound sea cucumber fishery and are still tapping on giant geoduck clams. More than 100 Southeast trollers are still out on the water fishing for winter king salmon. Alaska pollock opened on Jan. 20 in the Gulf and Bering Sea where the catch will again top 3 billion pounds. Prince William Sound also has a 5 million-pound pollock fishery. Bering Sea crabbers are still out on the grounds pulling up 34 million pounds of snow crab, a 24 percent increase. Kodiak’s Jan. 15 Tanner crab fishery was pushed back a day due to high winds. Tanner and golden king crab fisheries open in Southeast on Feb. 17, and Tanners open on March 1 at Prince William Sound. Winter is the busiest time for Alaska fish meetings. The North Pacific Fishery Management Council meets Jan. 27 through Feb. 2 in Seattle. Halibut stakeholders are bracing for 2020 catches when they are announced in two weeks. The International Pacific Halibut Commission meeting is at the Captain Cook in Anchorage this year from Feb. 3-7. The Board of Fish put in an extra day at Kodiak and heads next to a marathon meeting on Upper Cook Inlet fishing issues. More than 170 management proposals are on deck from Feb 7-19 at the Anchorage Egan Center. The 40th annual ComFish Alaska trade show is set for March 26-28 in Kodiak. The fourth annual Bristol Bay Fish Expo is scheduled for June 12-13 in Naknek. Laine Welch lives in Kodiak. Visit www.alaskafishradio.com or contact [email protected] for information.

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